New Balance's classics-oriented catalog isn't a facade. Founded by William J. Riley, an arch support specialist, in 1906, the company sold shoe inserts until 1960, when then-owners Paul and Eleanor Kidd introduced NB's first-ever sneaker, the Trackster. The first of its kind to feature a ripple sole and come in different widths, cross-country and track teams across the country, at both the collegiate and high-school levels, quickly transitioned to this new shoe.
Eight models came between the Trackster and 1988's 574, a lifestyle shoe originally introduced as an economy runner. For its value, it boasted impressive tech. 574s were comfortable, could be worn for a light workout, but proved best for more pedestrian situations. For New Balance sneakers, generally speaking, the higher the model number, the more tech. The lower that number is, the more "lifestyle" the shoe leans.
With the 574, New Balance broadened its reach. A lower point of entry made their shoes more accessible, and a big "N" logo and suede side panels helped the company move past their original color palette (grays and neutrals). Doing so attracted those set on expressing themselves through footwear. Namely, musicians — from Biz Markie and Raekwon to KRS One and Phife.
As years passed, New Balance's technical credibility was never questioned. Running shoe after running shoe earned best-in-classic honors. But, what sneaker shoppers considered "cool" changed with the seasons. New Balances became "dad sneakers" — scorned for their sensibility. Their affordability — a strength to those with common sense — was ammo for arguments against them. There were better pairs of shoes out there, even from the same brand. But the 574 has endured, and, with the sudden hype surrounding casual, comfortable, stylish sneakers, will probably prosper again.
They're an affordable everyday sneaker.
For just $84.99, or as low as $44.99 from other retailers, these are an incredible value. You might be able to snag nicer pairs of shoes for similar prices during end-of-season clearance sales, but doing so involves holding out until they hit rock bottom. New Balance 574s will always be there for you in an assortment of colors and materials, courtesy of a consistent refresh calendar and an ever-growing list of collaborators.
Like Birkenstocks, New Balance 574s mold to your feet with wear, courtesy of lightweight EVA foam cushioning in the arch and heel. That's where the ENCAP, marked by a little text logo, is, too. That's more EVA foam with a polyurethane rim for added durability. Sure, these don't have high-arch support, but that's OK. For those born with high arches, these will slowly shape to your foot. They will, however, stop short of relieving pain in extreme situations. TLDR: they're more comfortable than Vans yet far removed from orthopedic sneakers. Having three different widths to choose from helps, too.
The 574 is a classic silhouette. It's heritage, hard-wearing design that's core to the company's history. That being said, wear them with that in mind. 574s pair particularly well with jeans, sweatshirts, T-shirts, and sweats; anything kind of casual.
These aren't a top of the line model.
While some iterations of the 574 feature premium leather and suede or sustainable TENCEL lyocell, the baseline version's construction could be better — and heftier. Again, I wouldn't recommend wear these for high intensity interval training (HIIT), and I'd argue even daily walks would cause significant wear and tear. The suede scuffs easily and the mesh toe loosens over time. Of course it's unfair to compare these to other models that are made in the U.S., but these are arguably too light.
Plus, now there's a new 574 Legacy, which New Balance introduced through a collaboration with Bodega. They're bigger, better-feeling and far more comfortable.
Should the "N" meet its end?
The big "N" logo on the sides of the 574 let New Balance play with its own image a bit. Lots of mesh and suede helped, too. The brand could pair mismatch colors and materials, follow themes, or pass the square footage off to other parties. Nowadays, though, it seems big, even as sneakers designs become increasingly crazy.
This is a good starting point, but New Balance makes better sneakers.
Does this meme sound familiar? There's an image of two people, places or things and "You vs. the guy she tells you not to worry about" typed out above them. The 574's eternally trapped inside one of these. Sure, it's a great shoe, but look at its siblings, the 990, 992 and 993. Hell, even the 57/40, a chunky riff on the classic you're reading about right now. I can't forget about the 650R.
The 574 is a solid starting point, a jumping off point, if you will, to then explore New Balance's pricier models. It's an icon for a reason, but it seems more attention is paid to the newer silhouettes, and even the collaborations. That means the 574 hasn't changed much, but maybe, just maybe, that's a good thing.