The most iconic New Balance advertisement isn't for New Balance at all. The Jordan “Jumpman” logo was inspired by an image taken by photographer Jacobus Rentmeester in 1984, features an Olympics-bound Michael Jordan wearing none other than a pair of New Balance BB480s.

More than just a fun fact, it's kind of an encapsulation of the brand itself: quietly, modestly, incredible.

Founded in 1906 as an orthopedic insole operation, New Balance didn't sell its first actual shoes at retail until 1960. In 1972, New Balance only employed five full-time workers who only produced up to 30 pairs of their popular Trackster running shoes per day.

Throughout its history, New Balance has relied on word-of-mouth from their client base as opposed to athlete or celebrity endorsements. And that's why, when they released the 320 model in 1976 which sported their distinguishable “N” emblem, the iconic print ads featured an old “ma and pa” wearing their sneakers.

What Do New Balance's Numbers Mean?

The brand was so stubborn about avoiding typical marketing tactics to try and skew customer’s perception, they avoided gimmicky naming conventions for their styles altogether and went the route of a functional coding system to objectively differentiate their models. Their 6-7 digit code may seem complex or nonsensical, but it’s actually quite simple.

The first letter or two signifies the gender and/or training type, i.e. M = Mens, W = Womens, T=Trail, or whether they’re manufactured in the US or UK. The next two numbers indicate the level of innovation and performance you can expect, as well as the price tag you can expect to see smacked onto it. Then, the next set of numbers set the range of performance, starting with a focus on control at “40," moving to stability, cushion and comfort in the “50" to “70” range. The “80" and “90” with “00" ranges focus on providing competitive runners lightweight options built for speed.

The catch is that these numbering are more of a general trend than a hard and fast rule. New Balance doesn't quite want people to be shopping this way.

With that in mind, here's a guide to some of the brand's most important sneakers.

New Balance's Best-Selling Men's Sneakers

New Balance 550

The 550 “Basketball Oxford” was designed by footwear legend Steven Smith and released in 1989 at the height of basketball’s biggest footwear trend to date: the desire to play in low top, lightweight sneakers with added stability. Unfortunately, the 550 was a failure due to the lack of forward-thinking technology and innovation at a time when Reebok Pump and Nike Air were having its day in the sun. 30 years later, one man’s trash is Teddy Santis’s treasure as he raised the once ostracized sneaker from its grave with his Aimé Leon Dore collaboration in 2020, thanks to the footwear’s complementary aesthetic to the brand’s downtown NYC vibe.

New Balance 550


New Balance 574

As the brand’s most recognizable style, the 574 is a classic that has stood the tests of time, all without faltering. Originally released in 1988 as a running shoe, the brand has made sure to always keep this icon in its lineup, even as they’ve made slight updates to ensure they're keeping up with the Joneses, so to speak.

New Balance 574


New Balance 327

Surprisingly, the most retro-inspired of all these silhouettes is also the newest. Debuted in 2020 through a collaborative effort with French fashion brand, Casablanca, the 327 takes cues from New Balances first running shoes released in the ‘70s; more specifically the 355, Supercomp and the one that really started to put New Balance in the discussion amongst the titans of sneakers, the 320.

New Balance 327


New Balance 990v3

Dubbed "the first performance running shoe priced at $100" back in 1982, you would be hard-pressed at finding another lineage of sneakers as exalted as the New Balance 990. Four years of research and development went into the making of the original 990 with disruption and performance top of mind, introducing the lauded "Motion Control Device" heel cap. However, the silhouette paired with the understated neutral grey colorway — unheard of at the time as other running shoes dawned neon colors — was quickly adopted as the lifestyle sneaker of choice.

It would take 16 years for them to evolve the revered sneaker into the aptly named 990v2, which introduced a significant design upgrade that would guide each and every subsequent 990 series moving forward, until v5. Today, New Balance continues to pay its respects to the pioneering sneaker by featuring it for their Made in USA sub-line, hellbent on making sure it stays atop the brand’s proverbial leaderboard. The 990v3 is one of the most popular versions.

Read our full review of the New Balance 990v3.

New Balance MADE in USA 990v3


New Balance 990v5

In 2019, New Balance pulled the “old, but new” card with v5 of the 990 series; a version that would borrow from its predecessors while forging its own path. Taking certain cues that really put the 990 on the map, like the neutral grey uppers, the ENCAP midsole cushioning and being manufactured in the US. Outside of that, its nearest ancestor is the v4, which could pass as a second cousin. A big improvement from previous iterations is naked to the eye, as the overall fit is widely believed to be New Balance’s best to date, with a roomier toe box and additional heel cushioning. We can expect the 990v6 to further the series’s legacy, even though it certainly does not need improved much.

New Balance Made in USA 990v5


New Balance 992

Unofficially dubbed "the Steve Jobs sneaker," thanks to the late Apple CEO’s obsession with the sneaker, the 992 was quite the bold separation from the previous model, the 991. Originally released in 2006, the 992 helped the brand go big for its 100-year anniversary. This new US-made Cool Dad™ shoe, the brand’s most expensive shoe to produce, sporting premium materials and a stacked outsole, was bulkier, sportier and introduced new technology in the ABZORB Stability insock. Furthermore, they introduced the shoe in 78 varieties of sizes and widths so more folks could enjoy them. While it didn’t see immediate widespread success like other 99X series releases/retroes, it did garner praise from the brand’s diehard fundamentalists due to these big advancements, which might be why it saw its first retro in 2020.

New Balance 992


New Balance 650

For basketball fans, this is a fun find — an '80s-era hoops shoe retooled for today. But for non-hoopers, the 650 is an excellent high-top, even if you don't typically like high-tops. It's comfortable even after extended periods and, so far, mine all-white pair have stayed almost as good as new. They're easy to clean, easy to match with the rest of your outfit, and, best of all, affordable, especially when compared to sneakers of a similar build.

New Balance 650

New Balance 2002r

As with most of the newer silhouettes over the last two or three decades, New Balance knew they needed to push beyond the normal, conventional upgrades other brands were making to their performance-meets-lifestyle kicks. New Balance’s 2010 release of the technically-advanced 2002 running shoe was no exception, because it introduced the full-length N-ERGY, which essentially has its own suspense system to maximize support with shock absorption.

And like the newer silhouettes over the last two or three decades, these didn't quite pan out at first, likely due to the eye-popping $250 retail price tag. Luckily, New Balance corrected the formula to re-introduce the shoe in 2020, this time with an updated sole borrowed from the 860v2, a new “R” suffix and a much more palatable $130 price tag. Along with the 550, the 2002r is certainly having a moment as it continues to see collaborations using its silhouette as the base. Most notable being visionary Salehe Bembury’s interpretation of the style, along with the highly sought after “Protection Pack," which sported deconstructed suede uppers for a new twist on a once abandoned style.

New Balance 2002R


New Balance 993

There is a reason New Balance hasn’t made a new, non-retro 99X series silhouette since 2008, and that reason is the 993. You likely will never see anyone from New Balance C-suite say any of their styles are “perfection” but you can read between the lines with the 993, as it took the most favorable elements of its predecessors — the 991 and 992, respectively — while adding a whole new and improved form of cushioning in the ABZORB “Dynamic Training System," which combined the brand’s ABZORB foam and SBS elastomer to absorb heel strike while provide optimal cushioning that conformed to your foot’s architecture.

Despite its bulkier frame, it is one of the brand’s most lightweight lifestyle silhouettes, providing the wearer with pretty much all New Balance has to offer. It makes perfect sense, too, that this would be one of the brand’s most celebrated and top-selling styles, even at $200 a pop.

New Balance Made in US 993


New Balance 530

A sneaker tale as old as time, especially for New Balance: The 530 was released in 1992 under the guise of a high-performing running sneaker, taking cues from their competitors while providing their own uncompromising twist, headlined by its new ABZORB heel cushioning. It didn’t move the needle enough at the time, though it certainly didn’t fail.

However, fast forward to 2013, at the height of the cool-kids-in-chunky-ironic-shoes era, the sneaker was quickly adopted by the fashion zeitgeist; it checked all of the boxes, and a makeover helped catapult the 530 back into the limelight.

New Balance 530


New Balance 997

New Balance designer and triple OG Steven Smith was often ahead of his time (which is why Kanye West sought him out to lead design for his Yeezy brand). Before leaving New Balance to work for Adidas in 1988, Smith made sure to leave it all out on the floor, per se, providing his coda to the footwear brand that gave him his start with the 997. The sneaker was ahead of its time, using an unheard of molding technique that turned the ENCAP and C-CAP cushioning to one, single midsole. The silhouette’s 1991 release was a fanfare, to say the least.

New Balance 997H