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The Best Classic Sneakers You Can Still Buy

Today’s high-demand designs derive their looks from a small handful of pioneering silhouettes.

classic sneakers
Evan Richards

Footwear doesn’t change as fast as cell phones do. What do I mean? Well, you don’t see many people walking around with flip phones. Sneakers, on the other hand, while a sprawling footwear type today, have a handful of totems — styles that were designed a long time ago but remain popular today. More than just abundant or affordable, they represent where the sneaker industry began. But these designs are more than just relics.

These days, you could choose from a million and a half different sneaker designs — rare, eccentric and often expensive. But each one owes much of its DNA to this small handful of silhouettes that came before, many of which remain popular today. Even better: you don't have to queue in line to buy a pair. These classics are readily, and cheaply, available when you need them.

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Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star
converse chuck taylor all star
Evan Richards

Debuted: 1917
Style:
High top, lace up
Price:
$60

Converse named its rubber-soled, high-top basketball sneaker the All-Star in 1920. More than a century later, people still wear it — and for good reason: they cost just $60 and look best a little beat up.

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Hood Rubber Company 1955 Conference High Cut
hood rubber company 1955 conference high cut
Evan Richards

Debuted: 1933
Style:
High top, lace up
Price:
$85

The 1955 Conference High Cut from the recently revived Hood Rubber Company (now owned by Mitchell & Ness) looks like it was plucked out of an old high school locker room. Don't let the distressed aesthetic fool you, however; it comes with plenty of support, courtesy of a removable molded liner and a heavier six-ounce canvas upper.

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Jack Purcell Canvas
jack purcell canvas
Evan Richards

Debuted: 1935
Style:
Low top, lace up
Price:
$65

B.F. Goodrich approached badminton player Jack Purcell about making his own signature shoe in 1935. The simple sneaker catered to Purcell’s on-court demands, but its low profile made it popular with style icons like Steve McQueen and James Dean. Converse eventually bought the rights to the brand and still makes the shoes to this day. It’s easy to tell these and Chucks apart: look for the “smile,” a curved line that cups the toe.

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PF Flyers Center Hi
pf flyers center hi
Evan Richards

Debuted: 1960
Style:
High top, lace up
Price:
$78

PF Flyers was founded by B.F. Goodrich in 1933, but it would take almost three decades for the brand to drop its most famous sneaker: the PF Flyers Center Hi. Marked by its iconically chunky sole and straightforward canvas upper, it battled stiff competition through the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s before fading into obscurity. But a spot in the 1993 movie The Sandlot gave the shoe new life.

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Adidas Stan Smith
adidas stan smith
Evan Richards

Debuted: 1965
Style:
Low top, lace up
Price:
$100

In the 1960s, Adidas needed a tennis star to name its signature shoe after. Cue Stan Smith. The tennis star has become larger than life, considering the brand has sold over 30 million pairs of sneakers adorned with his face. It’s a simple silhouette that pairs well with most outfits, and it breaks in without cracking.

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Vans Authentic
vans authentic
Evan Richards

Debuted: 1966
Style:
Low top, lace up
Price:
$55

When the Vans Authentic came out in 1966, then called the #44 Deck Shoes, only 12 customers bought them directly from the factory, or so the story goes. Over time, they defied their damning debut to become popular not only within the SoCal skate scene but with everyday people around the world. Today, Vans sells more than 75 million pairs of shoes a year.

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Puma Suede Classic
puma suede classic
Evan Richards

Debuted: 1968
Style:
Low top, lace up
Price:
$70

Initially called the Crack, slang for someone skilled at their craft, the Puma Suede made its grand debut at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City when U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested the racial injustices happening on the other side of the border. They became deeply embedded in our culture, as much a comfortable sneaker as proof you supported the cause.

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Nike Waffle Trainer
nike waffle trainer
Evan Richards

Debuted: 1973
Style:
Low top, lace up
Price:
$90

Nike’s Waffle Trainer was born in a waffle maker. The waffle-patterned outsole was designed to work like track spikes minus the sharp edges. Their softness, and noticeably lighter weight, made them a favorite of runners and non-runners alike. While Nike's running technology has come leaps and bounds since the 1970s, the Waffle Trainer remains a popular lifestyle option.

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gear patrol issue 18

A version of this story appears in Gear Patrol Magazine. Subscribe today

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