If I had been told five years ago that Nike Air Force 1s would ever become too basic to purchase, I would have laughed in your face. How could oversized, clunky shoes that strayed a bit too much from the status quo ever become the new normal?
I could not have been more wrong.
In the past half decade, and especially in the past year, Nike Air Forces (as well as their cousins, Adidas Superstars) have taken college campuses and the wallets of Generation Z by storm. Their utterly basic style is truly unlike any other shoe and yet that is its greatest appeal. The shoes fit absolutely anyone, regardless of gender identity or atheltic status — their versatility is unmatched.
How did people begin to see them this way as opposed to weird shoes that the hipsters wore at school? The answer lies in the effect of mob mentality.
In the ’80s, Nike Air Force 1s achieved fame due to their widespread popularity among basketball players. Nike was the provider for basketball players both professional and amateur, and to promote their new shoe, they called upon the power of six stars of the time: basketball players Moses Malone, Michael Cooper, Jamaal Wilkes, Bobby Jones, Mychal Thompson and Calvin Natt. This marketing campaign was so iconic that it was emulated on the shoe’s 25th anniversary in 2007 — with the more contemporary stars LeBron James, Steve Nash, Paul Pierce, Rasheed Wallace, Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant, among others.
However, just as trends come and go, this one faded out in the next decade as new sneakers came out that could replace the old.
History in the fashion world has demonstrated this theme to us on countless occasions: Trends rise and fall. Though trends disappear, many of them make a return later on. Oftentimes, trends return about a decade later, causing people to forget the demographic group of which they originated from.
At the onset of their return, Air Force 1s were worn by people who wanted to stand out. This was largely due to the industry that reintroduced them — not basketball this time around, but rap music. Industry greats like Jay-Z and Fat Joe donned the shoe, and their rejection of what was “popular” at the time seeped down to their young fans. Diverging from the traditional sneaker of choice was a risky move that would instigate comments of shock and primarily judgement. Breaking the status quo was a risky move in high school unless one truly embodied the “I don’t give a fuck” persona.
It wasn’t until this headspace became something that people strove to embody, rather than a unique quality, that this aesthetic became basic — and, therefore, so did Air Force 1s.
The funny thing is that the people that brought Nike Air Force 1 sneakers back are no longer wearing them today. The areas where Nike Air Force 1s found their popularity — basketball and hip hop — are industries associated with and dominated by the Black community. This “trend” of Air Force 1s isn’t a trend at all, but rather another element of youth culture, alongside things like popular slang terms or musical methods, started by and stolen from the Black community. The trend started among Black artists and industry leaders, as adopted by Black teens and eventually was appropriated by white influencers and teens until the trend expanded and became accepted by a greater percentage of the young population until they became a staple.
Air Force 1s aren’t the only trend in on this theme. Oversized hoodies. Sneakers worn as formal wear. Scrunchies. The list goes on and on. They have always been around — it’s just that white people weren’t into them until recently.
Therefore, it is fair to make the case that the majority of recent trends are not new in actuality. They are merely revamps of clothing from another decade that has notably become of interest to a new demographic. Perhaps we should start giving credit where credit is truly due.