The Legacy of AF1s
By Akosua Adasi
If you’ve lived in Toronto or any major city in the world, it’s now common to see streetwear enthusiasts eagerly lining up around the block to wait for the release of some brand new, limited edition, only-100-units-ever-produced sneaker. If you’re not part of the streetwear community, it can be difficult to fathom the devotion it takes to wait several hours for the chance at getting your hands on a pair of sneakers. Yet the increased popularity of streetwear, and the adoption of its culture by high fashion and luxury brands have made access to limited edition items—Think a Supreme x Louis Vuitton skate deck or a pair of “Semi-Frozen Yellow” Yeezy Boost 350s—crucial to cementing one’s authenticity, and place in the community. Owning these items, for some streetwear devotees, is key to distinguishing between “posers” and those who are the real deal. Although this attitude has come to dominate streetwear culture, there still exists those key pieces that stay timeless, accessible, and authentic. One such item is Nike’s Air Force One sneakers.
Nike first released the hi-top version of Air Force Ones in 1982 as a basketball shoe. (The lo-top version was released the following year). The shoe immediately became popular amongst basketball players and was seen on NBA stars like Moses Malone. But the sneaker found its true place as a cultural zeitgeist after gaining popularity on the East Coast in cities like Baltimore and New York, and after becoming the official footwear of rappers like Jay-Z and Nelly. Since the original release 38 years ago, Nike has released various colourways of the sneaker, but the all-white colourway remains one of the best-selling, most popular shoes of all time. White Air Force Ones are so ubiquitous in contemporary culture, that they’ve gained shoutouts in popular rap music—on the song “Grace,” from his recent album My Turn, rapper Lil’ Baby drawls: “I got designer for days but it's somethin' about 'em / Go crazy for white Air Force One.”
Despite many imitations, it seems nothing can beat a classic pair of white Air Force Ones. One reason might be their inexpensiveness—a new pair goes for around $120 CAD. Even more, they’re easy to wear and have maintained their crisp freshness for over three decades. In their ease and accessibility, white Air Force Ones have come to represent the democratic nature and self-expression that is inherent to the origins of streetwear. Next time you’re thinking of lining up in below freezing weather to cash in on some new Yeezys, pull out your old Air Force Ones instead.
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Follow Akosua at @mumblingcap.