Best retro trainers you can still buy in 2021
From the Cortez to the Gazelle, this is our ultimate throwback to the best retro trainers you can get your hands on.
Some trainers just never go out of style. And, apparently, neither do some cliches.
Although brands are constantly delivering fancy new materials, technologies and silhouettes, many of us just still can’t resist a good old-fashioned throwback. Besides, keeping on top of the latest trainer trends can be an absolute nightmare, especially since they seem to change faster than the mid-July British weather.
It can all get a bit much, really. Nobody wants to spend a fortune on a new pair of sneakers, only for them to immediately become out-dated and “uncool”. Thanks to our insatiable hunger for nostalgia, however, the chunky style of retro trainers is something that always feels fresh and, well, timeless.
These classic designs are just as popular now as when they were first released, undoubtedly becoming some of the most iconic trainers of all-time. Since there’s so many awesome vintage kicks to choose from, we’re running through the best retro trainers you can still add to your collection today. Let’s get nostalgic.
What makes a shoe retro?
In the simplest terms possible, retro trainers are typically classed as older shoes which have been re-released at some stage. Whether it’s the re-launch of a colourway or classic silhouette, these sneakers often rekindle our love for some of the most popular designs ever produced. They also give you a golden chance to actually bag a pair.
Sometimes it’s a case of the older the better, but you might also have your eye on the re-release of a much more recent trainer. Either way, they all fall under the “retro” bracket, though most people usually picture the chunky, even ugly, style of older vintage shoes.
Different types of retro trainers
Even if you’re not an obsessive sneakerhead, you probably already know there’s all kinds of retro trainers out there. The choice of classic sneakers is actually a little overwhelming, with an enormous range of low, mid and high-top silhouettes just waiting for you to sink your feet into them. You might even fancy a mixture of all three.
The most popular retro trainers can usually be broken down into different categories, with some styles proving slightly more in-demand than others. While some might not be quite right for you, the main styles to consider are: running, canvas, skater, tennis and basketball trainers (in whichever length suits you best).
There are many others out there, of course, but these are good areas to start if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for.
10 best retro trainers you can still buy
Right then, let’s get to it. Including the iconic Swoosh, Three Stripes and a bunch of other awesome brand logos, we’ve rounded up the best retro trainers you can spend your money on today. In fact, we can even help you find the lowest prices on every single one of them.
10. Vans Old Skool
Release Date: 1977
First launched as a skate shoe way back in 1977, the Vans Old Skool is instantly recognised all over the world. It was the brand’s founder, Paul Van Doren, who had the real lightbulb moment all those years ago, doodling on a sketchpad until he came up with the famous “jazz stripe” we all know and love today. Not bad for a day’s work.
Despite over four decades on the market, it’s actually quite difficult to look at this trainer as “retro”. The Old Skool has been passed down through various generations now, but it’s one of the few trainers which has never really felt like it’s out of date, undergoing various makeovers and unleashing a string of outrageous designs upon the world.
This is the quintessential Vans look. An invincible trainer.
9. Nike Air Jordan IV
Release Date: 1989
You just can’t go wrong with a pair of Jordans. Inspired by the greatest basketball player to grace the court (apart from Bugs Bunny), the Nike Air Jordan has continued to evolve over the past few decades, but the fourth generation is arguably the pick of the bunch. And people will argue about it.
Not only did the IV produce some absolutely insane collabs - looking at you, Eminem and UNDFTD - but it was also the first Jordan to get a global release. As MJ’s legend continued to grow on the court, this is where his fashion label really started to take-off on a similar trajectory, with fans clamouring to get themselves a pair all over the world.
Originally released in just four colourways, it’s since been re-launched with a variety of stunning designs. Of course, the fact Jordan produced “the shot” in these bad boys certainly hasn’t hurt the IV’s popularity over the years…
READ | Our rundown of the Nike Air Jordan’s complete history, from 1984 to 2020.
8. adidas Stan Smith
Release Date: 1971
Timeless. It’s actually quite easy to forget that the adidas Stan Smith was originally named after a different famous tennis player, and that the design of the 60s was instead called the "Haillet". Yeah, I know, it definitely doesn’t have the same ring to it.
This isn’t as chunky or colourful as many other retro trainers out there, but Stan Smiths have always boasted a classier, more subdued style. Most commonly drenched in crisp shades of white, this is a 50 year-old sneaker which has undergone only minimal changes throughout its lifetime. After all, there’s no point fixing something if it ain’t broken.
If you want to go for a real statement retro style, then these aren’t the trainers for you. However, this is an ideal choice for anyone wanting an old-favourite without causing a fuss. I mean, David Beckham wears them sometimes, so you know they’re pretty damn cool.
7. New Balance 990
Release Date: 1982
Possibly the most underrated trainer on this list, the New Balance 990 is arguably one of the best sneakers the American brand have ever produced. Launching back in 1982 with one hell of a price tag, the 990 was a high-tech running shoe which truly pushed the boundaries of innovation on the track. Hence the eye-watering price.
Since then, it still offers the fantastic cushioning and stability of the original, but is no longer just marketed towards serious runners or athletes. Instead, the 990 has been tweaked gradually over the years, but the fact it’s only in its fifth-generation (after nearly 40 years!) says a lot about the quality of the original.
In terms of comfort, there are very few retro trainers which even come close to touching this.
6. Reebok Club C
Release Date: 1985
Ah, the Reebok Club C. Yet another classic tennis shoe which makes us all grin a little with nostalgia. Once you’ve stopped grinning, though, you might even feel inclined to open up your wallet and bag a pair, because this is honestly a trainer that goes with just about anything. You could wear some to your mate’s wedding, if you really wanted to.
This simplistic, stylish collection was launched back in the mid-80s, priding itself on its outstanding durability and comfort out on the court. Although the “C” stands for “champion", the Club C has since evolved into an incredibly popular lifestyle shoe - with the insanely durable materials offering excellent value for money.
Get hold of a pair and let me know if you find an outfit they don’t really match with. Go on, I dare you.
5. Nike Air Max 90
Release Date: 1990
Following up from the hugely-popular Air Max 1, it’s fair to say that these trainers had pretty big, um, shoes to fill. The Nike Air Max 90 introduced us to a much larger Air unit, featuring a colourway which drew attention to the increased size, while also throwing up all kinds of fresh new materials.
While you might prefer certain aspects of the 95, 97 or another model from around that time, there’s no doubt that the Air Max 90 laid the foundations for the following decade. To this day, this remains one of the most comfortable trainers in the Air Max collection, while also sitting amongst the most successful sneakers of all-time.
The original “Infrared” colourway would make a worthy addition to any sneakerhead’s collection, but there’s also plenty of stunning re-releases for you to snoop at.
4. Puma Suede
Release Date: 1968
The Puma Suede isn’t just a giant. It’s a giant that’s sat at the heart of modern culture for over 50 years, wrapped in tough suede materials and refusing to move from its seat. New trainers might come and go, fashion trends might change like the tides, but this is a trainer which will outlive absolutely all of it.
From its early days on the court to those on the street, the Suede has essentially never stopped being cool. Coming at a time when literally every other shoe was either leather or canvas, the Suede instead made use of more luxurious fabrics (obviously, I’m talking about suede) and wasted absolutely no time in becoming a cult classic.
It’s undergone countless transformations over the past few decades, helping the Suede remain one of the most-loved trainers on the planet. I’m pretty sure 95% of the population have owned a pair at some point.
3. Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star
Release Date: 1917
It’s crazy to think how few changes these trainers have had over the past 100 years. Okay, so huge improvements were made back in 1970, but the Converse Chuck Taylor is still very much the same shoe as it’s always been. With its black upper, white toe box and classic “All-Star” logo, this is just about as vintage as trainers come these days.
Once seen as the most inventive basketball shoe on the planet, the All-Star has become a staple of casual footwear in more recent years. There’s been countless colours and collaborations down the years, with some downright crazy designs completely flying off the shelves - but, no matter how hard they try, sometimes there’s just no beating the classic OG.
2. adidas Gazelle
Release Date: 1966
There’s probably a bunch of adidas trainers I could include in this list. The Superstar, Spezial and Samba would all be worthy entrants here, as would the Continental 80 or Jeans. There’s just something about the classic Three Stripes which really hits all the right nostalgia notes, but the adidas Gazelle is just about the pick of the bunch.
Dating back to the mid-60’s, this is undoubtedly one of the world’s most iconic trainers. The first adidas shoe to be made from suede, the Gazelle burst onto the scene absolutely packed with colour and invention. All these years later, the colours and stripes are still there, but it’s now very much seen as the classic adidas look - rather than anything spectacular.
Oh, and if you’re hoping to stand out from the crowd, the Gazelle probably won’t do you many favours. Pretty much every man and his dog owns a pair right now, but that doesn’t stop them from being an absolutely sensational shoe. It’s obviously remained in production for so long for a reason.
READ | The differences between the adidas Gazelle, Samba and Campus.
1. Nike Cortez
Release Date: 1972
You don’t have to be a Forrest Gump fan to know how iconic this trainer is. Launched during the 1972 Olympic Games, the Nike Cortez didn’t just introduce us to a legendary sneaker collection, but also became the main building block for a global brand. Make no mistake, Nike would not be where they are today without the impact of the Cortez.
Featuring a thick rubber sole, raised heel and striking red Swoosh logo, the original release made an instant impact out on the track. Whilst I probably wouldn’t recommend running the entire breadth of America (or any other country for that matter), the Cortez remains an incredibly comfortable running shoe, even if it has been overtaken by more advanced technologies.
Perhaps more importantly, it offers an irresistible retro vibe, throwing us straight back to the 1980s and a time when Marty McFly was teaching us the power of love. Basically, these are just downright cool - and probably always will be.