Almost 40 years after their initial release, white Nike Air Force 1s (AF1) are making a comeback in 2020.
What was originally a shoe for basketball players, the AF1 has crept into mainstream fashion and is, according to Footwear News, “a must-have sneaker.”
After conducting a survey on my personal Instagram asking “What trends have you noticed this year?” 11 out of 16 responses said “White Air Force 1s”. It’s hard to go anywhere without seeing men and women of all ages wearing “forces” by dressing them up with a skirt and blouse or wearing them casually with biker shorts and an oversized t-shirt.
In July 2020, Business Insider reported that the Air Force 1 was the top selling shoe of 2020 based on dollar sales.
The Air Force 1 first debuted in 1982 and was a hit with basketball players. Created by Nike shoe designer Bruce Kilgore, the shoe was initially inspired by the Nike Approach Hiking Boot which was known for its flexibility. Kilgore made a few modifications to the hiking boot by adding a circular outsole pattern to give basketball players a good shoe to pivot in and making the shoe lighter than a boot.
In 1981 the shoe was given to basketball players to test out and was later introduced to the public in 1982. Nike signed six NBA players to wear the AF1 during their games. That list included: Moses Malone (Philadelphia 76ers), Michael Cooper (L.A. Lakers), Bobby Jones (Philadelphia 76ers), Calvin Natt (Portland Trail Blazers), Mychal Thompson (Portland Trail Blazers), and Jamal Wilkes (L.A. Lakers).
Unfortunately for Nike, it was only popular among basketball players and due to low sales the company planned to discontinue the shoe in 1984. However, local retailers in Baltimore, MD encouraged Nike to keep the AF1 and begin making the shoe in different colors. Since then, the shoe has been released in many colors, now comes in women sizes, and can even be customized all the way down to the stitching with Nike’s online design studio: NikeiD.
So why is the shoe so popular now? There are multiple explanations.
Juanita Alcira, a Boca Raton based fashion designer and CEO of Omijaun Fashion, says that you can never go wrong with Air Force 1s.
“The White Air Force 1 Trend has always been around. I feel like it is a versatile but also iconic silhouette sneaker when it comes to styling. You can get a chill look or a clean simple look out of it,” said Alcira.
She credits the shoe’s popularity with its versatility.
“As a woman in fashion, I do like the trend. Even if it gets dirty a little, you can still rock it. I feel like you’re not going to always have a different sneaker to go with every outfit, but with white Air Force 1s it will complete the look,” said Alcira.
Lately, influencers have also worn the shoe. Celebrities like G-Herbo and Kendall Jenner are often seen wearing AF1s along with tik tokers Addison Rae and Charli D’amelio which introduces the shoe to a younger generation.
Kendall Jenner sporting her Air Force 1s
“Many rappers are wearing it with their name brand clothes as well. Rapper G-Herbo stated the White Airforce 1s are his favorite shoe because it goes with everything and how he has a lot of pairs. It’s also affordable so people are able to buy a clean shoe to get the look they want,” said Alcira.
Chance Jackson, an FAU alum and employee at Champs Sports, says that the white Air Force 1s are always sold out due to both their popularity and their color.
“It’s a classic silhouette for a sneaker, maybe the most iconic beside an Air Jordan. Plus it’s an all white sneaker, which people ruin all the time so they need another pair,” said Jackson.
Jackson has been collecting sneakers since he was in middle school and has always enjoyed streetwear. As a sneaker fanatic, he says that he’s personally not a fan of the Air Force 1 but says that he still appreciates the shoe for what it is and its impact on the shoe community.
“I actually don’t like the shoe, I can appreciate it for what it is, but I’ve just never been a fan of Air Force ones,” said Jackson.
Another reason why the shoe has done so well this year is because of the return of retro styles. Scrunchies, mom jeans, and bucket hats (all trends from the 1980’s) have made a comeback this year. AF1’s, which also originated in the 80’s, are often paired with the aforementioned items to give people a retro look.
“People are yearning for a safer, simpler, less hateful time,” Said Matt Powell, the vice president of the NPD group. NPD is a company that analyzes consumer trends primarily in North America.
Another caveat to the trend that has emerged in 2020, possibly out of boredom from lockdown, is shoe painting. Due to the blank canvas of the White AF1, people have been customizing their shoe with paint and studs to make it their own.
To speak on the shoes popularity, in 2019, Yahoo Finance reported that the Air Force 1 rose in social media popularity when compared to shoes from ADIDAS and Fame Magazine reported that 10 million pairs of AF1s were sold in 2019 and that the number is expected to rise by the end of 2020.
Whether you wear them for their versatility, comfort, to keep up with the trend, or to customize them, Air Force 1s are the year’s most popular shoe and, according to Nike’s website, one of their best selling shoes in history.
“When in doubt, wear White AirForce 1s,” said Alcira.