There are two types of people in this world: those who skated growing up, and those who looked on wistfully, nursing grazed elbows – or worse – an all-consuming lack of coordination. But whichever pack you fall into, it’s almost certain you spent a large portion of your childhood coveting skate shoes: be it the classic Vans of the 70s and 80s, or the absurdly swollen DCs and Supras of the 90s. And no doubt, adult you will be thrilled by the great skate shoe resurgence.
Skate culture has moved back into the mainstream over the past decade, powered by brands such as Palace Skateboards and Supreme. The latter, especially, went from cult favourite to billion dollar streetwear label through its many collaborations, culminating in the iconic 2017 Louis Vuitton hook-up.
The easiest way into the trend is through footwear, and the best skate shoes lend even the most basic of gear attitude and edge. If you don’t know your nollie from your fakie but want a piece of the action, fear not. Here are the most stylish skate shoe models you can buy right now. Authenticity guaranteed.
Vans Old Skool
Vans are the daddy of all skate shoes. Back in 1966, when the sport was still in its infancy, two brothers, Paul and Jim Van Doren opened up The Van Doren Rubber Company. From a storefront in Anaheim, California, they began making specialised shoes to order. It was Vans’ heavy sole that did it for local skaters, and soon enough the brothers were collaborating with skateboarders Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta on the Vans #95 – now known as the Era.
The padded collar was – and is – a brilliant bit of practical design, providing all-important ankle cushioning, but it’s the sleek shape and endless colour combinations that made the Era ubiquitous even outside of the skate world.
The Old Skool, which added the now-iconic ‘Jazz Stripe’, is perhaps the ultimate skate shoe: low-key, understated cool and even better once they’ve been bashed up a bit.
Vans SK8 Hi
For the SK8-Hi, Vans upped their game – literally – once again. Introduced in 1978 as Vans #38, the SK8-Hi was the brothers’ first high-top. Essentially an Old Skool with a few extra inches up top for improved ankle protection, it revolutionised skate style.
The original remains unbeatable, but Van’s recent collaboration with Gore-tex – a Frankenstein’s monster melding skate shoe and hiking boot – is bang on trend right now with its rugged styling and chunky-tread sole.
Nike SB Dunk
Perhaps unsurprisingly, mega-corp Nike struggled for years to win over the skate crowd, who famously value authenticity over pretty much everything else. Its first skate shoes, sold under the now-defunct Nike Skateboarding brand, were clunky and unpopular. Its second attempt came when it bought start-up brand Savier in 2001. The shoes were impressive, functional and, most importantly, comfortable. And even though they never quite caught on, they laid the groundwork for Nike SB.
Ultimately, what helped Nike win over the skate crowd was giving them exactly what they wanted. Though its official skate shoes had flopped, basketball trainers like the Nike Dunk and Air Jordan were common sights on the halfpipe. So when Nike launched the SB Dunk, redesigned with extra cushioning and padding, finally they were on to something.
Available as both a low- and high-top, the SB version introduced a Zoom Air unit in the heel and a padded tongue – helpful for pulling of tricks where the board impacts the top of your foot.
Nike SB Stefan Janoski
Arguably the first great SB that wasn’t a riff on something else, when the Stefan Janoski dropped in 2009 it was unlike any other shoe the brand had put out. Janoski, the Californian pro, had pushed Nike to create something slim and lightweight for his signature shoe, a move away from the puffy, heavily-padded skate shoes that had oversaturated the market, but that Janoski himself swerved.
The flat, vulcanised rubber sole (stronger and more elastic that traditional rubber soles – think Converse), simple upper and barely-there tongue not only performed well, they tapped into what was, at the time, a burgeoning minimalism movement.
Converse One Star
Like Nike, its now-parent company, Converse wasn’t an official player in the skate shoe game for a long time, being laser-focussed on basketball. But also like Nike, Conserve All Stars were co-opted by skaters who liked the flat sole and solid toe cap.
In recent years the Converse CONS series has souped-up old favourites like the Chuck Taylor and the One Star with better insoles and more (read: any) cushioning – but if you’re just looking to trick-out your wardrobe, the classics will do just fine. We’re fairly partial to a pair of black suede One Stars.
Stepney Workers Club Dellow
What Stepney Workers Club has managed to achieve in a few short years is pretty damn impressive. Launched in 2018, the fledgling east London brand has won a legion of fans with its skate-inspired kicks, made using traditional methods and sold at a reasonable price – all part of an ethos of inclusivity and community, based on the idea of workers’ sports clubs.
The Dellow is subtle perfection, with its hefty vulcanised sole and deconstructed upper straddling the line between authenticity and luxury. Although these look and feel like a pair of sneakers that will withstand a battering, they’re also the kind you can wear for best.
Adidas Busenitz Pro
Adidas is another industry giant that pulled off the old ‘collaborate with a skating legend to buy credibility’ trick to great effect. Dennis Busenitz’s shoe wasn’t the first at Adidas Skateboarding, but it was by far the best.
A skate-ready version of the legendary Copa Mundial football boot – one of Busenitz’s favourite shoes – the styling is classic Adidas: simple and unflashy. While vulcanised shoes were the standard at the time, the original Busenitz had a cupsole (which gives more protection, but less flexibility) – though vulc versions are available today, too.
New Balance Numeric 306
New Balance is famous for its running shoes, but for the past decade it’s been making a serious – and successful – bid to win over skaters.
New Balance Numeric relies on the brand’s century-long experience, delivering some of the most comfortable shoes in the game, which also happen to look pretty slick. The 306 – designed with pro skater Jamie Foy – has a slightly 80s vibe, especially the recently-added slip-on version.
DC Shoes Penza
Throughout the late 90s, you couldn’t move for DC Shoes. They did chunky, technical – let’s be honest – ugly shoes way back, before Balenciaga was even a twinkle in Demna’s eye, most often found poking out from underneath cargo pants or JNCO jeans.
DC’s story began in 1989, when Damon Way and Ken Block started screen-printing T-shirts under the brand name Eightball. Damon’s brother, Danny, was a pro skateboarder, and with his endorsement the pair grew the brand, eventually spinning off a skate shoe line: DC Shoes. Danny and a team of other pros helped DC Shoes get big, quick – muscling out Vans by the turn of the millennium.
Today’s DC Shoes are a lot tamer than the OGs. The Penza is a standout model, striking a balance between streamlined and retro, with throwback panelling and a performance-focussed cupsole.