There are two kinds of people in this world: those who grew up on skates, and those who watched wistfully, feeding grazing elbows—or worse—an all-consuming lack of coordination. But whatever backpack you fall into, you’re almost certain to have spent much of your childhood lusting after skate shoes: whether it’s the classic Vans from the 70s and 80s, or the absurdly puffy DCs and Supras from the 90s. And as an adult, you will no doubt be delighted by the great resurgence of skate shoes.
Skate culture has returned to the mainstream over the past decade, powered by brands like Palace Skateboards and Supreme. The latter, in particular, went from cult favorite to multi-billion dollar streetwear label through its many collaborations, culminating in the iconic Louis Vuitton connection in 2017.
The easiest way to get into the trend is through shoes, and the best skate shoes give even the most basic gear attitude and sharpness. If you don’t know your nollie from your fakie but want a slice 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 father of all skate shoes. In 1966, when the sport was still in its infancy, two brothers, Paul and Jim Van Doren, opened The Van Doren Rubber Company. From a store in Anaheim, California, they began making specialty shoes to order. It was the Vans heavy sole that did it for local skaters, and soon the brothers teamed up with skateboarders Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta on the Vans #95 – now known as the Era.
The padded collar was – and is – a brilliant piece of practical design, providing the all-important ankle cushioning, but it’s the sleek shape and endless color combinations that made the Era ubiquitous, even outside of the skate world.
Adding the now iconic ‘Jazz Stripe’, the Old Skool is arguably the ultimate skate shoe: understated, understated cool and even better when shaken up a bit.
Vans SK8 Hi
For the SK8-Hi, Vans have upped their game – quite literally – again. Introduced in 1978 as Vans #38, the SK8-Hi was the brothers’ first high-top. Essentially an Old Skool with an extra inch of top for enhanced ankle protection, it revolutionized skate style.
The original remains unbeatable, but Van’s recent collaboration with Gore-tex – a Frankenstein’s monstrous combination of skate shoe and hiking boot – is all the rage right now with its rugged styling and chunky tread sole.
Nike SB Dunk
Unsurprisingly, mega-corp Nike struggled for years to win over the skate crowd, which values authenticity above pretty much everything else. The first skate shoes, sold under the now-defunct Nike Skateboarding brand, were clunky and unpopular. The second attempt came when it bought the startup brand Saver in 2001. The shoes were impressive, functional and most importantly comfortable. And while they never really caught on, they laid the foundation for Nike SB.
What ultimately helped Nike conquer the skate crowd was giving them exactly what they wanted. Although the official skate shoes had flopped, basketball shoes 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, they were finally onto something.
Available in both a low and a high top, the SB version introduced a Zoom Air unit in the heel and a padded tongue – useful for pulling tricks where the board touches the top of your foot.
Nike SB Stefan Janoski
Arguably the first great SB that was nothing else, when the Stefan Janoski came out in 2009, it was unlike any other shoe the brand had released. Janoski, the California pro, had pushed Nike to create something sleek and lightweight for its signature shoe, a step away from the puffy, heavily padded skate shoes that had saturated the market, but which Janoski self-released.
The flat, vulcanized rubber sole (stronger and more stretchy than traditional rubber soles – think Converse), simple upper and barely there tongue not only performed well, they were part of what was a burgeoning minimalism movement at the time.
Converse one star
Like Nike, its now parent company, Converse was not an official player in the skate shoe game for a long time, as it focused on basketball with lasers. But like Nike, Conserve All Stars were co-opted by skaters who loved the flat sole and chunky toecap.
In recent years, the Converse CONS series has stepped up old favorites like the Chuck Taylor and the One Star with better insoles and more (read: any) cushioning — but if you’re just looking to spice up your wardrobe, the classics will do just fine. We’re quite a fan of a pair of black suede One Stars.
Stepney Workers Club Dellow
What Stepney Workers Club has managed to achieve in just a few years is 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 chunky vulcanized sole and deconstructed upper on the border between authenticity and luxury. While these look and feel like a pair of sneakers that can take a beating, they’re also the best kind to wear.
Adidas Busenitz Pro
Adidas is another industry giant that has pulled off the old “buy credibility with a skate legend with a skate legend” trick with great success. 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 favorite boots – the style is classic Adidas: simple and unobtrusive. While vulcanized shoes were the standard at the time, the original Busenitz had a cupsole (which gives more protection, but less flexibility) – although vulc versions are also available today.
New Balance Numeric 306
New Balance is known for its running shoes, but over the past ten years it has made a serious – and successful – effort to win over skaters.
New Balance Numeric draws on the brand’s centuries of experience to deliver some of the most comfortable shoes in the game, while also looking 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
During the late 90s, you couldn’t move for DC Shoes. They did chunky, technical—let’s face it—ugly shoes long ago, before Balenciaga was even a twinkle in Demna’s eyes, usually sticking out from under cargo pants or JNCO jeans.
The DC story began in 1989, when Damon Way and Ken Block began screen printing T-shirts under the Eightball brand. Damon’s brother, Danny, was a pro skateboarder, and with his endorsement, the pair grew the brand, eventually spawning a skate shoe line: DC Shoes. Danny and a team of other pros helped DC Shoes get big and fast—muscled by the turn of the millennium of Vans.
The current DC Shoes are a lot tamer than the OGs. The Penza is a striking silhouette, balancing sleek and retro, with retro panels and a performance cupsole.