Are you drawn to chunky retro sneakers with modern comfort and flair? If so, chances are you’ve heard of the New Balance 550 sneaker; its popularity has seen an upsurge as both a fashion statement and a streetwear staple in recent years. But did you know its history dates back as far as 1980, when it first made its debut as a basketball shoe?
In this article, we take an in-depth look into the history of the New Balance 550 sneaker, from its early days as a basketball shoe through its role in creating “dad shoe” fashion trends and finally becoming a must-have fashion item. No matter your interests—sneakerheads, fashion enthusiasts, or those simply curious—you won’t want to miss this fascinating journey into its history!
The Early Days of New Balance 550
New Balance has over a century of experience producing durable shoes designed for athletes that promote endurance, performance, and comfort. Established in Boston at the start of 1906, they initially focused on orthotics and arch supports before gradually expanding to include running footwear as well as basketball shoes, among other products.
New Balance entered the highly aggressive basketball shoe market during the 1980s by unveiling its New Balance 550 model. Designed by Steven Smith, the P550 featured a luxurious leather upper in white, including perforations that increased ventilation. Team colors were added in accordance with NBA rules. New Balance also integrated its cushioning expertise into its midsole, which boasted extensive layers of EVA foam cushioning.
Though New Balance made considerable efforts, they were ultimately unable to match established brands and the endorsement of stars like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. By the late 1990s, technology such as the Reebok Pump and Nike Air had taken over basketball shoe markets, while the P550 became obsolete. However, New Balance continued its legacy by producing famous runners such as their 990 series or 574 series of shoes.
The Revival of the New Balance 550
New Balance was an early pioneer of the dad shoe trend that emerged in late 2010. Their selection of chunky runners like the recently released 990v5 allowed them to capitalize on this fad, earning them an impressive fan base. 2020 presented New Balance with an opportunity to revitalize some classic pieces, like the P550 from the New Balance archives, which Aime Leon Dore saw fit to reintroduce into mainstream culture, or so they thought.
Teddy Santis, the founder of ALD, has previously collaborated on the series 990 and 827 sneakers with New Balance, making him the perfect candidate to tackle the P550 retro-inspired silhouette. As its design had not received as much media coverage in previous decades, New Balance needed an old pair from collector Khalli Vegas and several sketches as references to realize this collaboration successfully.
New Balance 550s from Aime Leon Dore were made available for college wear with vintage-looking midsoles that seemed straight out of the 1980s. Since their release around 2020, Aime Leon Dore has released several variants, including their International Friendship Through Basketball Capsule, celebrating global basketball passion, and their flagship 650R model.
ALD and New Balance’s collaboration breathed new life into the P550, reigniting it as an iconic classic shoe with universal appeal that would suit modern as well as vintage shoe fans alike.
Evolution into today’s fashion icon
The New Balance 550 has come a long way since its humble origins as a sports shoe. Now, its reputation in fashion circles and among style-savvy people and trendsetters is such that many must own one as an essential item.
Hip-hop culture was vital in driving the rise of New Balance 550s as fashion staples. Hip-hop stars were spotted wearing them in music videos and in public; this caused them to gain widespread acclaim, with fashion-minded individuals following suit with their style.
Today, New Balance 550 shoes have become a favorite choice for both women and men. They have also attracted early adopters and trendsetters who have helped elevate its status in fashion circles, like Joe Freshgoods, who featured them in one of his collections, further promoting it into mainstream popularity. Other notable trendsetters who have worn New Balance 550s include A$AP Nast, Jerry Lorenzo, and Don C.
Evidently, it is clear that the New Balance 550 has become a fashion mainstay with its distinctive design and versatility, beloved by hip-hop artists and fashionistas in the industry alike and becoming an indispensable fashion statement today.
The New Balance 550 has seen remarkable success since its first appearance as a basketball shoe in the late 1980s. From struggling against established brands to its recent revival as a fashion statement and collaboration shoe, the 550 has stood the test of time.
Over time, the New Balance 550 has become widely recognized for its distinctive style features—a perforated midsole and thick leather upper—making this shoe so strikingly iconic. However, what truly distinguishes it is its ability to adapt and change with the times—today, it is not just another vintage basketball shoe but an icon for fashion today.
No matter your style preferences, no one can deny the significance of the New Balance 550’s impactful presence in sneaker culture. With New Balance continuing to innovate and collaborate on designing this iconic shoe, it will be fascinating to watch its future development.