It’s no surprise that this site has a good amount of stories relating to the Grateful Dead, farming, and Vermont IPA’s. A few years ago when the entire sneaker world was drawing inspiration from the 1980’s, it was very easy for me to think back and reference sneakers, athletic apparel and experiences from when I was ten years old. My whole life revolved around sports, Nike, and Yo! MTV Raps back then. Since I have a decent memory and a shitload of old ads and catalog images from the eighties, I did my part by adding some historical perspective to the sneaker re-issues. You can find thousands of these artifacts posted on my Tumblr. In the last fifteen years we’ve tapped the 1980’s sneaker well dry and seen many more retros derived from the 1990’s. The formula for retro sneakers also seems to be that twenty-something year old ‘sneakerheads’ like to wear what they remember from when they were ten years old. Everyone is currently focused on the 1990’s now like I was focused on the 1980’s a decade ago.
When looking back to the 1990’s, I can tell you that I wasn’t wearing Reebok Shaq Attack Hypnosis sneakers then and I won’t be writing about them now. For me the 1990’s were about going off to college, exploration, road trips, and a lot of live music. Today I’m not consciously thinking about 1990’s content to write because it’s in style, but particles of ideas are floating in the air and I know things materialize in cycles. Because of this, I’m not surprised that chunky basketball sneakers, grunge, and suburban hiking hippie style have all co-existed over the past few years. It’s the same now as it was when I was in high school, back when these trends began.
In 1992, bright colors began to fade away and sneaker styles started changing. Basketball sneakers became very bulky and we got a lot of suede and nubuck over the next few years (think of Ewing’s, Air Force 180 and Air Jordan VIII). I was a freshman in high school by this time and although I had been wearing primarily basketball sneakers since 1985, these new designs were just too much for me off the court. While this ‘evolution’ was occurring in basketball, there was an overall shift in consciousness and exercise behaviors in 1992. The 1980’s were all about the emergence of health clubs, but the 1990’s saw a shift from the gym into the great outdoors. Genres like aerobics and cross training began to make way for outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, and trail running. To put this shift into terms Nikeheads (I mean sneakerheads) can understand, just think of the Nike ACG catalog. By 1992 Bo Jackson had a reconstructed hip and the cross training category was losing steam. Nike recognized what was on the horizon and developed outdoor sneakers like the Air Mowabb and Air Escape. adidas also made some impact in the outdoor world with their selection of Torsion trail runners and lightweight hiking boots.
Although Nike, adidas and Reebok were all heavily invested in the outdoor trend of the 1990’s, the best lightweight hiking boots came from the companies who had been manufacturing outdoor equipment for years. Merrell claimed to be ‘The Best In The World’ and had a strong selection of boots ranging from the lightweight Westwind GTX (Gore-Tex), to the rugged Merrell Guide model (both pictured above). The dark brown Guide Boots with blue laces are the classic mountaineering style that we’ve seen make a resurgence in the past few years from both Diemme and Danner. I had a pair of the Merrell Westwinds that got me through a few New England winters before I moved on to a new pair of Vasque Clarion GTX (also pictured here). This was another great lightweight waterproof Gore-Tex hiking boot that weighed in at 2 lbs 9 ozs while remaining indestructible. The Vasque slide up top features the Skywalk and Sundowner boots which are still being produced today.
This couldn’t be a piece on hiking boots without mentioning Timberland. Although I never owned a pair of Beef and Broccoli’s, I would guess they were the most popular lightweight hiking boot of the decade. Timberland’s appeal reached out beyond their traditional outdoor customers and into hip hop during the 1990’s. The other outdoor brand that made the crossover while remaining true to their heritage was The North Face. Twenty years later the brand is just as relevant on Fordham Road as it is in the suburbs. Patagonia, the outerwear brand that was my favorite then still remains my favorite today. The brand’s staples were the Synchilla Jacket and ‘nubby’ full-zip fleece which has recently been re-issued as the Retro-X Jacket.
This feature is for those of us who still have a stash of Maxell XLII tapes, a ticket stub collection and a couple old crusty pairs of hiking boots somewhere in the back of the closet.