The checkerboard-pattern Vans were the symbol of skateboard culture in the 1970s, and blossomed into the mainstream spotlight after a featured role in the 1982 comedy classic “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Once a do-it-yourself modification to all-white Vans, the checkerboard pattern became official once the company realized they could make money and please their fan base at once. It worked: The deck shoes remain popular in the 21st century.
4 Reebok Pumps
If any shoe exemplified 1990s style, it was the Reebok Pump. The uber-expensive high-top basketball shoe was known for its gizmo on the tongue of the shoe that could be “pumped up” to add air to the arch and ankle support. When the Boston Celtics’ Dee Brown pumped up his shoes on national television before winning the 1991 Slam Dunk Contest, the sneaker became immortal in pop culture. And whether or not the pump had any actual effect, in its day, it was simply awesome to use.
3 Adidas Sambas
The Adidas Samba is best known in its black-and-white incarnation, with an all-black shoe broken up by Adidas’ logo, three diagonal stripes in white. Dating back to 1950, this sneaker remains a favorite of turf and indoor soccer players, as well as casual dressers who want a light but sturdy shoe. And after more than 60 years, the Samba is still dancing up the sales charts: as of 2012, it remained Adidas’ best-selling shoe.
2 Air Jordans
Nike’s “Air” line of sneakers gained a pitchman and immortality when Michael Jordan became the NBA’s greatest high flyer and the “Air Jordan” shoe line was born in 1985. Even though the NBA tried and failed to ban the famed red-and-black color scheme—the colors of Jordan’s team, the Chicago Bulls—nothing could stop the sturdy high-tops from growing in popularity. In fact, Nike paid Jordan’s fines for wearing the shoes and used the ban in advertising. With every ensuing generation, the shoes have become further entrenched in American culture, never losing their place on the cutting edge of sneaker style.
1 Chuck Taylors
Converse’s canvas high-top Chuck Taylor All Stars may be the single most recognizable sneaker in the 200-year history of sneakers. Not only are these shoes distinctive, they hold a vital place in sneaker history, becoming the first true athletic performance shoe upon their release in 1917. Today, Chucks can be found in every possible situation, from pickup basketball games all the way to awards shows.
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