COVID-19 had a profound effect on literally every segment of American life this year. But it still couldn’t stop the seemingly unending flow of sneakers dropping from brands like Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Off-White, Reebok, and PUMA, among others. A lot of shoes came out this year — trust us, we wrote about them every single week. That’s 52 weeks. 52 articles each consisting of the week’s best sneakers, no repeats.
That’s. Over. 260. Sneakers. This. Year. Alone.
Are we satiated? Definitely. Is that going to stop us from doing the same thing in 2021? Not a chance. And considering you’re here, you probably feel the same way.
2020 was always going to be a big year for sneakers, it’s the first year of a new decade. Whether we know it or not, some of the sneakers that came out this year will go on to define the next 10 years of footwear. You may have copped a pair of footwear history mid-quarantine, and never even gotten to wear them.
In celebration of all of the great kicks to drop over the past 365, we’ve collected a rundown of our 20 favorites. Everyone else seems to have dropped their lists by now. That’s fine, ours is the best.
Comme des Garçons Nike Air Max 95, January 18th, 2020
2020 proved that the influence of Virgil Abloh’s ’10s output continued to dominate trends in the new decade. What would Comme des Garçons Nike Air Max 95 look like without Abloh? For starters, it probably wouldn’t have a distressed and worn upper.
The CDG Air Max 95 dropped early in the year and presents itself like a “greatest hits” of trends from the past decade. Mixed mesh uppers, distressed detailing, 3M reflective accents, and a ‘90s silhouette. But it doesn’t feel like a rehash, it feels like a victory lap.
Off-White Jordan 5 Black/Muslin-Fire Red, February 15th, 2020
When Virgil Abloh dropped his first iteration of an Air Jordan 5 the sneaker world absolutely exploded. It’s undeniable that Abloh is the most exciting designer in footwear right now, and with the Off-White Jordan 5 — his first sneaker of 2020 — Virgil didn’t disappoint.
Abloh’s deconstructed aesthetic takes a different shape here, looking less obviously broken down but still doing what his style does best: stripping layers away to present the essence of a famous silhouette.
Jordan 3 Retro Fire Red Cement (Nike Chi), February 22nd, 2020
The Cement colorway is Air Jordan royalty and rather than dipping into the vaults and delivering a straight refresh, Nike gave us something special this year: A Chicago inspired AJ3 in Fire Red Cement.
The latest sneaker in the Cement line looks like something Miles Morales would rock. Which decidedly means it’s fire.
Travis Scott Nike SB Dunk Low Cactus Jack, February 29th, 2020
The release of Travis Scott’s Nike SB Dunk came with so much hype that it literally crashed Nike’s website on drop date. That, of course, resulted in a lot of people missing out on the chance to cop a pair, forcing them to turn to the aftermarket. While these Dunks are certainly not our favorite Cactus Jack piece, they are probably one of the most popular and would kick off a year that was largely dominated by Travis Scott, despite the fact that he didn’t release an album.
While Virgil Abloh might be the most popular designer in the sneaker world right now, Travis Scott is the most popular icon, ascending to a level that puts him in league with sneaker greats like Michael Jordan and Kanye West.
Dior Air Jordan 1, April, 6th, 2020
I’ll be straight up — I don’t like what these represent, on a personal level.
I do get it, they’re fresh. And insanely popular. Without looking, I’m willing to bet that this sneaker is popping up on every year-end sneaker list, from the snobbiest of Hypebeasts to the most basic GQ writers. I get it, it’s a cool look and a big name collab.
And that colorway that combines wolf grey and sail-photon dust white is just… “chef’s kiss” as they say.
But these things retailed for $2,000. They sell on the aftermarket for close to $10,000. And in a year of a global pandemic, where millions are struggling and out of work, it just feels representative of something gross. So yes, they’re on our “best” list, but they damn sure didn’t make our gift guide.
New Balance 327 Casablanca, April 4th, 2020
New Balance had a strong year, one that saw it competing on a regular basis with big brands like Nike and Adidas in our weekly sneaker column. And it all began here, with this New Balance collaboration with French streetwear brand Casablanca. The 327 takes its design cues from ‘70s runners, but adds some modern flare like the thick tread and chunky silhouette. Casablanca let the design of the 327 do all the heavy lifting here, presenting the sneaker in three non-distracting and simple colorways.
The all green is the most popular among the options, but this mixed orange and green model is the one that resonates most strongly with us.
Nike SB Dunk Low x Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Dunky, May 26th, 2020
Sneaker and food brand collaborations are generally trash. But the Chunky Dunky — made in collaboration with Ben & Jerrys, in what was probably the weirdest link-up of the year — really defied expectations. This sneaker was full of sort of details that sneakerheads go crazy over. Animal print uppers, this time as a long-hair cow-print; synergy between the collaborating parties, check out how the upper resembles Ben & Jerry’s iconic logo; and a cool variation on the ever-iconic Nike Swoosh, our least favorite detail about this one but still noteworthy.
This year belonged to the Nike Dunk and no iteration of the sneaker was as iconic as this one.
Adidas Yeezy Foam RNNR Ararat, June 26th, 2020
We had a lot of anguish about putting this one on the list. On the one hand, we sorta hate it. But on the other hand… it’s certainly something new. Innovation is in rare supply these days and we’re down to reward it.
The Foam RNNR definitely has its audience. We’re not it, but we can’t deny that it shows Kanye doing what he does best: pushing the envelope and creating new trends.
Jordan 6 Retro Hare, June 17th, 2020
The Easter-tinged “Hare” colorway is one of Jordan Brand’s best and most underrated. First debuting on the Air Jordan 7 as a tie in with Space Jam, the Retro Hare — so-called for legal reasons — has since popped up across a few pairs and we love it.
This year, the Air Jordan 6 got the Hare treatment — off-white leather with a noticeable pink undertone — and… we need more of this. ASAP. Hell, they could put Bugs Bunny in place of the Jumpman Logo like they did on the original and we’d still wear the sh*t out of these.
Nike Space Hippie 03, July 3rd, 2020
Mid-summer, Nike launched a brand new four sneaker line of shoes made from at least 45% recycled material by weight. The new collection, dubbed Space Hippie, didn’t have the most exciting names — each shoe was simply numbered, 01, 02, 03, and 04 — but it showed a positive step forward, offering a glimpse of a world where sustainable sneakers actually look pretty dope.
Grateful Dead Bears Nike SB Dunk, July 18th, 2020
“You’re not going to cover those Grateful Dead Nike Dunks?” Slacked my editor.
“Nah, feels like a lazy collaboration, doubt anyone will actually truly dig these,” I replied, full of sneakerhead confidence.
Boy, was I f*cking wrong. For whatever reason, the Grateful Dead has a stranglehold on the world of streetwear right now. I know for a fact half of the people who own these sneakers have never heard “Truckin’” in their lives, but does that matter? Apparently not.
These sneakers popped off harder than any collaboration this year. If you own an orange pair, you’re lucky to be holding on to a small fortune right now.
Off-White Jordan 4 Sail, July 25th, 2020
Virgil Abloh threw half of the sneaker buying audience into a rage when he dropped this woman’s only Air Jordan 4 in Sail. Not just because any large footed Off-White fans wouldn’t be able to cop a pair, but because this just so happened to be Abloh’s strongest sneaker drop of the entire year.
The design is clean, recalling the best of Abloh’s The Ten collection.
Nike CO.JP Jordan 3 Retro Fire Red Denim
Elephant print, denim detailing, Fire Red… what more proof do you need to realize that Nike’s Japanese wing, CO.JP, puts together the brand’s best colorways. Seriously. It’s no secret that the best Nikes in any given year usually have another collaborator attached, but Nike’s CO.JP comes from in-house, and it’s doing things leagues above anything else the brand produces.
Check out the Nike logo written with Japanese characters at the heel, easily our favorite detail.
Union Jordan 4 Guava Ice, August 29th, 2020
Los Angeles-based streetwear brand Union dropped a truly dope collection of Jordans this year, but the AJ4 in Guava Ice was easily the best. While many of the shoes on this list require descriptions for you to savvy out the references, that’s unneeded here.
Just look at these and you’ll get why they hit our list!
Aime Leon Dore New Balance 550, October 9th, 2020
This year, New York streetwear label Aimé Leon Dore resurrected New Balance’s forgotten 550 basketball sneaker and we couldn’t be more thankful. The 550 is a dope silhouette, and Aimé Leon Dore took it to the next level by filtering it through their old-world luxury aesthetic, resulting in an ultra-fresh pair of sneakers that is quickly becoming one of our favorite NB silhouettes.
Salehe Bembury New Balance 2002R, October 23rd, 2020
Easily one of the most hyped releases of the year, Salehe Bembury’s first collaborative sneaker silhouette was a certified hit. The ultra tactile New Balance 2002R featured a mixed suede, leather, and mesh upper with blue shearling detailing dressed in a rich earthy colorway, resulting in one of the most interesting looking designs of the whole year.
If Salehe Bembury is a new name to you, get used to it. You’re going to be hearing from him a lot this decade. The young designer cut his teeth designing at Yeezy and Cole Haan before landing the role of Vice President of Sneakers at Versace. It’s hard to believe this is the only sneaker collaboration to carry his name because it’s such a strong start.
If the 2010s belonged to Abloh, the ’20s might be the decade of Salehe Bembury.
Beyonce Ivy Park Adidas Nite Jogger Dark Green Frozen Yellow, October 30th, 2020
In truth, we could’ve picked any one of Beyonce’s 9 Ivy Park Adidas for this list. There is nothing particularly special about the Nite Jogger, this is just the design that speaks to us the most right now.
Beyonce’s Ivy Park had its big debut this year, dropping two big collections of sneakers at the beginning and end of the year, bringing Adidas its biggest slice of hype since the launch of Yeezy. Ivy Park didn’t feature any brand new designs, so we’re hoping that next year brings something wholly original from Beyonce, but as it stands, the Ivy Park drops have been strong.
Sacai Nike Vaporwaffle Game Royal, November 13th, 2020
We’re all for forward-looking designs, and while personally, we don’t think we could convincingly rock this hybrid design from the mind of Chitose Abe, we appreciate the effort to bring something new to the Nike lineage. Full of weird features like dual tongue tags, double mid foot swooshes, and a lipped heel, the Vaporwaffle is aggressively deconstructed, offering a twisted vision of what the future of footwear might look like.
Nike Kobe 5 Protro Bruce Lee Alternate, November 24th, 2020
This sneaker release was a bit bittersweet due to the untimely death of Kobe Bryant. What should’ve been a pair worthy of celebration will always be tinged with the sadness — a shame because this sneaker, which combines Kobe and Bruce Lee, sees two legends in their respective fields coming together to create something dope.
The black and yellow pair might’ve been the star of the show, but we really dig this white and black alternate colorway.
J. Balvin Jordan 1 Retro, December 8th, 2020
J. Balvin has made history as the first Latino to score a named Nike collaboration. For a Mexican kid who writes about sneakers on a weekly basis, that’s a huge deal to me! J. Balvin’s Jordan 1s are a perfect reflection of the artist — they’re wild, funky, psychedelic, and loud as hell.
Subtlety and Balvin don’t coexist in the same world, these sneakers grab you and never let you look away, whether you’re reacting in horror or glee. That’s power.