2023 was a great year for sneakers and the first year of this decade that felt unique to the 2020s. We’re no longer completely beholden to the styles and trends of the last decade; yes, the classics are still classics (don’t worry Jordan heads), but there’s a distinct freshness to this year as the trends of the last few years have faded away and been replaced with new aesthetics, new silhouettes, and a roster of “forgotten classics” that this decade can claim as its own.
Dad shoes are out. Sleek runners, utilitarian builds, and trail sneakers are in.
We cover the best sneakers weekly here at Uproxx and save for a few bad weeks, this year remained remarkably consistent from January to December. Even this week — as we close in on the holidays — brought some pairs that feel like they could be someone’s favorite. One even made this list!
This comes as a pleasant surprise because if you had asked me last year at this time how I thought 2023 would turn out, I would’ve guessed it would be a rough one. In last year’s list, I spent five whole paragraphs talking about the fall of Yeezy — a brand that dominated the first half of 2022. So, did we miss the brand this year?
Not even a little bit. Sneakerheads still had plenty of drops to froth over, geek out on, and feel brokenhearted about not being able to cop. In honor of their hypebeasting, we’re here to highlight the 20 best drops of the year and, if you missed the initial drop, guide you to where you can pick them up right now.
Salehe Bembury x Clarks Mud Moss Lugger Masala Orange, January 2023
Salehe Bembury is still churning out new colorways of his Pollex Clog, but by far our favorite Bemburry collaboration came not from the usual suspects like Crocs and New Balance but instead from Clarks.
The Mud Moss is a lugger-style shoe made from Lichen suede with leather and fabric accents, a crepe cup sole, and an asymmetric lace-up system. The sneaker dropped in three different colorways, but our favorite is the Masala Orange. Leave it to Bembury to make a fantastic orange-toned sneaker, the color has become his unofficial signature.
A Ma Maniére x WMNS Air Jordan 12 Retro Black, February 2023
Last year, Atlanta-based brand A Ma Maniére was one of our favorites because of their luxury-leaning Jordan collaborations, and while the brand has been relatively quiet this year, they still found time to drop this gem.
How do you make one of the most luxurious Jordan silhouettes look even more elegant and next level? Collaborate with A Ma Maniére! This women’s exclusive features a nubuck upper in jet black with burgundy furry suede overlays and waxed rope laces over a maroon rubber outsole.
JJJJound x New Balance 991 Made in UK Grey, February 2023
This year JJJJound kept busy with a steady drop of minimalist colorways across various brands, but the sneaker that stood out to us the most was this link-up with New Balance.
Coming out of the MiUK factory, this “Grey” 991 sports a mesh upper with pigskin suede overlays. The underlying mesh is grey but I’d clock this sneaker as tan if I had to pick one color. But hey, who am I to name sneaker colorways?
Naming issues aside, this was a great sneaker drop highlighting what makes JJJJound a vital collaborator in the sneaker space.
Nike Air Jordan 3 White Cement Reimagined, March 2023
It feels obvious to include the White Cement Reimagined on a year-end sneaker list because it takes what is quite possibly the most iconic colorway of the Jordan 3 and… re-releases it! I debated not including this sneaker on this list because of that but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. At the end of the day, retro rerelease or not, this is still a great-looking sneaker!
The White Cement Reimagined features all the original 1988 specs: a white leather upper, elephant print overlays, and Varsity Red accents, but there is a slight yellowing at the midsole and heel piece, giving the sneaker an aged vibe. While I could see a lot of people wishing for a 1:1 recreation of the original, I think it’s interesting how the slightly aged look speaks to the sneaker’s heritage.
This is a 35-year-old shoe we’re dealing with and it still looks fresh even when it shows its age.
Tiffany & Co x Nike Air Force 1 Low 1837, March 2023
How long did the pitch meeting last for this team-up between Tiffany & Co and Nike? It seems almost too obvious — take two NYC icons, the Air Force 1 and Tiffany & Co, and combine each brand’s most famous colors.
This sneaker is a triple black Air Force 1 with a robin’s egg blue swoosh with Nike branding in Tiffany’s iconic script. It looks like what AI would spit out if you asked it to dream up a collaboration between the two brands and yet, we can’t look away. Look at this thing! It’s beautiful.
The sneaker features a tumbled leather upper with a woven tongue tag, embroidered branding, and engraved details. It’s New York streetwear luxury at its finest.
Travis Scott x Air Jordan 1 Low Olive, April 2023
If you look at the early Travis Scott sneakers you’ll see designs that are indebted to the murky colors of Scott’s former mentor, Yeezy. Now, in 2023, it feels like Travis Scott has come into his own. The Travis Scott Nikes look distinctly Travis, and that’s not just because of the stupid large backward swoosh. One of the things I love about Travis’ Nike collaborations is how he’s made the low-top Jordan 1 cool.
Don’t get me wrong, the low has always had its fans, but let’s be real, the high top is the more popular of the two form factors. Travis brings that into question though. By far my favorite Travis x Nike collaboration was this women’s exclusive Olive.
The sneaker features a suede base in black with off-white leather overlays with a large olive backward swoosh in suede. It’s luxurious, sleek, and super clean.
Joe Freshgoods x New Balance Rainier Lil’ Block, April 2023
We can always count on Joe Freshgoods to drop fire and this year this collaboration with New Balance rose above the rest. The Rainier brings the Freshgoods aesthetic to NB’s hiking silhouette and features a ripstop textile upper with rope laces, a high-cut padded collar, and a waterproof GORE-TEX membrane.
Despite its chunky appearance, fans of the sneaker love it for its lightweight fit. Hiking shoes have never looked this good.
Aimé Leon Dore x New Balance 1906R Jade, May 2023
If 2023 showed us one thing it’s that New Balance is Nike’s biggest threat, and Aimé Leon Dore is largely to thank for that. This year the two brands’ best collaboration was the 1906R in Jade
The sneaker features a white mesh upper with synthetic overlays in green and metallic silver with dual branding and rides atop an ACTEVA LITE midsole with ABZROB SBS heel cushioning. Given that ALD founder and creative director Teddy Santis is now New Balance’s creative director, the shoe feels like a celebration and victory lap for the two brands.
Action Bronson x New Balance 990v6 Made in USA Lapiz Lazuli, June 2023
Action Bronson’s debut NB sneaker, the Baklava, made waves earlier this year and while I do like that sneaker a lot, the second drop is the one making our year-end list. The Lapis Lazuli features a mesh base in navy blue with a suede mudguard, microperforated suede overlays, and a yellowed midsole.
My favorite details exist on the heel though, which features a blast of purple mesh with a baby blue heel clip that pops against the darker colors of the rest of the sneaker. In Action Bronson, New Balance has found one of its greatest collaborators.
Sporty & Rich x Adidas Samba OG Cream Blue, June 2023
Currently, Adidas’ most popular silhouette is the Samba, a sneaker that dates back to 1949. It’s amazing that a sneaker this old can remain popular and it’s a testament to the genius design of the brand’s older silhouettes. I wish some of that magic was present in the brand’s newer designs but it’s often not.
This collaboration with Emily Oberg’s Sporty and Rich features a leather upper in rich cream with suede overlays, a woven tongue tag, dual branding, a translucent gum outsole, and Aqua blue stripes. It’s without a doubt the best colorway of the Samba to drop all year, and that’s saying a lot considering the renewed popularity of this silhouette.
Nike Zoom Vomero 5 Yellow Ochre, June 2023
The Vomero 5 is currently one of Nike’s most popular silhouettes and we couldn’t drop our year-end list without highlighting at least one of the colorways, even though the silhouette hasn’t received many high-profile collaborations this year, despite its popularity.
The Yellow Ochre features a mesh upper with synthetic leather and suede overlays, and reflective 3M details at several points across the sneaker. I love the bold look of this colorway, it’s the sort of sneaker that demands to be seen.
Asics Gel Kayano 14 Silver Cream, July 2023
If you had told me in December of last year that a shiny metallic sneaker would land on my Best Sneakers of 2023 list, I would’ve called you crazy. But I can’t deny the Silver Cream Asics Gel Kayano 14, it just looks too good.
The sneaker sports an off-white mesh upper with bright synthetic silver overlays with black side stripes. While we’re not showing the brand that much love on this list, Asics had a strong year in 2023 and we expect more great drops from them next year.
Fenty x PUMA Avanti VL Black, September 2023
Did Rihanna save PUMA?
When Fenty’s team-up with PUMA dropped in September of this year we saw a level of hype usually reserved for coveted Jordan colorway re-releases, and yes, the sort of reception that Yeezy used to garner. For about a week PUMA was the hottest brand in sneakers, and the Avanti VL makes it easy to see why.
The sneaker, which is a combination of PUMA’s King Football boot and Easy Rider running sneaker sports a premium leather upper with luxurious gold foil branding, leather piping, and a fold-over tongue in leather. My favorite detail about this drop was the reference it made to German designer Jil Sander King, who was the first designer ever to combine the world of high-end fashion and sportswear.
Modern streetwear would not be where it is today without King, and this sneaker feels like a celebration of streetwear’s takeover of the fashion world.
J Balvin x Air Jordan 3 Medellín Sunset, September 2023
We’re now living in the Balvin era of Nike. The Prince of Reggeaton is now Nike’s greatest celebrity collaborator, yes, even more so than Travis Scott.
The Sunset features a leather upper in coconut milk, gradient Solar Flare accents, an elephant print mudguard, and soft suede detailing. The yellow eyelets and hints of yellow at the seams draw your eye across the entire silhouette of the shoe. In the Sunset, J Balvin and Nike made a shoe that demands to be admired.
Concepts x 998 Made in USA ‘C-Note – 10th Anniversary,’ October 2023
Concepts and New Balance linked up this year for a reissue of the famed “C-Note,” a sneaker that looks to the $100 bill for inspiration. The running sneaker features a mesh upper with suede overlays, reflective accents, and olive green suede overlays with a hint of blue on the cream midsole and heel.
AURALEE x New Balance 1906R Bone White, October 2023
There isn’t another sneaker that dropped this year that exudes more Y2K vibes than Tokyo-based brand AURALEE’s team-up with New Balance. The 1906R features an open-knit mesh upper with leather and nubuck overlays, a terry cloth-lined collar, and an ACTEVA LITE midsole cushion.
The initial release dropped in two tonally opposite colorways, but our pick for this year is the Bone White due to its vintage vibes.
Social Status x Nike Mac Attack SP Split Vision, October 2023
John McEnroe’s signature Nike sneaker, the Mac Attack is back! The shoe was reintroduced with an ad campaign that featured McEnroe and Travis Scott bonding over the courts. It was essentially a tease for a future collaboration that still hasn’t come out yet. Had it been released, we’re sure it would’ve made this list, but as we’ve been waiting other brands have been tackling the silhouette.
Our favorite this year is the Social Status take. The sneaker features a grey upper with reflective cracked leather overlays and nylon details. Red and yellow accents add some nice contrast at the heel and tongue.
Nike Zoom Kobe 6 Protro Reverse Grinch, December 2023
Released quietly near the end of this year, the Nike Zoom Kobe 6 Protro Reverse Grinch’s drop was a loud reminder that Kobe’s Nike line is one of the brand’s finest. With the renewed interest in silhouettes from the ‘00s, the Kobe 6 (which first dropped in 2010) looks downright futuristic in 2023. It has all the sleek aesthetics typical of ‘00s sneaker style, but still manages to look alien and next level. Here is to hoping 2024 brings more Kobe drops from Nike.
The sneaker features a scaled micro-mesh upper in bright red with green laces and a black swoosh. As the name would imply, it’s a reverse color flip version of the original Grinch colorway.
Jordan 11 Gratitude, December 2023
The Gratitude is a refresh of the Jordan 11 Defining Moments, the sneaker’s greatest and most iconic colorway, and while I’ve mentioned in other entries that I don’t love highlighting refreshes, come on. What do you expect? The sneaker looks just as great as the day it dropped, I’d be lying if I didn’t say this is one of the year’s best drops.
The sneaker sports a premium leather upper with a knit collar and that iconic patent leather mudguard over a translucent outsole. To differentiate it from the original release, the outsole features a light yellowing that matches tonally with the gold Jumpman emblem.
Unlike all the other sneakers on this list, you can pick this one on drop date for retail price when it drops on December 9th via the Nike SNKRS app. The fact that a sneaker dropping this late in the game is making our year-end list puts into perspective just how strong this year in sneakers was. I’m telling you — 2023 is the year that keeps on giving.
SNEAKER OF THE YEAR: Nike SB x Air Jordan 4 Pine Green, March 2023
I’m a Jordan 4 guy. I think it’s simply the best sneaker in the entire Jordan lineage so when the Jordan 4 Pine Green dropped in March of this year, I was instantly on board. But what elevates this Jordan 4 above others is that it is a collaboration with Nike SB, resulting in a shoe that exhibits the best of both worlds of basketball sneaker and skate sneaker aesthetics.
The upper features a reinforced leather build with luxurious suede overlays and an eye-catching gum outsole. I especially love the way the Pine Green accents pop against the white base. The minimal design helps to highlight everything that makes the Jordan 4 great.
This is, without a doubt, our pick for the sneaker of the year for the way it highlights the influence that basketball and the world of skateboarding have had on the modern look of streetwear.