Recently we’ve expected our casual footwear to do something beyond just looking good. Your lace-up boots need to be waterproof, and your sneakers breathable and supportive. For the gym, athletic models take this to extreme: Ultra-lightweight, moisture-wicking, and stability features all come together in the name of performance.
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This climate has just the right conditions for skate shoes to make a return. Yes, many of us wore them in the ‘90s, even if we couldn’t do a kickflip, but the style – ranging from almost muted and basic to blindingly bold – is far more practical for everyday wear.
Plus, barebones performance features – think vulcanized construction, a grippy outsole, and cushioning – elevate them above most fashion-leaning styles.
New to the world of skate shoes? Before you buy, get to know some of the top styles:
What if a lace-up boot could be less formal? Or, a high-top enhanced with more tech features, without compromising its style?
Introduced in 1978 and a staple of Vans’ lineup since then, the Sk8-Hi hits every point: Fashionable with its two-tone design, but not stuffy in the least, boot like, with its suede construction, and performance oriented without seeming like a strictly tech shoe.
No matter the pattern on the outside – solid, color-blocked, or one of the brand’s many limited-edition varieties – it gives you ankle support, features a flexible vulcanized sole, and uses gum rubber and Waffle treads for just enough grip.
Cushioned on the inside and featuring a chunky, low-profile design, the DC Court Graffik adapts the modern-day dad shoe to a practical skate style that, true to any brand staple, covers a range of colorways.
Everything about the Court Graffik screams sturdiness, from the puffy padding to the thicker outsole enhanced with DC’s well-known pill pattern. The SE upgrades the original with heavy-duty materials meant for hours practicing on your board.
For casual wear, it’s the perfect hybrid between a classic skate shoe and ‘90s-era sneakers.
As the name implies, the Osiris NYC 83 pays homage to both the sneakers and skate shoes of 30-plus years ago.
You see it with the intentionally bulky, high-top silhouette and the colorways encompassing neon shades and even graffiti-style artwork. Design wise, it’s not meant to strictly be a tech shoe, and in fact, the brand encourages you to wear them with the laces loose – like an ‘80s hip-hop star on the rise – or without any at all.
However, the shoe that debuted with the name “Osiris Bronx” still has those key skate features that make it comfortable and practical for everyday wear: a vulcanized design, extra padding up to the ankle, and a streamlined yet still grippy FLX VLK outsole.
In the early 2000s, Nike SB looked like a quick and cheap cash grab capitalizing on the skateboarding community’s fondness for the Nike Dunk – a basketball shoe that just happened to have excellent boardfeel and flexibility. Initial designs went with the same approach: Rework a Nike classic with some extra skate features.
It wasn’t really until the end of the decade that Nike truly legitimized the SB line. A collaboration with skateboarding superstar Stefan Janoski – who had a significant amount of creative input – started the momentum, and today, the Nike SB Zoom Stefan Janoski Canvas Deconstructed Men’s Skate Shoes remains both a casual and sport style.
Out of all skate shoes, the SB Zoom Janoski is fairly understated but practical: Low-profile, streamlined, and typically featuring lightweight canvas construction, so it feels like a beefier pair of Chuck Taylors. Padding is minimal – heel and tongue only – and while you’ll still find crazy colorways, it tends to be a neutral-colored design.
Although many associate Adidas with soccer styles, they’ve developed a few decent skate shoes over the years, with the Seeley being one of them. Like the Zoom Janoski, it’s a visually minimal, lightly padded low-top shoe that’s known for an exceptional degree of control and grip once you’re on your board.
Essentially, if you like the style of the brand’s seminal Stan Smiths but want more out of your sneaker, the Seeley starts in the perfect spot and delivers more than expected.
Everybody’s got a pair of these, and for good reason. Out of Vans’ lineup, the Old Skool was the first to feature that contrasting side stripe, and today, it remains a distinctive feature of this classic.
Yet, even with that modest degree of color-blocking, the Old Skool isn’t just a fashion or streetwear piece. A suede and canvas upper strikes the right balance between breathability and support, and the rest of its vulcanized, Waffle tread-soled design embodies flexible stability.
Skate shoes can be eco-friendly, too. The Etnies Jameson 2 Eco incorporates recycled materials through its outsole, which features both reused plastic and rubber.
Beyond the eco-friendly design, the Jameson 2 Eco is all about lightweight, streamlined style – something you can pair with chinos or flat-front shorts throughout the spring and summer months, and still gives you enough coverage and support once the days get a little bit cooler.
Added to this versatility, a faux-vulcanized cupsole feels just as supportive, and foam and padding in crucial areas make this pair slightly more substantial than your typical canvas sneakers.
You’re more than familiar with Vans’ original silhouette, launched all the way back in the ‘60s. But, if you’re not, Vans Authentic low-profile yet still sturdy lace-up canvas upper lets the right amount of air flow through without feeling flimsy.
These days, they look much like your average boat shoes, especially now that Sperry’s trying to get into the sneaker game.
But, things stick around for a reason, and aside from its absolutely versatile and understated design that lasts for a while, those Waffle treads and gum rubber make a nice bonus.
With the Dunk, the question remains, “Do you go with the original, or the reworked skate shoe?” For those unfamiliar with the style’s history, Nike originally introduced the Dunk as a low-top basketball shoe in 1985.
The original, however, quickly caught on with skaters for its sturdiness, grippy outsole, and design that stayed out of the way. So, when Nike started its SB line in 2002, it only made sense to turn the Dunk into a proper skate shoe – hence, the name.
Between the two, the skate update went for a slimmer silhouette, more padding, and abrasion-resistant materials.
These days, the Zoom Dunk Low Pro and Zoom Janoski are the cornerstones of the Nike SB brand. If you’re after that lightweight canvas cool, with some extra features, the Zoom Dunk Low Pro makes perfect sense.
But, for more of a heritage style, complete with old-school basketball elements, the original Dunk exudes that effortless retro charm.