When it comes to the so-called “dad shoe” wave, the New Balance 990 is heralded above all others as the precursor, setting the design mould for countless models that would follow its release in 1982. Bolstered by the instantly recognisable “N” branding on the sidewall, the silhouette has stood the test of time through consistent evolution that has always ensured the integrity of the original.
Looking back over the rich history of the 990, some may be surprised that the silhouette gripped the market the way it did, the now iconic grey colouring offering a stark contrast to the bright neons of 1980s running shoes. It was released in the same year as Nike’s Air Force 1, one of the biggest selling sneakers of all time, and, other than its style, the main thing that separated the two was the price tag. More than often cited as the first sneaker to hit the market with a $100 price point – considered a small fortune at the time – the OG 990 was developed with serious runners in mind. This higher-than-average pricing, in turn, increased the allure of the silhouette among sneakerheads and casual fans, establishing New Balance’s latest creation as somewhat of a status symbol.
To reach cult status so early on was no mean feat, and certainly not to be overlooked. It was the culmination of many factors, but the role played by tastemakers in Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia (known collectively as “the DMV”) cannot go unnoticed – much like New York’s affinity for the AF1. Whereas their counterparts in the Big Apple took a more flamboyant approach to fashion and luxury, the moneymakers of the DMV kept things low-key, making the greyscale 990 and high-end price tag the perfect complement to any outfit. It managed to do something quite extraordinary, to say a lot while saying nothing at all, and this captivated generations.