Sneakers - December 31, 2021

Best Shoes of 2021

Elhadji Mare

Elhadji is a Content Manager and Writer @ StockX

This past year was full of surprise collaborations and unexpected hits from Nike, New Balance, and even Crocs. Check out the best shoes of 2021 on StockX, where they are always in stock.

This past year was full of surprise collaborations and unexpected hits from Nike, New Balance, and even Crocs. Check out the best shoes of 2021 on StockX, where they are always in stock.

This article is part 38 of 37 in the series: Win the Holidays

Despite release delays and supply chain issues, 2021 was arguably one of the best years for sneakers and shoes alike. The year presented sneakerheads with innovative designs, advancements in footwear, refreshes of OG pairs, and some great new looks. As 2021 comes to a close, the releases that came through this year are a window into how drops and trends will sway in 2022, leaving many eager and anxious about what the sneaker market has in store.

The Best Shoes of 2021

best shoes of 2021 jordan 1 patent bred

Air Jordan 1 Patent Bred

The Air Jordan 1 Patent Bred was one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year. The Bred colorway has a notable history amongst the sneaker community, as the 36-year-old colorway was not only one of Michael Jordan’s first sneakers with Nike but was also “banned” in the NBA. Despite the “Banned” story being debunked as nothing more than a marketing stunt from Nike, the Jordan 1 colorway’s impact within sneaker culture is still huge. Although the Bred colorway itself frequently makes an appearance on many other Jordan silhouettes, it is sparingly used on the high-top AJ1, making the Patent Bred release one of the more exciting drops of 2021. The use of black and red patent leather throughout is a first for the Bred colorway on the AJ1 High, adding another element of hype to this year’s retro. From the Bred colorway’s stake within sneaker culture and it being one of MJ’s first, to the sneaker’s classic color blocking and use of patent leather materials, the Air Jordan 1 Patent Bred is the last Jordan release to close out the year, and one of the best shoes of 2021.    

best shoes of 2021 jordan 11 cool grey

Air Jordan 11 Cool Grey (2021)

Another highly anticipated classic to return to the sneaker market is the Air Jordan 11 Cool Grey. In 1996, Tinker Hatfield answered a simple request from Michael Jordan: “Could we ever do a shiny basketball shoe?” Through trial and error, patent leather became the material of choice for the Jordan 11, bringing the shine that MJ wanted out of a signature shoe. The AJ11 became the first Jordan sneaker to feature patent leather and has since paved the way for sneakers like the aforementioned Patent Breds to exist today. Jordan 11s are one of the few constant silhouettes to reappear every year, and this year’s retro brought back the Cool Grey colorway in a near-perfect OG remake. What makes this release so significant is the fact that 2021’s Cool Grey 11 marks the colorway’s second-only retro treatment, forcing fans of the sneaker to patiently wait 11 years between appearances. Featuring shiny Cool Grey patent leather and nubuck uppers, the AJ11 Cool Grey makes the colorway’s hiatus worth all the wait and anticipation. And there’s plenty of data to prove that the public was in high demand for the sneaker as the Air Jordan 11 Cool Grey has become the best-selling Jordan release of all time on StockX.           

New Balance 2002r Protection Pack Rain Cloud

When it comes to collaborations, New Balance has seen a whirlwind of success. Partnerships with designers and brands like Joe Freshgoods and Aimé Leon Dore have brought more attention and demand to the brand. But oddly enough, one of New Balance’s best shoes of 2021 didn’t stem from a collaboration at all but was merely a general-release sneaker. A part of the Protection Pack from this past summer, this New Balance 2002r Protection Pack Rain Cloud was a standout pair from the rest, as the sneaker brought together NB’s love for grey while adding a twist of modern and trending design. The New Balance 2002r Rain Cloud features various tones of grey throughout its jaggedly cut suede and leather upper, bringing a deconstructed look to the runner. This release proved that hype around a shoe doesn’t solely have to stem from a major partnership or project. If the design is good, the people will come.   

nike sb dunk low street hawker best shoes of 2021

Nike SB Dunk Low Street Hawker

The Nike SB Dunk Low Street Hawker was one of the first major Nike releases to ring in 2021 and was just the sneaker needed to start the dominant year that the SB Dunk Low has had. The sneaker’s colorful upper would lead to a reasonable assumption that it was a collaboration. But the sneaker itself was merely a general-release with a massive following, similar to New Balance’s 2002r Rain Cloud. Reflecting on the cultural impact of Chinese food, the uppers celebrate a variety of Chinese cuisines through mismatched watercolors. Other details, such as an embroidered copper coin on the canvas heel and Chinese characters on the heel tab, nod to Eastern culinary cultures. The Nike SB Dunk Low Street Hawker brings an appetizing look to the skateboarding sneaker, while simultaneously bringing Chinese street food culture to the forefront.  

Nike Go Flyease

Nike is known for their cutting-edge technology and designs, constantly looking for new ways to redefine footwear. Their Flyease line, which “creates shoes that are quick and easy to get into, and more hands-free”, released the Go Flyease this year. Categorized as Nike’s first official hands-free shoe, the shoe was made for a wide variety of lifestyles and demographics, including those with disabilities that make it difficult to put on laced footwear. To construct such a sneaker, Nike worked alongside both para- and able-bodied athletes to ensure the successful execution of such an innovative sneaker. The laceless sneaker features a bi-stable hinge, opening up its “Diving Board” footbed. When opened, the hinge folds down and stretches the shoe’s tensioner band to allow the wearer to insert their foot and lock in. Since its release, the Nike Go Flyease has been given an abundance of praise for its design, often in the conversation for one of the best shoes of the year, as well as being named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Best Innovations of 2021. With more colorways expected to release in 2022, the Nike Go Flyease is sure to make more of an impact within the sneaker space and make the lives of those with disabilities a little easier.

(Editor’s Note: The popularity of the Nike Go Flyease, and its presence in the secondary market, is a net positive for the sneaker and the communities that utilize it. By marketing the shoe to more than the community that requires a hands-free shoe, Nike has built demand enough for the style to be produced in larger numbers and reach more of those in need. The initial frustration over the market interest of the Go Flyease is more than understandable, but the demand guarantees that a larger quantity of these pairs will be accessible to those that need them at a price point that is lower than if Nike had to design, produce, and distribute a shoe like this to a much smaller consumer base.)

best shoes of 2021 nike air max 90 bacon

Nike Air Max 90 NRG Bacon (2021)

This year saw a lot of older colorways resurface for various Nike running models. Retros like Stüssy’s debut Huarache collab from 2000 to CLOT’s Air Max 1 collab from 2006 each dropped in the sneaker market in 2021, allowing fans of the originals to get a second chance at these popular releases. All of these nostalgic returns made way for the coveted Nike Air Max 90 Bacon to make a reappearance. One of New York City’s first concept boutiques, Dave’s Quality Meats, was granted a collaboration of the Air Max 90 in 2006. As the name suggests, the shop’s founder, David Ortiz, drew inspiration from various shades of raw and cooked bacon. Since its release 15-year years ago, the sneaker has been praised for its avant-garde inspiration. But factors such as the sneaker’s limited quantity and DQM’s closing have led sneakerheads to believe that the sneaker would never receive a proper retro. To much surprise, the sneaker resurfaced during this year’s Air Max Day, becoming one of the more talked about releases of the year. Utilizing the same colors as its original, the Air Max 90 Bacon features a mix of nubuck and tumbled leather to recreate that same bacon look.     

Nike LeBron 8 South Beach (2021)

Similar to the Bacons, another classic to resurface was 2010’s Nike LeBron 8 South Beach. The LeBron 8 colorway was released to roll in LeBron James’ introduction to the Miami Heat after his ground-breaking decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers. The sneaker fully embraced the whole Miami aesthetic, with teal leather uppers and bright pink accents on the tongue, laces, and outsole. Released in limited quantities, this LeBron 8 soon skyrocketed in resale price for its exuberant color and significance in LeBron James’ career. There was no reason to believe that the sneaker would ever resurface, but when Nike started retroing some of James’ most memorable silhouettes and colorways in 2017, fans soon awaited news of a South Beach retro. 2021 marked the colorway’s return in full OG form. From the bright uppers to the 360-degree Air unit, this is one of LeBron’s classics and gives avid fans a second chance to cherish these more attainable retros.      

best shoes of 2021 nike dunk low off-white the 50

Nike Dunk Low Off-White Lot 150

This year, it seemed as though every week saw a Nike Dunk release occur, as new and tenured fans found appreciation for both the low- and high-top basketball silhouette. No one brought more attention to the Dunk in 2021 than the late Virgil Abloh and his Off-White label. Abloh was no stranger to working with the Dunk Low, as he arguably helped set the Nike Dunk Low trend with his first Dunk collab from 2019. But this year he released the biggest collection with Nike to date, utilizing the Dunk Low. Called The 50, the collection brought Abloh’s familiar intricate lacing system to 50 Dunk Lows, each exploring the grey space between black and white. In doing so, he created one white pair, one black pair, and 48 grey dunks. The 48 Dunks featured hits of color on the laces and other accents of the shoe. The 50 made a lot of headlines when it was first announced, with fans eagerly waiting to get a pair for themselves. But the collection wasn’t released in a typical line-up fashion but instead distributed to the SNKRS app’s top users. Virgil Abloh will always be remembered for his ability to think outside of the box, and this collection of Dunks further solidified his legacy as a designer with novel ideas.    

Air Jordan 2 Low Off-White

When it comes to Jordans, the Air Jordan 2 has always been shunned to infamy, as many within the community believed the silhouette to be unappealing. And although the sneaker has received a variety of retro treatments and collabs through the years, such as Don C’s three luxe takes in 2015 and Vashtie’s from 2010 (that was the first Jordan sneaker collab done with a woman), the silhouette still had yet to make the same amount of traction as the more popular Jordan 1 and 3. But thanks to the pioneering designer Virgil Abloh, the Air Jordan 2 has begun receiving some new recognition with the latest Air Jordan 2 Off-White collab. Right before his unfortunate passing, Abloh and Jumpman continued their well-established deconstructed look on the Air Jordan 2 Low, an aesthetic that debuted with 2014’s The Ten collection. Creating a shoe that looks as though it were taken from a time capsule, Abloh and Jordan Brand used one of MJ’s game-worn Jordan 2s as a model for the design. From exposed foam collars to the cracked look of the midsole, this AJ2 is a new take on the silhouette while still nodding to the past. Virgil Abloh has helped spark the necessary hype for the Air Jordan 2 to have a successful 2022, and with other collabs on the way from Union LA and J Balvin, we can expect newfound love to hit the silhouette.         

air jordan 3 a ma maniere best shoes of 2021

Air Jordan 3 A Ma Maniére

DC-boutique A Ma Maniére had a hit on their hands with their summer Air Jordan 3 collaboration. The inspiration behind the project paid homage to both Black mothers and Black culture’s appreciation for luxury goods. With those themes in mind, that gave AMM the space to create an elegant Air Jordan 3, featuring hits of suede and supple leathers throughout its upper. In addition to its high-end accents, hits of aged elements on the midsole and Nike Air heel tab pay homage to the first pair of 3s AMM’s co-founder, James Whitner, owned as a kid. The Air Jordan 3 A Ma Maniére was met with high praise for its story and captivating look, receiving Footwear News’ Collaboration Of The Year award and a spot on our list of the best shoes of 2021. 

Air Jordan 4 Union LA Desert Moss & Taupe Haze

LA boutique Union LA made headlines with their 2020 Air Jordan 4 collaboration for its unique folded tongue addition and bright colors. This year, the Chris Gibbs-founded shop returned for a second set of Jordan 4s, this time ditching the 1980s retro-aesthetic color choices in exchange for the great outdoors. Comprised of two pairs, the new set of Air Jordan 4s featured both Durabuck and textile uppers in taupes and earthy tones to convey the colors of outdoor terrain and the equipment that comes with hiking. Although the sneaker brings a new take on a classic silhouette, its one-of-a-kind look still draws fans closer to the release, ready to embrace the change. 

best shoes of 2021 nike sb dunk low ftc

Nike SB Dunk Low FTC Lagoon Pulse

Japan’s FTC skateshop gave SB fans a bubble bath this year with the Nike Dunk Low FTC Lagoon Pulse. Diving into Japanese tradition, the sneaker’s design takes cues from Japanese sentō bathhouses. The upper features tile-embossed leather to mimic a bathhouse floor, while Lagoon Pulse panels and light blue outsole portray the steamy waters of the public baths. For its unique inspiration and execution, the Nike SB Dunk Low continues bringing out the fun and creative side that the SB line is known for producing.   

adidas Forum Low Bad Bunny

Bad Bunny took the adidas Forum Low to a new level of stardom with his debut collaboration with the Three Stripes. The adidas Forum Low has been a staple within adidas’ lineage since its 1980s debut, but when it comes to the resale market, the sneaker typically stayed under the radar. But with examples like Virgil Abloh and the AJ2 or Joe Freshgoods and the New Balance 992, sometimes the right shoe in the right hands can really bring it to the forefront. In terms of sales and resale value, the adidas Forum Low Bad Bunny not only outranked other Forum Lows, but also outranked other collabs executed by other musical artists on StockX. As the Latin pop star continues to expand his fan base internationally and keeps working on other silhouettes, one can only imagine the impact adidas and Bad Bunny will have on the sneaker market in 2022.

crocs pollex clog salehe bembury best shoes of 2021

Crocs Pollex Clog By Salehe Bembury Cucumber & Menemsha

This year, Crocs went even deeper into collaborations, making for a momentous 2021. From surprise projects with entities like Justin Bieber, Post Malone, and even Coca-Cola, the Crocs Clog saw a huge uptick in popularity and clout. But when designer, and former VP of Sneakers for Versace, Salehe Bembury got his hands on a Crocs collab this year, it only raised the level of hype for the comfort shoe. Bembury first teased the partnership back in February, with little to no info on what the collaboration consisted of. But, throughout the later months, images of silhouettes and designs started to take form, and anticipation rose even higher. As the release rolled around, eager shoppers soon grappled with the idea that supply was limited, as raffle entries for the clogs were sparingly distributed to only the lucky few and resale prices greatly rose. The Crocs Pollex Clog soon became one of the most searched Crocs to ever hit StockX. Although the release left many disappointed in not securing a pair on the day of the release, more colorways of the collaborative Crocs are expected to touchdown in 2022, giving some a second chance at scoring big on one of the best shoes of 2021. 

adidas Yeezy Foam RNNR Sand

The Yeezy Foam RNNR first made headlines in 2020 when Ye and Yeezy’s head designer, Steven Smith, discussed the shoe live at a Fast Company summit. The shoe was applauded for its affordable retail price and its use of algae in its construction but also grabbed attention for its unusual design. A year later, Yeezy Foam RNNRs are a staple within the Yeezy line, with this Sand pair being one of the best shoes of 2021. The Yeezy Foam RNNR Sand follows the same airy look and foam construction as other Foam RNNRs but is highly sought after for its resemblance to the RNNR’s debut Ararat colorway. In a similar hue, the Sand colorway resales for less than the Ararat but is still considered one of the higher-priced Foam RNNRs to date.  

yeezy knit rnr best shoes of 2021

adidas Yeezy Knit RNR Boot Sulfur

Another Yeezy silhouette to turn heads was the new Knit RNR Boot. Following this year’s Knit RNR debut, a two-toned, sock-like knit upper sneaker, the Knit RNR Boot brings a high-top construction to its low-cut predecessor. The boot features a deeply sculptural and rugged outsole for gripping various terrains, while a cast-like upper with velcro straps provides a locked-in fit for the wearer. The boot is unlike anything that Ye and adidas have brought out, but if there is anything that the two are capable of doing it’s taking the outlandish and making them one of the best shoes of 2021. 

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