The 1990s Shoes That Brain Saved a Whole Summer to Buy
If you grew up in the 1990s like I did, chances are at one point in time, you wanted a pair of Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes. There was no higher status symbol among adolescent males than that Jumpman logo on the tongue of your shoes. There was just one problem. There was no way my parents were ever going to spend the $100+ price tag for one pair of shoes. This purchase would be up to me.
My very first job was working for the Asgro Seed Company out of Anamosa. Yes, I was a corn detasseler. I walked rows of corn for several summers. It was one of the only jobs available to a kid under the age of 16 in a small town. Was it great money? No. But it was more than I'd ever seen before at once in my young life. After a summer of saving in 1990, I had enough money that I could basically go out and buy all of my clothes and shoes to head back to school. And there was only ONE pair of shoes I had my eye on. The Air Jordan 5.
There they are. The favorite pair of shoes I've ever owned. The Air Jordan 5, as worn by Michael Jordan himself. The shoes themselves were groundbreaking. They were the first to feature a clear sole on the shoe, showing off the Jumpman logo underneath.
Tinker Hatfield is the designer behind many of the most iconic Jordan shoes. He took inspiration for the Air Jordan 5 from a variety of different sources. When he watched Jordan play basketball, he compared him to a fighter jet, attacking his opponent from all angles. So Hatfield modeled the bottom part of the shoe like the paint on the front of bombers in World War 2.
See? The shark teeth on the plane AND towards the bottom of the shoe. Hatfield also used new materials when making the Jordan 5, including on the shoe's tongue. Along with the Jumpman logo, the tongue also was reflective, much like the shirts and vests that road crews wear to this day.
As you can tell, I LOVE these shoes. I loved them so much back in 1990 that I paid...get ready for it...$175 for a pair of the black and metallic ones as pictured on this page. My 47-year-old self is screaming "what were you thinking!" But my teenage self was in sneaker heaven. I also took care of, cleaned, and made those shoes last a good three to four years in near vintage condition. Eventually, I wore them out. But even my parents will tell you I got my money's worth.
Today, a pair of redesigned Air Jordan 5s goes for around $170 a pair. Maybe someday I'll pull the trigger and own a pair again. Because Jordans aren't just shoes. They're a piece of pop culture.