New Balance & Athletic Shoes

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You’d think as a Tradster, I walk the life of an old mundane gentry while balking at today’s youth and all of their jibber-jabbery. Say, with their iTelephones, Youtelevision, and Twatter. That I wear a prized Oxford Cloth Button Down, made only in America because anything less is equal to toilet paper, and hard soled balmorals to mow the grass. With chinos of course. Because cuffed, no break chinos are my work clothes. And I’d dare not wear jeans because I am not a peasant. Because my elitism and wannabe preppy style looks ridiculous and snobby…on anyone – not just us young adults daring to dress a step above our peers. Never mind all that “classic and fun” look that we supposedly strive for, because we just come off as try hard and clownish.

…At least, that’s my impression of other people’s impression of us Traddies. Wearing old grandpa shoes and fugly colorful shorts that *gasp* hits above the knee. I guess some of our generation today thinks Jordans and baggy basketball shorts are perfect for almost any occasion. But I’ll be reasonable, because I don’t want to pass judgement based off stereotypes in the same manner we Tradmeisters are scrutinized for.

Of course I don’t wear expensive balmorals to mow the grass. There is a time for everything, as my mother says, and as much as I love my boat shoes and loafers, I recognize that life calls for a catch up to the present and all of its synthetic comforts and neo-fashions. That’s why this blog isn’t purely for College Trad, and instead highlights all fashions that I believe effectively harnesses today’s revision of “East Coast Americana” for the young man, whether it be Trad or Fratty or Urban Prep or so on. I sometimes have to remind myself that I am still in my 20s and I should enjoy the styles and mistakes afforded to me that I will soon have to relinquish due to incoming maturity. Croakies for example. And that leads us to the subject of this article: sneakers.

Not to say that I advocate wearing sneakers in all occasions. That would undo the direction I’ve been pushing you: away from the over abundance of casual-everything in this country. But being a red-blooded American male, you’ll undoubtedly be active and play on the rec-league or visit the gym. These habits are good and will allow you to be forever young as you hopefully carry them into your mid and late adulthood. And then there are times when you choose comfort over style. As much as I love my loafers, try standing and walking in them without rest for hours and if you don’t have blistered feet or plantar fasciitis by the end, then you are simply not human. Sneakers are comfortable, practical, and make sense. Not for everything. But for some things.

Enter New Balance. Why not the big three of NIke, Adidas, and Reebok? For the simple reason that New Balance still believes in American manufacturing, with factories sprawled across the NE in Massachusetts and Maine (the second state seemingly being the mecca of American shoemaking, with other companies like LL Bean and Alden headquartered there). Add in New Balance’s prized reputation amongst runners and you’re left with a certified trad-approved company.

Anything issued by the military instantly makes a mark amongst preppies. New Balance is the official physical fitness shoe given to US Navy recruits, as well as promoted for the general use of the military. In 50 years, perhaps the NB sneaker will be on the same tier as desert boots, aviators, pea coats, and chinos (all tracing its use from the service).

The Official US Navy PT kit. Fun fact, Soffee is the official PT supplier for the military (That same company that makes booty shorts that all cheerleaders and freshmen girls love to wear).

Special collection released by New Balance for each military branch.

There is one New Balance shoe that has been regarded as a dynasty in Frat Daddy tradom. The 993 has been more or less the standard for the past two decades on college campuses- although these days you’ll notice its all about the Nike Air Max or Free. Us bitter minded classicists will stick with the Made in USA sneakers, thanks!

Unfortunately the 993 is now discontinued and replaced with the sleeker 990. All good things…the 990 is still Made in the States but I prefer the bulkier aesthetic of the 993.

Out with the old, in with the new.

I’ve been an avid fan of Asics running shoes, but when I was in the market for new athletic shoes recently, I opted to try out the 993s. My older brother had a pair a long time ago and said it was his most comfortable shoe. He was right. There was no break-in period at all and the cushioning felt substantial while remaining unimposing.

Since they are no longer available in retail stores, you’ll probably have to refer to fleaBay. I bought a pair of New Old Stock for $110 with free shipping, but I’ve seen them lower (unfortunately just not in my size at the time). I went with the classic grey but I do like the navy version too.

Appearance wise, the 993 is kind of boring I admit. No flashy gimmicks (except reflective material for night time running) or loud colors. And that’s kind of the point. “Made in USA” tributes on the tongue and the heel of the shoe is all the eye-catching attention and praise you could want from this shoe. You won’t see that anywhere on the hard wood during your next pickup game at the Y.

Fresh in the box.

“Commitment to American Manufacturing”

Patriotic USA signage.

So how do you wear sneakers in a trad-approved manner? Well, there’s actual physical activity which of course makes sense. Go for the frat daddy look with high top tube socks when you run some laps or lift heavy things at the gym.

Then there’s the casual occasions when you just don’t want to wear boat shoes or camp mocs. Or if hard soled penny loafers would be too much of a [literal] pain. I like pairing my 993s with chino shorts and a t-shirt or frocket during events that I know will require a lot of walking. A recent trip to the zoo serves a perfect example. Walking 4 hours on a lovely Spring day, barefoot in boat shoes, just causes achy feet and weird fungal growth.

And there’s also the “JCrew’s Trad Dad” weekender look, where a 30-something old young father sporting a slight sexy stubble and wavy hair peeking out under his sophisticated eyeglass frames needs to take his dog and his toddler to the park. What does he wear to show off his lean, tanned daddy body to the other MILFs at the playground? A baseball cap, a slim untucked polo, urban fit chinos and his trusty New Balances.

The key is to look youthful, relaxed, and polishely disheveled. So you’ll be less like Steve Carrell’s character in Crazy Stupid Love:

And more like the suburban dad / MILF eye candy seen below. So instead of those ugly old man “for orthopedic support” 407s, you can sport your 993s or retro-grade 574s as featured in GQ. And even with the subtle jab at frat daddy attire by Ryan Gosling (even he knows that NB = TFM), you can still look good in sneakers as long as you pair it well.

Really, only in urban prep and trad fashion is the above look acceptable. J.Crew may be the number one proponent of this casual, mix-n-match style, and yes it can be a bit inappropriate in most instances of real world application, but it does have it’s place in small quantities of use. I can see myself hanging up the tucked OCBDs and Pennies for a trip to Target in “JCrew’s Trad Dad” clothing. Not often, but reserved for take-it-easy days.

Since I’m on the subject, I’ll give you a short tour of my other rubber soled shoes. Below are my Adidas Sambas that I’ve had for about five years and still going strong. I wear this in similar Trad Dad trend, with slim cut chinos or denim. The accepted general consensus in men’s fashion & advice is that if you are going to wear sneakers in non-athletic uses, then you should go with classic and retro styling. The Trad Dad look may or may not fly against this tide (especially with 993s), but it’s more for aforementioned trips to the park or suburbia shopping centers than for abiding to fashion rules. My Sambas satisfy both urban and athletic use as my main gym shoe and as my main casual sneaker. I highly recommend it especially if you do any sort of leg work like squatting and deadlifting when you’ll need a flat sole.

Other vintage styled shoes in addition to the Sambas and 574s that I like are the Converse Jack Purcells. Nike Air Epic, and Adidas Samoa. Get a pair in a classic color combination and then a funky, retro mix that Spike Lee would approve of.

My old Asics. Still one of my top brands of choice for running, probably on par with New Balance. Only since NB makes some of their shoes in the USA does it have a slight advantage.

I’ve had these Sperry Bahama Canvas boat shoes for a while too. I only wear these in the summer, and tone down the somewhat noticeable color of the shoes with khaki or stone chino shorts. I also like the CVO with its similiar minimalistic vibes to a pair of Jack Purcells. These are distinctly reserved for the utmost casual of occasions, say a picnic or stroll down the boardwalk on a beach vacation. If there is any hint of formal breeze in the air, even dinner at your favorite family restaurant, then I’d switch back to my leather boat shoes or loafers.

Update 3/21/14:

I have two pairs of New Balance running shoes. The 880v2 was purchased for last year’s running season, and this year I’ve added the 890v3 to my rotation for this upcoming Spring and Summer. Hope to do a few 5ks! I buy from Joe’s New Balance Outlet on eBay or its eMerchant store, which sources all of its stock directly from the brand. They carry discontinued or previous years’ styles on discount, plus usually offering free shipping and occasional additional sales. The 880 and 890 series are still produced, so I just buy the last version released to save money, as the technology will be almost identical but with just differing design.

Some have taken up issue against New Balance’s claim to American manufacturing. True, not all of its shoes are made here, and there are questions to “Assembled in USA” vs “Made in USA” labeling, but even if only 70% of the components are home bred, then that’s still 70% more than any other major athletic shoe company in these United States. Can you say the same for Nike’s sweatshops?

New Balance Made in the USA