The Cultural Association of Air Force 1’s

By: Paige Jenkins (’25)

Nike’s Air Force 1 (AF1), the iconic low-top all-white sneaker, shifted from a potential flop to a classic staple in American fashion. The original version of the shoe was created in 1982 by Bruce Kilgore as a high top with a single colorway of white and neutral gray. The iconic all-white colorway wasn’t released until the late ‘90s and sold for about $62.95. In 2005 the bestselling shoe sold twelve million pairs, and almost twenty years later, the AF1 is still the epitome of classic street style. Uncredited pioneers of the Air Force 1 shoe were African American drug dealers, hustlers, rappers, and basketball players, essential personas that influenced the late 90s to early 2000’s fashion. Now the shoe sells for around $100 depending on the retailer and the demographic of wearers has grown as the shoe spread into the mainstream. The gentrification of the AF1 resulted in the misconception that it has no gender, race, or class significance. However, without the efforts of African Americans that cultivated a culture for the AF1, it would not have become the classic staple that continues to trend in the media today. The shifting mythology of the AF1 symbolizes the dangers of society’s mere association of the sneaker with African American culture, and society’s general appropriation of that culture instead of appreciating it. 

The multimedia project that explores this phenomenon more can be found here, on Adobe Express:

The Cultural Association of Air Force 1s

Paige Jenkins is an American Studies Major. Her multimedia essay was originally created for Professor Perin Gürel’s American Studies course ‘Gender and Popular Culture.’

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