Best Retro Running Shoes – Coolest Old School Shoes Reviewed

If you continue to love the look of yesteryear’s runners––the heroes of your formative years––long after their decades of popularity have passed, you might want to consider getting retro running shoes.

To get the scoop on the best retro running shoes you can find, read our guide and check out our picks for the top five retro running shoes.

Quick Picks - Top Retro Running Shoes

What Are Retro Running Shoes?

These days, everything is fancy in the world of running. We have moisture-wicking fabrics for every body part, perfectly measured little energy packets to fuel our runs, and watches that can track everything from our distances to our cadence.

But in the past decades, runners didn’t have all the cushy comforts that we do today. They didn’t have cell phones to bring with them when they were out on a 15-mile run. If they encountered problems, they had to deal with them without the assurance of help being a phone call away.

Their shoes were different too. They didn’t have as many special features and all the wild colors we see today. There was a lot of white, red, blue, and yellow featured on running shoes in the 1980s.

They had simple designs and clean lines. While they were great shoes, they hadn’t achieved all the bells and whistles of today’s shoes.

But for runners who are still fond of that retro shoe look and remember how cool running shoes used to be in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, you can still find shoes that mimic the look and feel of those time periods.

Why Would We Want to Revisit Our Old Styles?

While we might not welcome back some of the other styles we rocked during those eras, the shoes are one thing that almost everyone remembers fondly.

Those of us who were athletes in our high school or college glory days during those decades can probably all recall our favorite pair of shoes in vivid detail. The opportunity to wear retro running shoes can bring those feelings back to the forefront while we’re getting our workouts in the present.

Nostalgia is the biggest part of the appeal of retro running shoes. We may be older and slower than we were 20, 30, or 40 years ago, but when we lace up our retro running shoes, we can feel like we’re 17 again, competing at our local track meet.

What Are Some Features Retro Running Shoes Had?

People have been running since the beginning of time, but until the 1970s, the sport had never enjoyed such popularity. If you weren’t competing in races or jogging for fun and to keep in shape, you knew someone who was. It was the thing to do and businesses took notice.

Companies began targeting ways to make money off of America’s growing fascination with running. Several shoe companies, including Nike, Adidas, and New Balance, led the charge.

They began to implement shoe features that would make runners more comfortable and would enhance performance. Until the early 1970s, runners had to tolerate running shoes that were made out of leather and felt like weights on their feet.

You know how when you’re out for a run now on a hot summer day and the air blows right through the mesh uppers on your shoes and you think how nice it is that your feet can feel the breeze? That didn’t happen with those old leather shoes. Your feet would have been hot and you’d have to deal with it.

But then things started getting better in the running world, thanks to the increase in the number of runners on the road. Companies began to move away from those heavy leather shoes, and instead found lighter, airier alternatives that made runners more comfortable. While leather was still used, things like nylon uppers and mesh uppers entered the picture.

When the 1980s rolled around, even more exciting developments came along, like Nike Air technology. Those retro shoes from the 1980s, especially Nikes, had logos so big they rivaled the size of the hair in the glam bands and the mullets of the male high school runners who were wearing their half shirts.

Here are some features you should look for while seeking retro running shoes.

  • What fabric the shoe uses: In addition to nylon and mesh, retro shoe companies also loved to use suede on running shoes. If you really want people to recognize the old-school appeal of your shoes, having suede on them will kick it up to the next level.

  • Popular designs: Some retro running shoes were instant classics the moment they came out. People fell in love with them and that love affair never seemed to stop. Whether you’re wearing retro shoes for your love of that particular decade or you simply want to look cool, go for those classic designs because they are real crowd pleasers.
  • Look for simplicity: If you love wacky colors and patterns, you’ll want to steer more toward today’s shoes. Retro running shoes may have used some bold primary colors, but their patterns are surprisingly clean and simple compared to the shoes of today.

5 Best Retro Running Shoes

Nike Men’s Air Max 90

Nike Mens Air Max 90 Ultra SE Running Shoe
  • Breathable mesh upper with...
  • Injected unitsole midsole/outsole...
  • Visible Nike Max Air heel unit for...
  • Rubber outsole for durability and...
  • It's lighter and more breathable
These look like the classic Nike shoes many of us grew up with. You can get them in a number of different color combinations, but most of them will incorporate black and white or varying shades of blue and gray.

Pros

  • These are made of leather and mesh so your feet will still stay cool enough during your runs.
  • Runners who are into retro gear will love the attention these shoes will bring them from other people.
  • These shoes will hold up well; even after you’ve worn them out for running, you can still walk around in them and enjoy their look.
  • Once you break them in, they’ll be comfortable enough to wear all day.

Cons

  • This shoe can take a while to break in, especially if you’re used to running in something slightly less rigid.
  • They do run a little small so you’ll want to order up a half or full size from your regular size.
  • These are a little narrow, but unless you have wide feet, you should be fine.

New Balance Men’s 574

These may not have as much visual appeal as the Nike Air Max 90, but the simplicity of this design is what attracts so many runners to it. This has been a popular shoe for so many reasons, and although it isn’t flashy, it offers a lot in terms of performance.

Pros

  • It’s made out of popular retro materials––suede and mesh.
  • The padded collar and tongue make it comfortable to wear and help cut down on blisters during your long runs.
  • You’ll get several color choices.
  • The foam midsole and the heel cushion makes this shoe super comfortable to run or walk in.
  • It has a roomy toe box, which will help you avoid the pain of cramped toes.
  • The fit on the heel is snug enough that you won’t get a lot of slipping and sliding around.

Cons

  • The sizing on these shoes seems to be off––you’ll have to order larger.
  • These shoes are pretty lightweight, but some runners complain that they are fairly stiff.

ASICS Women’s GEL-Lyte III

ASICS Women's Gel-Lyte III, Champagne, 6 M US
  • Lace-up metallic running shoe...
  • Gel cushioning for shock absorption
You can get these shoes in four different colors and two of them are so shiny that Barbarella would be jealous. If you aren’t into the super shiny look though, there are two other retro colors to choose from.

Pros

  • You’ll get gel cushioning to help lessen the shock you feel when you’re running.
  • These shoes use all the favorite materials from classic shoes––leather, mesh, and waterproof suede.
  • They have a split tongue, which will stop the tongue of the shoe from that pesky side-to-side movement runners hate.
  • They are comfortable whether you’re standing around on the sidelines of a race waiting for a fellow runner to finish or you’re running a short- or mid-distance race yourself.

Cons

  • Runners who like their shoes tied tightly may not like this style because it’s difficult to get a super tight fit with the split tongue.
  • These wouldn’t be a great choice for long-distance running.

Saucony Originals Men’s Shadow 5000

Saucony Originals Men's Shadow 5000-m, Grey/Blue/White, 11.5...
  • Fabric / synthetic upper
  • Lace up closure
  • Rubber sole
  • Padded tongue and collar
  • Made by Saucony
These retro shoes offer neutral cushioning and they come in a variety of colors, from flashy brights to subdued grays.

Pros

  • They have a mesh upper that is stretchable for good movement and lets the air circulate to keep your feet cool.
  • These shoes are well constructed and will hold up well month after month.
  • The Shadow 5000 is comfortable right out of the box so you won’t have to spend much time breaking them in.
  • The cushioning is a good middle-of-the-road option and should be enough without being too much for many runners.
  • These are fairly lightweight so they won’t feel too heavy for your legs to handle when running.
  • You can get these shoes at a great price.

Cons

  • These are made of synthetic materials––don’t buy these if you want shoes made from real leather.
  • If you run longer distances than 5ks, you might want to consider another shoe––these are good for shorter distances but won’t hold up as well for long runs.

Adidas Originals Men’s ZX 700

adidas Originals Men's ZX 700 Running Shoe, Core...
  • Mesh upper with suede overlays
  • Comfortable textile lining; Enjoy...
  • TPU heel clip and eyestay ghillie
  • Synthetic leather 3-Stripes; Woven...
  • Injection molded EVA midsole for...
If you miss all the rad styles of the 1980s, here’s your chance to recapture some of those glory days. This shoe has that classic 1980s look you love and remember. You’ll have so many color selections, you’ll easily be able to find one to go with every running outfit you own.

 Pros

  • The rubber sole on this shoe is durable, but it will still feel responsive and won’t be too stiff when you’re out running.
  • You’ll get the cooling mesh over your toes for breathability, but you’ll also get that classic nubuck look that was so popular in the 1980s.
  • The midsole cushioning makes the shoe feel comfortable on your runs.
  • The toe box has plenty of room so you won’t have cramped toes.

Cons

  • Many runners find that Adidas tends to run a bit large in their shoe sizes and this shoe is no exception––these seem to be a half size or so too big.
  • The soles can be a bit slippery, especially if you’re running in the rain downhill, so you’ll need to be careful in those conditions.
  • While this shoe is also good for shorter distances like 5ks, it’s not a great choice for long runs.

And the Winner Is …

If you’re going solely for the looks of the retro shoe, you may want to go with the Nike Air Max. It’s hard to top that when it comes to appearance alone. Classics never go out of style and these are definitely fan favorites.

While retro shoes don’t have all the great perks of today’s running shoes, they are still great for shorter and mid-length runs. The Air Max shoes may need some breaking in so I wouldn’t order them right before your next race; give yourself at least three or four weeks to get used to them. But once you break them in, they’ll become more comfortable every time you wear them.

You’ll love the looks and comments you’ll get from people who recognize a classic when they see it.