Since 2020, the New Balance 550 has become one of the Boston-based brand’s biggest silhouettes, and one of the biggest fashion staples. Here’s everything you need to know about the 550, from its rise from obscurity to its status as a style icon.
The New Balance 550 began as a performance basketball sneaker, part of the brand’s efforts to break into one of the biggest sports markets. Their first major attempt was the 480, which suffered due to a lack of breathability. Then came the P550 Oxfords, a low top variant of the 650s by the legendary designer Steven Smith.
The P550 came in a thick white leather upper, with added perforations to address the 480’s breathability issues. The white upper would also be accented by the various team colours, in accordance with NBA rules. Finally, New Balance brought over their cushioning expertise to the P550’s midsole. Packed with EVA foam, its sole was one of the thickest you could find.
Ultimately New Balance struggled to compete with the established brands and their star endorsements. Plus by the 90s, the hardwood floor became a battleground for exciting new technologies like the Reebok Pump and Nike Air. The P550 went into obscurity, with New Balance instead maintaining their popularity for their runners like the 990 series and the 574s.
In the late 2010s, the Dad Shoe trend was in full effect, and New Balance was a big part of that. Their catalogue of chunky runners, including the new 990v5, helped the brand capitalise on the trend. In 2020, Aimé Leon Dore dug through the archives for a new collaboration with NB, and found the perfect shoe to bring back, the P550.
ALD founder Teddy Santis had previously worked on collabs for the 990 series and the 827, so this retro silhouette was right up his alley. However, the P550 was so obscure that New Balance themselves had no reference for the original design of the shoe. This meant they had to buy a vintage pair from collector Khalli Vegas, and use a collection of sketches as references in order to make the collab happen.
The New Balance 550 x Aimé Leon Dore dropped in a set of collegiate colourways with vintage-looking midsoles, seeming right of the 80s. Since 2020 ALD have released several batches of 550s, including their International Friendship Through Basketball Capsule, as well as the high top 650R variant.
The Aimé Leon Dore collaboration opened up the door for 550 to become a hot General Release shoe for New Balance. The shoe was the perfect blend between the chunky Dad Shoe aesthetic and the retro basketball look, allowing it to compete with the Nike Dunk, reigniting the hardwood competition.
550, and New Balance as a whole, became the latest IFYKYK trend in streetwear. The retro basketball feel and collegiate colours were perfect for a low-key vintage look, something different from the Yeezys, Jordans, and Dunks that dominated the sneaker landscape.
The 550 is a perfect 80s silhouette, with its layered, technical look adding a futuristic edge while remaining unmistakably retro. The shoe comes in a variety of colourways, but most retain the versatile white upper with some colourful accents.
It’s this versatility that makes the 550 so popular and so easy to wear. If you want a specific look to tie the shoe to, look back to ALD for some inspiration. The 80s shoe is a perfect fit for preppy neutral looks. Think When Harry Met Sally or Seinfeld-esque normcore. For more tips on how to style the 550, check out this helpful guide.
In truth, if you’re looking for a sneaker that’s easy to style but hyped, there aren’t many options better than the 550. If you’re looking to add a pair to your rotation, check out the range available on KLEKT.