A History of Jordan Lifestyle Sneakers

Don’t bother trying to locate iconic Michael Jordan moments while wearing the Grape Air Jordan Vs — there aren’t any. M.J. never actually sported the Grapes on NBA hardwood, most likely since the purple and emerald green accents in no way resembled the Bulls’ color scheme. He did don a pair on a Wheaties box and a Nike catalogue.

That the Grapes became one of the most popular and enduring J’s without the benefit of Jordan pulling off some amazing feat in them served as a harbinger of sneakers to come. After all, if you take into account the non-traditional color palette, you might make a case that the Grape Vs were actually the first true lifestyle Air Jordan.

Sometime after Y2K, Jordan Brand seemed to become mindful that its target demographic was likely to change. People who witnessed M.J.’s heroics in real time would soon start using their previously disposable incomes on mortgages, family vacations, and college tuitions. By attempting to create new classics, often with resplendent colorways, Jordan Brand would hypothetically appeal to a younger generation of sneaker aficionados.

It appears that initiative came straight from the top.

“Apparel is fashion. It’s a six month cycle. Looks change about every six months,” Michael Jordan said in the book Driven From Within. “If you are not prepared to change that quick, then you are going to be left behind. We are right there with the fashion leaders. In most cases, we’re ahead of them. We can change. We can put out some wild stuff.”

Of course, Jordan’s mid-2000s forays into lifestyle retros were not met with universal acclaim. For one, LS releases were more difficult to locate than people were accustomed to, often dropping in limited quantities at select Jordan retailers. Other lifestyle J’s were available exclusively at a primitive Jordan online shop, back before spending money on the Internet for sneakers — or anything, really — was commonplace.

Speaking of money, LS Jordans were pricier than their brethren, thanks to articles of clothing that were bundled with the sneakers. The Air Jordan IV Thunder cost $500 and came with a jacket, whether you wanted it or not; other 2006 AJ IVs retailed for just $115 each. (Times have changed, no?) And for collectors who wanted a pair of the well-liked Nubuck Air Jordan XII, being forced to spend extra for a matching cap and hoodie was a point of consternation.Air-Jordan-IV-4-Thunder-2012_1

Jordan was tasked with winning over longtime aficionados who were completely set in their ways. There was nothing shocking about the black and yellow Thunder IVs except the price tag, but to read the scathing posts on NikeTalk, one would think JB had defaced the Mona Lisa. Even most non-LS colorways generally proved to be an acquired taste; the 3M-wrapped Green Bean V comes to mind.

The new, bold colorways had an interesting side effect, in that they whet an appetite for old favorites. To that point, most OG sneakers had been retroed infrequently or not at all, as people pined for the favorites they grew up with. It was no coincidence that 2006’s Defining Moments pack, which featured a gold-accented AJ VI and a Concord-esque AJ XI, was one of the most coveted releases of all time. The runaway success of the DMP paved the way for the popular Countdown Packs, which paired retros with numbers that added up to 23.

By 2012, the Jordan Brand had fully embraced the potential of the back catalogue. Nearly every Saturday morning featured the release of a classic silhouette, featuring equal parts old and new colorways. For those still stuck in the ’90s, this trend has been particularly thrilling; who, for example, couldn’t use a fresh pair of the Aqua Air Jordan VIII? (You can pick them up at Champs Sports on Black Friday.)

By this point, every retro is basically a lifestyle sneaker. Jordans have morphed from a niche item to a coveted streetwear staple, particularly in the case of the first half-dozen models. And while Jumpman has plenty of performance sneakers suitable for dominating a pickup game, you’re far more likely to see retros on street corners or Instagram — not that there’s anything wrong with that.

It took trial and error to get to where they are today, but with $2.6 billion worth of sneakers sold in the United States alone last year, it’s obvious Jordan Brand has located that sweet spot where they offer a fit for everybody’s lifestyle.

“OG colorways will always be the most popular, but I think LS colorways will continue to be important to help diversify the options available to customers,” Matt Berg, developer of the popular J23App, told Champs Sports. “Especially younger/newer customers, who seem to be more willing to branch out into the different/unique colorways.

“It also gives the customer a lot more options for sneakers — not to mention matching apparel — which is ultimately a good thing.”

Follow Bryan: Instagram // Twitter