When choosing what to wear, color is usually my primary concern; since I stick to basic, safe silhouettes which will do me perfectly at any time, color is usually the only factor that requires a choice. But for some, on another end of the fashion spectrum, yellow isn’t just an option when choosing what color to wear. For sneakerheads, wearing yellow hasn’t always been a simple choice.
A couple weeks ago, a picture of majorly distressed Dior Jordan 1’s belonging to Daniel Arsham was doing the rounds through the mysterious world of Instagram mood boards. Then, @hidden.ny and similar pages began posting similar flicks, but these seemed to be an almost endless stream of posts made up of freshly distressed sneakers.
Usually, I’m too much of a snobby bastard to really get into what the trendy mood board boys are up to these days; that, or I just can’t keep up, but these really caught my eye. Most of these customs haven’t just had a cheese grater taken to the toe box; they really do look like a truly beaten-up sneaker, as if it could’ve been worn since the ’80s. Now, people can say what they will about pre-distressing anything, and those reservations are justified – not all distressing is made equal.
First of all, the process of yellowing sneakers is nothing new to the sneaker world at large. Sneaker yellowing is not an obscure condition for a pair of shoes; it’s actually an infamous side effect of aging. Even a mere fashion snob may know of shoes going yellow, whether from youtube documentaries, Rick Owens memes, Grailed listings, or the Round Two store videos. Most chalk up the process to oxidation, atoms may leave, but it’s almost like gentrification: poor old electrons move out, prices are driven up! Yellow colors on typically leather sneakers’ midsoles have often been used to identify older sneaks as a signal to influence resale prices, at least depending on the buyer’s opinions of yellow.
Yellow is really not just a simple color choice for some shoe bros. At first, the trend seemed lazy and even laughable that people were willing to pay just so their sneakers could be slightly yellowed and a little distressed, conditions which seem possible to achieve just through simple daily wear. But coming from a non-sneakerhead, who am I to speak on the worthiness of someone’s purchases, and even works! That day I was wearing my favorite pair of Number (N)ine jeans, which feature sashiko style stitching, distressing, and little bits of paint/bleach splatters. Sashiko is an ancient, hundreds of years old technique of clothing repair native to Japan. That, and the fact that the jeans come from a respected brand, have made people like me love and respect these particular pants so much in today’s culture; they represent a lush history – and a very strong passion for it. Now, jeans are clothes, and so are shoes – so what then sets Number (N)ine jeans away from custom distressed sneakers? They both feature distressing, even if the techniques may vary. Sure, sashiko represents an ancient, rich culture. Still, sneaker culture surely poses the potential to one day hold the same, if not higher, cultural value as sashiko, or any technique/style for that matter.
In thinking of the comparison between sashiko stitching and custom Jordans, I was reminded of something that I had asked myself in my journal: could Aphex Twin one day be considered traditional? In the same sense that Beethoven is a master of Classical, Louis Armstrong a cornerstone of Jazz, and sashiko stitching a token of Japanese culture? In this case, sashiko is our Beethoven, and maybe aging sneakers is Aphex Twin. Will people one day look upon American sneaker culture as a key point in defining 20-21st Western Culture as a whole? These customs feel like an homage, a continuation of a culture that has only grown since its spawn. In the same way, essential hip-hop sampling masters such as J Dilla and Q Tip were a call and response to Jazz – they picked and chose literal samples of Jazz and reintroduced them to the world in a new form allowing its energy to live on through younger generations – these artists are choosing to present certain facets of sneaker-culture, such as yellowing.
This particular style of customs has continued to grow even beyond sneaker culture. The free-form nature of the practice allows creators to display and create really whatever they can out of a pair of sneakers. One such pair which highlights this are Andrew Chiou’s custom sashiko dunks. The original pair of sashiko Nike SB’s dropped in August of 2020, and Andrew’s custom really took them to another level of beauty. The sun bleaching on the denim, rich browns, and rope laces genuinely feel like they could go hand-in-hand, with something as special as my pair of Number (N)ines. The beauty of this pair, in particular, is the fact that they prove that rich cultural values can live on and continue to grow through custom sneakers – something which some would never be quick to really consider.
These new distressed customs feel like a wholly natural evolution of the condition of yellowing and its significance to sneaker culture, which is only continuing to evolve. At the end of the day, people are allowed to wear and do whatever they want, and honestly, the customs look really good. America is a new-ish nation and a new culture relative to the rest of the world at large. So it’s a privilege to see how subcultures such as sneakers are continuously growing, evolving, and defining the United States culture – and subsequently the world. These past couple years have been really interesting in terms of sneakers, whether it’s the growing trend of “bootlegs”, these customs, or just how quickly prices can change if someone like Travis Scott wears a pair of Dunks, which only proves the intense presence that is sneaker culture in America’s collective thought.
Would I commission to get a fresh pair of’ jawnz distressed? Probably not. But more power to the people supporting themselves from it, some of them have fantastic eyes, so much so to even attract artists like Daniel Arsham, who is majorly respected in today’s ever-so-connected worlds of art and fashion. Maybe one day, this trend will be written in a footnote of a textbook detailing the evolution of modern 21st-century sneaker culture. The fact is, we’re in a world where the OG sneakerheads and streetwear bros are starting to become parents, and God knows where their kids are going to take the culture. This trend feels like just one small factor in this continuous evolution and only makes me more excited for the artists who will make a living and drive ideas forward.