Written by Molly Levine
This story was written in May 2020
I’ve always loved shoes. I love all shoes, but sneakers and I have something special. I used to get embarrassed at how long it took me to lay out all my saved up singles (I was 12, chill) for the cashier at Niketown on 57th Street. But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to flex on her middle school classmates with neon teal Air Force 1s. I did the same the next year with my all-purple Air Max 90s; I went full Barney vibes that year and I don’t regret it. I guess you could say I like to make a statement, so sneakers have always been something I’m drawn to.
The other day, I finally found the 2017 Jordan 4s I’ve been wanting for a while, in my size at retail price (yes, I wanted them before “The Last Dance”). Even though my sneaker collection could land me a spot on “Hoarders”, I reasoned that I should finally get them; I haven’t been spending as much money these past few months and I’ve wanted them for so long. Plus, if you know the volatile nature of sneaker reselling, you’d know it’s possible I’ll never find them in the same conditions again. The horror.
But then I thought about what’s going on in the world. Who am I to be so tone deaf and make such a frivolous purchase in times like these? While usually overflowing with wealthy tourists and kids waiting to see which celebrities stroll by, Kith’s boarded-up doors and empty racks serve as a reminder of the many people affected by widespread layoffs and plummeting sales due to mandatory store closures. With so many struggling right now I wonder if this pandemic will initiate a change that causes us to realize what “really” matters, thus deprioritizing cool shoes.
My immediate reaction to this question is yes. But then I remember that sneaker culture serves as a case study of our consumerist society which focuses not on what’s been purchased, but rather what purchasing something means. Lena Waithe’s Quibi show “You Ain’t Got These” attempts to unpack how sneakers have become a status symbol, and to many of us, status really matters – pandemic or not.
While it may not change our desire for them, this pandemic might change how we secure our next coveted pair. A market originally democratized by the “first come, first serve” nature of lining up outside stores in the early morning hours before a drop has now been forced to move entirely online. This has resulted in bots beating you out nearly 100% of the time and created even more competition in an already competitive environment. I don’t think anyone entirely knows what things will look like after the pandemic subsides, but I’m sure many sneakerheads will grow accustomed to buying shoes for above retail price, as stores and brands increase the amount of inventory sold directly to online resellers like StockX. What’s clear is that like many small businesses, your favorite local sneaker shop is going to have a tougher time staying alive.
Even if it’s harder right now, we’re still buying. The impatient American consumer loves shopping because it allows us to feel like we are in control. If you’re like my mom, utilitarian motivations make you obsessively buy paper towels in preparation for the day when all of New York State runs out. If you recognize that this fear is a little ridiculous in a city like ours, you still might be spending away due to hedonic motivations. Hedonic shopping is driven by our desire for fun and satisfaction; it makes us feel secure and happy when we’d otherwise be feeling lost and out of sorts. With shopping increasingly becoming one of the few ways people have fun without leaving the house, and an obsession with sneakers (and Michael Jordan) taking over the mainstream, it makes sense that Michael Jordan’s 1985 signed Jordan 1s – the exact inaugural pair that was banned from the NBA – sold for a record-breaking $560,000 in an online auction last week. Sotheby’s won’t disclose who bought them but I don’t think it really matters; they’re just the extreme version of me or you, except struggling to pay their rent a little less. We’re not only shopping to make sure we have enough toilet paper for the apocalypse. We’re shopping to stay current and fit in, to feel excited and have fun.
After all that, I didn't buy the sneakers. And while I’d love to say it’s because I thought long and hard about whether I really needed another pair of shoes and decided against it, realistically I’m just saving my singles for a better drop later this year.
Get to know Molly better, @mollysl for all her latest fashion endeavours.