If you’ve ever walked around the halls of Atholton looking down at people’s shoes, you’d probably see a wide variety. One that might stand out to some is the New Balance 990, specifically the gray colorway. Most people might know that they are popular, but not the origins of the shoe in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) area.
In 1986, the First Lady of the United States, Nancy Reagan, gave her infamous speech in support of the War on Drugs. “Just say no,” she said to millions of Americans on live television. The crack-cocaine epidemic was running rampant throughout a country that was, ironically, also focused on fitness more than ever. Lower income communities on the East Coast were affected by the epidemic harder, due to lack of resources and the effects of increased police brutality. The drug wave brought on fast cash and new spending power to these deprived areas, turning drug dealers into role models and fashion icons. As these “businessmen” from the trade pocketed huge profits, they spent their fortune on developing their own sense of style. Some places had a taste for flashier clothing, like New York City, and their preference of custom Gucci pieces from local Harlem designer Dapper Dan. But in D.C., gangsters and drug runners went for a more subtle approach.
To stay as under the radar as much as possible from law enforcement, dealers from D.C. wore neutral colors top to bottom. Logos from high-end brands like Hugo Boss, Versace, and Giorgio Armani would be donned on black tees and pants. And the shoes to accompany them were the New Balance 990s. In an interview by Stockx with Sneaker Freaker, Curtis ‘Curtbone’ Chambers, a D.C. native who was a member of the violent Rayful Edmond gang from the 1980s, spoke about the gang’s love for the 990 sneaker. “Back in our time, we liked the blacks and grays. So with the New Balance being the grays, it went with everything we was doing,” said Chambers. “We’ve always been into designers, but we weren’t into the loud colors…New Balance fit that also – it was our code.”
Today, the shoes have come back, but this time they’re back worldwide. Recently, fashion has taken a liking to resolutely functional outdoor gear (think Carhartt pants/hats, a brand exclusively focused on functionality), which has made trusted labels that specialize in quality staples a thing. The price tag on the 990s isn’t from the history or the name, like Jordans are. They’re an objectively higher quality shoe, which appeals to a lot of people. It is interesting to see how much this shoe has had an impact not just on fashion, but even locally. An incredible amount of people at Atholton own this seemingly unassuming shoe, which has become a trend and a staple. “When I first saw the shoes, I didn’t really think anything of them,” said Alex Cosentino, a junior that owns the 990s. “The more I saw them, the more they grew on me. I needed new shoes anyway, so I just bought ‘em.” Although the Air Force 1 and Vans may be the reigning popular shoe in the school, one could say the 990s are a part of the sole of the school.