Language and culture are inseparable—as one grows in size and depth, so does the other, commensurately. This is true even for sneaker culture, which is certainly a subculture in its own right; one that’s grown to create and define its own terms, codes, and jargon—a language of its own. This language is how we identify with each other, but it also necessarily excludes the uninitiated (if you’ve ever overheard anyone ask for bread at a Nike outlet, you know what that feels like). To the rest of the world, enthusiasts seem to speak in tongues—and it can get pretty confusing if you’re new to the game.
So in an effort to be inclusive and share sneaker language and culture, we’ve compiled a handy glossary of general terms to know—a Rosetta stone for non-sneakerheads, if you would. While this doesn’t quite cover the names of specific sneakers (it would prove to be too long a list if it did), it should help you sustain conversations with enthusiasts and better understand news and information from sneaker websites and literature. That’s where your inquest into the culture will really begin.
A metal or plastic wrap at the tip of shoe laces which makes it easier to insert them into lace holes.
Use it in a sentence: The Nike Air Yeezy 2 comes with golden aglets.
A term used to describe sneakers that did not meet the quality standards of the factory that produces them, and so were sold at outlets for lower prices.
Use it in a sentence: I copped a pair of B-Grade Air Max 90s without realizing that the tags were stitched backwards.
Sneakers that are designated for regular use, worn without special care or caution.
Use it in a sentence: Chuck Taylors are still the ultimate beaters—I can walk around Baclaran on a rainy day in those.
A concatenation of "black" and "red," denoting shoes—especially Air Jordans—that are predominantly of those colors.
Use it in a sentence: He decided to wear his breds with white laces, which did not look good at all.
A term that refers to the color combination of a pair of shoes.
Use it in a sentence: These would look incredible if they came in an orange and black colorway.
To purchase or acquire something, especially a pair of shoes.
Use it in a sentence: I copped a pair of Gazelles the other day.
A term used to describe shoes that have not yet been worn, fitted, or compromised in any way, and as such are in perfect condition; also abbreviated as DS, with permutations NDS (near deadstock) and VNDS (very near deadstock).
Use it in a sentence: I bought these Gel Lyte IIIs deadstock, and I haven’t worn them since.
A metal or plastic accoutrement placed on shoe laces.
Use it in a sentence: My Air Force 1s came with a metallic deubre.
Friends & Family
A classification of sneakers that have an incredibly limited supply run, reserved as promotional or complimentary gifts for the friends and family of the brand or person concerned.
Use it in a sentence: Nike SB released a player exclusive Dunk for LeBron James, but it was a Friends & Family, so don’t expect to own one yourself.
An acronym for “general release,” a classification of sneakers that are common and distributed to most retailers.
Use it in a sentence: These are GRs, so it should be relatively easy to get them.
A metonym derived from “holy grail,” used to refer to a particularly rare and coveted pair of shoes—often an individual collector’s single most coveted pair.
Use it in a sentence: The grey Yeezy Boosts are my absolute grails; I’d be happy with one kidney if I had those on my feet.
An acronym for “grade school,” referring to shoes released in kids’ sizes.
Use it in a sentence: I was about to buy them for myself, but then I was told that they only came in GS sizes.
A metonym used loosely to refer to expensive and good-looking shoes, by way of suggesting that they are “hot.” Alternatively, the term fire is also used to mean the same.
Use it in a sentence: If he keeps wearing all that heat while commuting, he’s bound to get mugged.
An acronym for “original,” meant to imply that a pair of shoes is part of the model’s original release, and not a reissue. This can also be used to denote the first-ever colorway that a pair of shoes was released in. The term is derived from the same acronym in hip-hop slang, which means “original gangster.”
Use it in a sentence: His Air Jordan 1s are OG—he bought them back in 1985 and kept them in a glass case ever since.
A phrase that refers to sneakers that are already owned, but have not yet been worn or used (that is, their owner has kept them deadstock).
Use it in a sentence: I keep all my Air Jordans on ice for at least one year before I break them in.
An acronym for “Player Exclusive,” which refers to colorways of shoes that are designed specifically and exclusively for a professional athlete, not to be released to the public.
Use it in a sentence: Those Jordan XIIIs are Ray Allen PEs—they’re the only green Air Jordans that I like. Too bad I can’t get my hands on a pair.
A classification of sneakers, especially Nike sneakers, that suggests rarity and limitedness; also abbreviated as QS.
Use it in a sentence: Those Dunks are Quickstrikes—there are only two boutiques in the country that stock them.
A reissue of a shoe that has already been released in the past.
Use it in a sentence: I couldn’t get my hands on these sneakers back in 1996, but at least now, I can buy the retros.
A general nickname for adidas Superstars, taken from the shell-like appearance of the shoe’s toecap.
Use it in a sentence: I can’t wear my shell toes to the office everyday, because they’re white and I’d like to keep them that way.
A term that refers to the shoe sizes stocked by a retailer or store.
Use it in a sentence: Commonwealth has a full size run of the NMDs, so you can get a pair for every member of the family.
A term that refers to shoes without laces or straps that can be slipped-on seamlessly.
Use it in a sentence: If I’m going out for a grocery run, I just wear my slip-ons.
A classification of sneakers and retailers, especially Nike sneakers and retailers, that suggests a level of rarity and limitedness above that of Quickstrike.
Use it in a sentence: There are less than 100 Tier Zero retailers in the world
A general nickname for Nike Air Force 1s, taken from their popularity in Harlem, New York—a place that is referred to by locals as Uptown.
Use it in a sentence: Don’t you dare scuff my white-on-white uptowns.