Everything you need to know about the popular New Balance model, including history, sizing, key colorways and more.
When we launched our Sneakers You Need to Know series, we set out to provide you with essential information on the most popular sneakers in the world, including the Air Jordan 1, Nike Air Force 1, adidas Yeezy Boost 350, and many others. These iconic models are the foundation of sneaker culture. But because they have been so popular for so long, there’s a good chance that someone with even a passing interest in sneakers probably has a very basic understanding of them. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a definitive guide to these models that provides you with everything you need to know, which is why we created Sneakers You Need to Know.)
For the next chapter of “SYNTK,” we’re excited to be diving into a shoe with a bit more of an inscrutable history that not everyone may be familiar with: the New Balance 550. Below you’ll find out everything worth knowing about the retro hoops model, including its brief history on the hardwood, new life with Aimé Leon Dore, sizing information, and more.
Aimé Leon Dore x New Balance 550 “Green”
History of the New Balance 550
Most people know the New Balance 550 because of its collaborations with Aimé Leon Dore, but know little about its origins. Which is cool, and kind of the reason why we’re here: to shed some light on the history of the model.
The 550 was originally released in 1989 and designed by legendary sneaker designer Steven Smith, who has models like the New Balance 996, Reebok Instapump Fury, and Nike Zoom Spiridon Cage on his resume, and now works as one of the lead designers for adidas Yeezy.
The 550 was an alternative to the New Balance 650, a high-top basketball shoe that was based on the New Balance 480. The 550, originally known as the “P550 Basketball Oxford,” mirrored the design of the 480 and 650, but featured perforated leather panels and mesh detailing to aid with breathability. Moreover, the 550 was given a bubble-style “N” logo on either side of the shoe that was designed to jive with the pop art and graffiti wave that had taken over street culture in the late ‘80s.
The 550 was an improvement performance-wise over the 650 and 480. But like those models, it was plagued by the fact that other brands including Puma, Avia, and Reebok offered similarly styled performance basketball shoes that were tied to signature athletes. New Balance’s competitors also offered more marketable sneaker technology such as Reebok’s Pump innovation and Nike’s Air cushioning. This all amounted to the 550 quickly being phased out by New Balance.
Aimé Leon Dore x New Balance 550 “White/Navy/Red”
Aimé Leon Dore and New Balance
After the 550 went out of production and sold through, it was virtually erased from sneaker history. The shoe was never even known in the first place or became totally forgotten by many. But not Teddy Santis. The Aimé Leon Dore founder and lead designer rediscovered the old school model and decided to use it with his brand’s collaborations with New Balance in 2020.
It’s safe to say that without Aimé Leon Dore pulling it out of the archives, the New Balance 550 wouldn’t be what it is today.
Joe Freshgoods x New Balance 550 “Conversations Among US”
Other Popular New Balance 550 Collaborations
Aimé Leon Dore deserves all the credit in the world for putting sneaker culture on to the New Balance 550. But “ALD” isn’t the only brand that’s successfully put its spin on the model. Both Joe Freshgoods and Rich Paul have collaborated with New Balance on the retro model in recent years, and Comme des Garcons has two monochromatic colorways on the way (supposedly).
New Balance 550 Sizing: How Does the 550 Fit?
We’ve talked about the New Balance 550’s origins and its collaborations with Aimé Leon Dore. Now it’s time to discuss sizing information.
By some accounts, the New Balance 550 tends to fit a little long and slightly narrow. For wide footers, it’s advised that you select .5 larger than your standard size. So if you have a wide foot and normally wear a size 10, go up half a size to a 10.5 in the 550. If you have a narrow foot, choose your standard size.
While there is some conflicting sizing information, most people who love the 550 and swear by its comfort and retro styling would agree that the shoe runs a little snug. If you’re into that sort of vintage fit, then go “true to size,” or TTS in sneaker parlance. If not, go up half a size.
Aimé Leon Dore x New Balance 650 “Grey”
New Balance 650: The High-Top 550
Before we sign off, we thought it would be a good idea to mention the New Balance 650, an alternative to the 550. We touch on the shoe earlier, but think it’s important to go into a bit more detail.
Basically, the 650 is the high-top version of the 550. It features a similar design, just in high-top form. The 650 actually debuted before the 550 did in the late ‘80s, so if you’re a fan of vintage basketball shoes and/or New Balance, that could be compelling enough of a reason to add both the 550 and 650 to your collection. Of course, so could the fact that Aimé Leon Dore also has a 650 collaboration under its belt, too.
The New Balance 550: A Failed Basketball Shoe That Became Popular, Anyway
No one, probably not even New Balance themselves, could have predicted that the 550 would become one of the most desirable lifestyle shoes in the world some thirty years after it tanked as a performance basketball shoe. Yet as we wind down another year, the 550 remains as popular as it was when Aimé Leon Dore announced its original collaboration back in 2020. Today, you can catch the 550 in an assortment of different colors, many of which pay tribute to the model’s heritage.
So who should buy the 550? Anyone looking for a comfortable and timeless shoe. If you’re a fan of vintage sneakers, there are plenty by Aimé Leon Dore that look as though they’ve been stored in a time capsule for a few decades. If you’re more interested in a casual shoe that’ll go with anything, there are 550s for that, as well.
In short, the New Balance 550 is a shoe for the people. Maybe just not basketball players.
Shop the New Balance 550 at Sneaker Marketplace