“Old-school style” is one of the many phrases that people use today to describe how men and young boys were dressing in the 1970s. But what defines style as old school? Many can agree that men’s shoe styles of the 1970s remain a key aspect of what establishes the old-school look—a fashion many people are now replicating today in modern practice.
One shoe that stands out from many others when one thinks about old-school footwear is the Nike Cortez. Olympic track coach Bill Bowerman designed the first Nike Cortez, which was released at the height of the 1972 Olympic Games causing the Cortez to gain rapid interest by the general public. For this, the Nike Cortez is thought to be a symbolic aspect to the initial success of the Nike corporation. Many track athletes wore the Cortez during competition after its initial popularity increase during the 1972 games.
Phil Knight, one of Bill Bowerman’s former athletes, worked alongside Bowerman in the developmental stages of the Nike Cortez. Knight went on to become the chairman of Nike in later years. Bowerman originally wanted to name the shoe Aztec in tribute to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Following this, Adidas threatened a lawsuit to protect the Azteca Gold shoe that their label had previously designed. In a quote from Phil Knight’s memoir, Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, he recalls a conversation he had with Bowerman regarding the naming of what is now the Cortez.
Timeline of the Nike Cortez, from the 1970s to Now:
- 1972: The Nike Cortez is released and debuted as Nike’s first-ever leather running shoe.
- 1975: The first pair of Nike Cortez made from nylon are released.
- 1976: The Senorita Cortez is released as the Cortez for women. The shoe becomes situated in Hollywood for the first time after being worn by actress Farrah Fawcett in the hit TV show Charlie’s Angels.
- 1987: The Cortez becomes the footwear of choice for many New York City breakdancers due to their lightweight durability.
- 1994: “Run, Forrest, Run!” Forrest Gump is one of the many films in Hollywood often noted for its strategic product placement. In the movie, the Nike Cortez is what unlocks Forrest’s stride that enables him to run across the entire United States for three years.
- 1998: The Nike Cortez is a staple shoe for George Costanza in the hit series Seinfeld.
- 2012: The Cortez celebrates 40 years with an extended release of the classic footwear in different colorways.
- 2018: Comme des Garçons reveals a platform-sole version of the Nike Cortez as part of a collaboration between the two brands during Paris Fashion Week.