When I first went to visit my father’s family in the Philippines in the early 80s, we stopped over for a few days in southern California. And while seeing the A-Team van at Universal Studios was certainly cool, the highlight was visiting a Vans store. For an East coast kid who was into BMX and skateboarding, this was like holy ground. Way before every sneaker brand let you customize shoes on the Internet, Vans had actual fabric swatches that you could leaf through to put together your own model. I don’t remember what I designed that day, but the memory of the visit has stuck.
Similar experiences resonated with many others because now Vans is celebrating its 50th anniversary, an impressive milestone in an age when there are many here today, gone tomorrow brands. What’s more impressive is that Vans reached its golden anniversary by both innovating and staying true to its roots. So to mark the occasion we dug through the archives to find the 50 greatest Vans sneakers of all time, from Spicoli’s checkerboards to hyped collaborations.