Words by April Hollamby
With over 30 years of history — from being worn by Michael Jordan in the 1989 series-winning basketball game against Cleveland Cavaliers, to being the first of the Air Jordan franchise to be released globally, then championed by celebrity tastemakers including Jay Z, Spike Lee, Rihanna and Kid Cudi — the Air Jordan 4 has earned its place in the sneaker hall of fame. Legendary Nike designer Tinker Hatfield and Michael Jordan collaborated on the iconic design back in 1989: the successor to the already renowned Air Jordan 1, 2 and 3, the silhouette maintained most of their stylistic qualities but incorporated some key technical improvements, including mesh-netted side panels and eighteen customizable lacing systems that could be tailored to each player or wearer’s specific demands. But what else makes it so special? We spoke to Zack Schlemmer of sneaker boutique Stadium Goods to highlight the key styles and most-hyped collaborations, and what you should know about Air Jordan 4 sizing, care and comfort.
Following the success of the Air Jordan 3, Nike designer Tinker Hatfield opted for a more functional, performance-enhancing design with the Air Jordan 4. The leather side panels were replaced with mesh for increased breathability, while the additional lace holes and wings on each side allowed for ultimate customization, lacing the sneaker in different patterns; popular methods include the diamond, bar and star. ‘The “Military Black” nickname of these sneakers is a reference to the original 1989 “Military Blue” Jordan 4. This new version simply replaces all the blue accents with black,’ explains Zack Schlemmer. ‘The design is clean and simple with a black, white and gray color combination for a look that you can wear with literally any outfit.’
Bold design details
More exciting color-block palettes were introduced throughout the series. ‘The Air Jordan 4 “Lightning” in black and yellow originally released in 2006, has become one of the most classic looks for the silhouette throughout the years,’ says Schlemmer. ‘This “Red Thunder” edition from 2021 replaces the yellow accents with bright red for an equally bold yet fresh new look.’ The crimson design was reissued in 2012, boasting red contrasting and black nubuck leather upper on the molded eyelets, interior tongue, quarter panel, throat and midsole. Other notable colorways include Air Jordan 4 Retro sneakers "Lightning 2021", Air Jordan 4 Retro "Fire Red 2020" and Air Jordan 4 Retro SE neon sneakers.
The original leather composition is refreshed for the Retro ‘University Blue’ sneakers, with a blue suede upper and contrasting speckled gray finishes to the wings, side panels and heel. Plus, the secondary Jumpman branding adorns the woven tongue tag, designed to mimic a jock tag inspired by Jordan Jerseys. ‘Almost every classic Air Jordan model has received a colorway inspired by Michael Jordan’s college days at the University of North Carolina, so it’s surprising that one of the most beloved Air Jordan’s of all, the Jordan 4, didn’t get the “UNC” look until 2021,’ Schlemmer highlights. ‘But as you can see with this clean look in blue suede, it was worth the wait.’
Collaborations and customizations
As the franchise developed, so did the collaborations. The first, by sneaker boutique UNDEFEATED in 2005, included the Jordan x The Union Air Jordan 4 Retro "Taupe Haze". ‘The Los Angeles boutique redesigned the Jordan 4 like it had never been seen before, featuring a mesh toe box, “exposed” details, and a stitched-down tongue,’ says Schlemmer. ‘For those that prefer the original big tongue of the Jordan 4, don’t worry — you can cut the stitching to pop it up.’ Another notable collaboration is the Nike x Off-White Air Jordan 4 "Sail" sneakers, which Schlemmer calls ‘easily the most coveted women’s Air Jordan 4 of all time and one of the late Virgil Abloh’s best sneaker designs.’ Released in the summer of 2020, ‘Abloh deconstructed the Jordan 4 by removing much of the padding around the collar and tongue for a thinner design that also adds translucent details for an even more airy effect. So clean!’
Air Jordan 4: sizing, fit and comfort
The Air Jordan 4 fits true to size, with a roomy, comfortable fit, so we recommend you get your regular size. The interior is fully padded with NikeAir cushioning, while further lightweight cushioning comes courtesy of a two-tone polyurethane midsole, enhanced with a visible Air-sole unit under the heel for ultimate comfort. To protect suede styles, use a suede protector; to clean leather, use a soft bristle brush with warm soapy water and wash shoelaces in the washing machine on a cold water setting. Store your Air Jordan 4s in their original dust bag and shoe box to keep them looking fresh for longer.