Jordan 1 Low vs. Dunk Low: What’s the Difference?
When you picture a retro Jordan 1 or a non-SB Dunk in your head, they both probably have one thing in common: they are high tops. The 1980’s and high-top Nike basketball shoes are synonymous. However, when both of these shoes launched, the highs dropped next to lows. It’s fair to say the lows have just as much claim to being an OG retro as any high. That being said, the Dunk Low is pretty much at maximum hype right now, and the Jordan 1 sits everywhere. You might be asking: what’s the difference?
To start things off, it’s not a coincidence that these shoes look as close as they do to one another. Both were designed by Peter Moore for launch in 1985, these two shoes really are twins separated at birth. The main difference was that the dunk low, which was aimed at college kids and needed a lower price, lacked some of the tech that the Jordan 1 had.
Unlike the highs, where the Jordan 1 was the clear favorite, the lows took a different path. Where Jordan only ever wore highs (well, mids really) on the court, seeing your favorite college players in Dunk lows was fairly common. This difference in background continues to impact the way these shoes are put together today. Knowing that, let’s take a look at see what makes these shoes different.
Starting off, it’s important to note that everything in here is going to come with an asterisk bigger than the one on the Astros World Series win. These shoes have been in production on and off for more than 30 years. And, for the Dunk low in particular, there have been so many special editions that it is impossible to make sweeping statements. However, looking at the GR releases, the following will typically be true.
Out- and Midsole
Kicking off with the sole, the Jordan 1 is going to have a fuller, more squared off outsole. This is most obvious in the middle where the Nike logo sits in a rectangular shape on the Jordan 1, and a squarer shape on the Dunk. The Jordan 1 sole also has more detailed tooling. Small details like the stars located on the toe show this the best. The 1 features crisp detailing, and the Dunk’s look worn by comparison. This is carried through throughout the sole. The 1 just has a crisper look out of the box.
Moving up to the midsole, the two shoes switch roles. Here the Dunks feature additional detailing – specifically cutting in to accentuate the hourglass shape near the midfoot and showing a bit of variation where the outsole meets the midsole. The Jordan 1 doesn’t completely loose out, the texture on the midsole itself is much more defined on the Jordan Brand product, but the Dunk certainly holds it own.
Of course, with both of these shoes, they have far more in common than they don’t. It’s also important to note that they are essentially identical to their high-top equivalents here.
Moving onto the upper, things start to change a bit more. Here, the Dunk lows look like someone took the details of a Dunk high and crushed them. The Jordan 1 lows, however, look like someone took a hacksaw to the Jordan 1 high.
Starting at the front, the Dunk lows feature a bigger toe box in every direction – taller and wider. The detailing continues to be less precise on the Dunk, compared to the Jordan 1 Low. Things like the cutout at the back edge of the toe box or the panel on the bottom eyelet. These details are just softer all around.
As you move back on the shoe, the Jordan 1 clearly features more. More panels, more stitching, more usable lace holes. More. This allows for additional details that the Dunk lacks. This might be best displayed at the bottom of the laces. Here the Jordan 1 has 6 different panels come together, where the dunk has 4.
Another standout difference between the Dunk lows and the Jordan 1 Low is the curves. The Jordan 1 adds curves where ever it can. The eyelet panel, the backstay, etc. each add an additional curve that the Dunk simply doesn’t have.
It’s also impossible to skip over the Air Jordan logo stitched onto the back of the 1s. It’s busy, and loud, but it’s undeniable that there is work that went into it. The Dunks do feature a fairly large stitched NIKE logo instead.
There are smaller details around the shoe that are different as well. First, the Dunk low keeps the classic 1980’s tongue with the Nike logo stitched on a separate tab. All current Jordan 1 lows are going to feature a stitched-on Jump Man directly on the tongue.
On top of that tongue, the Jordan 1 laces are slightly softer and slightly skinnier. Below, the Dunks will have Nike branding on the insole, as opposed to the Jumpman on the 1s.
Having more detail, curves, etc, isn’t in and of itself a good thing. If you prefer it is entirely subjective. That being said, it’s objectively clear that the Jordan 1 Low has more going on than the Dunk Low in the looks department.
Fit & Comfort
Most people will end up being the same size in both of these shoes. They are both fairly long, and fairly narrow compared to other brands. That being said, the Dunk is certainly a more forgiving shape throughout. As mentioned above, the toebox is both wider and taller, and the top of the laces stop lower on your foot. For someone who might have one part of their foot wider than the rest, it’s going to be easier to make the Dunk fit without going up a size.
On the other hand, the Jordan 1 is clearly more of a performance fit. This shoe is designed to be close fitting around your whole foot. If this fits your foot, that is great. If you end up playing in these it’s unlikely to be sliding around inside the shoe. The other side of this is, of course, that if your foot doesn’t match the last you’ll be squeezed and won’t ever find a good fit.
This comfort is reversed when it comes to what is below your feet. When it comes to the dunks, the only thing between you and the ground is a thin insole and a hard piece of rubber. The Jordan 1s, as you can tell by their full name of the “Air Jordan 1 Low”, feature an air unit in the heel. That doesn’t mean the Jordan 1 is a comfortable shoe – these are both shoes from the 1980’s – but you’ll take just about anything after walking around in the Dunks all day.
Further up, and a change from the Highs, the Dunks do have better ankle padding and a more cupped shape. On the other hand, Nike’s original Jordan 1 low design was cut slightly higher. When it comes to support, it’s really just a matter of preference.
In the end, comfort is a bit of a wash. The Dunk Low is a much better shoe when it comes to fit, but the Jordan 1 Low is going to be better at absorbing impact. Neither is going to be especially supportive, but they are low tops.
Looking above, it sounds like the Jordan 1 would typically be the easy choice. It’s got more defined looks, better technology, and could be more comfortable if you fit the shoe. Why is this even a contest between the two? Well, other than hype, the materials are a great reason.
Nobody has ever accused Jordan brand of using quality materials, but the materials on a Jordan 1 Low would be bad for something from Payless. When I went to pick up this pair the store had more than 13 different colorways available and not a single one used full leather on the uppers. Not one. On the pair used for the photos the only real leather pieces were the swoosh and the black tab on the back.
These material choices result in a shoe that is extremely stiff out of the box, and will age poorly over time. Expect a lot of creasing, which will turn to cracking if you keep the shoes for several years.
In fact, the only thing on these shoes that were not pulled from the cheapest bin possible is the mid- and outsole. If I had to guess, this is only because it’s cheaper for Jordan Brand to use the tooling from the Mids and Highs than it is to create a cheaper option for the ones.
The Dunks, on the other hand, have materials that are pretty run of the mill for a Nike or Jordan retro. The leather is real, if only just. I have noticed that the Dunks tend to have leather slightly thinner compared to what you might find elsewhere, but I’m not sure if this is 100% bad. Sure, it’ll crease more, but it is also extremely soft because of it. This cuts the break-in time significantly and will end up fitting more people.
Outside of the upper materials, they are extremely similar. Both use a fairly cheap padding inside, closer to the Dunk High than the Jordan 1 High. The Dunk low does have more of it around the ankle, but only slightly. The tongues are also made of a similar material, and are about the same thickness.
Inside, the Dunk lows use an older knit design. This will wear quicker, but is truer to the original. From a pure longevity standpoint, the Jordan 1 liner is better, but you wouldn’t be buying retro sneakers if you didn’t want the retro look.
From a materials perspective, it’s clear that the Dunk low is the clear winner on almost everything, with the Jordan 1 Low only pulling ahead on the technology.
Retail pricing for these shoes is fairly similar. The Dunk comes in at $100. Surprisingly, the Jordan Brand shoe is actually a bit cheaper, with an MSRP of $90. When it comes to actual transaction prices, however, the difference is much larger. While the colorway will determine the ultimate price, most non-SB dunk lows are sitting around $180 to $200 on resale sites. Jordan 1 lows, on the other hand, are often on sale. Finding a pair for $70 isn’t hard if you’re willing to wait a few weeks.
Jordan 1 lows are also much easier to get. In 2021, all Dunks will sell out instantly. Unless you’re willing to pay resale or have great luck on SNKRS, you’re unlikely to get a pair. Jordan 1 Lows, on the other hand, are sitting everywhere. Go to pretty much any mall in the country and multiple stores will have them. Heck, you can even walk into most Dick’s and pick them up next to the 48 pack of golf balls and the hunting bows.
This pricing and availability explain a lot of the materials difference. Nike knows that if they make a pair of Dunks, they will be able to sell them directly and immediately. Retailers often buy products at 50% or less of MSRP, and often demand better deals if they have to put the product on sale. This means that while Nike is making almost all of that $100 from the Dunks, they might be making $45 or less from the Jordan 1 lows.
When a company is making double the revenue on a product, they can invest a little bit more in it. What will be interesting is to see if this will continue once Dunks come back down to earth. Five years ago, Dunks were the ones sitting in outlets for 70% off. Will Nike cut quality if that happens again? Only they know for sure.
While on the surface these two shoes are extremely similar, when it comes to the product in 2021 the materials show they are not. The Dunks are clearly a better built product, excluding the air unit. There isn’t really much debate to be had.
At the same time, if you need to buy a shoe today to wear for the next few months, I’m not sure the Dunk is the obvious choice. While wins do happen on SNKRS, if you want any chance of picking your colorway – or even just the base color of the shoe – you’ll almost certainly need to go resale. This means paying $200+ after fees and shipping, waiting weeks for it to arrive, etc.
On the other hand, you could go to a store right now and for less than $100 after tax (and maybe a lot less) walk out with a pair of Jordan 1s in more than a dozen colorways, including colors like purple that are even more expensive than a normal Dunk low.
Ultimately, which is right is going to depend on you (and what you’re willing to spend).