I tried two retro mainstays from New Balance and Saucony—here's my favorite
Between the 574 and Shadow, which sneaker is better?
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What is the price of an affordable casual sneaker? For something from a reputable brand, it’s anywhere from $65 to $90. What's more interesting is that the "casual" offerings from the likes of NB, Saucony, and others are reissues of what were once considered "performance" shoes in their days, but are now relegated to nostalgia wear on a casual day of errands. It’s safe to say that nearly every major shoe company today has its own set of “Classic shoes,” sold at an introductory—and maybe only somewhat affordable—price as compared to their current performance shoes, which often start at $100 or $120 and go up from there.
As far as retro runners are concerned—that is, flat running shoes from decades past that have since been remarketed as casual shoes—the most popular is arguably the New Balance 574. The suede and mesh shoe is so popular, it might as well be the New Balance mascot. But another brand offers a sneaker that carries some of the 574's DNA, yet remains underrated (in my humble opinion): the Saucony Shadow.
Curious whether the Shadow was worth competition for the 574's "top classic kick" title, I decided to see which retro runner is more worth its “affordable” price of $80. After weeks of wear testing, I found a clear winner that offers the most bang for your mileage.
What is the New Balance 574?
The New Balance 574 is the company’s archetypal casual sneaker. Initially released in 1988 as a technical running shoe, the 574 has since been reintroduced and rebranded in the early aughts as a lifestyle sneaker. While the 574 has seen numerous iterations over the years, its basic makeup remains the same: suede panels, a mesh toe box and tongue, an ankle collar that blends leather and mesh, a colored plastic heel stabilizer, and a large leather New Balance “N” logo on each side. Since its re-release, the 574 is also equipped with New Balance’s Encap technology in its midsole, which combines an EVA foam (a cushioned, rubbery type of plastic) with a polyurethane (a durable plastic-like material) rim that helps extend the life of the shoe’s sole.
The 574’s popularity can be attributed to its wide variety of colorways, the continual climb of trendy “dad shoes,” and numerous celebrity endorsements. Although the 574 exists in several variations, the 574 classic retails for $79.99 in men’s, women’s, and unisex sizes.
What is the Saucony Shadow?
Similar in appearance to the New Balance 574, the Saucony Shadow actually debuted a few years prior, in 1985. Much like the 574, it was created to be a daily trainer and features an upper, tongue, and sides made with a combination of suede and mesh, an EVA midsole, leather accents on its side panels and heel collar, and a plastic heel stabilizer. Unlike the 574, however, it has an extra reinforced heel piece for added stability. The Shadow is part of Saucony’s Originals line, where it retails for $80 in men’s/unisex sizes and women’s sizes.
Get the Saucony Shadow in men’s sizes for $80
Get the Saucony Shadow in women’s sizes for $80
Both the New Balance 574 and Saucony Shadow have simple two-tone colorways. On each shoe, one color is used to cover the suede and mesh, and another is used to accent the midsole, side logos, and ankle collar. Both shoes lean on colorful simplicity and a mixture of fabric materials that can coordinate with practically anything, from shorts and camp collar shirts to jeans and chore jackets.
However, it’s almost unfair how much variety of colors the 574 has over the Saucony Shadow. At the time of this writing, Saucony offers the unisex/men-sized Shadow model in six colors that range from neutral to muted, while the women’s offering has eight colors leaning on brighter, more pastel hues. The 574, on the other hand, has dozens of variations and colors to choose from. There are currently five colors for its unisex model, but the men’s and women’s options have their own spectrum that come and go like the seasons. You can easily find a pair of 574s in a combination of colors that can match any article of clothing in your wardrobe. It’s safe to say that variety and style is the 574’s biggest strength.
The New Balance 574 has become synonymous with the brand in the last decade—so much so, that by purchasing a pair, you’re showing off the massive “N” on your shoes as a status symbol, whether consciously or not. People love this shoe.
I can’t say the same about the Shadow. Saucony’s three-dot logo simply isn’t as recognizable in the casual sneaker space as it is in the realm of running shoes. The Shadow feels nondescript—you can throw on a pair and not have to worry about attracting attention from sneakerheads or fashion pundits. It’s best for those who want to keep a low profile and a more lax, casual look.
Even though I’m leaning more toward New Balance’s 574 in terms of style strength here, I have to say: I love the plastic heel guard on the back of Saucony Shadow. It looks like a chain-link fence or a piece of mesh screen. There’s something about it that gives it a bit of rugged flair, as opposed to New Balance’s rigid heel stabilizer, which looks like a lonely piece of plastic.
My pick: New Balance 574
I wouldn’t call myself a devout NB follower, but I’m a huge fan of the New Balance 993—a shoe that I consider to be the most comfortable pair I own. That said, the 574 is not the 993. The 574's Encap cushioning is comfy, sure, but it’s not as breathtaking as most shoes in the 990 series—which, comparatively, run about $100 more than the 574 and use premium materials. It may not be fair to compare this affordable sneaker to its high-class sibling, but the point is, New Balance has some incredibly comfortable lifestyle shoes out there—they just don’t lie in the company’s cheaper offerings. In addition, while walking in the 574s, I experienced issues with leather ankle collar digging into my ankle bones. I also didn’t think the shoe overall was as padded as it I'd have liked.
That’s not to say that the 574 isn’t comfortable. They’re just passable. But in comparison to the Shadow, they’re second fiddle. The Shadow is packed with more padding than the 574, where the tongue is fully cushioned and firmly presses into the top of the foot. That padding feels really good on the feet, and doubly so when you take a step and feel that supportive heel counter and stabilizer. The heel counter is so sturdy that it’s tough to squeeze—and believe me, I tried. The 574, comparatively, holds its structure less so.
I’ve taken the 574 and the Shadow both and 574 out for all-day wear testing through two weekends and found neither shoe gave my feet fatigue. But there’s a lot of nuance here. If given the chance to stand all day in either pair, I’d choose the 574. But the better pair for walking? That’d be the Saucony Shadow. It has tremendous heel support and feels great in movement.
They also both fit me well. I took my regular size of a men’s 11.5 for the 574—which is sold as unisex—and it fits me great, with a little extra wiggle room for my toes. The Shadow I ordered in an 11.5 as well, but it fits my toes slightly narrower. It’s not too bothersome, but if I had gone up to a size 12 here, my feet would feel a little more relaxed.
New Balance offers wider widths of the 574 for those who want even more room, but Saucony only has its Shadows in one standard width. If you’re looking for a shoe with more room and foot support, the 574 is the way to go. However, the Shadow’s plushness, in conjunction with its superb walking support, shouldn’t go unnoted. Having said all that, it’s a very close call, but I’m team Shadow here.
My pick: Saucony Shadow
Both shoes feature suede, mesh, and leather, but at their prices, these materials aren’t exactly lavish. Rubbing my fingers alongside the uppers of both shoes reveals a harsh, rough suede texture. The mesh is plush and seems sturdier on the Shadow than on the 574, where it appears to be woven tighter and feels coarse. The leather collar on the New Balance shoe, meanwhile, may be prone to creasing and cracks through wear, while the Shadow’s reinforced heel ensures its leather holds shape and won’t be cracking anytime soon. Just taking a glance around the New Balance sneaker also shows glue marks, slight frays, and odd wear and tear. All told, the 574s feel comparatively cheaper than the Saucony Shadow.
My pick: Saucony Shadow
Both shoes typically retail at the price of $80, but it’s also not tough to find either shoe at a discount at any number of retailers. Although New Balance itself doesn’t typically mark down its most popular sneakers, it’s not tough finding a sale at third-party sellers like J.Crew or Urban Outfitters. Even at Amazon, where the same shoe model can cost significantly less if you happen to pick the right combination of color and size, you can grab a pair for as low as $65.
The same can be said about the Shadow, where specific sizes and colors can be purchased at more than half off of their original price. A quick glance at Amazon, Walmart, or even Saucony’s official website shows the shoe can cost far less than $80. Because the Shadow and 574 cost the same, I’m going to defer to a tie here, but with a little bit of hunting you’ll easily snag a pair for less than retail.
My pick: It’s a tie
Which is better: The New Balance 574 or Saucony Shadow?
After spending months scrolling through Instagram and seeing various style photos and fit pics of New Balance 574s, I’m shocked to say that I like the Saucony Shadow way more. Overall, the Shadow is a great quality shoe that’s built for walking and integrating into your own casual style. While these sneakers may not be as stylish or trendy as New Balance 574, the Shadow is a great shoe that’ll serve you well for miles to come. It deserves its flowers.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.