Here’s Exactly What the New Balance Numbers Mean

Which model is right for you?

Updated January 3, 2024 10:16 am
A collage of New Balance Styles on a light grey background
From the retro 574 to the dad-shoe 990, New Balance has a host of sick styles to choose from.
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Everyone knows New Balance shoes. Along with huge athletic labels like Nike and Adidas, it’s one of the most instantly recognizable shoe brands on earth, responsible for some of the most iconic and classic sneakers ever made…and that was before Teddy Santis got involved. But while you might be able to spot a fresh pair of New Balance shoes from afar, identifying the exact New Balance models can pose a challenge.

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Seeing as the brand typically assigns numbers to their shoes rather than traditional names, keeping tabs on all the various silhouettes is no easy feat. And, to be fair, it’s not just the model numbers that are similar, but the styles as well, with many falling into certain “families,” meaning often their designs are seemingly near-identical yet have subtle. important differences. In turn, the process of finding just the exact model you’re looking for can present as arduous and confusing.

What do the New Balance Model Numbers Mean?

But first, a bit on the labeling system. Per New Balance, each piece of the model number that every sneaker is assigned means something specific. As a rule of thumb, higher-numbered sneakers typically feature more advanced and modern tech than their lower-numbered counterparts, with some exceptions.

  • The letters before the numbers dictate gender and activity/category that the style falls under. MW, for instance, designates walking shoes, while US indicates the style was made in New Balance’s USA-based factories.
  • For performance silos, the last two digits determine the predominant focus of the sneaker. These range from 40 (Optimal Control to 60 (Stability) to 90 (Speed). Note: the 990 series is excluded from this numbering system.
  • You might notice a lower-case v included in certain models — this stands for version, and helps identify exactly which variant the sneaker is.

To help you more easily navigate the world of New Balance models and numbers to properly determine which style is best for you, we’ve compiled an extensive guide to the brand’s many options, detailing the differences between each.

Included are styles you’re probably already more than familiar with, like the 990, as well as newer introductions from the brand, like their skateboarding shoe, the Numeric. Soon you’ll be well-versed in New Balance-speak and capable of differentiating a pair of 574s from 997s from a block away.

New Balance Models, Explained

One of the most recognizable silhouettes from the brand, the 574 continues to endure as a classic sneaker, largely keeping the same design as the original released in 1988. Originally designed as a running sneaker, the 574 has found favor as a casual, everyday shoe thanks to the durable suede-and-mesh uppers and vintage-inspired design. Modern updates like supportive ENCAP midsole cushioning help to ensure it remains a favorite. If you’re in search of the 574’s most classic colors, consider checking out the 574 Core, which includes the sneaker in the iconic New Balance grey.

The original dad shoe, the 990 has experienced a renaissance that can largely be attributed to a rise in normcore and “dad” fashion, with the brand famously using the tagline “Worn by supermodels in London and dads in Ohio” for their 2019 campaign. Released in 1982, the shoe’s continued popularity is a testament to its classic design and comfort, the chunky sole appealing to a range of ages and aesthetics. The style has run through a variety of iterations since its ’80s inception, from the chunky v2 and sleek v3 to the more recent interpretations by Aime Leon Dore founder Teddy Santis’ inaugural Collection, as well as the general release of the v6.

Made in UK and Made in US: 991-993

For certain sneaker styles, you’ll notice New Balance will have either “Made in UK” or “Made in US” affixed before the style number. Not only does this indicate where the shoe was made, but the differences in construction. In the UK, you’ll find that they often use softer materials, like those found in the 991 below, while the U.S. tends to opt for more heavyweight materials. Both feature premium construction and enhanced comfort. Since these versions tend to be better quality, their price point reflects that.

The 996 bears some similarities to the 574, its silhouette appearing just slightly more elongated and slimmed down. The leather and suede uppers feature a New Balance heritage-inspired design that sits atop underfoot cushioning and a dual-density EVA midsole that provides both comfort and support. Oddly hard to come to by (the style is currently only available on Amazon, of all places), but worth the hassle for a unique, comfortable ride.

A relative of New Balance’s 997 style, the 997H offers a modern, streamlined take on its predecessor’s silhouette. Staying mostly true to the shape and design of the 997, the 997H has a sportier feel, and it’s lighter, too — whereas the 997 uses an Encap midsole, the 997H has a REVLite midsole, a foam compound that’s 30 percent lighter than other foams but delivers the same responsiveness and comfort.

Few styles skew more on trend than the New Balance 550, the recently re-released court style that debuted in 1989 and dominated the courts in the ’80s and ’90s. Popularized by streetwear label Aime Leon Dore back in 2021, it’s been fully transformed into a GE launch…but not before racking up some astronomical stats on the likes of Stock X.

The 550’s distinguished brother, the 650 incorporates a high-cut design to the classic court styling of the 550. Bolstered by a puffed and stitched collar, the classic leather upper screams basketball style with its retro labeling and poppy colorways.

New Balance is not only a purveyor of running shoes but skateboarding sneakers, too. The Numeric sneaker boasts a range of different iterations, from the 272 pictured above to Jamie Foy’s 306 and even a high-top 440, but for the most part, they stick to the same low-profile and sleek silhouette that’s most conducive to skating. Outfitted with a vulcanized rubber sole for better grip and lace enclosures for a secure fit, it’s a shoe primed for the board but one that both skaters and non-skaters alike can enjoy.

Inspired by New Balance’s running shoes of yesteryear, the 237 looks like it belongs to a 1970s track superstar, just updated for the 21st century. The 237 derives inspiration from the brand’s Comp 100, primarily in regards to the outsole, but it scales up the dimensions a bit. Suede and nylon uppers come in contrasting retro colorways that are vibrant and make a statement while asymmetrical paneling helps to create a color-blocked pattern.

The resemblance to running shoes of the 1970s is immediately evident in the 327’s silhouette. The retro-inspired design is modernized with the addition of details like contemporary uppers in bold and sometimes unusual colorways and, most notably, the oversized N logo that adorns the side of the sneaker. Despite being inspired by running shoes, the 327s are best suited to more leisurely wear, the rubber outsole and contrasting upper adding a dose of ’70s sportiness to your outfits.

The 990v5s might be the ultimate dad sneaker, but the 2002Rs come pretty close, featuring a similarly chunky sole. Where the 990s are an ’80s-inspired shoe, the 2002Rs glean their inspiration from the 2000s. The original version of the sneaker was released in 2010 and was considered to be a premier and high-end running shoe. Reworking the shoe in 2020, the sneaker now has a sleeker design than the original and a new outsole that was taken from the 860v2. If you like the look of the 990s yet want something less ubiquitous, consider the 2002R…or its trendy brother, the 2002R Mules.

One of the newest NB models to be released, the 9060 looks more like a dinosaur than a traditional sneaker, with familiar elements sourced from classic 99X models upper — the much-used sway bars are ripped right from the 990 — nestled about a behemoth of a spacy Y2K sole.

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