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6th May 2024 EDT FEATURES

adidas Samba vs. Gazelle vs. Spezial vs. Campus 80s: What Are the Differences?

Although they might all look aesthetically similar, they each have a distinct story to tell. Join us as we uncover the nuances between these four iconic adidas training shoes.


To the uninitiated, the adidas Samba, Gazelle, Spezial, and Campus 80s may all look like the same shoe or different iterations of a silhouette. While these four distinct models share similarities, they each have their own story and purpose—inasmuch as quadruplets aren’t the same person, no matter how similar they look.

If you’re interested in any of these silhouettes, come on this mini-journey with us and learn a morsel of their history, some styling tips, and an understanding of how they actually fit. The journey will begin in the ‘50s, continue through the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, and finish right at the modern day. Let’s begin.

Born in 1949: The adidas Samba

Today, the adidas Samba has been dubbed by some as the “new Panda Dunk”. Its shot to hyper-popularity is impressive, much like its humble beginnings. The shoe was born in 1949 at the hands of Adi Dassler, and its purpose was functional: to give football players traction on icy pitches.

The very first iteration of the pair was adorned with a kangaroo leather upper and a gum sole. The outsole boasted three cut-out suction cups to provide players with superior traction and stability on ice.

Photo: adidas

The shoe was introduced grandly at the 1950 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and in a stroke of marketing genius, the brand gave the silhouette its now-canonized name.

The adidas Samba’s rise to popularity might have begun with this debut, but many design reimaginations also bolstered it throughout the years. Cowhide leather was introduced, as well as a pull-tab and a non-marking colored outsole.

Thus, the Samba quickly became an indoor football shoe that was popular with players. And while the shoe remains a legend in this arena, it has since transcended its performance pedigree to be seen on the streets and fashion runways.

Renowned designers, celebrities, and fashion brands have made their mark on the silhouette (think: Pharrell, Jonah Hill, Pleasures, IRAK, Wales Bonner, and many others).

Today, the adidas Samba has branched into several versions: the Samba Classic with the long tongue, the Samba OG, the Samba Vegan, and the Velosamba.

How to style the adidas Samba

Styling the adidas Samba is simple, regardless of which version you pick. A pair of your favorite jeans and a casual, sporty top will do the trick. But don’t take it just from us; let Timothée Chalamet and Hailey Bieber do the talking:

Photos: Getty Images

If you’re feeling a little more put-together and want to elevate your basic look a little, the adidas Samba’s down for the ride too. Check out A$AP Rocky and Kanye West with the fits:

Photos: @gq

How does the adidas Samba fit?

The adidas Samba is a narrow shoe, especially in the midfoot region. That’s why going a half-size up in these from your true size is recommended. If you have wide feet, however, then this isn’t a pair best suited for you.

Born in 1966: The adidas Gazelle

The design language of the adidas Gazelle draws from two pairs that came around the same era: the adidas Rom with its leather, ripple sole, and suede toe overlay, and the adidas Olympiade, with its pull-tab on the back for an easier wear.

In 1966, these design elements were then elevated to birth the first Gazelle shoe with a unique twist: it was covered in suede, which was uncommon in performance footwear at the time. The initial adidas Gazelle came in two colorways: the Gazelle Blue, which was made for training, and the Gazelle Red, which was made with handball in mind.

By 1968, the Gazelle evolved by having its shoehorn heel tab replaced with a more modern white version, and a new lined micro-cell sole improved both traction and comfort. This specific iteration, with the white heel tab, served as the framework for the adidas Originals Gazelle O.G. reissue.

Around 1971, the micro-cell sole became a shared feature by the blue and red colorways. Eventually, it was switched to the cell pattern that’s found in the multitude of other iterations of the Gazelle available today.

Over time, the adidas Gazelle became a footwear staple thanks to the perfect cocktail of its affordable price point and its prevalence in the spheres of music, dance, and art.

Much like with the Samba, the adidas Gazelle also comes in various models: the regular adidas Gazelle, the Gazelle Indoor, and the Gazelle Bold. Colorways for each are aplenty.

How to style the adidas Gazelle

Wearing the silhouette will put you in the leagues of the fashion-conscious elites: Kanye West, Kate Moss, the Gallagher brothers, Brad Pitt, and even Prince Harry.

The adidas Gazelle is a versatile shoe in every sense of the word. If you’re dressing down with chinos and a polo, it’s a wise choice.

Photo: Mark Large

On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re feeling dressy, you can even elevate the pair with a suit.

Photo: Getty Images

And then, the shoe can be worn with almost everything in between:

Photos: offspring.co.uk, @harry_lambert

How does the adidas Gazelle fit?

The adidas Gazelle is much wider than the adidas Samba, both in the midfoot and toe box areas. As such, some people find going a half-size down from their true size works best for them. But if you have wide feet, going true to size will work just fine.

Born in 1979: The adidas Spezial

Handball was first played in Scandinavia and Germany towards the end of the 19th century. The bursts of energy and sharp, pointed movements of players cause a heavy amount of friction, which is why they require strong, sturdy shoes.

And so, the adidas Spezial entered the footwear space in a bid to be the performance shoe that Handball players needed. It was first worn in 1979 and quickly gained popularity among players from Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia. The specs of the shoe can attest to why.

The adidas Spezial, commonly called the Handball Spezial by fans, boasts a luxurious suede upper that molds to the wearer’s feet. Plush cushioning and a thick gum sole provide excellent grip and traction. To top things off, the reinforced heel panel stands up to everyday wear and tear.

At first glance, the adidas Spezial might look identical to its cousins—the Samba and Gazelle. However, details that set it apart include a wedge-like toe box that has an angular shape, as well as its rounded laces (as opposed to flat ones on the other two aforementioned models).

How to style the adidas Spezial

The adidas Spezial is for the one who wants to jump on a retro trend that’s not yet peaked (think: Samba). Its breakaway look from the Samba and Gazelle definitely makes it one for the fashion-conscious individual who likes an edge.

The best part about styling the adidas Spezial is that it can go with pretty much whatever you feel like wearing.

For those who enjoy the elevated basics aesthetic, the Spezial will do right by you.

Photos: Ignat/Bauer-Griffin, Back Grid

And just in case you want to spruce things up a little, the Spezial can make your look appear special, too.

Photo: Arnold Jerocki/Getty Images

How does the adidas Spezial fit?

The adidas Spezial fits true to size. They are wider than the Sambas, so if you have narrow feet, they can feel a little roomy in the midfoot section of the shoe. But that said, they are a minimalistic, slim shoe overall, so it shouldn’t pose a problem.

Born in 1980s: The adidas Campus 80s

A common thread all the shoes in this list share is that they were all crafted for a particular sport. For the Campus 80s, that sport is basketball. The prototype of what would become the adidas Campus was a training shoe from the early 1970s called the Greenstar, which the Boston Celtics loved.

What set it apart was that it was the first adidas basketball shoe to use suede rather than leather or mesh. After a name change and a hiatus, the shoe came back as the Campus in the 1980s, but this time around, it was targeted at the lifestyle market.

Perhaps what shot the silhouette to stardom was its appearance on The Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head album cover and promotional imagery. Along the way, collaborations with BAPE, Footpatrol, UNDFTD, and more elevated the profile of the Campus 80s.

This shoe might be the most underrated silhouette on this list, but it cannot be slept on.

The classic Campus 80s shoe rocks a suede upper. It boasts an EVA foam midsole that absorbs impact, a reinforced toe cap that provides extra support, and OrthoLite sockliners that reduce bacteria growth and provide additional comfort.

But while we discuss the greatness of the Campus 80s, we also have to give an honorable mention to its siblings—the Campus 00s and Campus ADV. Those are pretty nice, too.

How to style the adidas Campus 80s

Like its counterparts in this list, the adidas Campus 80s is a highly versatile shoe aesthetically. It might be the chunkiest of the bunch, but it is still a slim and sleek silhouette nonetheless.

Feeling casual? It’ll go with your outfit.

Photo: Getty Images

Feeling chic? Again, it’ll go with your outfit.

Photo: Getty Images

‘Nuff said.

How does the adidas Campus 80s fit?

The adidas Campus 80s tend to run bigger, so you should get a pair half a size down from your true size.

There you have it. We hope that you have a better understanding of the nuances between each of these classic adidas silhouettes. As sneaker culture legend Joe La Puma would say: Now’s the easy part. Browse the shelves and pick out what sneakers you want.

We’ve curated just a handful of sneakers for each adidas model, but the SNKRDUNK App carries much more. Check out the curated list below:

adidas Samba OG “Black White Gum”
Style Code: B75807
Release Date: 16 Oct 2023

adidas Samba OG “Cloud White/Core Black”
Style Code: B75806
Release Date: 16 Oct 2023

Kith × Clarks × adidas Originals 8th Street Samba Kithmas “Core Black”
Style Code: IE4033
Release Date: 27 Dec 2023

Wales Bonner × adidas Samba Pony Tonal Low “Core Black/Cream White”
Style Code: IE0580
Release Date: 8 Nov 2023

Wales Bonner × adidas Samba Pony Tonal Low “Cream White/Mystery Brown”
Style Code: IE0586
Release Date: 8 Nov 2023

adidas Originals Gazelle Indoor Low “College Green/Footwear White/Gum”
Style Code: IG1596
Release Date: 1 Jan 1970

adidas Originals Gazelle “Sky Blue/White/Gum”
Style Code: ID6104
Release Date: 1 Jan 1970

adidas Originals Gazelle “College Burgundy/Preloved Blue/Footwear White”
Style Code: IG6198
Release Date: 2 Feb 2024

adidas Originals Gazelle “Earth Straighter/Brown/Gum”
Style Code: IG4989
Release Date: 1 Jan 1970

adidas Originals Gazelle “Triple Black”
Style Code: CQ2809
Release Date: 17 Jul 2018

END. × adidas Handball Spezial “Blue/Team Yellow
Style Code: HP9390
Release Date: 24 Feb 2023

adidas Originals Handball Spezial “Wonder Glow/Blue/Gum”
Style Code: FV1226
Release Date: 14 Nov 2023

adidas Originals Handball Spezial “Bright Blue/Vivid Red/Gold Metallic”
Style Code: FX5675
Release Date: 1 Jan 1970

adidas Originals Handball Spezial “Scarlet/Footwear White/Gum”
Style Code: FV1227
Release Date: 1 Jan 1970

adidas Originals Handball Spezial “Silver Green/Cream White/Magic Mauve”
Style Code: IH4891
Release Date: 8 Mar 2024

South Park × adidas Originals Campus 80s “Towelie”
Style Code: GZ9177
Release Date: 6 Oct 2022

Jeremy Scott × adidas Bones Campus 80s “Supplier”
Style Code: HQ4494
Release Date: 16 Feb 2023

Song for the Mute × adidas Originals Campus 80s “Clear Brown/Core Black/Sesame”
Style Code: ID4818
Release Date: 20 Oct 2023

Kasina × Kim Jung Gi × adidas Campus 80s “Hazy Yellow”
Style Code: IE4810
Release Date: 20 Oct 2023

adidas Originals Campus 80s COOK “Dark Green”
Style Code: GY7005
Release Date: 22 Oct 2022

For the latest releases, breaking news, and exclusive interviews, stay tuned to the SNKRDUNK Magazine and @snkrdunk on Instagram. Explore the SNKRDUNK App too and don’t forget to use our welcome code from the banner below before making your first purchase. Additionally, if you would like to try a pair out, visit our stores in Singapore and Japan!

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