Today’s gentleman is judged not solely by his Oxfords, Derbies or brogues, but also by his Common Projects, Converse and Nikes. While stick-in-the-mud sartorialists may lament this, they’d be overlooking the opportunity to invest in some real wardrobe building blocks. For as the sneakerhead mania grows more contagious, so too does the available assortment of casual footwear – what used to be a functional basic shoe has become a cornerstone of the modern wardrobe as well as a runway staple, and brands have become wise to the fact that for some, an iconic pair of sneakers are nothing short of priceless collectables that ought never to be worn, only displayed. Still, where’s the fun in that, especially in the current sneaker boom we’re experiencing when there are an overwhelming number of sneakers to choose from. Still, picking the right pair that will go with the rest of your clothes is a rubber sole-trodden minefield. As such, we’ve made some suggestions below as to the styles we think are essential, as well as what you can wear them with to help you traverse it not just unharmed, but very well-dressed.
01. THE MINIMAL SNEAKER
The minimal sneaker is a (very) plain, flat-soled tennis shoe. There’s not much else to it but, of course, that’s exactly the point. The style’s popularity can be traced back to the relatively recent resurgence of adidas Stan Smiths, but really found itself launched into the sartorial stratosphere with the conception of Common Projects, the New York-based purveyor of pared-back utilitarian sneakers. You’ll find that most contemporary brands have at least some iteration of the minimal sneaker in their roster, mostly due to the fact that they go with almost everything, and as such are favoured by everyone from Silicon Valley execs to die-hard fashion fans. They’ll look particularly snappy under some tailored trousers, but will also work with chinos or jeans. Don’t feel you have to stick to white, either, as they come in an abundance of shades (although sticking to subtler shades will be easiest – the minimal sneaker is not a show off). Apart from that, the only rule is that you keep them clean – happily, MR PORTER already has a guide for that.
02. THE MAXIMALIST SNEAKER
Characterised by its clumpy PE-box look, the maximalist sneaker has enjoyed a trickle up from street to runway after relaunched styles such as the Nike Huarache gained traction among sneakerheads in the mid-2010s. The designer version of the look was pioneered by Mr Raf Simons in his AW09 collection, which featured Day-glo technical-looking running shoes paired with sober suiting. Since then, Mr Simons has established an ongoing partnership with adidas (producing popular maximal styles such as the Ozweego sneakers) but as of 2017 everyone else seems to be at it too, mostly because of Mr Demna Gvasalia’s influential and maximal creations for Vetements (in partnership with Reebok) and Balenciaga (notably, the new, much-hyped Triple S sneaker, as well as the brand’s new and controversial sock sneaker). We’re serious – the trend is everywhere: you can find blocky, souped-up sneakers of varying intensity from contemporary brands like Filling Pieces and AMI, luxury titans such as Lanvin and Gucci and, of course, reissues of classic styles from sportswear brands (most significantly, this year’s anniversary edition of the Nike Air Max 97). How to wear them? Though they’re easier to pull off than they look, these sneakers are best limited to a look that’s on the casual side – jeans, bomber jackets, hoodies, sweats and other streetwear staples will help to make the whole thing work.
03. THE DRESS SNEAKER
As dress codes have become less strict, the lines between what is and isn’t acceptable eveningwear have become ever blurrier, resulting in the concept (among the MR PORTER team, anyway) of a “dress” sneaker – the sort of thing you could just about get away with wearing with a suitand/or tailored trousers, depending on the formality of the occasion. For these purposes, it’s best to pick a simply styled pair of sneakers in a dark colour like black, brown, or even navy. The more monochrome the shoe, the smarter it will look, although a brightly contrasting sole can also seem quite sharp in the right context. There’s plenty of choice out there in this department: John Lobb and Acne Studios have particularly natty offerings, as do Prada and Lanvin. If you can get away with it at work, wearing a pair of dress sneakers with your office outfit will stop you looking stuffy, and will equally smarten up an otherwise casual look.
04. THE SLIP-ON SNEAKER
Convenient and comfortable, and versatile enough to look good with or without socks, you can think of the slip-on sneaker as the loafer of the casual footwear world. Understated, with elastic gussets in the absence of laces, they’re best teamed with jeans or chinos for an off-duty weekend look. The slip-on style has Vans to thank for its perennial popularity – the skate brand still produces a fine pair of canvas slip-ons today, while high-end designers like Givenchy and Lanvin have given it the Parisian treatment – the latter does a pair in full-grain leather with suede heel tabs that has become a perennial favourite in the MR PORTER office.
05. THE WORKOUT SNEAKER
We’ve focused on the superficial, the sartorially vaunted, the controversial – now let’s move onto something you can actually do some exercise in. Happily, there are workout sneakers for pretty much every pursuit, whether you’re into deadlifts in the weight room or prefer doing cardio in the rain. Appearance is secondary when it comes to workout sneakers, of course, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also look good. If your regime is more gym-focused, Nike Training is a go-to for smart and streamlined style – their sneakers have low heel platforms for ultimate stability to keep you balanced while weight training and for high intensity interval training (HIIT).
For running, there is of course a huge range of options, depending on both where and how you run. But for an all-rounder style (with emphasis on the “style”), you may want to sample the wares of APL(Athletic Propulsion Labs), an upstart American brand which, with its ongoing research into innovative footwear technologies, seems to be snapping at the heels of the established overlords of the sneaker world. APL’s Techloom sneakers have knitted uppers built for ventilation and sweat wicking, and are fitted with cushioned midsoles to give as much energy return as possible while running. What’s more, thanks to their extremely pleasing minimal design, you can wear them to the pub afterwards, should you want to undo all the good work.