Sneakers are now an integral part of the modern man’s day-to-day wardrobe. For several decades, these athletic shoes have been evolving and growing in popularity, gaining acceptance in the workplace and gradually eclipsing traditional business casual shoes as the everyday footwear of choice.
This evolution has seen sneaker brands diversify. Numerous styles have sprung up over the years and there are now arguably more sneaker subgenres than there are types of smart shoes. Of course, the average man has no need for all of them, but there are a few key sneakers you should own in order to have all bases covered.
There’s not much the right rotation can’t handle. With the exception of formal events, a well chosen pair of sneakers will have your back in most settings – even some of those where the dress code denotes a preference for tailored pieces, such as smart casual.
Here’s Ape’s pick of the seven key styles you need to see you through.
Up until just under 20 years ago, the term ‘smart sneakers’ might have seemed like a bit of an oxymoron. The two things were mutually exclusive, and the idea of wearing sneakers with tailoring would have been ludicrous. But then Common Projects launched the Achilles Low and everything changed.
Suddenly, sneakers were luxurious. They were dressy, they were premium, and you could legitimately pair them with a suit without looking like early 2000s Justin Timberlake. It was a turning point for menswear, the echoes of which are still very much being felt to this day.
Smart sneakers are an essential part of the modern man’s wardrobe. They’re arguably the most versatile type of footwear there is and something that no man should be without. For some of the best, check out brands like Common Projects, ETQ. and Uniform Standard.
When sneakers first began to emerge in the late 1800s, they were simple plimsolls designed to aid running. Roughly three decades later, they were followed by the first high tops, favoured for their increased ankle support in sports like baseball and basketball.
We love them because of the way they can alter an outfit’s proportions. Paired with a pair of cropped or cuffed pants, they can subtly give the impression of a shorter lower half, making them a great option for taller men with long legs. They also give designers a bigger canvas on which to be creative, which has resulted in high top sneakers becoming an intrinsic part of sneaker culture, with iconic lines like Nike’s Air Jordan.
So, why do you need a pair? First and foremost, because they look great and offer an interesting alternative to regular, low top kicks. Sneakers like the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star, the Air Jordan 1 and the Nike Blazer will never age and go with everything, offering slightly different string to your casual footwear bow.
Does it get any more casual than a slip-on sneaker? We don’t think so, but that’s by no means a bad thing. For summer days, vacations and chilling at the weekend, there’s no footwear better suited to the task.
There are plenty of options out there, but we’d always lean towards a classic canvas slip-on. They’re breathable and comfortable, making them ideal for warm weather, and they just so happen to look great with breezy pieces like shorts and camp-collar shirts. A nice Vans OG Classic slip-on is a great place to start.
First popularised by Nike in the 1970s (although they weren’t retro back then), these simple running shoes were some of the first examples of technical performance footwear. They were designed with the track in mind, but today we’re more likely to pick them out for their throwback looks than their sporting credentials.
This retro sneaker style is sporty and streamlined, yet versatile and casual. It’s the sort of sneaker that’s right at home with understated weekend outfits and often features brightly coloured suede panels which can be great for jazzing things up without going OTT.
Look at shoes like the Nike Daybreak, the Saucony Jazz and the Adidas TRX Vintage to get an idea of the type of designs we’re talking about. There are also some really cool contemporary takes like the Nike x Sacai LDWaffle, which took over the world for most of 2019, or the New Balance 327, which has been having a bit of a moment of late.
Suede is a textured fabric that can lend simple sneakers a premium feel. It’s hairy and because of this it takes dye extremely well, resulting in deep, rich tones and vibrant colours. It’s great for bridging the gap between smart and casual, which means the right pair of suede sneakers can complement anything from jeans to tailored pants.
Lots of sneaker styles work well in suede, but for maximum versatility, we’d suggest keeping it simple. A minimalist sneaker in grey suede is something that should work across your entire wardrobe, elevating casual looks and dressing smart looks down in a stylish manner.
One thing to keep in mind is maintenance. Suede looks great but it can be a pain to keep looking pristine. Your best bet is to invest in a purpose-formulated suede protector, and even then, avoid wearing your suede sneakers in the rain.
The chunky sneaker madness that first gripped the fashion world in 2017 was, to put it mildly, not for everyone. The general rule among designers seemed to be ‘the more garish, the better’, which went over well with the more trend-focused pockets of the menswear community while leaving everyone else high and dry.
But, as luck would have it, the ‘ugly’ sneaker trend happened at around the same time as fashion editors were talking about something they termed ‘normcore’. This referred to the growing trend towards normal, average-looking pieces worn in a stylish way; the appropriation of things your dad might wear, i.e. those grey suede New Balances he dons to mow the lawn.
The convergence of these two trends resulted in the popularity of so-called ‘dad shoes’ – average-looking, slightly oversized sneakers in plain colours that go with anything and everything. King among them is the New Balance 990 line, a series of sneakers that has been going strong since the early 80s and is now in its fifth generation. If you don’t already own a pair, what are you waiting for?
This might be the most important sneaker in any man’s lineup. It’s the one he reaches for on a daily basis – simple, goes with everything, looks better as it ages and remains impervious to trends. It should be reasonably priced too – the kind of thing you can throw on to nip to the pub or take the dog for a walk without fear of it getting ruined.
Canvas and leather would be our go-to materials where beaters are concerned. Something like a Converse All Star or a Reebok Club C is perfect as its affordable, goes with anything and everything and will never go out of style.