If the past few years in menswear have proved anything, it’s that kicks are key. So key, in fact, that 2015 saw over 9 million pairs of trainers resold at a total value of $1.2 billion, a statistic that suggests sneakers might just be the new stocks.
It’s not hard to see why. With the overarching instinct in menswear now being to loosen up, trainers are increasingly seen as acceptable, if not preferable, alternatives to ‘smarter’ footwear styles like Oxfords and Derbies. But with archive designs and limited edition packs dropping daily, even the most sleep-deprived hypebeasts can lose track of what is, and isn’t, worth copping.
So we hit up the experts to sort the quality crepes from the out-and-out crap. These are the six kicks that’ll cover all your bases.
The All-White Tennis Sneaker
Chunky trainers may be trending, but they’re hardly versatile. Clean, minimalist sneakers are about as close to a dress shoe as a trainer gets. Although first brought to market in the early 20th century (in the form of the classic Chuck Taylor), snow-white kicks didn’t surge in popularity until the arrival of Adidas’s Robert Haillet in 1965.
A pared-back pair of leather and rubber low-tops worn by the French tennis player of the same name, the Haillet later (in 1971) became the Stan Smith. Since then, this iconic silhouette has spawned legions of imitators, giving rise to a market today that’s awash with white-out styles.
“They look great with denim, and can, in a smart-casual workplace, look great with a suit too,” says Giles Farnham, head of the River Island Style Studio. What you get in versatility, however, you lose in ease of care. “It’s crucial to use a waterproofing and leather protection spray before jumping in any puddles,” he adds. “Your sneakers will quickly lose their fashion credentials if they’re covered in mud.”
With nearly every brand and high street name now producing their own take on the style, you’re sure to find something that fits – whether you’ve got £40 or £400 to splurge.
The Fashion Runner
Lightweight, breathable and boasting an incomparable level of comfort, the runner puts performance first. But it’s not all function, no form: the latest running styles look as good with a smartly cut trouser as a pair of training shorts.
“The Adidas NMD is one of the most comfortable shoes you can own,” says Offspring footwear buyer Aman Tak. “There’s also a hint of nostalgia in its side-wall plugs, giving a nod to the brand’s heritage – it’s always great to see re-worked originals coming back into the fold.”
Also worth a punt are select models from stateside competitor Nike. “The Lunar Epic Flyknit and Free Run Flyknit feature knitted fabric uppers, making them footwear you can not only do a few miles in, but look good while doing so,” says Oki-ni creative director Samuel Smith.
To step-up your sprint, look to the likes of Lanvin, Valentino and OAMC, who all offer slick styles replete with subtle or stand-out detailing. At the slightly more affordable end of the spectrum, Asics, New Balance and Saucony produce supremely comfortable runners in a variety of contemporary and vintage colourways.
As good as a pair of pristine white kicks is, the never-ending upkeep they require significantly lessens their appeal. Which is where black comes in. Equally versatile, a pair of murdered-out trainers means you can spend less time scrubbing uppers with a toothbrush, and more time stunting.
“Black uppers and soles mean no annoying cleaning, and they also go with everything,” says Farnham. “Then there’s the added bonus that they’re stealthy enough to get away with in the office.” (Although you’ll want to swerve canvas, mesh and neoprene styles in favour of low-top leather options in this case.)
For a footwear investment, look at pairs made by classic British footwear brands like Church’s or Grenson, but you’ll find solid options on the high street and at the premium end of the market.
The Basketball Shoe
Built with enough support to keep actual giants light on their feet, a basketball trainer comes in handy even if you don’t shoot hoops. That said, it’s their style, rather than their built-in suspension, that’s shot basketball shoes straight to the top of the trainer ranks in recent years.
Thanks to Lucas Ossendrijver, who made high-tops high fashion with his autumn/winter 2007 collection for Lanvin, baller styles are one of the key sneaker trends right now. And although they won’t – due to their high profile – gel as well with your wardrobe as other silhouettes, no well-rounded sneaker collection is complete without a pair.
“While Adidas and the Stan Smith might dominate tennis-inspired footwear, Nike can claim the top spot in this category,” says Smith. “The Blazer from the 1970s, and the 1980s’ Air Force One and Dunk have seen many homages.”
If you’d rather aim higher, Smith suggests tapping the likes of Valentino or Fear Of God; but for something from the classic court of kicks, it’s hard to go wrong with a pair of old-school Converse.
A child of the 1960s, it’s no wonder the skate shoe’s all about ease. An elevated streetwear staple, with its game-changing low-profile and laceless construction, this super-casual style – first dropped with the debut of Vans’s Authentic range back in 1966 – is still prized both on and off the halfpipe.
“The slip-on sneaker deserves a place in every closet – if only for its ability to be worn with shorts,” says Chris Gove, creative director of British menswear brand Percival.
And that’s not to mention lightweight chinos and beat-up jeans. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another no-fuss trainer style that’s more suited to warm-weather looks as this. Choose a canvas version in a colour like beige, black, grey and navy for optimal wearability.
“I’m a huge fan of a classic pair of Vans in white or black,” adds Gove. “And a sleek suede and leather slip-on will work with a pair of lighter linen trousers come summer.”
The Gym Trainer
Right now, gym shoes are as ubiquitous on the streets as they are on the treadmill. But if you are planning on actually stepping foot inside the iron paradise, you’ll need a pair that caters specifically to the job at hand (or foot).
“Hard-soled, flat trainers such as Vans or Converse are best for weight training,” says Max Bridger, a personal trainer and co-founder of LDN Muscle. “They will give you a better base, more support and greater confidence to lift heavy and progress towards your goals more readily.”
If you’re less into heavy metal and more into cardio, look for something with a bit more support. “I would suggest dedicated running shoes cardio sessions,” adds Bridger. “CrossFit style shoes are well-suited to lower impact circuits and lower body workouts, but you should avoid running long distances in them.”
There’s no proven link between how ugly a pair of gym shoes is and an ability to smash PBs. So rather than getting suckered into buying trainers so bright they could help planes land, opt for classic colours that will work with the rest of your kit.