By now you realise it’s not actually a trend at all, right? White sneakers are so entrenched in almost all aspects of men’s fashion that they are part of the establishment. Ubiquitous. A pair of pristine white feet, cosy under menswear’s top table.
It’s a sartorial paradigm shift few could’ve predicted, but it’s been the norm now for a number of seasons. Crisp white sneakers have become the 21st century’s Oxford brogues – a does-it-all footwear option that can be dressed up or down accordingly.
The relaxing of dress codes over the past few years blessed the plain white sneaker with an almost-peerless versatility. The type of shoe that would once have seen you denied entry to even the most questionable of nightclubs is now a common sight accompanying high-end tailoring on the red carpet and beyond.
It goes without saying, then, that a pair of fresher-than-a-pillow-with-a-mint-on kicks is one of the most important items a man can have in his wardrobe. The perfect fuss-free option to pair with anything and everything you own.
A Selective History Of The White Sneaker
It may have changed the way men dress for good, but the story of how the humble tennis shoe took over the world and became an essential for anything but sport is not one that occurred overnight.
Despite relatively new entries to the market from Common Projects (2004), Alexander McQueen (2012) and Tom Ford (2014) — who previously swore he would never make sneakers — the beginnings of the trend can be traced back through menswear for more than 80 years.
The original Stan Smiths, worn by the man himself
One of the earliest examples of an athletic sneaker to cross over into the mainstream was the white Converse Chuck Taylor, which debuted at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In the years and decades that followed, crisp white styles from brands like Spring Court, Adidas and Superga found themselves on many a famous foot, Steve McQueen’s included. Fashion types went crazy when, in recent years, Savile Row tailors started styling their suits with white sneakers, but John Lennon was doing it on the cover of Abbey Road back in 1969.
Of course, like any other area of menswear, sneaker trends come and go. And though minimalist trainers — typified by models like the Achilles Low and Stan Smith — have reigned supreme since the turn of the millennium, in recent seasons the trend has broadened to include both chunky styles and retro sneakers, rendered in a range of materials from luxury Italian leather to run-of-the-mill mesh. However, they all remain linked by their ability to symbolise off-duty cool in a way few menswear pieces have managed to achieve.
Three Key Ways To Wear White Sneakers
For all their versatility, white sneakers still require a dash of styling nous to obtain best results. Someone who has plenty of that is Harriet Byczok, a stylist who has dressed A-list celebrities for everything from magazine covers to red carpet events and has worked for leading brands including Levi’s. Below is a clean sweep of her best tips.
Back in 2004, Justin Timberlake appeared in the music video for Signs, footing his already misguided white-suit-yellow-shirt combination (shudder) with a pair of Adio skate shoes. At the same time, self-respecting men everywhere swore a silent oath never to make the same mistake. However, it’s since been proven that, when done right, sneakers and tailoring can be rocked to glorious effect.
“Teaming a suit with sneakers is a great way of being smart without it being a chore,” says Byczok. “Try a textured suit in a navy or grey and enjoy being comfortable. Add a white T-shirt tucked in with a belt for a look that’s become borderline iconic in the modern day.”
For a long while, ‘athleisure’ was the industry’s most prolific buzzword, tossed around by fashion editors like a stylish hot potato. While this tends to mean something that is going to be short-lived, a few seasons at best, here we are several years later with the sporty, casual style still very much a thing, and white sneakers have a big part of play.
“The booming trend of athleisure has long been taking over weekend wardrobes,” says Byczok. “Get even more wear out of your white sneakers by adding a pair of knitted luxe joggers, a crew neck jumper and a dressier jacket or coat into the mix. Balancing out sports pieces with classics gives a look that is neither too smart nor casual.”
White sneakers are, by their very nature, casual, whether you chalk it up to their beginnings in the world of athletics or their adoption by the hip-hop scene in the 1980s. In either case, it makes sense to wear them as such.
“Any casual outfit should be effortless,” says Byczok. “Throw on a pair of jeans or chinos, then add a neutral sweatshirt or T-shirt depending on the weather and finish with an overshirt or casual jacket. Ultimately the aim is to let the sneakers speak for themselves.”
The Best White Sneakers Of All Time
Adidas Stan Smith
If the little green face of former pro tennis player Stan Smith that peers up from the tongue of his eponymous sneaker could talk, it’d tell tales of an epic rollercoaster ride from court to catwalk.
Before 2014, the shoe first launched as the Robert Haillet hadn’t been truly huge for Adidas; so much so that the sportswear giant even considered pulling it from shelves. However, after an aggressive marketing campaign and a few high-profile endorsements, this now-iconic white shoe was suddenly everywhere. And, truth be told, it’s never really gone away since.
Launched all the way back in the early 1980s, when the company was still owned by the Foster family who started the firm close to 90 years before, the Reebok Classic certainly lives up to its name.
What started life as the brand’s very first edition of a leather running shoe, the Classic soon become a staple of streetwear culture, where it has remained ever since, gaining co-signs from the likes of Jay-Z and Travi$ Scott along the way. Though it’s available in a range of colourways, it goes without saying that it runs laps around the competition in white.
Converse Chuck Taylor All Star 1970
We could go on all day about how much of a game changer the Chuck Taylor All Star was. Or how it’s one of the most popular sneakers of all time, with one sold every 43 seconds. Or how it’s remained virtually unchanged in over a century because of its sheer timelessness and brilliance. Or… well, you get the idea.
The fact of the matter is, you already know all of that stuff. So just let the shoe speak for itself. Leaf through the countless variations and collaborations on the market today and it’s not difficult to see why this is one of the greatest white sneakers ever created.
Adidas Ultra Boost
More than six years after the first knitted trainer was unveiled at the London Olympics in 2012, the game-changing trend hasn’t tired one bit. Along with the Nike Flyknit Racer, it was the Adidas Ultra Boost that started the race.
One of the shoe’s biggest fans at the time of release was Kanye West, and given his inexplicable status as a style icon at the time, it’s little wonder the model took off in a big way. Unlike the shutter shades and that diamond-encrusted mask, the Ultra Boost has shown it has staying power, making it one of the world’s most hyped sneakers to this day that just happens to look killer in white.
Nike Air Force 1
‘Air in a box’, promised the marketing slogan for the Air Force 1 when it was first rolled out in 1982. And the team at Nike wasn’t lying. There was air in the box, but there was also a very nice pair of shoes. Shoes that would go on to become a sneakerhead favourite.
The model has since served as a source of inspiration for infinite rap lyrics, graced the feet of all the biggest stars, and, perhaps most importantly of all, has earned itself a place in this roundup in the process.
Common Projects Achilles Low
It doesn’t claim to be the comfiest shoe in the world. Nor are there any bells or whistles or future-shaping technology or anything like that. But dear God, does it look good.
The Achilles Low from Common Projects was the shoe that started the whole luxury sneaker thing, and it’s often still the first choice when it comes to picking a white leather kick. Simple, versatile and handcrafted with the same care as a Northamptonshire Oxford shoe from only the finest materials. What more could you want?
If the thought of dropping triple figures on a pair of luxury sneakers makes you involuntarily clench your buttocks, suffice to say Gucci’s near-ubiquitous white leather offering is not for you.
No, the Ace model from the Italian fashion house is not the cheapest shoe on the planet, but they are some of the coolest. Embroidered detailing on the sides adds a splash of colour to what would otherwise be a relatively dull affair. However, with such an outlay, deciding whether you want a bumble bee or a snake is going to be a major, major decision.
From carving up empty pools in the 1970s to leaping off stage at the brand’s own travelling rock tour – the Vans Authentic has always been the go-to shoe for alternative lifestyles. Which is a bit of a paradox when you think about it. After all, how can a shoe with such mainstream appeal be deemed alternative?
Somehow it is. The Vans brand identity is just that strong, meaning it doesn’t matter whether you’re a punk rock drummer or a maths teacher – this skater staple will always bless you with a touch of California cool.
Maison Margiela Replica
Say what you want about war, it’s been very kind to fashion. Military garments have been inspiring designers for centuries, and Belgian tastemaker Martin Margiela wasn’t immune to their allure either.
The cult brand’s Replica sneaker is an update of the German army trainer (or GAT) originally designed by brothers Adolph and Rudolph Dassler in the 1970s. Reimagined in premium materials such as supple Italian leather and suede, it’s a basic concept, but one that has proven hugely popular.
The general consensus in women’s fashion at the moment seems to be that if Britney Spears would have worn it circa 1999, then it’s a goer. Bizarrely, this trend appears to be spilling over into the world of menswear too, thanks in no small part to the emergence of a male version of the bold and bulky Fila Disruptor.
Riding on the wave of chunky sneakers generated by the likes of the Balenciaga Triple S, this modestly-priced all-white stomper is a great way to experiment with the look if you don’t feel like skipping this month’s rent. They’re called Disruptors for a reason…
Superga Cotu Classic
Along with knitted trainers and lifestyle running shoes, canvas sneakers aren’t the best choice for footing tailoring. But for everything else, a plain white pair is a safe and stylish choice. And they don’t come much plainer or whiter than the Superga Cotu Classic.
Invented in 1925 and prized for its vulcanized rubber soles, this unassuming kick has been giving people a reliable alternative to the more mainstream canvas plimsoll options for close to a century. A shoe built for summer and about as unoffensive as it gets.