In The Top 5 Men’s Style Myths, I mentioned that dressing up does NOT mean being well dressed. That’s why I want to introduce you to a casual, yet extremely versatile and stylish item that’s an essential piece in every man’s wardrobe:
The Casual Sneaker
Casual sneakers can be made from a variety of different materials and can come in many different designs. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve divided this rather large category of shoes into 4 neat sub categories for ease of discussion:
1. Canvas sneakers (Plimsolls)
If I were to recommend a casual sneaker to a guy, I would definitely urge him to go with some kind of plimsoll. I consider the plimsoll the most “refined” out of all the sneaker variations allowing you to look casual yet sharp. For those of you who don’t know, a plimsoll is a type of athletic shoe made out of a canvas upper and a rubber sole. This type of shoe was first developed as beachwear in the 1830s by the Liverpool Rubber Company. The name “plimsoll” is derived from the term “Plimsoll Line”, which is the line where the hull of a ship meets the surface of the water. When you look at a plimsoll sneaker, the horizontal rubber band joining the canvas upper resembles this “Plimsoll Line”, hence the name.
What makes the plimsoll sneaker great is its simplicity. These shoes are lightweight and usually come in simple solid colours. You also won’t see too many obnoxious logos or designs. The construction of these shoes makes them perfect for the spring and summer season, although depending on where you live, you can even get some mileage out of them in the fall and winter. As for price, plimsolls are also very affordable. You can easily pick up a pair on sale for under $50.
As for brands, by far the most popular brand of plimsoll sneaker today is the Converse All-Star canvas sneaker. They are my personal favourite, but you can find a variety of other companies that make great, inexpensive plimsoll sneakers as well such as Vans, Keds, and SeaVees just to name a few.
2. Athletic sneakers (low top)
These types of shoes have a little more functionality to them compared to the simple canvas sneaker or plimsoll. Shoes like the Adidas Stan Smith or Adidas Samba fall into this category. Then you also have shoes like the Onitsuka Tigers and the New Balance 574s, which were both initially made for distance running. Although these types of shoes were rooted in athletic activities, their designs are simple enough that one can easily wear them as a casual sneaker. However, my only recommendation for guys choosing this type of shoe is that they choose something in a more simple design and colour. They will be much easier to wear that way. I do think low top athletic sneakers are a bit less versatile than the plimsolls though. Because the low top athletic sneaker is sportier, it’s more difficult to “dress up” compared to the plimsolls.
In terms of price, look to spend a bit more on these than a basic canvas sneaker – think upwards of $100. As always, it’s best to wait for sales.
3. Athletic sneakers (high top)
Although some canvas sneakers come in a high top variety (e.g. Converse All-Stars), when I’m talking about high tops I’m mostly referring to your typical basketball sneakers (e.g. Air Jordan’s, Nike Air Force One’s etc.). I strongly urge that most men avoid these types of sneakers. Unless you are still in your teens or have a certain urban look you are going for, high-top sneakers will not look very flattering on you. These types of shoes usually come in a dizzying array of designs and colours which make it very hard to pair them up with the rest of your wardrobe. Additionally, the price of these sneakers will be inflated due to their often celebrity endorsement (e.g. a pair of Air Jordans can cost close to $200). With that said, there are guys who can pull off this look but you’ll definitely need to know what you’re doing and have a particular type of “street” style. For those guys who are trying to achieve more of a classic and mature look, I suggest sticking with plimsolls.
4. What to Avoid
You want to absolutely avoid wearing legitimate running shoes as casual sneakers. I’m talking about shoes like New Balance Minimus, Vibram Five Fingers, Nike Frees, Reebox RealFlex and so on. These shoes are made for running and cross training and not for everyday wear! I see way too many guys walking around on the street wearing these types of shoes as casual wear. It almost goes without saying that these types of shoes look absolutely terrible as casual sneakers so don’t wear them as such! There has been a recent trend of wearing Nike Frees as casual street wear but there’s much better options for you to choose from. I suggest avoiding this latest trend.
How to Wear
The beautiful thing about casual sneakers is that you can almost wear them with anything. Jeans, chinos, and shorts can all work well with a pair of casual sneakers. Personally, I’ll wear my grey low-top Chuck Taylors with jeans and casual chinos. It’s a great way to look sharp while being casual. In fact, the only thing that wouldn’t work well with a pair of casual sneakers are dress slacks. I’ve seen men try to pair sneakers with a suit or dress pants but I advise against this look. There’s just too much of a jarring disconnect between formal and casual with this pairing.
When it comes to casual sneakers I want you to look for the following three things:
- Simplicity in design and construction
- Simplicity in pattern and colour
- Durability and comfort
If your prospective casual sneaker fits those three criteria, then you most certainly have a winner.
Casual sneakers are a great addition to your shoe rotation in the spring and summer months. Their often lightweight, breathable construction are also seen as a welcome change by your feet – which may have spent most of the winter bundled up in leather boots and shoes.
With that said give your feet a much needed break by upping your shoe game with a pair of casual sneakers. These shoes will keep you and your feet comfortable, cool, and stylish throughout the spring and summer.