Sneakers

Sneakers 101 : bits and bobs, tips…and thoughts.

This article aims to be ‘brief’ and get to the bottom of things on a number of questions we receive concerning these beautiful creatures. Knowing how to taste them then get a taste for them requires the same as for sashimi: they need to be served raw, lively and sharp (for the freshness of the product) and prepared by two chefs, Nicolas and Gill behind the counter.

Let’s start with Gill:

Why wear sneakers?

Cos they’re the most versatile alternative to other kinds of shoes that you put on with your suit in a morning before heading off to work.

Why wear sneakers?

Unless you’re really into order, morals and Sudoku, sneakers are THE casual/laidback (like the girl next door on a Saturday morning) shoes to go for and are easily integrated into an outfit without you coming across as pretentious.

As far as the style is concerned, there’s also an aspect of comfort and choice, which defines the rest of the outfit and doesn’t limit it to ‘jacket/shirt/tie/coffee machine’.

They’re like ketchup to fries, pickle to a ham sandwich and the $15 dollar midday menu.

Sneakers simplify and highlight a lot

Sneakers by Rick Owens

Sneakers simplify and highlight a lot of an outfit and make separate items of clothing easy to wear and to coordinate. You get a certain amount of freedom and it’s hard to go wrong, too.

sneakers aren’t classy,

‘Yeah but sneakers aren’t classy, they look ugly and make you look like someone who doesn’t want to leave his teenage years behind’

Wrong – it’s when the entire outfit doesn’t fit together that you get that impression. There are, to keep things simple, three kinds of sneakers:

  • Those that we class as ‘cheap’ (material and design) that’re fairly neutral and bring nothing extra to an outfit (budget between 0 and $120)

They’re the kind of sneakers you see every day.

They’re the kind of sneakers you see every day. To the point that they’re becoming banal. Low-end Converses, Nike running shoes, New Balances with a crap design that look like they’ve been hurriedly mass-produced and thrown onto the shelves in Footlocker. They carry (often negative) stereotypes and serve of a sign of social status and consumerism than of anything else. It’s the cheap vanilla flavor (and not the pod) of clothing. Of course there are some great models to be found somewhere amongst such brands but they barely represent 1% of the whole production…you’re gonna have to dig for them.

  • ‘mid-range’ sneakers that show attitude and cost a bit more (budget $120-$250)You can tell there’s some quality there, a decent base standard in the look and they can easily add a bit of spice to the style of whoever wears them. They’re the perfect compromise between budget, style and quality.

kind-of-sneakers-2

National Standard

  • Designer sneakers. HE (high-end) like the initials BMW. Classy, they’ve got a lot about them and show your social status as a spark of brilliance within society. (budget $250-$9999)Designer sneakers

Lanvin

Here we’re at the opposite end of things and the item should be considered as a stand-out piece in its own right, completely unique. A pair of sneakers from a designer often has a lot of character and you’ll pretty much have to build an outfit based on the sneakers that you’ve got on your feet. You risk ending up like an American rapper mixing up Lanvin and loafers, though…but the risk could be worth it cos these sneakers go way beyond what you’d expect from sneakers…just take control of them and don’t let them control the outfit.

‘And what about color? Why do we always go for white? I’ve never got that!’

Think of a pair of sneakers and you think of sport.

Think of a pair of sneakers and you think of sport. White is both the most neutral color (in the sense that it goes with pretty much everything) and the easiest to integrate into the rest of an outfit. Simple as that. In case of a white-overdose you could always opt for beige or grey.

99% of people wear dark jeans (faded or marine blue). Light sneakers mean that you can show them off more thanks to the nice contrast created between the sneakers and the jeans.

We’ll check out dark sneakers in a sec – are they worth the risk? My answer to this question would be that it all comes down to the material that the sneakers are made from. A poor quality material will be lade to stand out more if the color is dark but if the material is a smooth, supple and comfy leather, for example, they could be worth a shot…

Try wearing a pair of light sneakers with a worn pair of faded jeans. Then try wearing a pair of dark sneakers with the sale pair of worn faded jeans. OK, so in both cases you can see the jeans are worn but you’ll see that one of the combinations HIGHLIGHTS that more than the other…

You have one of the explanations for

And there you have one of the explanations for the famous rule that tells you never to wear more than three colors: quite simply because that way, you prevent people from comparing the individual items of your outfit and therefore from judging them as single individual items.

‘OK, so what exactly does a good pair of sneakers look like? How can we tell them apart?’

Piece of cake. You take a standard model from one brand and compare others in relation to that pair. I think that RAF SIMONS, COMMON PROJECTS and LANVINS perfectly represent what you should take as your base mark.

common-projects-spring-summer-2013-collection-02

Common Projects

wings-horns-sneakers-041

Wing + Horns

  • Sole: flat, solid, stitched? Not stitched? Do I risk it being wrecked after a few days? A month? A year? Never?
  • Number of laces: Do they take over the pair of sneakers to the point that they lake them look ugly? Are they thick or thin?
  • The shape of the end of the sole: has there been enough work put into it, does it clash? Is it turned up like clown shoes? Round or pointed?
  • High-rise, mid-high-rise, or low-rise? : Are you tall, somewhere between or option c (i.e. average size)? There are no precise rules here, it all comes down to the size and tastes of the individual. But low-rise or mid-high-rise are no-fails. High-rise sneakers seem to shrink the silhouette, so they’re better for you if you’re a bit on the tall side.
  • Is the material comfortable or not?: Let’s not forget that it isn’t just the sole of the shoe that faces wear when we walk, but our feet, too! And that this wear is the main cause of little holes and other little surprised that make us regret buying shoes (especially if they’re expensive). You should therefore go for leather and avoid, if possible, leather that’s too fine (like Paul Smith’s Medusas) and any kind of cotton or canvas that doesn’t stand up to the slightest bit of wear.
  • A design that works well with the shape of your feet without making you look stupid or like you’re going to the beach for a spot of snorkeling. Think about proportions and, in particular, go for something simple. The more complicated a pair of sneakers looks, the worse the effect.
  • The right size: it’s like with a car seat: the end of your feet shouldn’t be beyond the front of the sole and your heel should be tightly fitted into the back of the shoe.

Basically, don’t give rubbing and blisters the space they need.

Pairs of sneakers

Common Projects

Once you’re able to recognize the similarities and differences between pairs of sneakers, you’ll be able to grasp subtle details and from that point onwards you’ll be capable of developing your own real taste for them.

Price of sneakers

wings-horns-ss09-sneakers-1

Wing + Horns

‘And the price of sneakers? You’d never catch me spending more than $150 on a pair!’

You’re totally right. The idea is to get hold of a pair that fulfils your needs and not a pair that you want to show off in the sun…they’ll end up in a box at the end of the day, anyway…

  • For less than $120, you’re going to be looking at Industry of all Nations, Generic Surplus or Converse or something ‘made in china’. We are also talking about the most popular brands (Nike, Adidas etc.)
  • Between $120 and $250 we’re talking about clothing designers’ brand (Paul Smith, etc) …there are a few original models out there but you need to know how to find them at this price range and be in the right place at the right time
  • Between $250 and $500, you can go for designer models and you’ll find many more examples of much better quality. Common Projects, Wing+Horns (delicious!), National Standard and Del Toro shoes.
  • For $500 and above, you don’t even need to read this article cos you’re already a massive fan of sneakers…or at least you’re pretending to be. Pierre Hardy or Lanvin. Have a look at this Tumblr for even more crazy and cool sneakers design. 

And this leads us to the following conclusion: with sneakers like with drugs, you pay for what you get. Spending more than $120 is not a bad thing in order to get hold of a pair when you know that the quality corresponds to the price and that they’ll last you a long time. Sticking to small brands isn’t stupid either. Because of social pressure or context ( guys who tell you, for example, ‘Rick Owens sneakers are super’ have got their fair share of problems…and enough money to waste..) Not making an effort to get to know what’s great and what’s crap, though, merits the death penalty.

jpeg

Del Toro Shoes

Nicolas also has a thing or two to say on high-rise sneakers:

I sometimes get asked rather surprising questions relating to very specific issues. ‘How to wear high-rise sneakers?’ is one of them and I’ve noticed that some people make a whole big deal out of it for no reason, over-thinking things for no use at all.

As you’ll see, though, the answer is really simple:

Wearing high-rise sneakers: the big size myth

High-rise sneakers

Don’t take it too far if the other pieces of your wardrobe
and/or your lifestyle can’t handle it

When I advised smaller people not to wear high-rise sneakers a while ago, I should have been more precise about what I was thinking…cos I often get asked questions along thelines of ‘I’m 1m67, can I wear high-rise sneakers?’ To which I answer that it’s not a question of centimeters, but more about the whole silhouette. And no, there isn’t a strict limit to the precise centimeter at which it is forbidden to wear high-rise sneakers…but then you could’ve guessed that! If there were it’d be ridiculous!

In fact, I’ve often seen high-rise sneakers worn really well by smaller people. What is disgraceful (and rare) is when you see really fitted jeans with high-rise sneakers that lake your ankles look massive, like Supra Skytop, for example.

Supra Skytop

You get the picture – the contrast between imposing high-rise sneakers and really fitted jeans on a small person isn’t a great look. It makes your feet look swollen and your legs like chicken legs. THAT is what I meant when I said that high-rise sneakers aren’t for smaller people.

But let me be clear, high-rise sneakers with massive ankles can’t be found everywhere and they’re often a sign of cheap sneakers! You’d be unlucky to get your hands on a pair and that kind of design is nowhere to be seen amongst higher-end models. A simple pair of high-rise Lanvins with a balanced design with a pair of non-embellished, semi-slim jeans works perfectly well, regardless of your size. And that’s about as complicated as it gets! And for the rest of the matter, you can see with your own eyes what works and what doesn’t! Seriously, trust your own eye here.

avoid really fitted jeans

On this note, if you consider yourself to be smaller, then avoid really fitted jeans with really imposing high-rise sneakers. That’s all there is to it!

Avoid really fitted jeans with really imposing high-rise sneakers

Lanvin

What’s your opinion on high-end sneakers ?

Do you wear sneakers?
What are you favorite brands?
Your answer in the comments!

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  • Hi guys,
    what are your favorite sneakers’ brand?

  • salocin

    There is a reason noone in the pics look any good…(Sneakers suck! They make you look shorter and I’ve seen enough douchebags in em to safely assume anyone who wears one is an utter pillock)

  • Will

    Ya, in less hard words, I totally agree, particularly in the case of high top sneakers. Honestly the only one of these shoes I didn’t find tacky and visually unappealing were the vans (though it was probably one of the worst looking prints I’ve seen on vans before). Hell, I would strongly recommend against spending over $90 on a pair of sneakers, given that’s by US standards where sneakers are a LOT cheaper than in France.

    In my opinion sneakers should be simple, low cut, and canvas (unless, and only if, they’re converse high tops). Sneakers should be your beater shoes, what you where when you need something practical and cheap to not have to worry about messing up. And I would almost never wear straight white sneakers, unless it’s summer. I find that with dark pants, they awkwardly give the impression that ones’ feet are floating (eg. that last photo).

    Despite all that, and I hope this doesn’t sound racist, I do see black guys pull of sneakers in a totally respectable way, often incorporating them into outfits in surprising and creative ways.

    This might be a cultural difference honestly. I have seen otherwise well dressed Frenchmen wearing what I believed to be outright atrocious high top sneakers, women as well wear heeled high top sneakers (something I’d never seen in the states). In the US, sneakers are for teenagers and people that dgaf.

  • Hi Salocin,
    thanks for your comment.
    If high-top sneakers can indeed make your legs appear shorter that’s not the case at all with low-rise sneakers.

  • Hi Will,
    Thanks a lot for you comment, I really appreciate the cultural insight you provide here.

    I wasn’t aware that the way prices are insanely pumped up on brands such as Nike and Adidas in France. I corrected this in my post.

    Given that, it’s seems indeed hard to venture above $100. The reason being that the realm of really high-end sneakers will start at $250 and in between you’ve got only clothing designers sneakers that are never a good bargain on quality (when the style fits you).

    I agree that it’s extremely useful to have a pair of sneakers you can wear without worrying about messing up. Yet that doesn’t mean they should look like you intend to run 10k in mud with them.
    In that sense I disagree with you on the point that sneakers should ONLY be worn as “party-proof” protection for your feet. In a urban context you may want to dress up a bit without wearing dress shoes. That’s where nice high-end sneakers with a nice work on colors and fabrics are crushers. If you can’t afford high-end sneakers, then cheaper ones with nice simple design and colors will do.
    On the other hand you can also find cheap dress shoes that you can afford to ruin during parties.

    Regarding full white sneakers, I wasn’t clear and added this to my post: “This doesn’t mean you should go for completely white sneakers. Actually a bit of grey and beige in the design (sole, leather patch, laces) really help to include them in your outfit, while a big white chunk may grab the eye a bit too much.”

    Actually you can witness many rappers (such a Usher or Jay-Z) wearing very high-end sneakers, especially Lanvin and incorporating them very well as you said. I believe anyone can achieve such combinations. I look at these pictures as inspiration. (http://www.upscalehype.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/jay_z_15_wenn2402151jpg.jpeg)

    For those who are wondering what high heel sneakers (for ladies only) in France look like.
    http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/sites/tcdailyplanet.net/files/imagecache/HugeColorbox/isabel_marant_sneaker_booties.jpeg

    Again, thanks a lot for your comment which really helped me put together a nicer piece.
    Nicolas

  • Matt

    Quite mainstream but converse and vans. I’m just a teenager but if I spend the money on shoes like Lanvin I’d rather not buy sneakers but some nicer shoes. Sneakers are made to be cheap and whether or not it fits your style is a completely different matter.

  • Hi Matt,
    Thanks for your input, that makes perfect sense to me. High-end sneakers really aren’t a kind of basics that you should aim to get your hands on fast.

  • Will

    There are a number of brands whose prices are super inflated on this side of the pond. Especially Levis, pants that one can easily find for $30 in a department store, but in France go for 130 euros.
    On the other hand I find button up shirts here to be less expensive and definitely better fitting. Also, the price and connotations of Lacoste is entirely different here. In the US it’s like even more of a status symbol than say RL or Tommy Hilfiger, whereas here I see total scrubs wearing Lacoste. Another thing, most cheap dress shoes don’t look like utter shit in France.

    I think you’ll find sneakers to be a hard sell to Americans (not that this site is exclusively intended for an American readership). Most Americans looking to upgrade their style are looking to veer away from the same kind of shoes they’ve been wearing for years and step into something more business-y. This can be seen on just about any American styleblog advice site, which will often advise readers to upgrade from sneakers to dessert boots (as shoe you have also recommended). Sneakers are seen as incongruent with a more mature wardrobe.

    Despite this tiny criticism, I think you guys are really hitting the nail on the head with this blog. You’re not lost in the details or yourselves. Further you provide advice for those of us who are under maybe 35 and don’t work in a business casual to formal office, an enormous demographic that isn’t getting as much attention in styleblogs as it should.

  • Will,
    again thanks a lot for you very useful comment and your support.
    I still wonder if the $30 pair of jeans you’ll find in the US in the same as the one we’ll pay €130 in France. Here Levi’s has different proce range and the really good looking one are above 100$. Isn’t that a bit of the same in the US ?

    Regarding Lacoste, that’s right. The brand suffered for a long time of the way urban culture used it as a proof of status. They managed a nice U-turn with their Lacost Live! brand.

    All the best, Nicolas

  • chris

    @[email protected]_5LnXAufWTC:disqus

    Its extremely hard to do sneakers well. You know I have those five-toed Adipures sneakers to eliminate heel drop on my lifts. But I wouldn’t wear these “finger shoes” out to a bar and that’s what I see people who go out at bars wearing dress shirts, ill fitting jeans, and sneakers are doing. The context just isn’t there.

    Sneakers are hard to do well even beyond context – the issues you addressed Will are true and the cultural posits you made I find pretty accurate because sneakers are a fundamental part of those cultures you’ve observed. You really have to see your sneakers as an integral part of your outfit, not as something you walk-around-on in, and that may be why some people you see are so accepting of out-of-context sneakers.

    But that being said, for me it took a long time of observation critique and self critique to figure out how to fit high top sneakers with an outfit, but when i did it worked. I dont have very many pairs, but they’re high quality and I cycle through other types of shoes in my outfit so they are in my wardrobe to stay. i even wear my android high tops with chinos, or “khakis” as some put it.

  • Hi Chris,
    Thanks a lot for this great input.
    Yep, I would definitely not recommend the finger shoes to any place where you want to look your best.
    I like Android too even though they are a bit too
    much for me at the moment.
    To me it’s exactly how you shoudl use them. It’s impossible to wear your dress shoes all the time, they’ll get ruined. Sneakers helps balance this a lot and offer different outfit opportunities.

    Have a great day, Nicolas

  • Mark Kumleben

    MMM are beautiful and crazy comfy. What I did was pick up their replica GATs secondhand for a similar price to original GATs. They’re still really durable, and there’s none of that awkward shiny-new-sneaker period. Adidas Originals are also great for a similar aesthetic at a more reasonable price point, but only if you like branding. I’m looking forward to trying more Common Projects; I’ve only tried on a pretty crappy pair that looked like some kind of synthetic-upper version of the Training. IMO, minimalist is pretty much the only way to go with high-end trainers, unless you’re just trying to appeal to other sneakerheads on the internet.

  • Hi Mark,
    Thanks for your comment.
    I used to have MMM GAT’s too. They are great indeed. Give a try to Common Projects to know your size and you can find good deals on the web. Like you did with your MMM.

    Have a good day, Nicolas.

  • Kevin Xie

    I’ve been buying Gucci and Bally sneakers and they are the go-to brands when I buy shoes mostly. Haven’t look at lanvin much, would you recommend Lanvin over the two I’ve been looking at?

  • Hi Kevin,
    Well, it’s a matter of a taste. I don’t believe the quality to be extremely different. I really like much more the designs from Lanvin, they are more understated in my opinion whereas Gucci or Bally (but especially Gucci) tend to be more showy.

  • Vincent Dohna

    What kind of nikes are the shoes in the title?

  • Hey Vincent, it’s a pair of NIKE SB 94 SUPREME, they were released in 2010, but you can still get them on eBay.