words // Zac Dubasik

This week, the New York Times published a piece on the growing acceptance of sneakers in situations where leather-bottomed oxfords and derbys have traditionally held high ground. The article brought up some interesting points, examining how we arrived at a place where sneakers are accepted in more social and professional situations than ever before. And, more important, even considered fashionable.

The phenomenon seems to stem from two likely sources which, when combined, have created this current atmosphere. The first is the rise of fashion-friendly, minimalist sneakers. The clean look and sophisticated appeal of sneakers like those made by Common Projects and Lanvin, despite their rubber soles, lend themselves to be worn with more traditional looks, like slacks and jackets. After these shoes opened the doors, it was just a matter of time until Flyknits were being seen with suits.

The biggest factor though has less to do with the evolution of footwear and more to do with the changing of the times. Remember, the only reason leather-soled shoes have been excepted as the formal standard is because the generations before us told us that’s what was right. Other than tradition, there’s no real reason or need for it. It’s not like wearing rubber boots in the rain to keep your feet dry, where there’s a practical application. Fully leather shoes were basically the only option when this style of dress came to be.

As the generation that grew up with Air Jordans comes into new roles of power and influence, their values and tastes are beginning to be incorporated and influence all aspects of life. Similar to how tattoos are no longer seen as taboo in many professions and in fashion (at least in comparison to even 10 years ago), the quality of an individual’s work is often taken in higher regard than the material in which the soles of their shoes are made. And while sneakers may still not be accepted in the most traditional work spaces, it has become commonplace in traditional fashion circles – like the runway.

What’s interesting about this, and what was completely missed by the article, is the fact that sneakerheads have been derided for years for the “inappropriate” all-sneakers-all-the-time approach they’ve often taken. They’ve often been criticized – probably with justification – for not being the most fashionable crowd, outside of the footwear itself.

Is what’s passing for high fashion now really that much different than sneakerheads wearing Jordans to prom or their weddings for the past decade? Sure, there’s a right way and a wrong way to pull of the look, but it was always the concept that was ridiculed more than the execution. Poorly fitting pants look just as bad with dress shoes as with sneakers.