White sneakers aren’t new and they’re not slipping off the greatest hits chart anytime soon. But while low-profile, classic sneaks like Adidas’ Stan Smiths are a go-to wardrobe staple for celebrities (Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, to name a few), there’s a retro revival of a surprisingly bloated silhouette. Pumped up and chunky, some call them “dad” sneakers, while others reference “Seinfeld” sneaks — those marshmallow-y kicks from the comedian’s former show, and many more dub them just plain ugly. See: couches for your feet.
Either way, the white sneaker has a strong staying power, and there’s reason for it, said Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, and author of “Out of the Box: The Rise of the Sneaker Culture.” Semmelhack said that while we saw an explosion in the sneaker culture around 2015, the true father of the all-white sneaker was the iconic 1980s Nike Air Force 1. “The importance of that sneaker then was you always had to wear it very clean and crisp. That spoke to prosperity and being able to afford new sneakers often,” because, as we all know, white sneaks don’t stay all that white for too long. Today, said Semmelhack, “The white sneaker carries some of the same concepts and is presenting as very pristine. It’s that pristine state that allows it to be so eye-catching.”
For women, the white sneaker goes beyond just being comfy and is perhaps the most versatile travel shoe around, and not just with casual clothes. “Women are entering the sneaker culture en masse, and when you see a woman wearing, say, a Stan Smith paired with a skirt, it brings with it a certain flavor and gives an unexpected edginess,” said Semmelhack. Ryan Babenzien, founder and CEO of Brooklyn-born sneaker company Greats, said, “Unless you’re a lawyer, the last suit-wearing industry, sneakers go with everything.” He credits the “casualizaton of workplace attire,” as the impetus for the shoe’s popularity. “The new normal is a clean sneaker,” he said.
According to Semmelhack, “women are letting sneakers do a lot of the work that we demanded of high heels,” adding that you can spend the same amount of money on a designer sneaker (as evidenced by $1,590, bling-laden Gucci trainers) as you can on pricey designer stilettos and then, enjoy the same status — but in comfort. Bottom line? “It’s a basic fact that sneakers can do many jobs,” said Semmelhack. Do them in these 17 pairs.