Sneakers: The Ultimate Guide for Obsessives

A CLEANER SNEAKER? From left: Veja and Allbirds sneakers, whic hproject a more sustainable design ethos, are keeping the big brands on their toes. Veja V-10, $150,; Allbirds Tree Runners, $95, PHOTO: BRYAN GARDNER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, STYLING BY ANNE CARDENAS

Article by Wall Street Journal

As athletic shoes morph and multiply—emerging as a pivotal business for both men’s and women’s fashion—we offer an extensive primer, including the threats to Nike’s dominance and 5 game-changing technological innovations

By Jacob Gallagher

Updated Sept. 6, 2019 4:25 pm ET

What’s the last pair of shoes you bought? Let me guess: sneakers. Maybe a pair of collectible, cartoonishly colored Nike s? Leather Common Projects lace-ups in minimalist, office-friendly white? Or some humbly ho-hum navy-blue wool Allbirds? You weren’t alone. The sneaker business hit $44 billion in sales last year in the U.S., up 9% from the year before, according to market-research firm the NPD Group. 

Although the modern sneaker era arguably began with Nike’s first running shoes—the basic Cortez—around 50 years ago, today that type of functionally athletic sneaker is not driving the growing market. Matt Powell, the senior industry adviser for sports at the NPD Group, noted that sales of performance-sport sneakers (for running, basketball, tennis, etc.) are tapering off. “For the last four years we’ve been in this period where we do not have a single performance [shoe] trending positively,” he said. Why pay for state-of-the-art, air-bubbled high-tops if you’re not Steph Curry lining up to take a three? 

Simpler sneakers are on the upswing. “Retro definitely has a bit more of the momentum,” said Erik Fagerlind, the co-owner of Sneakersnstuff, a global chain of sneaker boutiques. Tasteful throwbacks, like the reissued Nike Tailwind, Adidas Superstar (see “Os” above) and upscale traditional sneakers like Spalwart’s Marathon Trail Runner and Brunello Cucinelli ’s luxe suede low-tops appeal to a clientele who came of age in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. For Frankie Walker Jr., the co-owner of Unknwn, a Miami sneaker retailer, and a child of the ’80s, the sneakers of one’s youth hold nostalgic charm. A plus? These clean styles won’t look out of place at the office. 

Another sneaker that blends well with business-casual garb is the understated, sustainable kick as epitomized by the knitted-upper runner from direct-to-consumer startup Allbirds (“Ds” above) or the subtle shoes from French label Veja (“Ss” above). At a time of staggering clothing waste, these shoes attempt to tread more lightly on the environment. 

At the opposite end of the style spectrum, aggressively trendy sneakers are rife in the Instagram age. Statement shoes like Balenciaga’s colossally chunky Triple-S or Nike’s collaboration with Japan’s Sacai (with its double soles and double tongues) leap out on social media, where brash sneaker fans of all ages battle for bragging rights. The thirst for boast-worthy shoes has supercharged sneaker collecting. On resale platforms like Stadium Goods, StockX and Flight Club, obsessives amass and unload limited pairs, sometimes at hammer prices well into the five figures. In July an entrepreneur paid $850,000 for a set of 99 rare sneakers during a Sotheby’s sale. 

Of course, most of us are just looking for one everyday pair. For many, it’s a low-key minimalist sneaker, but even if you’d never wear Technicolor Nikes (“Ni” above), they can be fun to look at.

TIES NOT OPTIONAL Off Duty’s deputy fashion director wears hertrusty New Balances with a directional Céline dress. PHOTO: RYAN MESINA/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Can sneakers be stylish?

Fashion editor Rebecca Malinsky willed them to be following a debilitating foot injury.

AT A CLOSE FRIEND’Swedding in the Portuguese countryside a while back, I danced until the wee hours in a predictably picturesque setting. The next day, however, my right foot was aching. After the seven-hour flight home and a long walk through customs I knew something was not right. Three podiatrists, two MRIs and one renowned foot and ankle surgeon later, I discovered that I had boogied my way to a rather serious ankle injury that would simply require time and supportive (read: ugly) shoes to heal. Time? Sure. But trading ballerina flats for the same sneakers as my dad? 

The accident humbled me into accepting the fragility of the human body—in the painfully conspicuous form of orthopedic shoes. I spent about 18 months solely wearing running shoes, minus the three hours I devoted to getting married in 1-inch Valentino heels lined with Dr. Scholl’s pads (fighting back tears from the pain and the emotion of it all).

Physically, just getting from point A to B has been exhausting; mentally, trying to remain confident as a fashion authority in sensible sneakers has been taxing. In the time I’ve spent in my go-to pairs of shoes—a gray New Balance 990 and a black Asics GT-1000—I’ve had to get creative to make them feel like they are truly a part of my personal style. But along the way, I developed the following guidelines on how to style sneakers fashionably:

  • Don’t dress down. Sneakers look more considered and intentional when paired with trendy clothing vs. basics. Try a slouchy linen pant or floral dress instead of jeans.
  • Consider the classics. Many designer sneakers are inspired by traditional tennis, or running, shoe brands. Scout out the original: It looks more authentic and saves you hundreds of dollars.
  • Venture manward. Why are women’s sneakers always fuchsia and teal? Learn your sizes in men’s sneakers to get the more-interesting lime green/black or red/white/tan combinations.
  • Socks matter. They should match your outfit, not your shoe. Invest in no-show peds for summer, and some gray, textured wool tall socks for the cooler months.

Jeans Glossary … get the perfect fit for your figure

Voluptuos Curves – classic or relaxed fits are best.They’ll give you ease and flattery in the bottom area without being big all over. Get a pair that sits on your hips rather than your waist. Concentrate on getting the waist and leg proportion just right. The waistband should sit just below your waist’s natural curve and the leg should skim your natural shape. A very tight waist with full legs is the worst proportion. Avoid too tight legs and small or widely spaced back pockets.

Curvy with Small Waist – stretch jeans will be great for you. Straight, tight cuts are perfect. Low-riders are the most flattering. A gentle flare will balance your hip curve. High-waisted jeans will make your bottom look disproportionately large.

Slim Bottom – stretch jeans but not too tight are best. *Slim leg, to follow same line as small bottom. Back pockets, decorative, even with flaps are great. Avoid stiff denim, baggy or boy cuts.

Short Waist – You need to make your torso longer so hipsters are perfect. They will give extra space to your top half and proportion. Absolutely no high-waisted jeans. Perhaps wedges or heels to give you more length.

Heavy Thighs – An easy fit on the hips and avoid tapered legs and anything oversize. Boot legs will balance your thighs where you are heavier Don’t tuck in tops but keep them close to the body without being skin tight. Avoid baggy tops. High, tight-waisted are very very wrong!

Small with Short Legs – Lengthen your legs and add curve. Wear heals and make sure the length is long enough but does not fold over shoe. Slightly higher than hip waistline and straight leg cut. Low cut jeans with wide legs will shorten you – avoid.

Long Waist – Lengthen legs and shorten torso. You can wear jeans a little higher than hipsters to disguise torso and snug fitting legs. Add more height with long hem and high heels. Avoid ankle cropped length.

Boyish Figure – For slim hips and straight waist, try to add curves to your figure. Experiment between high-waisted and low-rise straight leg jeans. The boy cut is great for you. Success is getting a waist line to optimise your curves.

For All Shapes – jeans look best in a medium to heavy weight denim. Thinner fabric will highlight, not hide bulges.

Male Dress Code – body shapes for men

Thick neck  

What to wear … deep collars; v-neck jumpers; polo shirts

What not to wear … small collars; high round necks; buttoned up shirts

Big tummy

What to wear … vertical stripes; loose tshirts; structured jackets; single breasted suits; knits with horizontal panel across the chest and contrasting darker colour around the tummy

What not to wear … short tops with high waisted pants! Tops that are too long; strong contrasting colours; big belts; skinny leg jeans/pants

Short legs

What to wear … all one colour; vertical stripes; plain shoes; match shoe colour to pants; monochrome colours; slim fit clothing; pointy toe shoe; the key is to streamline/visually lengthen your frame through colour and fit

What not to wear … contrasting colours; baggy clothes; ill fitting clothes; bold prints and patterns; don’t layer longer pieces underneath shorter pieces – this will break the continuity

Man breasts

What to wear … printed shirts; vertical stripes; shirts with pockets; dark colours

What not to wear … see through shirts; fine knit tops

Top heavy

What to wear … boot leg pant; fitted blazer; small pattern shirt; v-neck knits over white t-shirt

What not to wear … short sleeved shirts; tapered pants; double breasted jacket


What to wear … straight leg, light coloured denim jean;Layering allows you to build size; add kilos to your frame by selecting a denser, wool suit; chunkier, heavy jumpers such as cable knits and roll necks add size; white t-shirts, beige chinos, and pastel colours are best to add bulk

What not to wear … nothing second-skin thin for the skinny guy – this includes shirts labelled super-fit or ultra-slim and shirts that are stretchy or clingy; shirts that are too big; fat ties

Wardrobe Essentials

Underwear is the foundation of every outfit. The wrong underwear will ruin a look. No matter what size you are, perfectly fitting underwear will enhance your body shape. Be professionally fitted for bra size and style. Keep colour simple – black white and neutral. Avoid seeing your underpants – through clothes, above clothes and below clothes – shorts that are shorter than your underpants are probably not a good idea… at any age. 

You need something to wear to a casual lunch; a job interview; business meeting; a date; a formal…

Keep in mind ‘less is more’.. buy fewer pieces, that are better quality and be discerning. 

Jeans– Take the time to find a great pair that suit your body shape. Spend more on jeans because you live in them. 

Jackets… A jacket is the starting point for so many great looks. Worn with pants, jeans, a skirt or shorts… You can make it casual or formal, depending on your style and destination. Go for a simple cut in fabric and colour and start to build. A denim jacket for summer nights over dresses; and a leather jacket. 

A white shirt, and several white t-shirts. Always make sure they are clean, no stains with careful attention to shirt collars… Whites may have to be replaced seasonally and always keep napi san handy to soak them. 

A selection of simple t-shirts and tops in basic colours – black, grey, navy, khaki. 2 or 3 plain V-neck jumpers in your favourite colours. Keep these pieces fresh. Buy cheaply and replace as soon as they look less than perfect. This includes hosiery (stockings, tights)

A little black dress and another great dress. 

Three pairs of shoes: boots, flats and going out. 

Personalise your basic wardrobe depending on your lifestyle… student, part time work, stay at home parent, work life … You will need hanging around at home clothes also. Be disciplined in buying these items, and remember that less is more. A lot of money is spent on impulse unnecessary pieces that clog your wardrobe. 

Trends are fashion items that come and go so it’s best to buy inexpensive versions of these fleeting styles. Remember this – fashion fans who follow every catwalk trend have an identity problem. Sooner hopefully rather than later, you will realise that dressing from top to toe in the latest look does not work. We aren’t turned on by groups of girls wearing all the same clothes. We admire individuality, imagination and leaders not followers. 

Classics, however, are at the heart of your style. These are investment pieces and where money is well spent. Subtle adjustments will make the difference between bringing your classics up to date and looking dated. This is where ‘trends’ can freshen up your look and help it evolve. The key is striking a balance between the look of the moment and your personal style. Every season, someone reinvents the perfect dress, blazer and shirt. So, when you are thinking about how to make trends work for you, look to the latest versions of the garments you love. Personalising a trend could mean wearing it in your favourite colour, choosing a hem length that works for you, or finding the shape that flatters you. After all, when you look good, you feel good. Blending confidence with personal style is the game aim!

When putting a wardrobe together, if your budget is limited, the most important thing is having the discipline to invest in one or two beautiful key pieces and mixing these with classic pieces like jeans, white shirts, cashmere knits …

In summary, plan your long term wardrobe: only buy pieces you can’t live without, and don’t be controlled by trends.