It’s hard to believe that trainers were once the reserve of track and field events and episodes of Seinfeld. But nowadays they’re a central component of our wardrobes.
With a deep history behind many brands and a broad selection of silhouettes to choose from, you can dress for almost any occasion with a good pair of sneakers. But with retro, high-top, minimal, athleisure and plenty of other styles, it’s not always so obvious how to dress with them.
There are some straightforward ideas you can use to match your attire with sneakers depending on what you’re wearing or events you’re planning to attend.
Whether you’re a sneakerhead or not, take a look at our guide below on how to match sneakers to your outfit.
1. Keep it simple
It’s not difficult to overdo it with sneakers. When you’re at a smart casual event where everyone is in dress shoes and you’re the guy in Nikes, it can be easy to try and compensate with an outlandish combination of attire. But you don’t need to go overboard to get the right mix.
Generally you’ll want to avoid wearing sneakers with business outfits except for when it’s truly the right moment. Retro kicks work well with casual outfits, while minimal sneakers can be worked into smart casual looks. And unless you’re going all black, it’s a good idea to match attire to your shoes using complementary colours to keep a good balance.
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2. Wear the right trousers
Although you might have the perfect pair of trainers on, you could mess up how they look with the wrong pair of trousers. Or you might have the right pair of trousers that simply don’t suit your shoes. The thing to look out for is cuff width.
A cuff that sits too wide over your trainers will cover them too much, and vice versa with narrow cuffs. The best scenario is to have the right balance between trouser cuff width and the size of your sneakers. Straight leg trousers work well with chunky sneakers, slim fit for sneakers that hug your feet or, when you want to show off your kicks, pinroll your trousers for maximum effect.
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3. Prioritise the socks
You can make or break an outfit with the socks you choose. Luckily there are some proven combinations you can turn to that help your clothing match seamlessly to your chosen sneakers, even if that means you don’t want socks to be visible.
Case in point, tennis shoes look great with ankle socks and pinrolled trousers when it’s warm outside. Sneakerboots work with thick knitted socks when it’s cold, and you can go for something a bit more multicoloured or wild if you’re rocking skate shoes.
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4. Strike the right balance
There comes a time when you’ll want to don a pair of statement sneakers, and when you do it’s something you’ll want to get right. The trick here is to get the perfect balance – which means handing over all the attention to your feet.
The easiest way to do this is to dress down. Simple colours and patterns, no prints or garish logos, along with regular items like jeans, shirts and jumpers will ensure that the focus is directed to the outlandish sneakers you’re wearing. If you’re having second thoughts, do a little experimenting before grabbing your car keys.
5. Go high and low
Offsetting the casualness of your sneakers with a more proper outfit can be one way of achieving the right balance. While you mightn’t do this every day, matching high with low can show a keen eye for detail and a strong sense of confidence in your own taste.
One easy way to create this contrast is to throw on some retro sneakers. While they can provide a nice kick of nostalgia, it’s also a great highlight to add to contemporary look. Wool or cropped trousers work well here, or you could go for skinny jeans and a neatly cut overcoat.
6. Know when to keep it simple
Minimal trainers, by their very nature, can be relatively easy to work into a variety of outfits. Not only do they look great in chinos, shorts or jeans, but they’re low key enough to not incite a negative response the way a poorly-matched statement sneaker might. But should you always go for a high-low combination with minimal trainers?
Absolutely not. Dressing down in a simple, understated outfit might even be the best way to match. As many minimal kicks have a design-focused aesthetic, it’s not a bad idea to match accordingly. So going for a combination of simple lines and subdued colours can look great – and this is one of those moments where you might like to break out the suit-sneaker combo.
7. Wearing lifestyle runners
Entering the athleisure realm can certainly add a new level of comfort and style to your wardrobe. But along with all the cutting-edge tech and designer collaborations that go into marketing these sneakers, you want to dress the part before dropping a hefty sum on the latest luxe footwear.
As lifestyle runners are generally designed with athletic qualities in mind, you can work in some sporting attire here to good effect. But without going for a full-body tracksuit and six-panel cap, you can layer in some distressed denim, stylish coats and a cosy hoodie to pair your Nike Vapormax or Adidas Ultra Boosts for some streetwear flair.
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8. When to keep it casual
You don’t need to be a basketballer to enjoy wearing high-top sneakers. While luxe or minimal sneakers can be dressed up quite easily, high-tops are a silhouette you’ll probably always dress casually with. But that doesn’t mean you should always wear them with ripped jeans and hoodies.
High-tops work well with jeans, shirts, flannels and jackets. They also have a playful charm about them, meaning you don’t have to worry so much about how dressed up or down you go – although you will want to keep it firmly casual. But if you’re into streetwear, you can pull off high-tops with quality knits and chinos without much effort as well.
9. But don’t go too casual
So now you’ve got a handle on how to dress with a variety of sneakers. There’s that line between casual and smart that sneakers seem to always straddle and never really pass. Getting the balancing act right shows taste and intuition. Not only that, but sneakers are just damn comfortable.
But it’s always good to keep in mind that sneakers aren’t dress shoes, so you can’t ever truly replace them. If you need a sharp, formal outfit, you’ll almost always be leaving sneakers at home. If you’re ever in doubt about how high or low you should go for any given occasion, it’s always safer to lean towards overdressing.
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