A reader recently sent an email to me regarding trendy sneakers. This is a topic many of you have asked me about. Especially when over 30 or so, it's hard to know which sneakers trends are cool and which end up looking try-hard or clueless. Below my advice on picking out the best trendy sneakers for grown women.
“I've got a question about tennis shoes. I typically don't wear tennis shoes much during the week but use them more on weekends, trips, etc. For the past few years, I've worn the slip-on style quite a bit but feel like changing things up. I am looking at these shoes from New Balance in particular.
I don't wear athletic clothing when I'm out in public, but instead tend to wear jeans, girlfriend chinos, sometimes shorts in summer, and occasionally skirts or casual dresses. I'm casual when I travel and on weekends (as in I am probably wearing nice t-shirts or simple shirts with my pants/jeans). I'm 46. I don't think these shoes skew “too young” but am not totally sure. Just wondered if these are a good option for someone in my age range and can I wear them with clothes I already have?”
Does anyone else think of this clip from “Crazy Stupid Love” when they see New Balance sneakers? Thing is that movie took place in 2011 and ever since New Balance has gained popularity with fashionistas and fashionistos for their “dad chic” vibe. Even so, it's hard to accept the fact that shoes we mocked less than a decade ago are now cool. What makes it harder is there are plenty of people like Steve Carell's character who never knew they went out of vogue that continued to rock them in a very un-ironic manner. How do you show you're wearing them because they are comfy and cool not because you stopped caring about trends once you graduated from college?
How To Choose Stylish Sneakers as a Grown Woman
Rule number one: wear what you like. If you don't like my advice, my advice isn't for you. Rock what you think looks good, makes you feel good, works with your lifestyle and unique needs. However, if you're unsure where to start in searching for trendy street sneakers, read on.
When looking for street sneakers to wear with everyday clothing (denim, shorts, casual dresses, etc.) a low-contrast color may get you the most mileage. Especially if you're not confident embracing the trendy sneaker trend, choosing a shoe that isn't high contrast with your skin or your standard wardrobe is a good bet. If you plan on wearing these shoes with a lot of jeans and dark leggings, consider a pair in black, gray, or a deeper color. If you think you'll be wearing them more with shorts, dresses, and pants that expose your ankle you may want to choose a color closer to your skintone or less of a contrast (tan, bronze, gold or rose gold, white, ivory, pale pink, gray, etc.).
Right now, puffy shoes like we wore in the late '80s are back in style. Air Force One, Reebok Classic, all the shoes we coveted as kids and teens are now en vogue. And if you like them, go ahead and rock them again with gusto.
However, such shoes are big and have a bigger profile. If you're short, they can make you look more short. If you have large feet, your feet will look larger. If you have thick legs and/or ankles, they will emphasize it. If you care about such things, this kind of shoe can be hard to style effectively. You may wish for a lower-profile shoe that exposes more of the ankle and top of the foot.
I have had luck with Adidas, Puma, and Nike for finding retro-inspired sneakers that aren't like marshmallows on my feet. Converse “Chucks” and Shorelines are classic styles that are also low profile; Superga is a great alternative brand if you have wide feet or find Converse uncomfortable. If your style veers towards preppy, consider a pair of Keds or Tretorns. If you're looking for comfort shoes that don't look like comfort shoes, ECCO makes really stylish pairs. For those who invest in a covetable shoe collection, Golden Goose sneakers are very on trend right now and have a low profile. Below is a carousel of shoes I found online that have a low profile yet are on trend:
Be Wary of OTT
OTT stands for over the top and a lot of trendy sneakers right now are going that route. A retro sneaker but with chiffon ribbons as laces. A cool sneaker… with velcro closures and platform soles. Sequins, mixed patterns, holographic fabric, studs, lights, bows, ruffles, stacked soles… A shoe that is OTT is more likely to look dated by the end of the season. Also, an OTT shoe not styled by an OTT person who has an OTT wardrobe can look cheap and clueless far quicker than a shoe that is more subdued.
The Right Socks
The best way to wear trendy sneakers is to have your ankles exposed, no visible socks. My favorite no-show socks are the Hide and Seeks by Smartwool. They really do hide under every pair of sneakers I own, they keep your feet warm in winter and cool in summer, wick away moisture, prevent foot odor, hold up for years, and don't slip down your heel mid-day. Bombas is my second-favorite brand for no-show socks. For every pair of Bombas purchased, they donate a pair to a homeless shelter.
How to Style Trendy Sneakers
Okay, you found a pair of sneakers that you think look cool, feel great, and are fun to wear. Now, how the heck do you style them for every day in a cool, grown woman style? Here are a few ideas to get your sartorial juices flowing using the New Balance sneakers in the reader's original emailed question:
The classic spring look – a knit dress, denim jacket, and sneakers. This kind of combination can look very juvenile, especially with sneakers. The key is to add polished grown-woman elements. A long necklace, a form-fitting dress that hits around the knees, a well-fitting jacket… these will all add maturity without losing the cool factor. And no need to stick to a denim jacket and a t-shirt dress; this look works with more tailored or fit and flare styles (I love the ones with knots to create an hourglass effect) as well as utility jackets, leather jackets, and even blazers. Just keep the fabrics casual so they complement the sneakers and don't look like shoes for your commute to the office.
Another classic look that works well with trendy sneakers. For such a look, it's important to pay attention to details so that the sneakers look purposeful and cool, not as though you forgot to finish your outfit. Since these jeans are a bit higher volume, a skinny jean showing your ankle bone will nicely balance them. With the blazer, look for one a bit longer, maybe a slouchy “boyfriend” style, or double-breasted. Having a bit more volume and a more relaxed silhouette will again balance the sneakers and show you are aware of current trends. While I have this styled with a classic Breton top, this is an opportunity to showcase your personality with a graphic t-shirt. Just be sure it's a shirt in good condition, tucked in, and not too stiff or oversized so the look is cool and modern not disheveled PolySci professor.
Yes, you can wear dressier pieces with sneakers! However, proportion and fit is a must. As with the skinny jeans above, you need to ensure the pants show a good amount of your ankle so the effect is purposeful. With an ankle pant, unless you're tall and leggy you will do best with a tapered or slimmer ankle pant to balance out the volume of the shoe. Also to balance out the volume of the shoe, look for a blouse that has some drape (silk, crepe, rayon, etc.). Half-tuck or tuck in completely but blouse out a bit more in the back to achieve volume without overwhelming your frame. A long pendant necklace is also great at keeping a voluminous top from overwhelming your frame. By keeping the look monochromatic and if the shoes are a darker color, the same tone as the shoes, the effect is polished, purposeful, and chic.
Sneaker Styling Tips
A few basic tips to help you style your trendy sneakers:
- Show some ankle. The same holds true for loafers and brogues; you need to have visible space between your pants and shoes to make the look purposeful. Nine times out of ten this will require a trip to the tailor. Be sure to bring your sneakers with you to ensure the right length. A shorter pant will still work with basic flats and pumps, there is no specific length that is “in” this season or the past few seasons so feel free to shorten and even narrow your pant to the specific length that works with your body, your personal style, and your shoe wardrobe.
- Balance volume. If you're rocking a pair of Reebok Classic hi-tops, I bow down to you and your fierceness. With any shoe with a bit of volume, consider styling them with either a skinny pant and top or jacket with some volume, or a straight or a-line style dress around the knee, letting the legs show. A slim leg will let the shoes take the spotlight and give them an edgier vibe.
- If new to the trend, go low contrast. A pair of shoes that are close to your skin tone will blend the best into your wardrobe and personal style. Instead of white, black, or navy try a softer neutral like cream, tan, gray, or a soft metallic.
- Start with a classic. If you're new to wearing trendy sneakers, you may be more comfortable going with a popular classic. Adidas Stan Smith or Superstar, Puma Suede Classic, Tretorn Nylite, Veja V-12 or V-10, Converse All Star or Shoreline, New Balance 696, Nike Blazer or Classic Cortez, Vans Old Skool, and Gola Coaster are a few types that have remained classic cool for a few seasons.