Today's office dress codes have led to the slow demise of dressing formally. Employees are no longer required to wear ties, while athleisure wear now has blurred the line between your workout and your workday. The casual work attire also ushered in the popularity of leather sneakers — footwear with the poise and refinement of a dress shoe, but also with the comfort of a running shoe. This list is focused on the kind of sneakers that are versatile enough to get you from the office to a dinner date or semi-formal event without hurting your feet or compromising your sense of style.
Generally speaking, the name of the game when it comes to dressing up sneakers is minimalism. Sleek monochrome sneakers won't call unwanted attention to themselves and will instead add to the overall effect of your outfit. Whether they're white, black, gray, or even a bright primary color, the cleaner the shoe's design, the easier it will be to pull them off in a dressier situation. And yes, you can wear white sneakers in winter. Pair them with brighter colored denim or chinos and a thick neutral-toned wool sweater for a clean, refined winter look.
The suit-and-sneakers combo has by now become commonplace but even so, it takes a little finesse to pull it off. If you're planning on achieving this look, a modern, tailored, slimmer cut works best. Go with pants with no break or a slight break (the break is where the material creases just above the bottom of the pant leg opening) that just brush the top of the sneaker.
We chose the Greats Royale Sneaker as best overall because of its classic good looks, high-quality, solid construction, and price point for handcrafted shoes made in Italy. They're $179, which may seem pricey until you learn these sneakers are made in the same factories in the seaside town of Civitanova Marche, that luxury brands use for their sneakers that sell for twice or three-times the price.
Greats is a Brooklyn-based direct-to-consumer brand launched in 2014 with the idea of disrupting the luxury sneaker market, a goal they're managing to achieve. The Royale, their best-selling style, is handcrafted in Italy's Le Marche region, which is famous for its shoemaking tradition. The sneakers are made from full-grain Italian leather with a molded footbed and waxed cotton laces.
The Royale is the most accessibly-priced luxury sneaker from Italy in the world, according to Greats CEO Ryan Babenzien. "We have been able to democratize luxury so a broader audience can buy a sneaker of this quality made in Italy that was previously unattainable," Babenzien told me in an email.
The sneakers have a minimalist aesthetic and come in seven color combinations. The all-white version — the Blanco — and the one in black — the Nero — are the company's biggest sellers. They also make a stunning chocolate-brown version and also regularly drop limited editions.
The Royale not only looks great but are exceedingly comfortable straight from the box. The entire upper, inside, and tongue are made of a soft buttery full-grain leather. The footbed and outsole provide good support while still being comfortable and responsive. They have a generously padded heel and tongue for added comfort. Some of the reviews said these sneakers ran slightly large, by a half-size, but I found mine fit true to size.
I haven't had my pair long enough to speak of how they hold up over time, but a commenter on Reddit claimed his two pairs of Royales still looked great and have "held up extremely well" after three years and several hundred uses, with the leather becoming softer over time. The Royale has received numerous positive reviews from the media as well.
The company is also attempting to tackle sustainability issues. The Royale is made with 25% reclaimed rubber in the soles; the insoles also use reclaimed materials. Greats also has a knit version of the Royale made from a combination of 100% recycled single-use plastic and ocean plastic. The biggest news may be that next year the company is introducing a Royale made from 100% recycled leather using an innovative Japanese process, according to Babenzien. Greats doesn't use any plastic packaging and their shoe boxes are made from recycled cardboard. There's also the sustainability aspect of creating a high-quality and timeless sneaker that isn't going to get thrown out like a cheaply made pair of fast-fashion shoes. Greats also only works with factories that treat their employees fairly and ethically, according to Babenzien.
"The goal is to continue to make the best footwear we can while limiting our impact on the earth as much as we can," he said.
For 50 years the Adidas Superstar has been just that: a superstar. They've been worn by legendary basketball stars like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, had a hip-hop song dedicated to them — "My Adidas" by Run-D.M.C. — and have graced the feet of countless style icons of the music, fashion, and art worlds.
While they've again become super popular over the last few years, many people are rocking the white version with contrasting stripes (black and red being the two most popular) or the black with white stripes. We recommend the white on white or black on black. These two colorways are a bit more subdued, which is what you want if you're looking for versatility in your sneakers. The Superstar will get you from a casual office setting straight to the club. If you're ready to go full-on rockstar, pair a slim fitting suit with one of the bright solid colors, like the vibrant Shock Mint.
The Superstar features a full-grain leather upper — a much higher quality leather than many other similarly priced sneakers — and has a distinctive rubber-shell toe. Customers love the sneakers for their comfort, versatility, and durability. The biggest complaints we've read seem to be about sizing, with recommendations for getting a half-size smaller than you'd regularly wear. Some customers also complained about the initial stiffness of the leather before the sneakers have been broken in.
Adidas is getting high marks for sustainability, including how the company treats its employees, and its pledge to only use recycled plastics in all its shoes and clothing by 2024.
Cons: Some customers said the sneakers run large and that the leather is too stiff before being broken in
M. Gemi is another direct-to-consumer footwear brand that's disrupting the luxury market. The company was launched in 2015 with the idea of creating "postluxury" shoes. It has kept the quality and artistry of the luxury market without the price tag and limited access, according to the company.
The Lucente has a leaner silhouette, tonal stitching, and less ornamentation than the other sneakers on the list, making it perfect for pairing with a suit or for just elevating a super-casual weekend look, like joggers, T-shirt or henley, and a black bomber jacket.
While M. Gemi makes a stunning version in white, I love the Lucente in a monochrome light gray for its subtlety and ability to easily pair with whatever color combinations and level of formality my outfit of the day happen to be.
The Lucente is crafted by hand in Italy in small family-owned workshops. The upper is made from calf leather with the same type of leather in a light tan lining the inside. The upper is hand-stitched (rather than glued) to a matte rubber tonal sole made by Margom, a highly respected Italian company known for its product quality and performance.
These sneakers are exceptional — soft leather, beautiful design, and great attention to detail — and really comfortable right out of the box; I didn't find any need for a break-in period. While they are expensive, compared with other high-end brands they're a great deal for what you get. They only come in European whole sizes; the website has a sizing chart to help you figure out your size. For half-sizes, the company recommends getting the next full-size down. I typically wear a 9.5 US and got the Lucente in size 42, which fits perfectly. A few customers reported that the sneakers were on the narrow side. M. Gemi offers complimentary shipping and returns in case you have any sizing issues.
Cons: Costly, but well worth the price, only come in full European sizes, some customers found them to be rather narrow
Going through airport security sucks and honestly, so does the process of taking on an off sneakers. Kizik has solved this problem: Its shoes are designed to get in and out of, hands-free, thanks in part to a titanium wire in the heel that compresses when you slide your foot in and bounces back into place afterward. They've become the only shoes I bother to take when traveling by plane. I've also found myself wearing them regularly because of the ease of getting into them and how comfortable they are.
Kizik's New York Sneaker is made from full-grain Italian leather like the other high-end sneakers on the list but also has a patented technology called F.A.S.T., or Foot Activated Shoe Technology. Besides the aforementioned titanium wire, the sneaker opens up when you slide your foot in, then instantly readjusts for a secure fit. You can also customize the fit using Velcro strips located on either side of the tongue to create a high or low arch and adjust the width and position of the tongue.
They're versatile enough to wear with a suit or jeans and a T-shirt. They come in five colorways, from chocolate brown with a white outsole to a black-on-black version. These sneakers are also available in wide "EE" sizes.
The New York has a unique look with perforations at the heel and three straps across the front mimicking laces, so it has more of a sneaker vibe rather than that of a slip-on. They're a bit on the chunky side. I'm really hard on footwear and as I mentioned, I've been giving my New York sneakers a lot of use. Because of this, I've had to keep up with cleaning and shining them to make sure they look their best. So yes, you can be lazy when slipping them on but if you're tough on shoes like I am, you can't be lazy with maintaining them. They cost less than many of the sneakers on our list and are worth the price for the high-quality materials and built-in tech.
If you happen to work for a company that hasn't gotten the memo on the relaxing of dress codes or if you have an event that requires a bit more formality where sneakers are a no-go, the Cole Haan Zerøgrand Wingtip Oxford is a perfect choice. It's a hybrid dress shoe-sneaker. The Zerøgrand line is Cole Haan's bestseller, selling millions since they launched in 2014.
While many of the sneakers on the list have a minimalist feel, the Zerøgrand Wingtip Oxford is the opposite with striking broughing and a dramatic rubber outsole. These shoes are a mashup of a classic dress shoe and modern sneaker technology. It's office appropriate and still comfortable for all-day wear.
The first thing I noticed when I unboxed them was how incredibly light they were — lighter than any of the more traditional sneakers on this list. These Zerøgrands are the most comfortable oxfords I've ever worn. They have a responsive EVA foam midsole (like a running shoe would have) and great flexibility due in part to the outsole's deep grooves. They also have a natural storm welt to keep out moisture.
The Wingtip Oxford comes in five colorways, including a striking dark blue. They're available in wide widths, and I found they fit true to size.
Cartoon Baby Shoes
Pros: Incredibly light and comfortable, dressy enough for stricter office dress codes and more formal occasions, available in wider widths
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