With trainers’ stranglehold on modern menswear showing no signs of slowing – and almost every fashion house and painfully hip label looking to jump on board – cutting through the noise can prove difficult.
There’s no shame in it – even the most discerning, attentive man is going to miss a few steps – so we’re giving you a cheat sheet of absolute must-haves, the classic kicks that will never go out of style.
Adidas Gazelle Indoor
A summertime favourite of fleet-footed youth since 1968, the Gazelle is an iconic, low-profile silhouette. Its simplicity and lightweight construction instantly endeared it to terrace casuals and eventually the nineties Britpop clique, who – for all their broken septum arrogance, atonal fret hammering and weak singles – had a thing for cracking trainers.
Aside from casual wear, it was also one of the most popular tennis shoes of the 1970s, bringing together on-court performance and clubhouse cool with panache. Its light suede upper gave the whole shoe a craft which beat its competitors out of hand, and its patented translucent gum sole variant has gone on to become a subtle style favourite.
While its close-to-the-ground style has proved tricky for many a well-intentioned dad to get a handle on, it remains an essential purchase, especially if you’re going on holiday. There’s likely no finer trainer to sport with a pair of shorts; its palette of one or two block-colours combined with a timeless gum sole proving the perfect accompaniment to a pair of long-hidden shins.
Much of the sneaker output from the Oregon powerhouse named after the Greek goddess of victory has remained a contentious subject, with Nike dividing trainer fans into two camps based on their focus on the future and the technical.
One shoe whose quality has never been questioned is the Internationalist, first introduced in the 1980s. Originally a good old running shoe designed to sate a burgeoning fitness set that came of age in Reagan’s America, the Internationalist then entered a period of relative hibernation.
Curiously banished to the corners of wardrobes in favour of garish technical models, the Internationalist’s triumphant return some two decades later was rightly met with fanfare by in the know sneakerheads. This is an everyday trainer for blokes who prioritise comfort and style; a secret handshake of a sneaker that implies a certain bit of class.
Cut slightly higher than the Gazelle but still perfect for sunshine outings, its cushioned inner and suede, mesh and nylon construction has helped introduce the silhouette to a whole new generation. Now co-opted by US brand J.Crew, who’ve secured exclusive colourways and tempered the Internationalist’s old-school runner aesthetic with comfortable denim and knit socks, we couldn’t be happier to see it back in action.
New Balance 998
While the Massachusetts-born brand might be intrinsically linked with images of unfashionable jogging trainers and America’s taupe slack-wearing yachting classes, New Balance’s meteoric rise to the pinnacle of hypebeast fetishism has been helped, in no small part, by the 998 – the veritable jewel in NB’s crown.
While they could be deemed a little ungainly for some, this tall, imposing sneaker is duvet-soft and comes in a deadly arsenal of standout hues. Deft blocks of outersole are given over to flashes of colour, offsetting a luxe upper bearing shades carefully selected to turn heads. It’s a beacon of original, personal style: a comfortable favourite for those who like to stand out, but in a tasteful way.
While its price tag hasn’t shaken off the shackles of its sweater-shouldered predecessors, it’s perfect for those who are seeking a statement trainer. Sod gaudy metallic wings and Rick Owens moon boots, team a bright pair of these with a simple, understated outfit to stand head and shoulders above your clueless peers.
Adidas Stan Smith
Forget ageless beat imp Pharrell and his infinite colourways cluttering up your timeline, the Stan Smiths’ recent high street revival has done nothing to stem its favour with the trainer cognoscenti.
Despite being named for legendary American tennis player Stan Smith, you probably shouldn’t wear these for the court. Notoriously fond of ‘crinkling’ on the toe when bending, this shoe’s strictly for civilian use, but what a shoe it is: a beautiful canvas of a trainer that complements every outfit. It even allows for its wearer to pair it with a modern, tailored suit without looking like Paul McCartney or his clueless Dorian Gray brethren.
First brought to life in 1963 as the adidas Haillet in honour of another legendary racket-swinger, stylish Frenchman Robert Haillet, this world-renowned style became the signature shoe of Smith eight years later when Haillet retired.
The Three-Stripers’ biggest selling trainer, its ultra-minimalist look became an instant hit, but adidas couldn’t decide what to call it. For years the trainer was left bearing both Stan’s face and Haillet’s name, until the brand finally plumped for an all-Smith pump in 1978.
These days, the shoe’s iconic green and white colourway is ubiquitous but its beauty remains. Still decking out the feet of menswear’s most understated denizens; still able to slot into a wide variety of looks with ease.
Reebok Classic Leather
At the end of the day, if we’re talking white trainers and we’re talking leather, we’re talking about Reebok Classic. They’re often referred to just as ‘Classics’ for a reason.
Bolton brand Reebok has seen some stunning silhouettes come out of its design team, but perhaps none so enduring as the Classic. Sporting barely a wrinkle since its 1983 introduction, it was initially an instant favourite for the gym set, and the white leather upper and gum sole combination was beloved in garage and urban London circles too, nearly a decade and a half later.
Thankfully responding well to a good wipe clean, the Classic evokes trainers and trackies, Grown ‘N’ Sexy dress codes and well-heeled casuals with equal aplomb.
You might think: “Who needs all of these white trainers?” But that’s a question you’ll likely not ask once the white leather takes on a life of its own, gaining character with each and every wash.
Too often written off as just one for 5-a-side lads, the Samba’s resurgence has gone full tilt after a few decades bubbling under popular consciousness as ‘just’ a cult choice for football fans.
Now you’re as likely to see a Samba on the streets of Berlin as on the AstroTurf; a dark gum sole lying underneath a neat, well-structured toe and three white, serrated stripes, which, incidentally, look on-point with a pair of jeans.
While they’ve shed some of the football functionality, it’s still what lies at the heart of the shoe. Break these out on the football pitch and heads will turn – even if you are totally rubbish with the ball at your feet. The Samba’s effortless cool suggests a certain nous that’ll see you bumped up the rankings when it comes to picking teams.
Plus, they’re comfortable, like a beefed-up Gazelle, equally ready to do battle in a fifty-fifty tackle or a meeting (depending on what line of business you’re in).
Please don’t slide tackle anyone in a meeting, though. That would be bad.
Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star Hi
For all the white sneaker evangelism, here’s one you should always wear in navy or black. And always a hi-top style, too.
The Chuck Taylor is underrated as a shoe because the low-top has been so ubiquitous with people who simply don’t understand what style is about. They just look wrong: the Chuck should always be a basketball shoe for skaters, not a low-pro pump for no-marks.
Immortalised in film, magazines, and so many music videos that we’ve completely lost count, it still keeps pace with the pack despite rapidly approaching its hundred-year birthday.
Complementing any outfit that isn’t a suit (hey there, Paul McCartney – stop ruining things) with a classic, old-school cool, what this trainer lacks in comfort, it more than makes up for in instant, understated finesse.
Adidas City Marathon PT
Possibly the most under-appreciated shoe in the adi pantheon is the City Marathon.
Sadly lacking a sporting or cultural legacy to match some of its better loved relatives, the City takes a bunch of the things that make adidas’ greatest shoes brilliant and puts them together with admirable taste.
Somehow managing to combine a suede and mesh upper with serrated stripes, a leather heel, a velcro tongue, lace eyelets, more suede on the instep, and a patented Dellinger Web midsole – all while retaining a sense of simplicity – little is known about the actual history of the shoe.
Well, aside from the charming (read: ‘alleged’) story of its recent release – the current form was discovered as a long-forgotten prototype in the attic of a former adidas technical director in Berlin. Or so they say.
The Berlin iteration of the City Marathon is possibly the coolest: an especially wearable mix of gunmetal grey, teal and light blue, sporting – as always – 42.195 (kilometres, as in the official length of a marathon) on the heel.
It can be easy to get caught up in the heady world of latest drops, unique colourways and supposedly envelope-pushing design, but trainers are – at their most basic – everyday footwear that should be built to last.
This season’s hottest must-have drop might end up being one of those things you look back on like “What the hell was I thinking?” in a year or so, but nobody ever thought that about the classic models showcased above.
Do you go for ‘fashion’ trainers or prefer to keep it simple? Are we spot on or did we pass up your favourite? Do you think this whole ‘everyone loves trainers’ lark is just a passing fad or here to stay?
Let us know by commenting below.