Why Ugly Sneakers Are Back: A Theory

Collage by Edith Young. 

Sometimes a trend occurs that is so nonsensically pervasive, you have to dig deep into the mind-trenches to fathom why. Cropped bell-bottom flares, socks over heels and straitjacket-like denim jackets are all styles I’ve recently battled to comprehend before mentally discarding. Then dad sneakers happened and I had a searing moment of: What. The. Fuck?

Chunky, grubby and unflattering, they are the ultimate 80s movie nerd shoes — and yet “everyone” is wearing them. Balenciaga’s much-hyped Triple S sneaks, described on one comment forum as “an old ass pair of shoes my mum keeps in the garage,” will run you close to $800, keep selling out online and have been ripped off by Zara.

Like so many street style trends, the grotty-hued New Balance revival happened at Copenhagen Fashion Week in August. I spotted them on such style soothsayers as Caroline Brasch-Nielsen and Pernille Teisbaek. That same week I spied my new Instagram preoccupation, the Danish stylist Emili Sindlev, wearing lilac-colored Nike Air Max sneakers with striped socks and a checked dress. But why? Why suddenly, after we all agreed to put normcore to bed, have these dad sneakers come back?


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It has almost become a trope to discuss fashion’s art-like ability to offer a reprieve from weighty political and global turmoil — and yet, I believe this to be true. Fashion raises us up, but it also anchors us down and holds us firm. Could dad trainers (considered “fashion” if Balenciaga, Dior and Vetements say so) have the very literal effect of stabilizing us amid chaos?

#LeilaEmineLundsten #MilanFashionWeek #SS18 #StreetStyle #Sunglasses #Sneakers #Balenciaga #GildaAmbrosio #NoFreePhotos

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Comfortable clothing, as you’re well aware, has built momentum over the last few years. Circa 2014, newly fascinated by the acceptance of leggings and sneakers into common sartorial parlance, we anointed the trend “athleisure.” Next, athleisure went highbrow. (Think Yeezy‘s elevation of shapewear into bonafide high fashion.) All the while, I’ve remained skeptical; I don’t believe fashion should be uncomfortable, but I do believe that clothes should be beautiful.

Until now. The advent of dad sneakers proves we’ve reached a truly balanced view of fashion. We understand that the architectural and the mundane (read: comfortable) can be combined without censure, to a point where we are no longer fetishizing “the basic” in a way that feels contrived. Sure, it has become au courant to wear a suit with a pair of sneakers; and sure, Balenciaga’s sneakers are inevitably having a moment that will date. But the dad sneaker offers an insight into our centrist views toward extremism. We want to feel grounded.

The Big Apple face 🍎#NYFW Photo: @styledumonde #emilisindlev

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I’m not going to say that heels are out, or that never again will women desire to be trussed up. That’s just wrong — look at the continuing success of Balmain and Saint Laurent. But there is something to be said for allowing our wardrobes to hold both the aesthetically pleasing and the doggedly unflattering.

What the dad sneaker says, is: here are my feet, flat on the ground, sheathed in a color of zero notoriety. Their nondescript-ness is honest, transparent, even. If you follow the metaphor, it might say quite a lot about finding our place in the world. And when you think about it, there’s never been anything less scary than feeling rooted.

Pandora Sykes

Pandora Sykes

Pandora Sykes is a contributing editor at Man Repeller, freelance journalist, stylist and consultant of She is also the co-host of the weekly news/pop-culture podcast The High Low. Follow her on Twitter @pinsykes @thehighlowshow and Instagram @pandorasykes.

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