When entering the job market, I reconsider the essential of white sneakers. I love the comfort and universality of my white Converse and Air Force 1s, but is it time to ditch their deceptive maintenance nature in favor of something more formal? If I wear sneakers, will people take me seriously? —Sophie, Washington, D.C.
It’s a good question. Recently, during episode 5 of the final season of “Succession”, Shiv Roy fires her ex-husband, Tom, by rejecting the shiny white sneakers he chose to wear during an off-site transaction, saying “That’s why people don’t take you seriously.
He made to hit the TV. But in the real world, is she right?
Consider the fact that Bryce Young recently took his place on the NFL Draft scene as the No. 1 pick in a pink Dior suit and white kicks and looked all the cooler for them. Or that filmmaker Chloé Zhao wore white Hermès sneakers with her dress when she won an Oscar in 2021. Once you start thinking about white sneakers, you start seeing them everywhere. Which suggests that the right decision is not to abandon them but to consider, perhaps, exactly what they mean to you.
British Esquire called the white sneaker “a blank canvas on which any modern look can be built.” Harper’s Bazaar sang, “The best white sneakers can do it all.”
Fact is, more than 100 years after Keds introduced its white sneaker, nearly 90 years since Chuck Taylor popularized the style with Converse, and more than half a century since Stan Smith changed the game – and at amidst all the crazy color chaos of endless sneaker culture mutation — white sneakers remain the Platonic ideal of a shoe: timeless, versatile, comfortable. They suggest walking on clouds. They are normcore at most.
But because they go with just about everything – maxis and minis, suits, khakis and blazers – how you wear them matters.
As part of an everyday uniform, they serve as a generic punctuation mark, a subconscious suggestion of both practicality (easy to wear) and attention to detail (if you keep them clean). As a counterpoint to a more serious outfit, like a tuxedo or pantsuit, they offer a bit of energy and bounce. Associated with a fluid dress (maxi or mini), they add a little power and pep. Material is important: leather is more formal; more casual canvas. The appeal is in the contrast – and the key is the condition of the shoe.
Because it’s all based on the assumption and the need for maintenance. Just like leather shoes need shoe polish, white sneakers need bleach. As with any type of shoe, scuffs and worn soles may also reflect the idea that you are worn out. White sneakers require care and attention, like any wardrobe basic. They may be obvious to begin with, but then they require some psychological investment. This is the enigma and the promise – the art – of the shoe.
Answers to your style questions
Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion question, which you can send her anytime via E-mail Or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.