Sneakers: Where Can't They Go?

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

If sneakers have cracked the rarefied world of couture, where can’t they go?

High heels have been coming down from their platformed heights for a while now, and this spring they truly hit the ground. Sneakers are everywhere (including, most provocatively, the Chanel spring couture and fall ready-to-wear shows, where Karl Lagerfeld showed every single look with sneakers). A quick scroll through the street-style blogs yields scores of shots of fashionable women looking confident and cool in their high-tech trainers and multicolor mash-ups. Does that mean it’s OK to wear sneakers at work? At parties? Is this the slippery slope of casualness, or can you wear sneakers stylishly?

Eva Chen, editor of Lucky, was happily wearing sneakers when reached at her office at Condé Nast. “If you’re a partner at a law firm, maybe you don’t wear your Mother of Pearl beaded, striped, spangled sneakers,” she allowed. “Maybe you save those for your boyfriend jeans and favorite sweatshirt.”

Sarah Easley, an owner of Kirna Zabête, the SoHo outpost of daring design, draws the line only at sneakers after dark. “Let’s not be greedy and take it after 6,” she said. Sneakers have been embraced in a big way at Kirna Zabête, where 10 percent of its spring shoes have rubber on them.

“This is a trend that works,” Easley said. “Real women, going real places with things to do in a hurry.”

Let’s be clear: We’re not talking about your gym shoes — they must be “box fresh,” as sneakerheads like to say. And even the coolest aren’t for everyone — detractors like to regard them as an overly strenuous grab at youth — nor are they necessarily right for every occasion.

But who’s to say you can’t wear the right sneakers to an evening event? The fashion consultant Roopal Patel recalls that in a recent street-style photo, Veronika Heilbrunner, senior fashion editor of the influential MyTheresa e-commerce site, wore a Valentino lace evening skirt with a pair of white high-tops.

“It was vary daring,” Patel said. “Like, wouldn’t you wear a proper heel with that? She mixed it up, and the sneakers gave the lace skirt and the whole look a lot of character.”

And it’s in the air. Sporty evening dresses abound. Imagine a Prabal Gurung minidress (or, perhaps, a print from Mary Katrantzou, Peter Pilotto or Preen) with pointy-toe Miu Miu sneakers. On a bright young thing, the look would be instant bait for Street Peeper.

Yet unlike so much voguish fashion, sneakers are a welcoming try-this-at-home trend. A woman in her 40s or 50s can wear exotic-skinned Vans-style skate shoes with, say, cropped pants and an oversize sweater, and look chic.

For many women, the wedge sneakers of Isabel Marant and the many variations that followed were the gateway shoe for those who, for the most part, wore sneakers only to the gym. Two years in, wedges have lost their cool, but sneakers of all stripes appear more accessible than ever. They’re easily compatible with the new skirts that hit between the knee and the ankle, with skirts with asymmetrical hems, and with those swingy knife-pleat skirts that everyone from Proenza Schouler to Zara offered up for spring.

“Floaty skirts are a nice mood match with the sporty sneaker,” Easley said encouragingly.

Whether you choose heels or sneakers is a matter of mood, and circumstance. Chen said again: “If you’re wearing an A-line skirt and a button-down shirt with sneakers, it’s kind of quirky, it’s downtown — you’re being a little irreverent. If you wear it with pointy-toed pumps or a 3-inch heel, it’s more professional, polished, ready for a meeting. And both work, depending on what’s right for you.”

So are happy feet here to stay? It won’t be easy to go up 3 or 4 inches again. Still, as the fashion truism might go, what goes down must eventually go up. Savor the moment, but don’t get too comfortable.