With 2020 “put on hold”, many of us have taken this time to make some personal advances. We've beefed up our recipe repertoires. We've faithfully converted to calisthenics. We've cleaned every square inch of our homes (or at least the parts that show during Zoom meetings). And now, as summer approaches and we look ahead to our eventual return to public life, it’s time to advance our sneaker game.
If it’s true that shoes are the first thing people notice, this might go double for sneakers. For so long, the sneaker game has been about futuristic flash, garish colorways, and “out-accenting” the next guy. But now that sneakers have entered the more refined arena of smart-casual, the game has changed. While your father may have only rocked his Adidas on the weekends, for our generation, suiting up with a pair of fresh Stan Smiths has practically become de rigeur.
There’s nothing like sneakers that add a casual pop, giving life to even the most buttoned-up of getups – but therein is the untold challenge of selecting a great summer sneaker: with the neutral hues and understated style of more mature footwear, can you still add that “pop”?
The answer is yes, and here are 18 sporty stand-outs that do just that:
Frye Ludlow Leather Bal Oxford Sneaker
This sneaker – in the refined plain-toe style of classic Oxfords – is low-key in its uniqueness. They're designed to be worn with or without laces, allowing you to dial the casual up or down. The rich goat leather is “pull-up” (a finishing technique involving oil or wax), which gives this shoe its roguish two-tone effect. The subtle off-white of the sole lends to a more mature overall look (although the black option comes in an equally versatile and attractive gum sole). There's a reason this shoe got featured in our endorsement of the brown leather sneaker.
Greats Royale Knit
Every year, 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans. Greats is a brand that is helping address this problem by making their shoes from yarn spun from recycled single-use and ocean plastics. The Royale Knit, their best selling design, combines the lightweight breathability of a running shoe with the class of a luxury sneaker – so you can save the ocean in style.
As a company that offsets 100% of emissions from manufacturing, Everlane offers yet another opportunity to reduce your carbon footprint with, well, a shoe. Their monochrome trainer boasts materials that are both high quality and sustainable – the upper is made of full-grain leather from a gold-certified tannery, the durable sole is made from a blend of natural and recycled rubber, and the suede texture contrast offers a touch of sophistication.
The original Chuck Taylor All-Star is an iconic progenitor of the modern sneaker, first appearing over a century ago. The Chuck 70 is a tribute to the classic Converse design of the 1970s, a time when basketball shoe design was dominated by a minimalist aesthetic – one that is obviously alive and well in the fashion world today. Earn a rugged patina on the canvas upper by letting your Chucks get naturally darker from dust and time. Simplicity endures.
SeaVees Mariner Boot
Inspired by the rugged “coral creepers” worn by Naval sea cadets in the 1960s, the SeaVees Mariner Boot is designed to keep you both dry and comfortable, not to mention handsome. A waterproof suede upper with a gusseted tongue prevents dirt and water from entering these boots, even if it seeps through the antique brass eyelets. Extra foxing (reinforcing where the sole meets the upper) generously overlaps the shoe for more robust protection.
Vans Canvas Destruct SF
Vans describes this as a collaboration of their athletes and designers, for the “explorative surfer”. The Canvas Destruct SF boasts some of their most updated performance features (“Ultracush” midsole, all-terrain traction), all of which come in the form of a timeless low-profile sneaker. Relaxed boardwalk style with action-ready functionality.
Vans Old Skool
The Old Skool of course bears the iconic breezy Vans sidestripe we all know and love. Padded collars lend comfy support, waffle outsoles made from pure crepe rubber combine flexibility with durability, and the toe caps are reinforced for even greater longevity.
Comfortable and cozy in both feel and look, Tretorn brings Scandinavian “hygge” to footwear with their signature sneaker, the Nyliteplus. Swedish minimalism isn’t just for your living room – the clean, calm lines of Tretorn’s flagship silhouette makes this a perennial style winner. The “Ortholite” sockliner made of durable eco-friendly foam (whose open-cell structure aids in moisture control) offers a nice little amenity.
Nike Blazer ’77
1972 saw the debut of the Blazer, one of Nike’s first ever basketball shoes – and their first shoe to feature the Nike logo. Sure, smart casual tends to eschew big logos, but the swoosh isn’t crass – it’s culture. Elevate your summer style with this modern take on a ground-breaking classic. An extra touch to appreciate: the outsole has been finished with a vintage treatment which adds to this sneaker's old-school charm.
SeaVees Magnum Hawthorne
These laid-back slip-ons are inspired by the floral prints worn by the eponymous private eye on “Magnum P.I.”, the hit TV series that starred a swarthy 1980s Tom Selleck catching bad guys on the north shore of Oahu while sporting Hawaiian shirts. To create these limited edition sneakers, SeaVees collaborated with the legendary Hoffman California Fabrics, notorious for their cool coastal California prints.
Camper Nothing Sneakers
Camper (Catalan for “farmer”) was founded in Spain over forty years ago, and ever since, blurring the boundaries of smart and sporty has been their footwear M.O. Their “Nothing” sneakers are an athletic interplay of suede, leather, mesh, and neutral tones. Add a touch of future-wear swag by pairing these with your best casual wear on a summer date – or just look really good at the dog park.
Swedish minimalism for the win – again. Tretorn’s stylish update to the classic “match” sneaker of tennis heritage keeps you cool with its all-over breathable mesh material. The Tournet also scores extra comfort points with its signature massage footbed. Less is more.
Vans for J. Crew
Born from the beach/street/sporting culture of Southern California, Vans recreates the lace-ups that have been famous for over half a century in their exclusive collaboration with J. Crew – but this time, with a couple exclusive specifications: washed canvas for a vintage look, and accented by hiking-boot laces.
Vince Fairfax Slip-On
Patrik Ervell, the new award-winning designer for Vince, called their look “the most essential, most elevated version” of the “high classic California aesthetic”. Though this style is understated, its influence is anything but; west-coast ease-of-dress has taken over even the most urbane New York closet. A stylish embodiment of that cultured-yet-chill look, this slip-on features a luxurious suede just as inviting as its dual side goring (elasticized strips to give a little stretch). Clean-cut nonchalance doesn’t get easier than this.
Koio Capri Fiore
The first thing you’ll notice about this neutral statement of a sneaker is the pleasing earth-tone pink, which beckons you to look closer – and once you do, its monochrome simplicity showcases first-rate Italian construction and the buttery-soft luster of Vitello calfskin leather. The suede accent heel offers more than a texture contrast, revealing the true depth of this unique color, which you’ll be even more pleased to discover is quite versatile when worn with the neutrals, solids, and modest patterns Primer endorses in the summertime.
Nothing New High Top
Nothing New lives up to its name by using 100% recycled materials. If there's anything new involved at all here, it’s new technology – these innovative shoes are made with components like high tensile strength fibers, post-industrial recycled fishing nets, and “Better Canvas” fabricated sustainably from post-consumer plastics. Truly bettering the high top to its full potential, Nothing New has effectively done to the classic canvas sneaker what luxury brand Common Projects did to the court sneaker. One man’s trash is another man’s favorite sneaker.
Clarks Un Costa
In our hunt for the perfect summer sneaker, we’d be remiss to not include a good old pair of Clarks. Even with their latest innovations, this longstanding and storied British company always seems to hearken to their simple Somerset roots. The Un Costa sneaker hits a bullseye at the crosshairs of suave and sporty, particularly in stone nubuck. If James Bond had a day off, this is probably what he’d wear.
For the worldly and conscientious weekender. Veja offers a good value for their high-quality materials (organically tanned calfskin, natural rubber), even when sustainably priced to promote humane, fair-trade practices. An ecologically and economically responsible sneaker, these sporty kicks allow you to make a social impact as well as a sartorial one.