Is It Time to Give Up on My White Sneakers?

It’s a good question. Recently, during Episode 5 of the final season of “Succession,” Shiv Roy dismisses her estranged husband, Tom, by dismissing the shiny white sneakers he chose to wear to a deal-making off-site, saying: “This is why people don’t take you seriously.”

It made for striking TV. But in the real world, is she right?

Consider the fact that Bryce Young recently took his place on the N.F.L. draft stage as the No. 1 pick in a pink Dior suit and white kicks and looked all the cooler for them. Or that the filmmaker Chloé Zhao wore Hermès white sneakers with her gown when she won an Oscar back in 2021. Once you start thinking about white sneakers, you start seeing them everywhere. Which suggests that the right move is not to abandon them but to consider, perhaps, exactly what they mean to you.

British Esquire called the white sneaker “the blank canvas upon which any modern look can be built.” Harper’s Bazaar crowed, “The best white sneakers can do it all.”

The fact is, more than 100 years after Keds introduced its white sneaker, almost 90 years since Chuck Taylor popularized the style with Converse and more than half a century since Stan Smith changed the game — and amid all the color-crazed mayhem of endlessly mutating sneaker culture — white sneakers remain the Platonic ideal of a shoe: eternal, versatile, comfortable. They suggest walking on clouds. They are normcore to the max.

But because they go with pretty much everything — maxi-dresses and minidresses, suits, khakis and blazers — how you wear them matters.

As part of a daily 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 trouser suit, they offer a bit of energy and bounce. Paired with a floaty dress (maxi or mini), they add a bit of power and oomph. Material matters: Leather is more formal; canvas more casual. The appeal is in the contrast — and the key is the state of the shoe.

Because all of this is predicated on the assumption and necessity of maintenance. Just as leather shoes need polish, white sneakers need bleach. As with any kind of footwear, scuffs and worn-out soles can reflect the idea you are worn out, too. White sneakers demand care and attention, just like any wardrobe basic. They may be a no-brainer to start with, but then they demand a certain psychological investment. That’s the riddle and promise — the art — of the shoe.

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.

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