When Christopher Tennant, the editor of the magazine Man of the World, met up with his future in-laws a few months ago at JoJo, an Upper East Side restaurant, he wore a navy blazer from Barneys New York, olive slacks and — what else? — a pair of sneakers by Common Projects.
“I always wear sneakers,” he said.
When Jian DeLeon, the deputy style editor at Complex magazine, went to the ballet last month, he paired a plaid suit with white sneakers by the Amsterdam brand ETQ, which he said feel “just as luxe as a pair of oxfords, and are 10 times more comfortable.”
And when Tyler Thoreson, the head of men’s editorial for Gilt Groupe, appeared recently on NBC’s “Today” to talk fashion, he wore a custom blue suit, a white dress shirt and navy blue sneakers, also by Common Projects. His wardrobe has become so sneaker-centric, he said, that “when I put a suit on, I have to think twice: ‘Oh, maybe I’ll mix it up and throw on my wingtips today.’ ”
The once ungentlemanly sneaker, it seems, has undergone a fashion baptism. The distinction between dress and athletic shoes is on the verge of collapse for fashion-forward men, as the humble gym shoe has outgrown its youth-culture/streetwear origins to become a fashion accessory, as well as a staple on runways, red carpets and in the workplace, where it is no longer considered the height of quirk to wear them with a suit.
The boundaries of acceptability in casual footwear are shifting so quickly that Cary Grant himself, if he were to rise from the dead, would hardly look out of place with a pair of Adidas Stan Smiths poking from the cuffs of his glen-check Kilgour suit.
“At some point in the last two years, all the guys being photographed by The Sartorialist and Tommy Ton went from wearing Alden boots and double monk-strap shoes to Nike Roshes and retro New Balances,” said Brad Bennett, who runs the men’s style blog Well Spent. “It was almost as though some decree had been handed down by New York City’s fashion elite.”
Valerie Steele, the director and chief curator of the Fashion Institute of Technology museum, sees a cultural shift in how men dress, as when the hat-resistant John F. Kennedy inspired a generation to lose the fedoras.
“The fact that such a large percentage of men have made a determined effort to make sneakers their primary footwear, or even their only footwear choice is really comparable to men giving up hats in the ’60s,” Ms. Steele said.
The rise of sneakerdom is perhaps most obvious in the modern American office, where sneakers are not just acceptable but, in some places, de rigueur. This is particularly true in creative and web-based industries, where sneakers are part of the modern man’s uniform.
“You have guys like Jack Dorsey, guys like myself, that are in their mid-30s that are running companies,” said Jon Buscemi of the fashion label Buscemi, referring to the Twitter co-founder. “I don’t want to wear a pair of uncomfortable shoes by Alden or John Lobb all day.”
With their historic ties to teen culture and hip-hop, sneakers connote youth and, in the context of the workplace, they are a swashbuckling statement that says: “I’m the new breed. I’m nimble afoot. I’m ready for revolution.”