Sneakers Are the Most Popular Shoe Style for Men at Work and at Play, According to Specialty Stores

While the European runways have signaled a return to formal footwear, men are still loading up on casual looks, according to specialty store retailers shopping last week’s Project/Mrket show in New York.

At the Haberdashery in Forty Fort, Pa., co-owner Zachary Graham continues to put the focus on sneakers for fall ’19. He will be emphasizing styles with darker, neutral soles for a more polished look.

Andrew Oman, executive buyer for Mr. Sid in New Center, Mass., said he is shifting away from flat, low-profile looks and ordering more running styles. “They’re less old-school and more sophisticated versions of training sneakers,” Oman said.

Athleisure still dominates many buyers’ shopping lists. Edward Steinberg, president of J. S. Edwards in Baltimore, said he is looking for running-inspired sneakers to footnote classic khakis and jogger pants. “Even if [guys] are not going to the gym, they want to look like they are,” Steinberg explained.

While younger customers have embraced the trend, more mature consumers from 40 to 60 are just discovering it. “They’re [realizing] this is a cool way to go to work.”

Bethany Triplett, buyer for The Shirt Shop in Tuscaloosa, Ala., agreed that the younger customers are opting for comfortable, easy-to-wear looks they can dress up or down. However, she’s hoping to encourage the store’s older consumers to embrace the athletic trend. “Kids are innovative, and sneakers are now widely accepted,” she noted.

Running footwear brand On, which was exhibiting at the show for the first time, was on Triplett’s buying list. According to Olivia Ragan, public relations manager for the Switzerland-based brand, it decided to exhibit at the show in response to interest by retailers outside the core athletic market. “Performance running will always be in our DNA, but why not sell in more fashion doors?”

Increased interest in athletic looks also brought Californian skate label És to the show for the first time. “Lifestyle accounts outside the skate [community] were approaching us,” said Don Brown, head of sales, noting growing interest in its signature chunky-style silhouette — a throwback to the ’90s that’s been adapted by high-fashion brands such as Gucci. “We’re [now] expanding the depth of the brand.”

On men fall '19
A lifestyle running style from On for fall ’19.
CREDIT: George Chinsee

Although sneakers are still reigning at retail, not all men are on board.

John Blackmore, clothing solutions specialist at Robert Simmonds in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, is shopping for more classic silhouettes that can be elevated or made more casual. “It’s the in-between shoe,” he said, referring to chukkas and Chelsea boots from brands including Ron White and Allen Edmonds.

“They’re sturdy style with more [bottom] tread, done in suede and nubuck,” he said. While Ben Belton, owner of Benjamin’s in Morganton, N.C., continues to sell dressier shoes on rubber bottoms, he sees sneakers dominating. “It’s pretty obvious what most people are looking for,” he said.

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