Casual and Athletic-Inspired Men’s Footwear Took Top Billing at Project Sole New York

This fall, men can look forward to another season of casual, comfortable footwear. Athletic-inspired styles and hybrid-casuals dominated this week’s Project Sole New York show, with specialty stores from Memphis to Montreal adding them to their shopping lists.

“We’re getting away from dress to lifestyle looks,” said Christian Jones, president of Christian T. Jones in Santa Clarita, Calif., which operates shoe departments in better men’s specialty stores. “The dress shoe business has fallen off. Color and lifestyle footwear is selling.”

At Oxford Street in Plano, Texas, a dress shoe destination, owner Howard Khalil is also expanding his offering of casuals and athletic-influenced looks. “While I’m well known for my dress shoes,” he said, “I’m adding leather sneakers from brands including Magnanni, Moreschi and Mezlan.”

Athletic looks are also taking top billing at Lansky Brothers in Memphis, Tenn. “Sneakers are killing everything,” according to owner Hal Lansky, ”We’re going to town with them for both men and women. It’s a game breaker. There are no set rules [anymore],” noting men are wearing athletic looks with formal suits to business-casual looks.

Alexandre Fabi, owner of Valeri Simon Hommes in Montreal, is also moving away from traditional dress looks in favor of more casual styles. “It’s not a sneaker, but a good leather shoe to wear with jackets and jeans,” he explained, citing loafers on white bottoms. “The customer doesn’t want to look too dressy.”

Like Fabi, Jen Cardwell, men’s buyer at Lee Newman in Cherry Hill, N.J., said dress shoes were taking a back seat to athleisure footwear. “Dressy sneakers go from day to night,” she said, adding to a shoe’s versatility. And while she hasn’t walked away from her dress shoe business entirely, Cardwell has been adding rubber bottoms to more formal looks. “Men want to wear them with denim,” she explained. “They’re more comfortable and versatile.”

A hybrid dress-casual cap-toe style by Armin Oehler.
CREDIT: GEORGE CHINSEE

Rubber soles on classic looks from classic footwear brands such as Alden and Paraboot are also an important category for Sara Brown, partner in David Wood Clothiers, Portland, Maine, recognized for its offering of custom tailored clothing. Although these looks call for dressier footwear, she said, “Traditional leather soles are not selling. Men are wearing sport coats with [shoes] on commando [lug] soles.”

Christopher Gumbs, sales director for Drake’s, a shirt and tie manufacturer with stores in New York and London, agreed guys are more likely to opt for rubber soles on their dressier footwear, a trend he was addressing from brands such as Alden and Paraboot.

Focca Nero sneaker on matching sole.
CREDIT: GEORGE CHINSEE

While men are continuing to add more casual, comfortable footwear to their wardrobes, Michael Fredrickson, owner of Michael Allen’s in Portland, Ore., is holding on to his dress shoe business. “Everyone’s carrying athletics and it’s now hard to find dress shoes,” he said, explaining customers for his custom-clothing business still require dressier footwear. “Younger guys are dressing up and wearing tailored clothing. They still want a neat dress shoe.”

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