Q: Hi. I like old school Nikes (Jordans), Asics, Adidas and so on. Is it MB to be a sneakerhead? I assumed it wasn't. Am I correct? —Richard
To paraphrase Craig Finn, certain brands they get so scratched into our souls. And when we really start thinking about it — and we have been, because of your question — we realize that many of the brands that have been scratched into our souls (and, yes, soles) deepest and longest are sneaker brands.
It's possible we were introduced to McDonald's, Mars, Inc., and Coca Cola earlier than we were introduced to Puma, Adidas, Pony, and Converse. These days, however, we go years without a Big Mac, months without a Snickers bar, and sometimes even a week without a Coke. Whereas we believe that there is probably no 72-hour period over the course of our post-toddler lives where we have not worn one of the aforementioned brands for at least a couple hours.
And of course those brands have company in our overall collections — a quick assessment of our three nearest closets nets approximately 140 pairs of sneakers from roughly 30-plus brands, with heavy emphasis on Golden Goose, Tod's, Diemme, and Maison Margiela.
That said, we've never owned a pair of Air Jordans, much less cleaned them with a toothbrush. So are we sneakerheads?
As we understand the term, sneakerheads seem to focus on (a) shoes that NBA superstars and other professional athletes might credibly wear in regulation play, (b) shoes that Captain America might go jogging in, or (c) shoes that Marc Benioff might wear while delivering a keynote address at Dreamforce.
While we can embrace option (a) in limited contexts — we're not going to play tennis in our Maison Margielas — options (b) and (c) don't appeal to us under any scenario. Instead, we stick to vaguely businified sneakers — i.e., sneakers we could wear to work without, as we've said in the past about sweatpants, making our colleagues wonder if we're about to dunk on them.
In the end, we think the best way to express our thoughts on this is a Venn diagram:
Have we hit peak talus yet? Not by a longshot. Until we see Marco Rubio hugging a windmill, we expect that exposed ankles will continue to exist as both fashion trend and climate change mitigation strategy. These days, the look is so widespread that even designer no-show socks exist — which, if you think about it, is even more oxymoronic than "clean coal" or "gas-sipping SUV." If people can see that you're wearing Paul Smith no-show socks, your no-show socks are broken!
We first endorsed exposed ankles back in 2008, when the Keeling Curve was still safely in the 380s. Ever since, we've been on an epic quest to find the perfect no-show socks. We've invested countless hours, spent more than a few dollars, and emitted a lot of carbon by commanding Banana Republic, J. Crew, Saks Fifth Avenue, Falke, Urban Outfitters, and Mocc Socks to bring us new specimens by ship, plane, and FedEx truck. But we've finally found a no-show sock we're ready to settle down with: the Converse Chuck Sock.
Why do we love this sock? Three reasons. One, they stay on the best. Two, they're thicker than all other no-show socks, which tend to be nearly as thin as pantyhose. (We don't want no-show pantyhose. We want no-show socks.) Three, they're the cheapest no-show socks we've found. (A few years ago, this wouldn't have mattered to us so much. But now that a significant portion of our clothing budget is devoted to producing clothes rather than buying them, we take advantage of opportunities to economize if they present themselves.)
So there you have it. Our quest for the perfect no-show sock is over. On a related note, however, our quest for the perfect white t-shirt persists. (Sorry, environment!)
POST-SCRIPT: Our contest where you can win a free pair of the spring's best luxury slip-on — the Hydrogen-1 Neptunian — is ending tomorrow (May 15)! Enter now, and make sure to have a pair of Chuck Socks on-hand to immediately celebrate your victory if you're the lucky winner.
Q: Hey MB: Headed to Miami and Key West next week and need footwear for the beach and pool. That sounds easy but I struggle with open-toe and also need arch support. I've tried OluKai, Sanuk, and I am embarrassed to say, Teva. None have worked out. Any ideas? —John
A: A Google search for "stylish orthopedic closed toe sandals" returns zero results.
But we have a couple of suggestions.
First, try to find a pair of Converse All-Star Chuck It mesh slip-ons on eBay. Arguably Converse's greatest contribution to footwear since the All-Star high-top in 1917, these are our all-time favorite beach/pool shoes. Sporty, light, submersible as a Triton 100, quick-drying, comfortable, and oddly enough, boasting better arch support than the traditional All-Stars provide. Unfortunately, Converse hasn't produced them since 2010, which is why you'll have to hunt for new old stock on eBay.
Second, since you're headed to Florida but stressing over arch support, we assume you're not going there for Spring Break — you sound like someone who is probably a little more seasoned than a college student, and presumably a little more well-heeled (and simultaneously weak-arched). So we think you probably have the means to invest in these Prada espadrille sneakers. While you won't be able to swim in them, they've got an insert, so are far more comfortable than most espadrilles that are set on a flat jute slab. And they will give you all the support your arches need no matter how heated things get on the shuffleboard court. Enjoy your vacation!
Q: Boat shoes. I can't stand 'em. And I've always refused to have anything to do with them. That policy has worked fine up until now, since I've been comfortably ensconced on dry land. But now I'm going on a week-long yacht trip in the Mediterranean, and I have no idea what to wear. Is there a practical, non-naff-looking boat shoe substitute out there? —Don
A: While the mind tends to immediately translate the term "boat shoe" into "Sperry Top-Sider" or, more generally, "those brown leather shoes with nautical rigging on the sides," the term is actually more expansive than that, at least in our minds.
A boat shoe is characterized by (a) water-resistance and (b) a non-slip sole.
Paul Sperry, creator of the iconic Sperry Top-Sider, did his most important work tackling the non-slip sole aspect of boat shoes. As the new book Icons of Men's Style recounts, Sperry bought a schooner in the early 1930s but unfortunately found himself slipping all over its deck when it got wet. To solve this problem, he first tried to make the deck less slippery, but eventually he decided it would make more sense to make his shoes more grippy. Drawing inspiration from the grooves on the pads of his cocker spaniel's paws, he created the concept of "siping" and cut grooves into a rubber sole in a herringbone-like pattern. Voila, problem solved, he'd found a shoe that allowed him to keep firm footing on the high seas.
Do you need the rest of the trappings of the Sperry Top-Sider when you leave dry land? JFK spent more time on boats than he ever did in the Oval Office, and while we don't know if he felt as strongly about classic boat shoes as you do, he did eschew them in favor of white canvas tennies. We're not sure how much traction his shoes featured — keep in mind that he was a man who was unusually sure of foot — but here are few models we think he'd endorse:
Finally, please note that JFK was a size 10. If you're anywhere north of that, white shoes can easily look like clown shoes. In this case add some color in the form of these Clae Zissous in Deep Navy, which are what boat shoes would look like if they aspired to be a sneakers.
Q: I'm heading to Europe this summer for a few weeks of tromping around. I need some footwear advice - I'm looking for something that can support LOTS of walking around being on my feet all day, and doesn't scream 'American Toolbag'. Bonus for something that works with pants and shorts, but I'd be willing to get two pairs to cover both ends of summer bottoms. Thoughts? —Peter
A: Peter, a trip to Europe is definitely time to heed Tom Ford's five easy lessons in how to become a modern gentleman and leave the shorts at home. You might not scream "American Toolbag" in them, but unless you're at the beach or in the midst of a 5-setter you definitely scream "American."
Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. For previous questions regarding European travel we've endorsed getting your American on — your feet — and for your excessively ambulant vacation we suggest you get into a pair of Cole Haan Air Mercury lace oxfords.
They don't have the pedigree of some more iconic trailblazers in the casual sneaker field — Chucks, PF Flyers, Tretorn T56s. But if you're doing lots — and especially if you're doing LOTS — of walking, we recommend the Air Mercurys. There's a reason why America embraced car culture so enthusiastically — walking in Chucks can turn your feet into bloody stumps even faster than Jigsaw or Freddie Kreuger can. Go with the Air Mercurys and you should be good for at least 15-mile days if necessary. (The black ones are on sale at colehaan.com for just $59.95).
As for that other pair of shoes you offered to pack, definitely bring along some loafers for after the sun goes down.
2.) Sneakers that you plan to wear with shorts are one item where we give more leeway than we usually do to bright colors, patterns, and logos. Don't go crazy though. If Turtle from Entourage would wear it, you've probably gone too far.
3.) Sticking with white or gray is your best bet for picking a shoe that can work with a wide variety of shorts. (Important note: If you're a size 12 or over, do not go with an all-white shoe unless you're trying to pick up work as a clown at children's birthday parties.)
4.) If you're dying to incorporate red velour into your wardrobe, a pair of sneakers is the only place to do it.
The T56s offer timeless style. Our great-great-great-great-great-grandkids will be wearing these in 2210. In 2010, they're the shoes we reach for when we know the evening's going to involve some furious table tennis action.
"Leave your socks at home," the Superga website enthuses, because the interior of the 2750 feature finished inseams. We like that touch but we're not going to go that far. For all summer sneaker-wearing we recommend the Banana Republic no-show socks.
Williot is a Spanish brand that made its debut in the U.S. market last summer. If you want to look sporty but not athletic -- i.e., you aren't planning to do anything more strenuous than mixing cocktails by the pool -- these are a great choice.
Why are we recommending these Chuck clones and not the real thing? Thanks to the hidden Air Nike technology hidden in the heel, they're one of the few Chuck-style shoes that you can play basketball in and not sentence your feet to a lifetime of Bill Walton-like pain. When your day involves anything more strenuous than a J. Crew photo shoot, wear these.
Designer Seishi Tanaka hand-draws the sketches for the TST line and it shows. This model leans toward the more athletic end of the athleisure shoe spectrum -- we think we could actually play some touch football in it -- but it has an organic quality not found in the hyper-engineered footwear of, say, Nike or Reebok.
If you want to add a Gallic touch to your Fourth of July barbecue, try these sneakers from Jean Paul Gaultier's shoe line, Pataugas. (You can pick up last year's slightly different model at yoox.com for only $89.)
Q: Whilst in search of a new pair of bastardly-casual sneaks, I ran across this new take on a proven classic. Although these Chucks satisfy the principle of natural materials, are they worth the $600 premium? -Nate
A: Nate, creating a handmade, deluxe version of the Chuck Taylor is sort of like going to Las Vegas and spending all your time there in church. It can be done, but why would you do it? The very appeal of the Chuck Taylor derives from its utilitarian, machine-made ... ah, fuck it. Those $600 Opening Ceremony Chuck Taylors are drop-dead gorgeous! And just as we're sure Jesse James derives more pleasure from Sandra Bullock than he does from a club's worth of bargain-bin strippers ... okay, maybe this isn't the best analogy. Still, hand-stitched Chuck Taylors by an Italian-trained designer (Ryusaku Hiruma) in limited editions of 64? Of course you're going to enjoy them more than a dozen pairs of $50 sneakers.
Does Sweden still have an army? Yes, apparently, and according to Wikipedia, it's currently around 2160 soldiers strong. We found a picture and suspect these troops may be doubling as Ikea salespeople, but that's not why we're delving into Swedish military history today.
We're doing so because the Tretorn T56 GTO, a washed leather version of a style that debuted in 1956 as a training shoe for Swedish infantrymen, is on sale at 6PM.com. For just $24 (regularly $80). Meaning you could shod the entire Swedish Army for just for just $51,840!
We don't think you could win a tetherball match in them, much less a war -- comfort-wise, 1956 shoe technology leaves much to be desired. But if you're looking for a "new classic" alternative to the ubiquitous Chuck Taylor, these fill the bill nicely.
UPDATE: That super-deep discount is temporarily suspended; now they're $48 a pair. A decent price, but unless the Swedish Army decides to make a run on them, we're pretty sure they'll be back down to $24 eventually. Hold your fire until then.
Like the Snickers bar and the Belstaff jacket, Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars were a near-perfect design right from the start, requiring only minor tweaking to attain icon status. Then, someone at Converse decided Chucks were essentially Etch-a-Sketches with slightly less arch support, and over the past few years, we've seen their timeless simplicity assaulted more brutally than Sylvester Stallone in the last fifteen minutes of a Rocky flick. Freakish mutations, hideous graphics -- there is no end to the indignities this classic, unassuming shoe has been made to suffer in the name of fashion.
Now, Converse has introduced the Chuck Taylor All-Star Slim line, which, like Michael Jackson's seventh nose job, appears to be a nearly invisible twist on an already unnecessary alternative, the Chuck Taylor All-Star Light. We say enough is enough. Like Liv Tyler, Chucks just look right a little chunky, and we wouldn't have them any other way.
Q: I'm an avid reader... and have to say... you're starting to read my mind. Last night, my wife and I were watching TV -- and saw the belt bug spray fan-thing. I said, I bet the MB would NOT approve of that. She agreed and said it looks like a flea collar. Now, less than 12 hours later, you post something on it. You da man.
Now here's a situation that you're sure to agree with me. I bought these shoes. They have the feel of Crocs (though, I must say I have NEVER owned a pair.) I plan to wear them to the pool, at the beach and when we go whitewater rafting. But the other day, I saw someone wear a pair to the movies. When will toolbags learn? --John
A: John, we may need to graduate you to full-on Vulcan mind-meld. The fact that you mentioned Crocs in the same breath as a recent footwear purchase should set off alarm bells. Do you still have the receipt?
We're strongly opposed to this entire genre of footwear, whether it be Crocs, Keen, or Teva. These are for the fleece and granola set, where MBs are as rare as a dodo bird.
Incidentally, for the rafting we recommend an old pair of Jack Purcells. They work great and look amazing.
Q: I'm new to the official MB philosophy (though not my own unofficial one), having only recently discovered this site. I could use your insight into a matter I face. I plan to attend the Kentucky Derby this year. What is the best way to dress for this occasion? Can I go the MB Gregory Peck route and wear a seersucker suit or has this look be taken over by too many toolbags in recent years? Also, is the boaters straw hat TTH or just too barber shop quartet? --Jon
A: Jon, welcome aboard. "Classic with a twist" is our general aesthetic philosophy, and in the case of something like a 135 year-old horse race in a slave state, a fair amount of middle-finger-fully-extended irreverence is definitely in order. Go for the seersucker, but make sure it's excessively rumpled, like you weren't sure there was a race that day and had to pull it out of the back of your closet last-minute. Instead of the traditional white bucks, go with the white Chucks. And when you order a mint julep, have the bartender make it a double and hold the mint, sugar, water, and ice.
Regarding the boaters straw hat, wear it only if you're bald or sing a cappella, or both.
(The 135th running of the Kentucky Derby is on Saturday, May 2, 2009.)
If you're shopping at the (Your Favorite Team) Pro Shop or mlb.com, being a stylish baseball fan is about as difficult as hitting a Roger Clemens fastball when he was tricked out on the juice. Bring your own heat this spring with an updated look that will separate you from the crowd. And above all, leave the glove in the trunk.
Kevin Federline nearly sent the trilby to the big hat rack in the sky. With K-Fed's welcome fade from the public eye and careful rehabilitation from the likes of Brad Pitt, the trilby is back, and Modern Amusement's version will announce your presence with authority. Especially since everyone else is wearing a baseball cap, and a few of them are even backwards. Modern Amusement "Take It Easy" Trilby, $58
Jersey - Top
Major league baseball players get paid millions of dollars to wear polyester. Unless you're under contract for 5 years, $35 million, skip the oversized faux jersey with sleeves down to the elbows. You go to the gym for a reason. Display the results of your hard work with these cotton t-shirt versions from Red Jacket inspired by the time before the designated hitter. Red Jacket "Remote Control" Jersey, $45
Jersey - Bottoms
No fake holes, no whiskering, no fading, no obnoxious design on the rear pocket (none at all, in fact. See our chart.). This is denim with a capital D: straight-leg selvage in a dark wash. Versatile, too, like a utility infielder: they work at the ball game and the club later in the evening. Citizens of Humanity selvage jeans in Virgin wash, $229
Baseball is America's pastime, and Converse is America's shoe, on par with other really American-y things like hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevro... ah, nevermind. Complete the retro-cool look with this garment-dyed twist on a classic. Leave the space-age running shoes for the 10K benefit, and the white New Balance cross-trainers for inside the house. Converse Jack Purcell shoes, John Varvatos Limited Edition, $110.
Q: Will be taking the family to Disneyland this summer. What shoe do you recommend that is 1) stylish but that a 40-something can wear, 2) comfortable as hell for walking and standing all day, 3) can take a soaking (for riding Splash Mountain or California River Raft ride), 4) won't break the bank. Afraid to wear theFranks as the soaking may ruin the suede.
A: Frankenclydes hold up well to water, but we see what you mean. You want something that can withstand not just Splash Mountain, but also the Great California Slushie Spill. Apply some OxiClean, toss 'em in the wash, and they'll turn out as good as new.
We're not quite sure what you mean by "won't break the bank" so we'll offer two options: