Designer Sneakers: Why Men Are Ditching Dress Shoes for Them

It was a socially and professionally acceptable sneaker that looks more like a shoe but is comfortable like a sneaker,” he explained. In other words: A size-10 Holy Grail. Though he still pulls out his Church’s for “very smart meetings,” he mostly lives in sneakers and owns around 20 pairs of Common Projects, in various styles, materials, colors and states of wear.

Mr. King is hardly alone in discovering that high-end, designer sneakers can constitute a crucial part of the modern menswear wardrobe. While Masters of the Universe still dutifully pair their Super 100s suits with proper leather lace-ups, other men in offices nearly as formal routinely pad around in upscale rubber-soled shoes. My own once-beloved wingtips are gathering dust, forsaken for a pair of Adidas Stan Smiths made in collaboration with Belgian designer Raf Simons. Advertisement

Still. Designer. Sneakers. As recently as five or six years ago, those words together still conjured an off-putting image for many men—of over-designed, gallingly expensive footwear, littered with logos in a way that evoked a duty free shop. The sort of thing a respectable guy wouldn’t be caught dead in.
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Prime examples of high-end sneakers.
1. Z Zegna Techmerino Racers, $395, zegna.com; 2. Sneakers, $720, prada.com 3. Sneakers, $625, Tod’s, 212-644-5945; 4. Adidas by Raf Simons Stan Smith Sneakers, $455, adidasx.com; 5. Calfskin and Neoprene Sneakers, $795, Balenciaga, 212-226-2052; 6. Givenchy Sneakers, $595, Bergdorf Goodman, 888-774-1855 ENLARGE
1. Z Zegna Techmerino Racers, $395, zegna.com; 2. Sneakers, $720, prada.com 3. Sneakers, $625, Tod’s, 212-644-5945; 4. Adidas by Raf Simons Stan Smith Sneakers, $455, adidasx.com; 5. Calfskin and Neoprene Sneakers, $795, Balenciaga, 212-226-2052; 6. Givenchy Sneakers, $595, Bergdorf Goodman, 888-774-1855 Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Anne Cardenas

How did we get here from there? A confluence of factors are at play. First, dress codes have become increasingly relaxed over the past decade—remember when sneakers weren’t allowed in night clubs?—allowing for more creativity and freedom. Second, as designer-sneaker sales have ticked up and the shoes’ 24/7 relevance has somewhat justified the price, more designers have begun paying attention to the market.

Though luxury brands have been making sneakers since the advent of Gucci’s tennis shoes in 1984, Mr Porter buying-and-sales director Toby Bateman credits both Common Projects, which launched in New York in 2004, and French label Lanvin with legitimizing the category. Lanvin’s slim-soled tennis-style sneaker with a patent leather toecap, introduced in 2006, moved the needle in the luxury world, he explained: “Everyone embraced it because it was wearable. It didn’t look like you were wearing running sneakers with your suit or smart trousers. That led to a lot of other people entering the arena.