Sneakers with Casual Suits, Take 2

I received responses to my recent post on sneakers with casual suits from three of the most thoughtful and stylish members of the Tumblr menswear community. I thought I’d share those comments to contribute to a conversation about the look.

The first comes from Edwin Zee, who said:

I think it can be a well put together look if done right. I don’t enjoy the look as much when people wear shoes like New Balances, but when done with something like Vans or Jack Purcells and no tie, I think the casualness of it all looks great.

He then followed up with a link to what he said is a favourite example of the look.

The next comment came from Kiyoshi at The Silentist:

I’ve never thought it looked good. Looked immature to me. There’s so many nice, real dress shoes out there that I can’t see why you’d wear sneakers with a suit.

Finally, Aliotsy from This Fits wrote:

I think a suit with sneakers can be done, but it’s incredibly hard to pull off because every element needs to be just right. Tried once and made a fool of myself in public. I think the suit would be best in cotton and a less-serious color—say air force blue instead of true navy. Probably with patch pockets. I’d substitute a heather grey long-sleeve polo for a dress shirt, and all-white classic sneakers. Even with all those elements in place, I’d say most guys still couldn’t pull it off.

There is disagreement among the three, which we should not mistake for conflict, as I’m quite certain their share a mutual respect. Although contemporary political discourse may indicate otherwise, it is possible for adults to hold contrary positions and engage in non-combative dialogue. Ultimately, the stakes are low so there is no reason to get overly worked up about this. 

Kiyoshi takes a hard line against the look. Aliotsy believes it can work, but within quite specific, and restricted, limits. While Edwin does not explicitly cite as many limits, he too thinks it has to be done right, citing certain sneakers that work and others that do not.

As my original post indicates, I’m more in agreement with Edwin and Aliotsy. I’ve certainly seen the look work. That said, I completely understand where Kiyoshi is coming from. Perhaps my take is that I’m not sure that it’s always wrong to look immature[1].  

Sneakers with suits are definitely a no go for certain situations. But, perhaps they could be another way to do ‘business casual’? Just recently Jeff at Thrifty Gent noted that his workplace has finally capitulated to ‘business casual,’ which will make it hard for him to justify wearing a suit to the office. But, why should trousers and odd jackets monopolize the tailored clothes approach to business casual? It would obviously depend on the workplace, and not being in the work world, it is difficult for me to comment on this. 

I also agree that there are plenty of very nice dress shoes out there. But, there are plenty of very nice trousers. Why would one ever wear denim? As with jeans, sneakers do something different. They twist the look. While they twist it to an immature register that Kiyoshi finds unappealing, I think that is part of the appeal of the look for me.

I applaud Aliotsy for him for trying the look, even if it was a failure. I’d be interested to see his take as I’ll bet it was not as bad as he thinks. I question whether the limits on the combination are as strict as he suggests. It certainly makes sense that sneakers would look wildly incoherent with a flannel or other winter suiting material. They also need to be paired with something more casual, although this can be expressed through details other than patch pockets. Even more than patch pockets, I’d say the shoulders need to be lightly padded. I’d also have a hard time buying the look with a double breasted jacket. 

That said, I think they could work with a tie, while Edwin suggests one should be tieless if wearing sneakers with a suit. I have a hard time with ‘suit sans tie.’ I cannot get past the image of douche-y businessmen out after work. Obviously a tie works against the casualness of the sneakers. But, I the tie can be made much, much more casual than in its current popular estimation. The coherence of neckwear has a range of formality, so it would have to be the right material to work, with knit perhaps the obvious choice.

Edwin also suggests a relatively narrow range of possible sneakers, disavowing the popular New Balance with suit look that might be associated with the Mr. Porter[] or Four Pins[] crowds. I think this combination is perhaps the most overtly ‘incoherent’ because the shoes themselves are so much louder and sporty looking, while the stripped down aesthetic of Vans or Cons is more subtle - even if in red - and explicitly about style, rather than sport. I have seen NB paired with suits in ways I appreciated, but it does generally have the equivalent feel of the woman with her heels in her handbag. It strikes me as an incomplete look, rather than a consciously insouciant twist on the suit. That said, the sneakers I’m currently interested in are Onitsuka Tigers by Asics, which lay aesthetically between the NB and Vans/Cons. I want a pair for summer wear, but they may make it more difficult to pull off this sneakers with suit look.

The conversation continues….

[1] In fact, if I wanted to be snotty, I would link to a picture or two of The Silentist mugging for the camera in a manner some might characterize as immature and claim that he is also not totally opposed to immaturity.

  1. tyronicus reblogged this from evolvingstyle and added:
    "Ultimately, the stakes are low so there is no reason to get overly worked up about this. " I love to see that stated...
  2. thesilentist said: I stand by my statement. There isn’t a single look of a suit/sneaker combo that wouldn’t be dramatically improved by wearing proper & coherent footwear. Even when done “well” it’s still falling far short.
  3. afistfulofstyle said: I think the line between “immature” and “youthful insouciance” is mostly illusory and arbitrary (did I just get done reading a thesaurus? jesus…) And what if you’re wearing sneaks/suits at 21 or 22? Is it “immature” or “appropriately mature?”
  4. evolvingstyle posted this