Formal shoes are back in fashion ahead of sneakers

Loafers, moccasins and other formal shoes, once reserved for nerds and conservative youth, are increasingly replacing sneakers as the first choice for fashion-conscious men.

Romain Costa, a 32-year-old Parisian architect, doesn’t have many options as he considers the footwear options in his Montmartre apartment: heavy-soled black loafers, funky colored brogues, leather or suede, with or without tassels.

He finally opts for a tri-color pair, which he pairs with wide-leg jeans and an expansive black sweater, before hopping on his bike and heading off to work.

For him, sneakers were what he wore as a teenage skater.

“I like to have grown-up shoes. At work, it’s reassuring to customers. It makes me look more serious,” he told AFP.

“And they age better than sneakers,” he added.

Formal shoes – Step plans

The coaching boom of the last decade is still going strong, but there are signs of a slowdown.

Data from industry website Business of Fashion showed that 45% of affluent American and British men planned to buy dress shoes in 2023, compared with around a third opting for sneakers.

And formal styles are found on red carpets and runways worn by trendsetters such as rapper ASAP Rocky and American actor and director Donald Glover.

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French designer Simon Porte Jacquemus – so hot right now, as fashionistas say – wore black loafers and had his models wear them for his latest show in December, despite his high-profile sneaker collaboration with Nike.

Some still struggle to overcome the old connotations.

“There are never moccasins in an Hermes show,” said Pierre Hardy, who heads shoe design at the French brand. “It was really the preppie, right-wing, reactionary shoe.”

They may not have the right vibe for the runway, but Hermes still produces and sells loafers, and Hardy understands why sales have soared.

“After the lockdowns, people got tired of everything being cozy. Now we have permission to go out and we want elegant and chic things,” he said.

Mix and match

The same is happening across the water in Britain, where luxury department store Browns has “definitely noticed a shift in styles from trendy sneakers to more formal footwear,” according to its menswear manager Thom Scherdel.

“As we see fewer and fewer sneakers coming down the runway, customers are taking note, with many people looking to mix and match casual and dressy pieces in their wardrobe,” he told AFP.

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This marks a big change from the past: wearing formal shoes not only with dresses, but with sportswear, overalls, even shorts.

“There is a return of formal tailoring, but now with a comforting side, because people have got used to running and we don’t want to go back to tight clothes,” said Hugues Fauchard of Uniforme, a young label that worked with shoemaker Weston in new versions of its classic moccasin.

“The other big thing is that trainers break quickly — they’re not durable and hard to repair,” he said, noting that Weston offers lifetime repairs.

“We have to stop with these throwaway clothes.”

Perhaps it’s an inevitable part of the fashion cycle as new sneakers become ubiquitous and resale prices are ridiculous (a pair of Nikes co-designed and worn by Kanye West sold for $1.8 million dollars in 2021).

“Trainers were for all situations, all ages, and overshadowed other shoes that gave men a more solid foundation,” fashion historian Olivier Saillard told AFP.

“But with every fad, there’s a boomerang effect.”

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