Men’s sneaker trends in 2021 reflect the confusing state of fashion in general. To one end, the pandemic greatly reduced demand for suiting and other dress garments – and office-ready shoes like oxfords and derbies were no exception.
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From this nadir, we noticed the rise of the veritable house shoe: Not just a sandal or a slipper, this was a comfortable, often slip-on shoe providing a bit of traction as you worked and got other things done around the home. Then, as many sought to get active, socially distanced activities like hiking, cycling, and golfing all experienced increased participation starting last summer, with sales for activewear and specialty gear experiencing an upswing in response.
Adding to this mix is sneakerhead culture. No longer are exclusive kicks an underground or even covert phenomenon. Fueled by exclusive collaborations, luxury sneakers have carved out their own niche – one that’s simultaneously innovative and pulling from the runways yet accessible by virtue of design.
Thus, now that we’re midway through 2021, the following men’s sneaker trends are on our radar:
Outdoor and Trail Running Shoes
The trails – rugged and winding, climbing up steep mountains and taking you over roots – are calling. Do you walk or run? Many of the past year said “Yes” to one or the other. As a confluence between fashion and function, the outdoor tech sneaker has emerged as a hybrid style, one combining the lugged, durable outsole and supportive upper with a more colorful appearance.
You’ll come across “bare foot” – the 0mm drop – trail runners and ones with a chunky, puffy outsole. This sneaker from Polo Ralph Lauren is inspired by the latter and throws in some early ‘90s stylings at the same time. The result has a techier look and more substantial feel, thanks to a mix of Cordura nylon and nubuck.
A chunkier outsole, bungee laces, and a geometric orange-on-black upper point these sneakers’ inspiration directly to the trails. Burberry further reworked its classic rain boots for a somewhat techy angle, adding a capped overshoe, and based the pattern on its iconic checks.
Although running and hiking shoes appear to share characteristics – mainly support and breathability – they’re two different beasts, and we’re treating them as such.
A lighter-and-lighter approach distinguishes traditional running shoes from their trail-centric counterparts. The result removes the leather you used to remember, delivering a barely there yet responsive combination of mesh, foam, and supportive overlays. Although runners continually debate “natural” versus more supportive constructions, the core design remains the same, no matter how you configure it.
Hugo Boss captures what we expect from a pair of running shoes, playing mesh, and reflective accents off a thicker EVA outsole. An added layer of performance comes through a bamboo-cotton insole offering a natural degree of odor control and perspiration absorption.
Adidas Originals’ maintains a back-to-basics yet elevated approach. These aspects merge within this sneaker, a nearly fully mélange knit style with elastic panels and laces for an easy slip-on fit and a cushioned, lightweight EVA outsole.
Classic Basketball Sneakers
Basketball sneakers have tread down the same path as running shoes: The latest designs promise to lighten up weight and do away with bulk. Yet, there’s something nostalgic about the substance of old-school basketball shoes – think Jordans, Dunks, and anything produced for performance in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Not for the court now, these chunkier high-top silhouettes have been getting a revisit akin to Champion sweatshirts over the past year.
Think classic Chucks but inspired by the sea. It’s an odd combination, but this pair, from Burberry’s SS21 collection, adds a porthole detail to the sides of a fully calfskin-leather body paying tribute to the basketball shoes of decades’ past.
Originally coming out in 1985, Nike’s Dunk has turned into one of the most iconic classic basketball shoes. This low top gets a streetwear facelift with a multicolored, pastel-based palette.
You don’t have to skate to appreciate the beauty and construction of a classic pair of Vans. For the work-from-home lifestyle, they tick off every box. Unlike the puffier skate shoes of the 2000s, these and the streamlined Nike SBs pare down the weight and size, bring in breathability through canvas-based construction, and know that enough traction goes a long way when you’re looking to avoid slips and falls around the home.
This skate-inspired shoe pulls from old-school Airwalks while offering a semi-performance oriented and sustainable design. This comes through the cupsole construction, offering a grippier feel; SEAQUAL, a material transforming marine plastic into fabric; and recycled polyester.
The silhouette you know gets an eye-popping rework with a swirl pattern on a canvas body and a side stripe in bright, contrasting red.
Here, we’re not talking about materials and composition. Instead, minimalist applies almost exclusively to what’s been dubbed the dress sneaker. Resting on the legacy of the Adidas Stan Smith, these shoes make their mark – and suit the increasingly casual office dress code – with a rounded toe, smooth, polished leather upper, and monochrome colorway.
Frequently, dress sneakers deliver solid white – a clear nod to classic Stan Smiths – or all black, as if to mimic a pair of derbies. This style from Polo Ralph Lauren pretends to be neither, with a deep brown pigment-dyed upper and bright, contrasting white outsole.
These dress sneakers hit right in between streamlined and casual, with a solid black body and stripe accents on the outsole. TPU from renewable sources offers a degree of sustainability.
From the production of leather and synthetics to the processes for foam and rubber, very little about footwear is sustainable these days. Yet, brands are attempting to turn this around through eco-friendly construction repurposing ocean waste or seeking out leather-like alternatives – be it a more sustainable polyurethane or a fruit-based fabric.
Spotted on celebrities, Brave GentleMan has turned into the paradigm of style and sustainability, thanks to EU-certified PU future leather designed to biodegrade in a landfill environment. This fully vegan take on a dress sneaker starts here and adds a recycled sole unit and neoprene ankle sock for support.
As the name implies, airbag material gets repurposed for its water-resistant properties, resulting in a classic, low-height skate shoe in a contrasting colorway.