Once considered off-duty attire or a commuter-friendly shoe to be quickly removed and replaced with heels or brogues, the humble trainer has become a workplace staple.
Two in three Britons now say they wear trainers to the office, according to the latest shoe report from Shoeaholics, part of the Kurt Geiger footwear group.
And we’re not stopping with one pair. The average person in the UK owns a “trainer wardrobe” worth £474, and most workers own at least seven pairs of trainers and wear them for everything from working to running to going to parties. One in four are aspiring sneakerheads, professing to have up to 10 pairs in their collections.
“The pandemic has accelerated the trend, with fewer people required to be in a formal office setting every day,” said the Shoeaholics boss, Mark Hoyal-Mitchell. “But even those who are returning to formal workplaces are increasingly confident to wear styles of shoe that would have been deemed unacceptable just a few years ago.”
It’s a finding that will shock few in the fashion industry, which has been banking on its customers’ collective preference for a more comfortable shoe option for years. Once a symbol of athleticism, trainers have become objects of desire that fit neatly into our demand for clothes that offer aesthetic value and comfort simultaneously.
Without question, trainers are now respected attire for formal events and red carpet outings, with everyone from the Duchess of Cambridge to Selena Gomez spotted stepping out in trainers for events.
This year the Nomadland film-maker Chloé Zhao attended the Oscars in a pair of all-white sneakers by Hermes, while the US vice-president, Kamala Harris, is regularly photographed in her signature black All Stars.
While sports labels once ruled the market (valued at $70bn in 2020), fashion houses such as Balenciaga and Dior are worthy competitors. The last decade has also seen the launch of a number of new-to-market sneaker brands, including Allbirds, the New Zealand/American company that is a favourite with Barack Obama.
For brands associated with contemporary workwear – among them the London-based Me & Em and Arket, which is part of the H&M group – trainers are a building block on which an entire aesthetic has been built. These brands regularly position their suiting and formal tailoring pieces with trainers – stark white styles are preferred.
A resurgence of classic running shoes, popularised in the 80s, is also essential for those looking to be in step with the style zeitgeist this season.