The dress sneaker is dominating business casual workplaces. Discover the best options for comfortable dress sneakers for men and the history behind the trend.
What Are Dress Sneakers?
Dress sneakers, also known as hybrid dress shoes, have some of the stylistic elements of a dress shoe, such as leather uppers, while also possessing some of the standard features of a sneaker, such as a thick, comfortable sole with good traction. These hybrid sneakers look more formal than obviously athletic footwear, but they’re still more casual than classic dress shoes.
Their versatility makes it easy to incorporate them into a business casual outfit or a preppy look you’re putting together for a fun event after work.
A Brief History of Dress Sneakers
While dress sneakers have been around for more than a decade, their popularity exploded during the pandemic.
Cole Haan Pioneers the LunarGrand in 2012
On February 9, 2012, Cole Haan invited a small group of reporters to their store in New York City’s Soho neighborhood to show off the LunarGrand, new a hybrid dress shoe that incorporated Nike’s colorful “Lunarlon cushioning system” to their traditional suede, brogued wingtip.
In a 2012 article, Sneaker Freaker described their appeal at the time:
In 2011 an image floated onto the interweb showing what appeared to be a traditional brogue atop some sort of Nike sole. Backyard experiment or legitimate leak, this curious image came with no explanation, but the memory lingers. Designer hybrids are a matter of personal taste and subjective opinion, but as an expression of melodious harmony, there was something sublime about this old fashioned mash-up.Lunargrand Wingtip By Cole Haan (Nike Lunar), Sneaker Freaker, September 2, 2012
Cole Haan continued to develop its dress sneakers, unveiling the ZeroGrand in 2014 (styled ZERØGRAND), which continues to be a bestseller today.
Other designers got in the game too, with luxury fashion labels like Tom Ford cranking out $800 leather low top sneakers in the mid-2010’s.
Back then, those hybrid dress shoes generally would have been reserved for “smart casual” situations like dinner at a friend’s or a bar on the weekend.
GQ’s Mark Anthony Green turned out to be prescient when he observed in 2014 that “it’s only a matter of time until you’re mowing the grass in your wingtips and saving your “dress” sneakers for special occasions.”
Dress Sneaker Demand Surges Following the Pandemic
Dress sneakers are part of the general trend towards the “casualization” of attire that accelerated during the pandemic. After months of working from home in sweatpants, more employees started pushing for relaxed dress codes and favoring comfortable clothes and shoes in the office.
Direct-to-consumer brands, luxury designers, and mass retailers all started developing new, comfort-focused footwear:
In 2020, Wolf and Shepherd released the Longwing hybrid collection, a visually-stunning dress sneaker that sold crazy-quick. In an interview during the pandemic, their founder, Justin Schneider, told me that the release of the Longwing hybrid dress sneaker was “transformative” for Wolf and Shepherd. “The customer response, the page visits, the click-throughs started to create a flywheel for us,” he said, noting that the Longwing Crossovers were flying out the door four times faster than their comfort-focused traditional dress shoes.
As the pandemic dragged on, we saw the launch of new products such as Ace Marks’ Kickstarter for luxury dress sneakers, commentary from the likes of Oliver Cabell about why dress sneakers are a business casual essential, and new brands like Amberjack emerge specifically to focus on the trend.
With dress sneakers showing up The White House, it’s clear that they’ve reached some degree of acceptance in more formal settings (for better or worse).
Are Dress Sneakers Appropriate for the Office?
Whether dress sneakers are appropriate for the office depends on the business. Business casual dress codes can vary widely and are often fuzzy, making it difficult to know what is permitted or prohibited.
The Society of Human Resource Management’s model business casual dress code policy permits “clean athletic shoes,” while the NBA requires players to wear dress or “presentable” shoes. Goldman Sachs has told its employees to “dress in a manner than is consistent with your clients’ expectations,” whatever that means. One Washington, DC-based firm permits dress sneakers only on Fridays.
And, despite the fact that prominent lawmakers and congressional staffers have been seen sporting dress sneakers, casual footwear remains prohibited in certain parts of the U.S. Capitol.
To be safe, ask your manager or Human Resources department whether hybrid dress sneakers are acceptable for work.
Are Dress Sneakers Fashionable?
Whether or not dress sneakers are appropriate for any particular workplace, there’s a broader debate raging about whether dress sneakers are stylish or tragic.
“When you see a guy strutting through the city in a suit and your eye reaches the sneaker, the whole look collapses,” GQ’s Creative Director Jim Moore told the New York Times, adding that dress shoes are “a sign of courtesy and good manners” in formal settings.
Menswear writer Derek Guy sparked a lively discussion on Twitter/X, posting photos of White House meetings with past presidents, suggesting that the hard-soled dress shoes visible in photos with Presidents Reagan and Kennedy “look so much more fitting for the oval office.” Aghast threads followed online in places like Styleforum.
Writing in Newsday, Fred Brunning piled on, calling dress sneakers “a sort of hybrid between Florsheims and your old pair of P.F. Flyers” and “a DC fashion crime.”
Not everyone agrees. The Sneakerhead Congressional Caucus, co-chaired by Representatives Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) and Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.) are actively promoting athletic shoes as appropriate footwear for the office. They released a statement commending “both parties [for] putting their best foot forward and demonstrating that sneakers and statesmanship are compatible.”
Where to Find Dress Sneakers for Men
Here are some of the best options to find dress sneakers for men:
Wolf and Shepherd
Wolf and Shepherd’s Crossover Longwing is a shining example of a dress sneaker, which is made in Portugal with full-grain Italian calfskin and a high-traction sole. (See my review of the Crossover Longwing for more details.) At 19 ounces earch, the Longwing Crossovers are slightly heavier than your typical shoe or sneaker. The shoe features a stunning silouette, and I’ve found my pair to be both comfortable and durable. The price range for Wolf and Shepherd sneakers is $200 to $300.
Founded in 1928 by Trafton Cole and Eddie Haan, Cole Haan continues to stay competitive through the consistently high quality of its shoes and its responsiveness to industry trends, including a growing selection of minimalist knit sneakers and hybrid shoes. Most of Cole Haan’s “Grand Series” dress sneakers fall into a relatively affordable price range of $100 to $200. One standout is the Winslow, which has wingtip detailing on its leather uppers and a cushioned footbed with antimicrobial properties.
The durable hybrid dress sneakers for men from Beckett Simonon are made in Colombia. The brand, which was founded by Nicholas Hurtado and Andres Nino, is committed to ethical labor practices and has been one of my favorite options for affordable dress shoes for men for years.
Priced between $150 and $200, the sneakers won’t break the bank, and they feature elevated touches like water-repellent suede or a Vachetta leather lining that helps regulate moisture and odor. Check out the comfortable and classy Reids and the Geller trainers, which are made with pebbled leather, for hybrid dress sneakers for men.
Founder John Peters launched Amberjack because he “wanted a nice pair of dress shoes that were comfortable and cool.” Amberjack’s hybrid dress shoes for men look more like dress shoes than many other dress sneakers. The sneaker outsole and heat-activated insole blend well into a professional though-still-somewhat-more-casual looking hybrid dress shoe for men.
For an even more casual look, try Amberjack’s Original Dress Shoe in suede. My pair of suede Amberjacks in stone are as comfortable as the most comfortable sneakers I own. (Amberjack provided the shoes at no cost.)
When Scott Gabrielson launched the Oliver Cabell brand in 2018, he had no experience in fashion, but he envisioned producing footwear that combined old-school craftsmanship with modern materials, such as Margom soles. The brand has an extensive selection of sneakers, some of them a great fit for the office, and prices tend to fall between $200 and $350. The highlights include the Low model in jet black Italian calfskin or nubuck.
Ponto advertises its footwear as “part dress shoe, part sneaker.” Aaron Roubitchek and Joseph Marquis founded Ponto in 2019 to serve up “shoes made better.” Their stylish workleisure shoes are constructed from plant-based and recycled materials, including sustainable shoe bottoms made with a sugarcane based foam.
Founded in 2012 by Paul Farago, Ace Marks aims to provide men with skillfully handcrafted luxury shoes that don’t hit astronomical prices. The brand’s sleek and gleaming leather dress sneakers typically cost between $150 and $250. Start with Ace Marks’ cognac-colored unique slip-on dress sneaker or a cap-toe Oxford leather dress sneaker made with antique Italian leather.
If budget is no object, one of the best options for high-end luxury dress sneakers from men is Berluti, a brand that has been crafting top-tier shoes since 1895 when it was founded by Alessandro Berluti in Paris. Priced between $980 and $9,200, your options include some truly exquisite leather dress sneakers, such as the Fast Track double monk-strap and Scritto varieties. Berluti’s dress sneakers for men have a beautiful shine and showcase the brand’s leather artistry.
Originally funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign, menswear startup OAKA offers a lightweight slip-on hybrid dress shoe that looks classy while still providing the comfort and support of a sneaker. The zero-drop inner sole can help you walk more naturally, and the shoe has a pleasing flexibility that makes it easy to pack for trips. It’s available for $165.
For over 100 years, Allen Edmonds has been producing high-quality footwear, cementing its reputation as a highly respected American shoe brand. The brand became famous partly for the comfortable construction of its dress shoes’ insoles, and you can also enjoy a blend of comfort and style with its high-class sneakers. Generally priced between $200 and $650, the selection includes the Park Avenue Oxford dress sneaker, which is made of premium leather with a cap-toe design.
Crafted expertly in Italy, the luxury sneakers from Koio are comfortable and stylish, and some are made with environmentally sustainable materials. Founded in 2015 by two Wharton Business School alums, Johannes Quodt and Chris Wichert, the brand has set a price range of roughly $200 to $400 for its sneakers. One highlight is the Mello model, which is made with full-grain leather and a Lactae Hevea sole.
Considered one of the top contemporary American designers, Tom Ford launched his brand in 2005 with impressive masculine aesthetic. Ford’s dress sneakers for work include the Warwick model, which comes in grained leather, printed alligator, nubuck, and suede varieties, each of them with the brand’s logo embossed on the tongue. Tom Ford is one of the pricier options on this list, and the cost of luxury label’s dress sneakers for men ranges from $890 to $1,390.
In the 1930s, Bruno Magli started a shoemaking business with his siblings, Maria and Marino, in a basement in Italy, and it expanded into a world-famous luxury brand. You have some supremely comfortable, well-made hybrid sneakers to choose from, like the Bono, with its mix of suede and full-grain leather, and the Lorenzo, a slip-on shoe that combines Nappa leather with nylon. Prices typically fall between $200 and $400.
Artisanal leather is a specialty of Bottega Veneta, an Italian luxury brand founded in 1966 by Michele Taddei and Renzo Zengiaro. The brand makes excellent use of leather and other high-quality materials for its men’s sneakers, which cost between $900 and $1,300. If you need dress sneakers for work, check out the Pillow model, which is made of padded leather, or the Plat, a low top that sports the brand’s signature Intrecciato design.
After John Lobb started making boots in the 1850s, his clients ranged from British royalty to Australian gold miners who used his boots to store contraband. When browsing the shoe selection from this London-based luxury brand, be sure to check out the elegant Dover and the sleek Cannon slip-on, two beautiful examples of dress sneakers for men. Both of them are priced at around $1,300.
Renowned for its luxury menswear, particularly suits, Zegna is a major Italian fashion company that has been managed by the same family since 1910. Among the brand’s high-end sneakers are Triple Stitch models made of black deerskin or grained leather and suede in navy blue. With their deluxe materials and craftsmanship, the sneakers cost at least several hundred dollars, and some reach $1,350.
Undandy, a Portuguese company that makes handcrafted shoes, allows you to customize your dress sneakers or choose from existing designs. For example, you can select monk-strap sneakers with chocolate leather or gorgeous Oxford sneakers with brogue detailing. Prices generally fall between $270 and $300, though customization will bring the cost up to a range of $320 to $340.
Thursday Boot Company
Footwear from Thursday Boot Company has a classy, masculine look, and though the brand is best known for its beautifully handcrafted boots, you can also find low-top and high-top dress sneakers for men. Founded by Connor Wilson and Nolan Walsh, two Columbia Business School alums, the brand prices its sneakers between $120 and $150. Examples include a high top made with Horween leather and a low top made with Vachetta leather and a sheepskin lining.
Founded by Flavio Girolami and Peter Poopat, Common Projects shot to popularity with one luxury sneaker model, the Achilles, which became a favorite among celebrities. The New York City brand has since branched out into other designs, including a shining leather high-top version of the Achilles that’s made in Italy. At $435, it falls within the usual price range of $400 to $600 for Common Projects sneakers.
Since 1866, when founder William Green began making shoes in a Northamptonshire loft, Grenson has been crafting handsome, high-quality footwear. With a price range of roughly $200 to $500, men’s dress sneakers from this well-respected English brand include models in burnished brown nubuck or cotton corduroy.
Made by hand in a medieval town in Italy, shoes from Untamed Street have a timeless look and work well with many outfits. This luxury footwear brand, which is headquartered in London, offers a variety of sneakers that straddle the line between dressy and casual, and they’re generally priced between $300 and $370. Examples include the sleek Soho urban-black sneakers and the Putney charcoal sneakers, which are made of calf leather and a latex sole.
In 1988, Ray Kelvin founded Ted Baker as a shirt shop in Glasgow, and it has since expanded to hundreds of stores around the world. Don’t limit yourself to checking out the shirts, because the brand has an excellent selection of designer sneakers, some of them great for an office setting. Typically priced between $100 and $200, the highlights include hybrid brogues with burnished leather and low-top suede trainers that have a sophisticated look.
Founded in 2014, Greats is an eco-conscious footwear brand based in Brooklyn, and it specializes in high-quality sneakers. Priced between $100 and $230, many of the sneakers have a minimalist design, and the dressy ones include the bestselling Royale and the Wooster slip-on, both of them crafted with full-grain leather.
Christian Louboutin is a highly influential shoe designer known best for his signature red soles. His eponymous brand has a wide-ranging selection of men’s luxury sneakers, some of them suitable for a workplace. Generally priced between $700 and $1,000, your options include sleek high-top sneakers made of calf leather and an elegant low top made of rich black suede.
Through his brand, which was founded in the late 1920s, Salvatore Ferragamo innovated with shoe designs and built a legacy of bold, elegant footwear. When choosing dress sneakers for men, be sure to check out this low-top sneaker made in Italy using soft calf suede. At $750, it’s the least expensive sneaker in the men’s collection, where some of the shoes cost more than $1,000.
There’s much more than high heels at Manolo Blahnik, a brand launched in 1973 by one of the world’s best shoe designers. Blahnik’s high-end shoes for men include sneakers in black or white calf leather. These sneakers, which are made in Italy, cost several hundred dollars.
Renowned for its high-class winter outerwear, Moncler has its origins in a French mountain village, where it was founded by Rene Ramillon and Andre Vincent in 1952. Along with checking out the brand’s famous puffy jackets, browse the collection of high-performing sneakers, which range in price from $500 to $900. One excellent dress sneaker is the exquisitely soft Neue York model, which is made in Italy from nubuck and leather and subtly displays the Moncler logo.
Maison Margiela is famous for its experimental designs, and it brings some of this delightful creativity to its sneakers, including a split-toe model that could go well with a business casual look. For footwear with a more conventional appearance, consider the Replica, which is made of Nappa leather and suede. The French fashion house, which was founded by Martin Margiela, usually prices its sneakers between $450 and $1,000.
In 1958, George Cleverley launched a shoemaking brand that would become known worldwide for its exceptional craftsmanship and refinement. Along with bespoke shoes, the London-based brand has a ready-to-wear collection that includes dress trainers made of nubuck or white calf leather with Lactae Hevea soles. Made in England, they cost approximately $445.
Don’t Wear Dress Sneakers to the White House
One final thought:
My personal view is that dress sneakers have a place in a guy’s wardrobe, but if you are ever invited to the Oval Office, perhaps leave them at home, put on a nice suit and get a pair of honest-to-goodness dress shoes.
this dress sneaker thing is a completely new phenomenon not seen even as recently as the trump white house. while they're not paragons of style, this looks so much more fitting for the oval office: pic.twitter.com/OuoQ70GjB0— derek guy (@dieworkwear) May 17, 2023
Which Brands of Men’s Dress Sneakers Are Missing From This List?
I hope you’ll let me know what you think of the rise of dress sneakers in the comments. Are dress sneakers appopropriate for the office or the White House? Do you have a favorite brand of dress sneaker?
Pin Me Please: Dress Sneakers – STYLISH OR TRAGIC?
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About JakeJake is an expert on men’s style and fashion based in Washington, DC. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs and innovative clothing and lifestyle brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. He has published hundreds of articles on style and apparel, and regularly interviews small business CEOs and startup founders about industry trends. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine.
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