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4 Ways to Wear Sneakers to Work (and Still Look Professional)

We're calling it: 2020 is the year of the in-office sneaker (as long as you style them right).

By Deanna Pai

I’ve always had mixed feelings about wearing sneakers in the office, particularly when I worked at fashion magazines like Vogue, where the dress code was: Whatever you want, but make it really cool. My sneakers were decidedly not cool, but they were integral to my comfort after a few rounds of chemo left the nerves in my feet worse for the wear. Still, I always felt embarrassed when my boss, or even worse, my boss’s boss, stomped by in a pair of four-inch heels.

Luckily, times have changed. These days, I moonlight as a writer in a number of offices—and I’m no longer the only one in sneakers. From managers to new hires, everyone is doing it, and not only as they’re running out of the office at 6pm. Rather, they’re wearing sneakers all day with purpose and on purpose.

Of course, it depends on who you are and where you work; corporate lawyers and congressional staffers are probably best staying put in formal footwear. But at startups and in more creative fields, sneakers are fair game—so long as they’re styled right. Another factor is location: sneakers are more likely to fly in Brooklyn or Silver Lake than they are on Wall Street or Capitol Hill. A good barometer? Keep an eye on how the senior-level employees at your organization are dressing and follow suit.

But for those who are ready to get on board, let’s call it: 2020 is the year of the in-office sneaker—as long as you choose the right ones. Seek out neutral colors in high-quality materials, and then make sure to keep them pristine. Below, M.M.’s Marketing Manager Amanda demonstrates how to wear the Koio Capri Low-Tops like a pro.

With a Full Suit

There are many ways to pull off a pantsuit without looking stuffy, but sneakers are by far the most fun and nonchalant. If you’re a manager who wants to balance authority with approachability, ease into suiting with a fresh pair of sneaks. Just make sure your suit is properly tailored, and steer clear of fussy blouses (they’re too buttoned-up, literally and figuratively). Finish the look with strong accessories, a bright lip, and a flash of ankle—and you’ve got the perfect power look for spring.

With Wide-Leg Pants

A little bit 1970s, a little bit Parisian—are you sold yet?—pairing white sneakers with sleek, flared trousers is all sorts of genius. The combo doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the clean lines and ample black add gravitas. One key to wearing this look with confidence is to make sure your trousers are tailored for flat shoes, because there is nothing less professional than having your hem pool around your feet or drag on the ground. Keeping the colors dark and monochromatic (a.k.a. all business) anchors the look and gives you an air of mystery. We’re already intrigued.

With a Dress

A midi-length or maxi dress can seem like a lot on a Monday morning—too beachy, too dressy, or too formal, depending on the style and length. Not so with the addition of sneakers. They counteract any sense of over-dressing, striking the perfect balance between thoughtful and effortless. Plus, since clean sneakers in a neutral hue don’t compete for attention, you can pair them with intricate prints, florals, and bold colors. Move along, denim; white sneakers are the new go-with-everything staple.

With a Skirt

If you work in a creative environment or want to make the most of a summer Friday, opt for a sporty combination of sneakers and skirt. With a nod to classic tennis wear, this look gets an off-court lift from a soft, oversized sweater. While sneakers might otherwise look out of place with, say, a pencil skirt and structured blazer, swapping in a casual knit top makes the sneakers seem right at home. Another bonus: this combo transitions beautifully into happy hour or weekend mode.

Photographs by Matthew Priestley.

Deanna Pai

Written By

Deanna Pai

Deanna is a writer and editor in New York City. She enjoys reading, hiking, and not moving to the West Coast.

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