To traditionalists, it might seem like the last straw before total fashion anarchy. To forward-thinking dressers, it’s just another part of the contemporary wardrobe. No matter which side you fall on, one thing is for sure: Wearing sneakers with a suit is A Thing in the 21st Century — and if you’re going to do it, you need to know how to pull it off.
When it comes to the delicate art of combining suits and sneakers, a little knowledge of dress pants and casual shoes for men will take you a long way. Follow these five key tips for pairing sneakers with a suit to perfect this vibrant and assertive style.
Make sure your sneakers are classy.
First, realize that the sneakers-and-suit combo doesn’t mean throwing all standards out the door. You’re looking for a clean and classy pair of sneakers, not your beat-up house shoes. Overly elaborate sneakers, like a pair of custom hi-top Jordans, are also usually not the best choice. They tend to simply look like “too much.” (There aren’t really any rules that say you can’t make this work, but it’s harder.)
Here’s what you probably do want: minimal, clean and classic. Low-top white leather sneakers, for example, are a pretty safe choice that works with many different styles and colors of suits. Black leather sneakers are another good go-to option, although you’ll usually only want to wear them with darker suit colors like navy and charcoal. Many well-known footwear names also offer shoes that blend the casual look of sneakers with styling from traditional men’s dress shoes.
Keep your outfit relatively dressed down.
Sneakers are a casual style, and rocking them with a suit usually requires making the suit a little less formal, too. For starters, we strongly recommend going without a tie. The tieless suit is a well-established look in fashion today, and a tie will almost always look inappropriately formal with a pair of sneakers.
In fact, while you’re at it, consider swapping out the dress shirt, too. An Oxford cloth button-down is just casual enough to look great with the right pair of sneakers, and a dressy, well-fitted t-shirt is a popular choice for when you want to keep it truly loose. Plus, these fits still look completely natural if you end up taking your jacket off.
It’s also best to avoid pairing sneakers with suit styles that are more formal by default. This usually includes double-breasted suits, three-piece suits and (shudder) tuxedos. (Again, we’re not saying it can’t work, but you might need to be Kanye.) Instead, go for either something neutral and versatile, like a slim-cut single-breasted navy suit, or something that’s already on the casual end, like a linen summer suit.
Wear suit pants with no break or a partial break.
Dress pants for men have what’s known as a “break” where the hem of the pants meets your shoes. The break is a surprisingly deep subject, and suit pants come in a range of styles from no break (which don’t touch your shoes) to full break (which sit on top of them and “ripple” slightly). Generally, sneakers will look best with suit pants that have no break or a partial break.
Why? First, sneakers with a suit look best when you show them off, rather than burying them under a full break. It shouldn’t look like you’re trying to hide them! Second, the sneakers-and-suit vibe is definitely a fashion-forward one, and breakless or partial break pants are an essential part of the slim-suited look that’s popular today. If your suit pants are a little heavy on the break, a good tailor can help you out by shortening the hems.
Find some great socks that match your style.
If you follow the previous tip, you’re definitely going to show at least a little sock, and your socks can even be a significant part of your outfit if you’re wearing no-break pants. So make sure those socks are awesome! While a pair of standard black dress socks won’t throw the outfit off, you can make it pop a lot more by going with something more interesting.
Some guys will see this as destiny calling them to wear their craziest socks, with monkeys or martinis or what-have-you on them. We’ll leave that decision to you, based on whether you think they’re right for the context. If you want something easy to pull off, try out some simpler but still exciting styles like multicolor stripes, argyle, polka dots or geometric patterns.
Save it for the right occasion.
Fashion is all about time and place, and there are definitely times and places when your suit and sneakers look will go over like a bucket of rattlesnakes. You probably already know that this isn’t the right combo for formal weddings, job interviews or any other situation where the rules of formal fashion matter.
How about at the office, though? It varies a lot between individual office cultures. Sometimes, it’ll be too casual even for an otherwise fairly relaxed office. On the other hand, some offices won’t bat an eye, and some will love it. And on the other other hand, if nobody at your office wears a suit at all, you might look like a show-off even in this dressed-down format. One thing’s for sure: You should have a good handle on the workwear norms of your office before you try it.
So, when can you definitely break it out? Any time that you’re encouraged to flex your style and bend the rules a little! A night out on the town is a great opportunity, especially if you’ll be hitting bars and nightclubs. (Traditional fine dining, maybe not so much.) Private gatherings, date nights, arts events and weddings with a cocktail or smart casual dress code are all occasions when the playful sophistication of the suit and sneakers can take you far.