Written by Matt Welty (@matthewjwelty)
I had an interest in sneakers before I knew what clothes to wear with them. It was around 2005, and streetwear's massive wave had just started to rise. But at the time, I wore relaxed-fit denim, underground hip-hop T-shirts, and fitted hats. I didn't start obsessively collecting sneakers because I wanted to elevate my style to unseen heights. I just wanted sneakers that made me look and feel cool. Everything else was an afterthought.
As I started to read Nike Talk on a daily basis and got deeper in sneaker culture in 2006, I began to dabble in graphic T-shirts, selvedge denim, and searched out streetwear brands. Slowly, the way I dressed became just as important as the sneakers I wore. But even though I painstakingly wondered which hat or T-shirt I'd pair with my Nike SB Dunks, I noticed that there was nothing personal about my style. My dress was dictated by other sneakerheads and what was available at local boutiques— Ts with half-naked women and guns, and any piece of clothing that made a vague reference to a '90s rap song.
I loved sneakers, but I wasn't dressing for myself. Sadly, I had fallen victim to the "breaking necks" mentality. Every time I coordinated an outfit, it started from the feet up. But it was assembled to get reactions out of other people. I didn't know how a button-up shirt was supposed to fit, or that my hat didn't have to match my sneakers. I was trapped as another stereotypical sneakerhead who dressed ridiculous, and I grew tired of being draped in clothes that would make my parents blush.
It's not like I had a serious case of #ntdenim or hadn't paid attention to anything but my sneakers, but I knew it was time for a change. I had to get away from sneakers, as much as it sucked, to figure out how to dress. My Japanese-exclusive T-shirts were traded for chambray shirts, and my Air Max 1s were lost under my bed in favor of Goodyear-welted boots and shoes. It was 2010: The #menswear bug had bitten me, and I thought there was no turning back.
It took me turning a cold, blind eye to sneaker culture to realize that you could be into sneakers and still have personal style. I had to, practically, give up sneakers for a few years to appreciate them again. My dusty closet of New Balance runners, ASICS Gel Lyte IIIs, and Saucony Shadows could be worn once more. I had finally cracked the code on how to be a sneaker nerd and not look like every other kid at a sneaker buy/sell/trade expo.
I had to get away from sneakers, as much as it sucked, to figure out how to dress.
Sneakers were part of my identity. They were the strongest element of my personal style. I had figured out that enjoying sneakers was about digging what's on your feet, not capturing gazing eyeballs.
In this day and age, style and sneakers have a bigger connection than ever. Riccardo Tisci and Pigalle are designing Air Force 1s, Raf Simons has a complete collection with adidas, and BWGH has an ongoing collaboration with Puma. Sneakerheads also have a one-stop cop at stores like Concepts, Bodega, and End Clothing for their sneaker and clothing needs.
Menswear and sneaker culture might seem like two peas in a seersucker-lined pod, but they're not the same thing. Surely, 'heads are going to pick up a BWGH x Puma R698, but that's because they really like the sneakers—not because it goes with the look they're trying to build. Whereas a #menswear guy wants a running sneaker that can seamlessly blend with his slim-cut wool trousers and oxford shirt with the right amount of drape.But as these worlds collide, and sneakerheads are getting clowned for their poor pant choices, it only makes me realize that being a "stylish" sneakerhead isn't about wearing "fashion" collaborations at all. It's about picking out joints that make sense of your own aesthetic and outlook on sneakers. A high-fashion sneaker doesn't make the wearer anymore esteemed than an adidas EQT runner. The culture has, and always will, be about the person's connection to the silhouette—in both its form and function.
A sneakerhead appreciating a fashion designer's sneaker in 2014 is no different than when they bought Nike SBs in 2006 that were designed by a rock band they had never listened to. If a sneaker looks good, people are going to want it, regardless of the inspiration.
Am I advocating that sneakerheads need to forgo attention to the way they dress? No.
Being a stylish person that wears sneakers doesn't mean that someone has to become a slave to fashion. They're sneakers, after all. They're what, mostly, everyone wears, and they have to the ability to make people feel good about themselves. Looking good in sneakers won’t grant you access to fashion shows, nor will it automatically make you a hypebeast cliche.
Let’s all just agree to buy pants that fit, put on shirts that we won’t be embarrassed of in four years, and most importantly—wear the sneakers that we love. That's why we got into this in the first place, right?