They may not move as fast as fashion, but sneakers certainly aren’t static. New styles and trends emerge every year, but only some are worth paying attention to. The trick is knowing which ones to adopt and which to disregard. That way, you can keep up to date without looking like a fashion victim.
In spite of the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 was a surprisingly busy year for sneakers. And as we sink our teeth into 2021, there’s still plenty to get excited about where footwear is concerned.
Below, we explain some of 2021’s biggest new sneaker trends, along with some overarching ones that look set to continue into the new year and beyond. From outdoor-inspired kicks to some rather surprising comebacks, these are the sneaker trends to know in 2021.
Take A Hike
Fashion’s current fixation with the great outdoors has done the unthinkable, it has made practicality and comfort cool. With many of us being forced outside to socialise and into our homes to work, the blend of functionality, cosiness and style offered by outdoor-inspired garb has never been more relevant. Now it’s spilling over into the footwear world too.
The popularity of trail runners as casual footwear is nothing new, but in 2021 we’ll be seeing more and more outdoor-friendly shapes coming to the surface. Footwear styles usually favoured by climbers and hikers are gaining traction thanks to brands like Hoka One One, Merrell and Salomon making conscious efforts to move into the fashion arena, and a lot of it is surprisingly wearable.
Dunk-mania has been dominating the sneaker world for a couple of years now, but it really reached a crescendo in 2020. We lost count of how many times a limited-release Dunk SB dropped last year, but a subsequent slew of wider releases has seen the hype subside somewhat.
But it’s far from over. Dunk-mania has brought basketball shoes back into focus and although the Dunk itself may be starting to feel a tad played out, the resurgence of court-inspired footwear in general is really heating up. Expect to see more of it as we progress through the year.
Skate Shoe Resurgence
For better or worse, oversized skate shoes were all the rage in the early 2000s. Puffy tongues, bulky silhouettes and excessive detail were inescapable up until around 2005, and once they’d fizzled out, everyone was pretty confident that they wouldn’t be returning. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected, and lately there have been a number of pretty obvious clues that 2021 may well be the year that the skate shoe returns.
The first real sign came a few years back when A$AP Rocky paid homage to the Osiris D3 (the king of puffy ‘00s skate shoes) via a collaboration with Under Armour. But, more recently, some even bigger names have been jumping on the bandwagon. Not least of which, trendsetting label Louis Vuitton, which last year released its first ever signature skate shoe for pro skater and Palace poster boy Lucien Clarke. Watch this space.
New Balance 99?
New Balance has been intermittently reviving models from its 99x line for a while now, resulting in some of the most noteworthy sneaker trends in recent years. The 990v5 took off with unprecedented success back in 2018, sparking dad-shoe madness, while last year the 992 was inescapable, with a string of collabs, limited releases, and a wider drop of some classic colourways.
It’s a safe bet to assume that New Balance will be continuing down the same path in 2021, and the rumour mill is already churning out plenty of speculation about the re-emergence of some older 99x styles. Which ones? For now, we’ll have to wait and see.
It’s no secret that the fashion industry takes a heavy toll on the environment. From factories billowing out greenhouse gasses to fast-fashion offcasts piling up in landfill, it all adds up, and sneakers are part of the problem.
Perhaps that’s why more and more brands are looking for ways to reduce their environmental impact and create sneakers that put sustainability front and centre. New labels like Waes are making great-looking sneakers that are fully compostable to be kinder to the planet, while even big names like Nike and Adidas are experimenting increasingly with recycled fibres. A drop in the ocean, sure, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Fashion’s cyclical nature usually means that whatever is going on at any given time is a response to what went before it. For many years minimalism had ruled supreme, so things were bound to begin moving in the opposite direction at some point.
However, rather than being cast into obscurity, minimalist footwear has earned a place in the sneaker history books. Simple white trainers are now a bona-fide men’s style classic and their enduring popularity proves they won’t be going away any time soon. Common Projects’ Achilles model is still widely considered the pinnacle but everyone from sportswear giants to Northamptonshire shoemakers to up-and-coming independent labels are now producing their own take on the silhouette. Buy whatever takes your fancy – you really can’t go wrong with a plain white kick.
When it comes to footwear designed with sport in mind, pushing boundaries with technology has always been a driving force. The big athleisure brands are locked in an endless arms race, each hoping to come up with the next big thing in sneaker tech. For the rest of us, that means great shoes that are built to perform.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen knitted uppers become popular, 4D printing starting to be rolled out as a means of production for intricate sole units, and even self-lacing mechanisms. Expect more boundary breaking developments going forward.
With all that tech being churned out by sportswear’s heavy hitters, sometimes it’s nice to go back to basics. Retro suede runners are big news this year and make the perfect accompaniment to anything from a tailored tracksuit to raw selvedge denim.
These throwback kicks often feature vivid block colours, meaning they can be a great way to introduce a splash of vibrancy to even the most pared-back of outfits. Plus they’re seriously comfortable, which is always a welcome bonus. The best designs can be found at heritage brands like Spalwart, New Balance, Asics and Novesta.
More High-Fashion Collabs
Collaborations are nothing new in the world of footwear. In fact, they’re about as old as sneaker culture itself. These days, however, they’re becoming more important than ever before as a tool for reintroducing consumers to forgotten silhouettes and shaping brand image.
All of the biggest sneaker releases in recent memory have been collaborative, and recently high-fashion labels have been getting involved, too. The Nike x Sacai LDWaffle, Air Jordan x Dior Jordan 1 and Adidas x Prada Superstar have been some of the most talked about shoes ever released, crystallising the cross-pollination of streetwear and haute couture.
These types of sneakers are a perfect metaphor for what’s been happening in the industry over recent years; urban style and runway fashion are coming together in trainer form, and if the last 12 months are anything to go by, it only looks set to continue.
Dad Shoes Are Forever
Dad caps, dad bods, dad jeans… it seems like every hot new men’s lifestyle or fashion trend over the last few years has been trailblazed by our fathers. Unsurprisingly, footwear is no exception, and while the dad shoe trend may not exactly be breaking news, recently it has taken root and become much more accessible.
If you’re looking for a specific shoe to thank for opening this new, ultra-comfy footwear option up to the masses, we’d be inclined to point you in the direction of the New Balance 990 v5. The 990 series has long been the high-water mark for all other dad shoes to aspire to, but the updated version from the beginning of 2019 really set things in stone.
To pull it off for yourself, we’d recommend going for simple, understated colours to increase versatility and to balance out the heavy detailing and chunky silhouette.