I remember a time when trainers were called runners and they were only ever worn with a tracksuit. My London born-and-bred cousin used to laugh at the colloquialism, and at my narrow understanding of these shoes’ sartorial possibilities. But at that time in Ireland, you could be turned away from a club, bar or restaurant for showing up in a pair.
Fashion has always been a means for social jockeying, and trainers are now no less a part of this than the handbag you carry or the watch you wear. Whereas once they were worn solely for practicality and comfort, they are now the answer to modern chic as well as street cool. They say something very definitive about your aesthetic and the tribe to which you want to be aligned (white adidas for Phoebe Philo fans, high tops for Olivia Wilde wannabe’s).
When Gucci and Prada began incorporating sportswear shoes into their collections, the former as early as the eighties and the latter in the early noughties, trainers began to slowly evolve beyond the functional into the newest form of self expression. Sportswear brands saw an opportunity and began collaborating with fashion labels – Adidas teamed up with Yohji Yamamoto and Jeremy Scott as early as 2002 – and the concept of “athleisure” was born, although it was several years before it was packaged up, given this label and sold to consumers as such.
Now we’re all obsessed with it, myself included. I never wore Converse when they were cool, and when the white trainer phenomenon took hold, I imagined myself looking more like I was about to tee up than step up. But yet the subliminal appeal of this new fashion shoe simply wouldn’t go away. I have since conquered the white trainers style conundrum, and invested in other colours too. Today I’m donning my version of modern laid-back chic in a pair of black fluid wide-leg trousers (Warehouse), textured burgundy trainers (Zara) and a thin knit jumper dress in earthy green with a cut-out back from Karen Millen.
Of course it’s the trainers that inject the “laid-back” into this look. Without their informality, the outfit would appear too much for a Friday afternoon in the office with no meetings. But as it is, I look like I’ve made an effort without appearing as if I’m overthinking it. That’s what trainers give you – the kind of cool insouciance that women everywhere want to exude.
I once debated the virtues of flat shoes in the pages of IMAGE Magazine, and now I find that everything I said about brogues and loafers I feel about trainers. They allow me to move around with ease, to look in control and they suggest an independence that reflects exactly the kind of woman I want to be, or hope I already am. To quote Stella McCartney, “There’s something about having the confidence to wear a shoe that is not ten inches tall that sends a message.” Insert trainer instead of “shoe that is not ten inches tall” and the sentiment remains the same.
The next pair of trainers on my wish list are these satin embroidered shoes from online store uterque.com. They’ll add personality to monochrome tailoring and the floral embellishment suggests a sexy contradiction between masculine and feminine.
And my next footwear challenge is to try pulling off trainers with a skirt (I’ve been turning over the prospect in my head for some time now!). I’m taking inspiration from Celine, below, and hoping that the lack of at least four inches in height won’t detract from my version of this look. Perhaps I’ll skip the oversized blazer and go fitted instead then.