Friday, March 1

There are few black-and-white issues in fashion – but the trainers you wear is one | fashion

ORn the whole I try to avoid wading into culture wars, but occasionally it is simply unavoidable. There are some battle lines where the fissures – along philosophical, generational and lifestyle divisions – just cannot be ignored, however painful they may be to touch upon.

I am talking, of course, about whether you wear black or white trainers. Like it or not, this is footwear’s key frontier, the victory of comfort over chic having put to bed the heels-v-flats debate. Plenty of people still wear high heels sometimes – me, for instance – but few of us now identify as full-time heel wearers. I still love the blast of energy that stepping into high heels can bring, like a well-timed key change in a Whitney ballad. But on the whole, heels are going the way of cufflinks and wing collars and hat pins.

We are all flats wearers now. Except it’s never that simple, is it? Now that everyone wears flats and most people wear trainers, the kind of trainers you wear matters more than ever. Of course, there are many people who have always believed that the exact type of trainer you wear is of utmost importance – if you are one, please feel free to eye-roll at my ignorant ramblings and move on. I’m talking about how the adoption of trainers by a demographic with no understanding of trainer culture (people like me) has changed the game.

A decade ago, a whole bunch of Generation X-ers who assumed they’d “grown out of” trainers began wearing them again. Blame the 2008 financial crash, blame Phoebe Philo taking a bow at Celine in 2011, blame athleisure, minimalism or gender-free dressing – it doesn’t really matter. Wearing trainers with smart day clothes went mainstream. Trainers with a trouser suit, which once marked you out as a self-consciously Creative Type, was suddenly the go-to look for CEOs doing Ted Talks and politicians on walkabouts. Women needing a shoe that was practical for the commute and smart for the office, ditched their ballet pumps for Adidas Stan Smiths.

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These newbies gravitated towards trainers slender of sole, with clean, horizontal lines and minimal bounce. Think Veja, or Common Projects, or the Gucci ones with red-and-green stripes. Their flat, minimal silhouette is similar to that of a leather loafer, or a Chanel pump. It’s technically a trainer, but in its soul it’s a smart shoe.

Some men have gravitated to black, which makes sense, because formal menswear is traditionally dark. I’m thinking of the black leather trainers with contrasting white soles – probably by Hugo Boss or Axel Arigato – which men drinking espresso in Italian airports always wear, as does everyone in the manager’s dugout for a Champions League football match.

But women who adopt a midlife trainer mostly opt for white. A box-fresh white trainer looks eye-catchingly pristine, which is reassuring if a small part of you still worries that trainers look scruffy. It is a less prissy version of the nude court shoe, basically.

The white trainer has become the establishment trainer. Which means younger, cooler trainer-wearers have started to look elsewhere. White trainers are more mainstream, a bit older. Black trainers are a little edger, cooler, younger. That’s how it looks from where I stand, anyway. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, right?

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