Have you ever heard someone talk about a “pants-to-shoe ratio?” While this expression specifically speaks to the way your pants hang against your ankle upon first glance, shoes play a huge part in scoring high here. They might be the single-handed, most important part of any first style impression. You can be dressed in a simple jeans and tee, but your footwear will absolutely make or break any outfit.
Now that we’ve put a ton of pressure on you to choose the right shoes (sorry), we’re also here to relieve it! While it’s cool to have an extensive sneaker closet, we recommend starting with modern closet essentials that can mix and be matched with any wardrobe. Each pair on this list is worthy of becoming your go-to kicks for the occasion. We are giving you multiple options for each category so you can choose one tailored to your taste and budget. With these 11 shoes in your closet arsenal, you’ll be ready to take on the world! Even in 2020.
We’re kicking off the list with a category many men are pretty skeptical of. As we like to call it, “the mandal,” these shoes are undoubtedly an essential item during the summer months because who wants to be sweaty in socks in 95-degree weather, am I right?! Take note, as many internet forums suggest, we are not including the flip flop in this category. Feel free to wear the thong slipper as you please, but why choose flip flops when you can dress in more stylish and supportive sandals below?
Read more: The Best Sandals for Men
Birkenstock Arizona Birko-Flor
Once known to be the stereotypical footwear of choice for granola-eating, tree-hugging hippies (hey, we’re here for it!), this sandal has now evolved to become a closet essential for the most fashion-forward of men. We’re happy to live in the middle and advocate for the Arizona Birkenstocks as a stylish upgrade to the pool-slide, offering a better-for-you arched footbed and a more durable lifespan. Note, they might feel a bit off at first, but the more you wear them, the more accustomed they become to your own two feet.
Apl Men’s Big Logo TechLoom Slide
One of the easiest sandals to slip on, these Apl slides are perfect for the pool, beach, and beyond. The best part isn’t how lightweight and packable they are, but the fact that they’re made with a flexible strap and molded footbed with every step. They mirror the comfort of the infamous Apl running shoe, but are a much breezier option.
Chaco Men’s Banded Z Cloud
These sandals are sturdy and supportive enough for any summer activity. From hiking to biking and even walking around a city, once you break in a pair of Chacos, you’ll understand why they have a cult following.
Adidas Stan Smith Slip on Shoes
While this isn’t technically a sandal, but we had to include it as an alternative for anyone uncomfortable with exposing their toes. Mules are a huge trend this summer and this version of the Stan Smith are a great sockless option for the dog days when all you want to do is kick off your kicks (ha) with ease.
Low Top Sneakers to Dress Up
Casual wear is becoming more popular these days. And pairing sneakers with a suit is a modern essential style trick for that effortlessly cool, yet elevated fashion mood. From date-night dinners to casual Fridays in the office, having a crisp and clean sneaker is a major priority on this list (keywords: crisp and clean).
Read more: The Best Sneakers for Men
Veja Esplar Shoes
Veja makes the perfect white sneaker, subtly showing its logo. Feel proud to rock the “V” because this positive impact brand is completely transparent on what goes on in the shoe industry. By shining a spotlight on this, the brand is encouraging the use of sustainable materials, ethical factories, and fairer wages. Veja means “look” in Portuguese, as the brand aims for their consumer to look beyond just footwear.
Greats Royale Sneakers
A minimalist favorite, these versatile sneakers are made with ultra-soft cowhide leather. The more you wear, the better they get. You can literally wear these with anything in your closet and get away with it. Just remember to wear no-show socks!
Koio Men’s Metro Taupe Sneakers
For the non-minimalist, these tonal, low-top sneakers ooze swagger. The athletic silhouette makes them a bit more casual than the rest in this category, but they are still sleek enough to dress them up for an evening out.
Mobs Design Tread Low
For the guy who’s afraid to wear all-white sneakers but is still seeking a dress-up comfort option, opt for the same vibe but in a color. Mobs Design makes sneakers that naturally become your go-to because of their comfort and breathability, while keeping that cool guy aesthetic. If you’re not into the cognac, don’t worry, they carry a wide array of colors.
The Dress Down Sneaker
For the days you’re afraid you might scuff up your “dress-up sneaker,” you’ll need a pair you are more comfortable to get down and dirty with. A dress-down shoe should be hip, yet comfortable enough to skate and walk around in.
Vans Old Skool
Your pants-to-shoe ratio will always be acceptable when rocking the Old Skool skater shoe from Vans. Pro tip; you don’t actually have to be a skater to wear these. The Vans lifestyle encompasses a laid-back and casual California attitude.
Converse Chuck Taylors
Contrary to popular belief (and the rules mentioned above), white Chuck Taylors look cooler when they are worn and a bit dirty. It’s a grungy, 90s moment that has turned into a fashionably relevant icon. Converse even sells a “dirty wash” version of these at a higher price among their custom selection, but we recommend getting there on your own.
Nike Killshot 2
Nike’s Killshot 2 sneakers mixes leather and suede for a play on texture and sheen. They are inspired by the brand’s original tennis shoe, with the classic Nike logo and typeface on the back as an ode to sporty nostalgia.
The Athletic Sneaker
Men’s shoes in general are an oversaturated market. And even when you narrow it down to the athletic category, the options still feel overwhelming. When you want to get super technical, you’ll have to narrow in on the sport of choice to steer your shopping roadmap. But in the meantime, we’re sharing three of our favorite athletic sneakers, below.
Read more: The Best Athletic Sneakers for Men
Hoka One One Men’s Arahi 4
These road-running sneakers are a bestseller for a reason. Users describe them as “running on a cloud.” While they’re made for mileage seekers, they’re equally as great for running errands around town. You won’t find a softer cushion than these from Hoka One One.
York Athletics MFG The Frank Half & Half
Between the leather and the mesh, these sneakers are the perfect marriage between an athletic and a lifestyle sneaker. They are made to work out in, but look great just hanging out in. This small brand out of Boston is onto something. Consider yourself warned, these sneakers will attract compliments from strangers.
AllBirds Tree Dashers
The latest release from AllBirds is the Tree Dasher style, which is partially made from eucalyptus pulp to ensure a cooling effect with each wear. Made to run, sprint, walk, and hop, the Dasher is super technical, sustainably made and beautifully designed.
Loafers give off a calm, cool, and collected, understated elegance. Many guys are intimidated by the tassels or the shine of a loafer, but you shouldn’t be! The second you put on a pair of great loafers, you will feel (and look) like a million bucks. If you’re not quite ready to channel Lord Disick and take the leap to the to tassels, there are plenty of other options where you can achieve the same style mood in a more subtle way.
Read more: The Best Loafers for Men
Sebago Dan Polaris Black/Blue
With a shiny smooth black leather and moccasin-style stitching, these loafers scream excellence while the pop of color scream fun. The timeless shape and detailed design gives you that luxe look without breaking the bank.
M.Gemi The Filare Loafers
The classic penny loafer got an upgrade with this (literally) modern twist. The twisted band where you would normally find a buckle or tassels is subtle and sleek. It’s an all-in-the-details type shoe, unique enough to make you one All M.Gemi shoes are handmade in Campania, Italy and you can smell and feel the quality with each wear.
Astorflex Patnoflex Loafers
Astorflex shows us that loafers don’t have to be as fancy as we thought. If you were intimidated by the above two pairs, opt for a more casual pair, the perfect match with jeans and button-down.
The Work Boot
Originally made for war and factory workers, the work boot has evolved into higher fashion, but it never lost its function. The options below live up to their name, offering steel shanks, carbon fiber toes, and durability to last. After all, that is the point of any investment, right? Whether you work in the field, or not, every guy should own a great pair of utilitarian work boots.
Read more: The Best Work Boots for Men
Red Wing Heritage Classic Moc
Adopted by fashion retailers like Madewell, Red Wing carries a great heritage. This style in particular dates back to 1952 and since then it’s grown into one of the most popular boot styles in the country. The fit becomes increasingly personalized over time, so expect it to be a bit snug at first with slight breathing room that will eventually relax.
Danner Bull Run Moc Toe
With a steel toe, and snug fit, you can do just about anything in these boots. Born and bred in the USA, Danner promises all-day comfort and long-lasting durability. All of their shoes go through a rigorous testing process. Plus, they are stylish enough to wear in the field and beyond.
The iconic 1460 Leather Lace Up Boots carry great history. Originally made for a more comfortable boot during World War Two and then made famous for factory workers in the 1960s, this shoe has evolved to be a fashion week staple today. Over six decades old, the original Dr Martens boot remains an ever-popular marriage of fashion and function.
The Dress Shoe
Wedding season will return someday, and it’s important that you’re prepared for the influx of post-COVID celebrations when that day comes. From oxfords to brogues and derbys to monk straps, dress shoes come in many shapes and styles. When you’re building a closet of basic essentials, we recommend staying close to home. Once you build the foundation of your closet with these classics, you then can venture out into more.
Read more: The Best Dress Shoes for Men
Nisolo Travel Derby
The best part of these ethically made shoes from Nisolo isn’t the fact that they are collapsible and less than one pound per half pair. It’s the fact that they have a “zero-break in” soft leather upper. Yes, you read that right. These spring/summer dress shoes have a cushion insole, bringing you maximum comfort at first wear.
Jack Erwin Clarkson
If you only can afford one dress shoe, go for an all-black cap-toe oxford. You can’t go wrong in this timeless classic. It will go with almost any suit and even a tuxedo.
Cole Haan Original Grand Short Wingtip Oxfords
Every guy should own a pair of Wingtip Oxfords. In this category we suggest staying between black and brown leather. Cole Haan should be your go-to for affordable, yet high quality dressy footwear.
The Chelsea Boot
Chelsea boots are the perfect city boot, especially transitioning into fall. They are elevated and streamlined but give off that bad boy, downtown attitude for major sex appeal.
Read more: The Best Chelsea Boots for Men
Thursday Boots Cavalier Boots
Don’t be afraid of the lighter suede. These are made with a “WeatherSafe” suede upper that will actually get better and look ruggedly seasoned with age. Thursday Boots are known for high quality and style, without looking too stuffy.
R.M. Williams Classic RM Leather Chelsea Boots
As the brand’s most timeless design, these deep brown leather boots are any city dweller’s dream. The deep brown goes with just about anything and the soft leather will keep your comfort levels high.
The Frye Company Paul Chelsea Boots
There is nothing like the quality and comfort of a pair of Frye boots. They use the softest leather, built to last. These boots will take you from the workday to the weekend without question.
The Driving Shoe
Ah, a classic Italian staple: the driving shoe. With the rise of automobile ‘driving culture’ in the 1960s, this moccasin/dress shoe hybrid derived from the demand for a comfortable option to wear on the road. It became a status symbol of the rich, for those who had a nice car to drive, who also had exclusive shoes to wear while driving it.
Driving shoes are typically made of soft Italian leather with rubber nubs or pads covering the soles. This construction allows for durability and comfort with a distinctive traction for stability while driving. Nowadays, sure they can be worn for driving but they also serve as a great slip-on shoe for around the house and casual outings. The driver has become a staple of well-dressed men for decades.
Read more: The Best Driving Shoes for Men
Wolf and Shepherd Gunner Driver
These sleek gratin leather slip-ons are made with memory foam and extra cushioning, so they literally feel like slippers. They come in seven different colors.
To Boot New York Palo Alto Driving Shoes
Trust us when we say, if you’re going to get a driving shoe, you’ve got to go for Italian-made leather … because, well, history! These driving shoes will make you want to buy a vintage Italian car and drive along the coast.
Aurelien Light Blue Suede Driving Shoes
Made for leisure and luxury, these Ultramarine driving shoes are thoughtfully designed for comfort every step of the way. They are the perfect Mediterranean vacation shoe.
If you’re going for a quick daytime hike, you might think sneakers will suffice. But why dirty your great trainers and when you can grab a pair, made specifically for the lakes, valleys, and mountains? If you’re hiking a rigorous mountain, you’ll definitely need something more technical, but the sporty hiking sneakers below offer non-slip treads and great support, so even if you’re not a seasoned hiker, you can at least look the part.
Adidas Outdoors Terrex Free Hiker Blue Men’s Hiking Boot
The rubber, suede, knit mixed media material makes these hiking shoes modern and sporty enough to wear around town. Even though it’s a major fashion trend this season, the knit built-in-sock serves the purpose of sealing away dirt and gravel.
Merrell Altalight Shoes
The Altalight shoes are the lightest pack hiker Merrell has ever built. They promise to keep your feet on the trail, even when it’s wet. They are complete with the same high-tech features from some of their other famous hiking boots with a cult following, but they aren’t as intense-looking.
Teva Gateway Low
The Gateway Low is best for day hikes. These shoes are made with 55% recycled polyester and leather sourced from sustainably minded tanneries. The Teva brand is more a lifestyle, that inspires outdoor adventures and is on a mission to protect the Earth. These treads will repel water and feel cool and comfortable – a pretty technical hiking shoe with a sneaker-like vibe.
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