How fashion's fascination with white trainers came to be - and the best ones to buy in 2022
It’s been over a decade since white trainers became a womenswear staple. Yes, we're marking it by the exact moment Phoebe Philo took her bow on the #oldceline runway, in March 2011, wearing a pair of Adidas Stan Smiths.
A year before, at her debut show for the brand, the designer had chosen the same cigarette pant and roll-neck combo, grounded with a pair of leather loafers instead. While this ensemble was undeniably chic in its androgynous insouciance, there was something about those not-so-box-fresh trainers that seemed almost rebellious. Fashion was all about polish, after all.
Before then, women were shackled to platform stilettos – Louboutin reigned in the early-Noughties – or flimsy ballet flats at best. Womenswear was crying out for a shoe that wasn’t defined by its femininity or sexiness. The lack of comfort and practicality in clothes design is proof of the patriarchy's influence (the gender pocket gap is based on the assumption women always carry handbags). Trainers weren’t for ladies, trainers were for teenagers, or gym classes.
Which brings us on the next trend that helped create the trainers way of life: athleisure. Alongside an interest in Soul Cycle, green juices, clean eating and healthy hashtags came the rise and rise of sporty clothing. Soon designers were incorporating all of its aesthetic tropes – tricolour webbing, side stripes and technical nylon – into their luxury line-ups. Clare Waight Keller’s spring/summer 2016 collection for Chloé, which featured floor-sweeping floral skirts teamed with track jackets, epitomised this high-low mix.
It was in this exact year that Stan Smith sales hit an all-time peak, with those who hadn’t even heard of Phoebe Philo rushing out buy a pair (Miranda Priestly's famous trickle down theory from The Devil Wears Prada springs to mind here). It shouldn't have surprised anyone, really. Not only was this simple shoe comfortable, it was ultra versatile: it could be worn during busy errand-running days, at the office with a smart pair of trousers, and in the evening with jeans and a nice top.
With its rounded toe, simple plimsoll-inspired shape and clean silhouette, the Stan Smith eased women into the trainer trend. But it was fashion’s fascination with athleisure that helped push design beyond that. Not long after, the sportier Chanel CC Runner emerged, followed by the ultimate ‘Dad’ trainer, Balenciaga’s chunky Triple S and Louis Vuitton’s futuristic Archlight design.
These days, everyone has their own white trainer camp. Many stylish women are rarely seen without their Vejas (including Meghan, Duchess of Sussex), and if they don't own a pair they're no doubt wearing some sort of high-street take on the Stan Smith. Even the Duchess of Sussex is partial to a pair of white canvas Supergas. These safer styles are seen as a wardrobe mainstay, while chunkier shapes or flatforms are the statement-making preference of street stylers and influencers.
The point is, everyone owns a pair. This is one of those rare items of clothing, along with slip dresses and blazers, that has managed to gain staple status in the 21st century. If you’re not sure which camp you fall into, let us help you out with our breakdown of the best white trainers to buy in 2022.
Best white designer trainers
Fashion insiders once sniffed at enthusiastic trainer discussions, thinking them best left to sneakerheads on streetwear blogs and tumblr. Fast forward to 2015 and the landscape had changed – suddenly, designer trainer sales began dominating and seemingly casual items became hotter than handbags. While there were never Yeezy levels of queueing and camping outside stores, virtual wait lists were the norm. The Balenciaga Triple S trainer sold out within a few hours of dropping (the first, second and third time around) on Net-a-Porter's site in 2017.
The style that has maintained its cult status over the years is Gucci's Ace. Probably because of its simple shape, slightly more affordable price point and its shapeshifting abilities. The first iteration had tricolour stripes, metallic watersnake pull tabs and a bee motif embroidery but the brand soon dropped different versions – including one with a collapsible heel to echo the label's popular slip-on loafers.
Best classic white trainers
The classic white trainer is still in keeping with Stan Smith's minimalist aesthetic: a clean silhouette, rounded toe and simple fastenings. The definition of a wardrobe staple, this basic shoe uniforms women of all ages and in all manner of situations.
Most high street and mid-range brands have a version of this trainer in their permanent collections, some chicer than the original. How to choose when there are so many out there? Go for simplicity and steer clear of fussy accents to maintain that coveted minimalist feel. The most colourful you can get here is with the contrast heel tab and appliqué logo on Veja's V-10 design.
Best white chunky trainers
The chunky trainer does often sit on a platform sole, it's slightly different to the style above: its shape is all-encompassed by the base, rather than neatly separated from it. Most versions are still inspired by Balenciaga's Triple S, replicating its stacked sole and panelled upper.
The original was referred to at the time as the 'ugly' or 'dad' trainer, which tapped into the brand's normcore values. (The definition is 'normal' but, really, this was a fetishisation of the unstylish mundane – suburbia, half-zip fleece jackets and Eighties colour-block anoraks). This trend spawned the sandal equivalent a few years later, an equally as ergonomic Velcro-fastening shoe championed by the likes of Chanel.
Best white platform trainers
Once associated only with Harajuku girls and Nineties pop stars, the platform shoe has a had a makeover in the last decade. Now, trainer iterations are the easiest way add a few inches of height, without the drama and discomfort of heels. Of course, you can choose how understated you want to look: a subtle sole like Jigsaw's is appropriate even for work, while Converse's cleated Run Star Hike (inspired by the brand's successful collaboration with J.W. Anderson) makes a real statement.The most flattering way to wear them? With wide trousers that sweep the floor, to let them work their leg-lengthening magic.
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