At the 2018 Laureus World Sports Awards on Tuesday, Prince Albert of Monaco paired a tuxedo with some questionable footwear.
Instead of opting for shiny dress shoes, the 59-year-old sported some bright white sneakers. So does his high-low ensemble deserve a sartorial sanction? According to Samantha von Sperling, etiquette expert and image consultant, “fashion rules, whether you’re royalty or riff raff, are meant to be broken. But you have to break them well.”
This, Albert apparently did not do — but that doesn’t mean the outfit combination is generally unacceptable. Public figures like Justin Timberlake and Kaley Cuoco have proven in recent years that there are times when wearing sneakers with formalwear is OK. A sports award ceremony most definitely ticks that box, a fact that was proven by various other attendees who paired sneakers with their tuxedos, including German surfer Sebastian Steudtner, who wore subtle black and white sneakers and carried his surfboard on the red carpet. British race-car driver Chris Hoy nailed the look with black and white adidas.
So while von Sperling believes it’s not really ever OK to wear sneakers with a tuxedo, there are some exceptions to that rule. “I understand that in pop culture, athletes and hip-hop artists like to sometimes wear sneakers with a tuxedo,” she says. “They are making a pop culture statement. Sometimes pop culture and fashion go hand in hand.”
While it’s safe to say she would have preferred the prince not wear sneakers at all, she might have accepted it had he chosen a different style. “Those were not the sneakers to wear with that tuxedo. With all respect, he didn’t pull that off,” she states. “So, had I been his protocol adviser, I would have said, ‘Your majesty, you’re a middle aged man and you are not a professional athlete or a hip-hop artist. You’re a prince of a principality and I would go with a more formal shoe.’”
But the laidback nature of the shoe wasn’t the only problem. “They were the wrong size, they made his legs look short, they made the ankles of his tuxedo look off, it wasn’t the right look for him,” she states.
Another problem is his age, according to von Sperling. “If he had gone to that event and was 20 years younger, we wouldn’t have blinked, especially if his sneakers were rockin.’ We wouldn’t have batted an eye, in fact we probably would have applauded him,” she points out. Which is part of the reason why former Wales football player Ryan Giggs, 44, got away with his bulky white sneakers. “When we’re cute and young, we can get away with doing things that we cannot when we are a grown-up. But for the rest of us, there are some rules,” she says.
At the end of the day, von Sperling sees it like this: “If you’re considering wearing casual shoes to a more formal affair, my first response is, no, it’s not appropriate. But if you’re going to break rules, do it well, and consider the context.” Depending on who you are and will be around, there are some exceptions. “If you’re going to a pop culture event and you are a professional athlete, rock star, hip-hop artist, a stylist, one of the new members of Queer Eye, or in the fashion world, if it’s fashion week or the Grammys or a sports event” the rules can be bent, she says reluctantly.
There are some occasions when these rules are not meant to be broken, reiterating the fact that the situation and setting are crucial to bare in mind “because sneakers with a tuxedo at Buckingham Palace for a ball is not going to cut it.” She warns against sneakers at a “formal diplomatic black tie ball or gala.”
She urges that if you’re not sure if something’s inappropriate, don’t do it. “Why is it such a crime in the world right now to be elegant? You can wear sneakers any day of the week; can you not just get yourself dressed once? If you’re putting on a tux, why not go the whole nine yards?”
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