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What American Men Are Buying When it Comes to Shoes

Spending on shoes is up in the U.S. and a lot of those dollars are going to athleisure.

According to the latest data from the FDRA, annual footwear sales now top $81 million in the United States.

For men, the styles that were important in 2017 remained important throughout 2018—and there is even evidence that the athleisure and comfort segments are still gaining steam. In particular, athletic-inspired styles grew double digits over the year, according to data from NPD.

“Athletic is still the biggest fashion trend out there, particularly for men,” Beth Goldstein, NPD executive director and industry analyst for accessories and footwear, said. “The men’s sports leisure category was up about 19 percent last year.”

Over the past year, athletic-inspired silhouettes have continued to evolve, leading to a wider adoption from luxury brands and the sneaker’s new role as a featured item in sustainable collections. However, Goldstein said athletic styles—especially sneakers—are becoming more commonplace thanks to a wider acceptance of the style in more formal environments. Sneakers now make up one-third of all spending in men’s footwear.

“It’s really interesting what sneakers have done to men’s footwear. Men’s footwear used to be oxfords and loafers and those categories are continuing to decline,” Goldstein said. “There are pockets within them, providing comfort and innovation, that have helped. But the new dress shoes for men are sneakers.”

In 2018, a sizable portion of footwear sales was driven by millennials, which NPD says made up more than 40 percent of all footwear sales over the year. And more than millennials, older Gen-Zs are gaining purchasing power, too, as they enter into full employment.

“In the last year, the drivers were the older Gen-Zs, ages 14 through 22, and then the 14-through-29-year-olds,” Goldstein said. “You can really tie most of it back to the age group that is most interested in [sports leisure].”

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The same impetus that made sneakers so popular with consumers has also given life to the rise of comfort trends, according to Goldstein, with a lot of that growth being found in the bridge and designer segments at the upper end of the price range. Luxury brands like Gucci are now being driven by sneakers and slides, even if they are considered luxury styles rather than actual athleisure.

Cole Haan and Ugg, according to Goldstein, are examples of brands that have continuously been able to provide innovations and features that appeal to modern men seeking comfort kicks, while also providing a good value proposition.

The biggest change over the year when it comes to footwear spending, according to NPD, has been the strength of Vans. The brand’s popularity has begun to leech business from Converse, which Goldstein said is struggling to provide newness to consumers, and could even be over-distributed.

The average transaction value for footwear is around $55, well within the bounds of mainstream brands’ price ranges. But, the most significant change in the market occurred in the $150 to $200 range in 2018, driven by a combination of factors. First, the rise in popularity of higher-end athletic silhouettes and the ongoing rise of sneaker resale, which has organically raised the values of certain styles due to high levels of exclusivity combined with strong demand, have helped fuel the shift.

Brands are also now doing a better job of providing a good value proposition for higher-end footwear, helped by the fact that comfort and athletic-oriented footwear has become more acceptable for workwear, as has their activewear apparel counterparts.

“Ten years ago, in Saks, I saw a Chanel chunky sneaker and it has just continued since,” Goldstein said. “Doesn’t seem to be slowing down.”