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Traditional Wedding Footwear Regains Appeal With Men After Years of ‘Sneaker Buzz’

A cursory search on Instagram for #WeddingSneakers offers a quick look into how the formal sneaker trend has caught on with betrothed men and groomsmen across the country—however, experts are split as to whether this constitutes the future of wedding footwear for men or just a passing trend.

According to the latest available data from the NPD Group’s consumer tracking service, athletic-inspired footwear comprises 25 percent of the dollar sales of men’s footwear “purchased with the intention of wearing for evening/special occasion use,” compared to 20 percent two years ago.

This growth, NPD said, is coming at the expense of traditional fashion shoes, which have lost a portion of their share in the evening/special use category.

“I do believe, that like most other situations, weddings have gotten more casual.” Beth Goldstein, NPD’s executive director and industry analyst, told Sourcing Journal. “Many couples are forgoing the traditional black-tie affairs in favor of smaller, more experiential events, like in a barn, in a loft, etc. And also, even if the dress code is formal (suit or tux), the types of footwear that are acceptable with those have changed.”

The results of a recent survey conducted by wedding planning website, The Knot, seem to support that theory. The survey found that 52 percent of grooms prefer suits on their wedding day, up from 24 percent in 2011. Sneakers with a tuxedo may still seem tacky to today’s men, but the suit and sneaker look has grown much more established.

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A brand spokesperson for Cole Haan pointed to its American Classic and Feathercraft line as good examples of the way a brand can handle the dichotomy of casualization and formality that’s likely to appeal to young men preparing for a wedding.

Cole Haan’s American Classic line presents many of the same silhouettes and styles that have long-accompanied men on formal occasions, but with modern enhancements like its Grand.ØS technology, designed to enhance the cushion and flexibility of the shoe’s midsole and outsole. In March, Cole Haan released its Feathercraft line, a classic oxford with extremely light construction and non-traditional design cues. The brand’s answer to the wedding sneaker also includes features like rubber pods on the outsole for added traction and embedded energy foam to provide “superior energy return.”

Traditional Wedding Footwear Bounces Back with Men
Cole Haan’s American Classic Gramercy Derby Wholecut Dress Oxford in Tan Cole Haan

Michael Fisher, the VP and creative director for men’s wear at the global trend consulting agency, Fashion Snoops, agreed that the casualization of wedding footwear for men is a definite trend—but perhaps one without staying power. 

“It really started as a styling technique for ad campaigns to try and appeal to younger or more urbane guys. I’m not sure the look of a suit with a sneaker is going to age well, to be completely honest,” Fisher said. “I think a super clean cut style like a Stan Smith can look cool, but I tend to think a wedding is a solemn occasion and should be treated as such.”

Fisher, instead, sees the trend toward casualization informing the traditional category. Brands like Cole Haan and Gucci, he said, have experienced a “major uptick” recently thanks to designs that provide the same level of comfort and “cool factor” found in athletic-inspired footwear, but in more traditional silhouettes. Plus, Fisher says, it doesn’t hurt that “a little bit of excess became on trend once again.”

“Right now, chukka boots and oxfords with some sort of active-inspired sole are leading the way,” Fisher said. “I think it’s because they strike a necessary balance between casual and formal. There are lots more experiments with colorways, novel texture, and innovative soles, which are giving men more reasons to re-invest in classic styles.”


Traditional Wedding Footwear Bounces Back with Men
Cole Haan’s Feathercraft Grand Oxford with Stitchlite in Marine Blue Cole Haan

“I think there are also plenty of options towards the lower side of the price point like New Republic by Mark McNairy and even ASOS,” he added.

Today’s grooms-to-be, it seems, want to find a way to express themselves on a day they get to express their commitment to the one they love in front of their closest family and friends. To those men, Fisher had one piece of advice.

“There are plenty of ways for men to express their individuality on their wedding day that doesn’t sacrifice good taste,” he said.