It was among the most pleasant fashion experiments I'd ever undertaken: pairing sneakers with things I wouldn't ordinarily wear together — an ankle-length dress, wide-legged trousers, a sleeveless sheath.
But I did.
It was something I was seeing everywhere, a trend that started in menswear three years ago on celebs from Kevin Hart and Jimmy Fallon to Pharrell Williams to Justin Timberlake. They were wearing Air Force Ones, Adidas, and Tom Ford kicks with their red-carpet-worthy labels.
With each passing year and social-media post, more celebs, more bloggers, and, finally, those with a fearless fashion sense began to embrace soft, sporty soles with made-to-measure suits and metallic maxis.
"I'm a 21st-century woman, so I want to be stylish and comfortable at the same time," said Ljupka Neducsin, 32, owner of designer consignment store Remix on Main in Manayunk. I recently whizzed right by Neducin during the grand opening of Arthur Kirsh's salon at the Bellevue but backtracked with a quickness when I caught a side-eye glimpse of the shiny Gucci sneaks she expertly paired with a long, lacy, pink dress, custom-made in Macedonia.
"It's about melding two worlds together: high fashion and practicality," Neducin said. "When there is no trend to support what you want to do, you make your own."
According to the most recent specialty-store sales numbers by the NPD Group, Neducin is one of many adopting the new style rule.
Though sales of performance-only athletic shoes (such as basketball sneakers) and fashion footwear (everything from ladies' pumps and ballet flats to classic men's tie-ups) are declining, leisure footwear sales have increased 9 percent, from 16.3 billion in the 12 months ending March 2016 to $17.9 billion for the same period this year.
"It's a simpler, more refined look," Beth Goldstein, industry analyst of fashion footwear for NPD, said as she gleefully admitted to wearing high-top sneakers, a blouse, and Theory leggings as she chatted with me on the phone.
"The recent athletic craze is resulting in a modern blend between dressy and casual," Goldstein said. "Our lifestyles are forcing fashion to meet us in the middle."
Athleisure may be one driving force behind today's comfy-meets-chic movement, but kicks also are finding corporate acceptance because the sneakerheads of the early aughts — you know, the guys who would stand in line for vintage Jordans or Pharrell Williams' Billionaire Boys Club jawns — have grown up some. And, in the process, they have refused to give up Air Max-like comfort for pinching, classic hardbacks.
"I think they communicate to people that I err on the side of whimsical, not stodgy," said Nigel Richards, a 46-year-old Philly menswear designer whose once completely athletic 611 Lifestyle brand now includes tailored button-downs and close-fitting drawstring trousers. He was wearing a pair of those pants with shoes that were much more sneaker than tie-up at Thursday night's Neiman Marcus charity fashion show. "But the truth of the matter is, we [guys] are really walking. And this is just more comfortable."
All this sneakers-with-everything love has helped classic brands such as Tretorn, Converse, and Keds find new relevance.
"It's been great for our business," said Emily Culp, Keds chief marketing director. The easy-walking footwear trend is behind a 25 percent climb in Keds e-commerce sales in the last year. And, said Culp, a Wyndmoor native, the brand has been sought out by designers such as Kate Spade and Rifle Paper Co. for collaborations: Keds' floral print sneakers by Rifle sold out at Anthropologie this spring.
Now, companies that typically would never have toyed with tennis shoes are getting in on the action — even Tory Burch introduced a collection of enviable sneakers two years ago with her Tory Sport line. Luxury labels Gucci and Prada have dressed down their traditionally all-business shoes. And a multitude of brands, from Converse to Tom Ford, all seem to offer a chocolate suede sneaker. (Note for next fall.)
"It's reached a tipping point," said Emily Evans, Ann Taylor's style expert, who also fessed up to wearing sneakers during our phone interview. Ann Taylor released a marketing campaign this spring featuring models in chambray shirtwaists, sleeveless jumpsuits, and wide-legged trousers paired with plain white tennis shoes.
"And women aren't taking the sneakers off when they get into the office, like they did in the 1980s," Evans said. "The look is firmly entrenched and accepted in their lifestyle."
Which brings me back to my personal style experiment. Could I pull this off? We all talk a good game about breaking rules, but would I look like I was trying too hard? There was only one way to find out.
I pulled out a floral maxi that I don't often wear because I tend to think it requires painfully high heels and wore it to the grand opening of the Moshulu deck with white slip-on sneakers I got from Target. Instead of wobbling from from stem to stern, I glided. The next night, instead of carrying a pair of black T-straps to an after-work fashion show, I wore the same sneakers. And, just like that, my dress was versatile.
Not to mention, my feet were in heaven when I had to walk across the mall parking lot after the show.
I'm a fan.
Not sure how to make the sneakers-with-everything trend work for you? Here are some looks to duplicate, worn by Donovan Holloway, 19, of Philadelphia, and Mely Duong, 25, of Lansdale — on your own budget, of course.
Styled by: Mark Barkdsdale
Hair and Makeup: Hector L. Rodriguez
Clothing and Accessories: