Parisians and the white sneaker

Photo by Vincent Desailly. Used with permission from Veja.

Americans in Europe

Typical American tourist in Europe: how do you spot one? The classic answer: the camera, the backpack worn on the front of the body, the baseball cap, the bright white tennis shoes. Especially the shoes. Nearly every moderately stylish American going to Europe who doesn’t want to be immediately pegged as foreign swears off wearing tennis shoes, at least while in Europe. Ballet flats or oxfords are pretty safe alternatives.

However, if you were to actually go to Europe right now and pay attention, you might notice that everyone is wearing big, bright, white sneakers. Yes, the effortlessly stylish, über-fashionable French women are almost all wearing white tennis shoes when they go out. And if they aren’t wearing them, you’re still pretty safe betting large amounts of money that they own them.

The brands? Mostly Adidas (Stan Smith), but also Veja, Reebok, Nike and New Balance, among others.

This is not to say that you will immediately be pegged as American for not wearing white sneakers. Nice black leather boots are still stylish. So are ballet flats, high heels, sandals, and other appropriate footwear. It all depends on how you wear it. But for the last year or so here, athleisure (including white sneakers) has been going strong.

If you’re a fashion expert, you already knew that white sneakers started trending about two years ago (correct me if I’m wrong). You also know that the trend probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If you’re more of a non-expert, like me, come hang out with me in Paris and we can sit at a café table on the street and stare in (mostly) masked admiration at all the stylish people walking back and forth in their beautiful clothes and sporty baskets (what the French call these shoes). Then we can talk about how the fashion experts have some kind of sixth sense for upcoming styles and about how unfortunate we are not to have that.

Photo by Vincent Desailly. Used with permission from Veja.

How Parisians wear their white sneakers

The French women aren’t wearing their white sporty tennis shoes with cargo shorts, high school sports team T-shirts, and visors, like your typical American tourist might. They also aren’t wearing them strictly with athetic clothes. They are wearing them with rolled-cuff black pants, with black leather miniskirts and black tights, with a well-made and well-fitting pair of jeans, with a perfectly tailored casual dress or with a men’s suit jacket à la Christine and the Queens. The white shoes go well with the mostly black and white and dark/bold color scheme that is trending right now.

It should come at no surprise that the men are wearing them too. They wear them much the way the women do, skirts and dresses excepted. Perhaps a suit coat and well-fitting jeans, perhaps casual pants in darker colors as opposed to the bright yellows and reds of a few years ago. While the women are often seen wearing les baskets to work if they have a more casual dress code, the men don’t usually do that. For them, it’s definitely more of a casual and weekend thing.

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t what I expected to see, but it doesn’t surprise me at all. Quality white tennis shoes, while not traditionally high fashion or dressy, are versatile and fit the lifestyle of a lot of people here. Therefore, they are acceptable and have become quite popular. People like to feel good in what they wear. After having tried them myself, I can say my Veja baskets are some of my favorite shoes I have ever worn.

How to dress like a Parisian

So many Americans want to have that “French style,” and some people will spend hours researching fashion blogs and trying to look the part, but it doesn’t work that way. If you are trying too hard, you look like you’re trying too hard, and that automatically makes your style not French.

French style is all about accentuating what you like about yourself, highlighting your best natural features. This applies to makeup as well as clothing. Your clothes should follow you and your personality before it follows any trends. Well-made, quality, tailored clothing in colors that suit your complexion are always in style. The French themselves are often more concerned with the quality of the product than the brand itself, though if you find something that is a known brand as well as high quality, it’s doubly valuable. Adding even more to that value is if the brand is a sustainable one like Veja, which uses wild Amazonian rubber, organic cotton, and even recycled water bottles in many of their most popular shoes.

If you want to dress up as a cliché French person for Halloween (which is a bit ironic because the French don’t typically celebrate that particular holiday), go out and buy a Breton striped shirt and navy blue dress pants and a beret and a Longchamp bag and a red silk neck scarf and some black shoes. If you want to look as effortlessly stylish and confident as the French men and women of today, figure out what your own personal style is, and find quality, sustainably created items that suit your personality and your body type. Accentuate what you like about yourself. Then, when you go out, act like you look like a million bucks, because that’s how you should feel! Cool and confident.

Side note: you can still wear striped shirts and navy blue pants and black shoes and a red scarf and all the other things I just mentioned, but only if you bought them for the right reasons.

Veja Everlane Ekyog outfit
You can barely see it, but that’s the Eiffel Tower by my left arm

In my picture I’m wearing a shirt from Everlane (get it here), blazer from Ekyog (a selection of similar items here), and shoes from Veja (get them online here), all sustainable fashion brands that commit themselves to high ethical and environmental standards in their factories and in their products. My pants are well-used and well-loved, beyond #30wears (I highly recommend following that link) and I feel confident when I wear them. These items are all good quality and will last for a long, long time. I’m going to wear the heck out of this jacket especially! Plus, they fit my personal style. The fact that they are made from sustainably sourced materials complements my personality because minimizing my impact on the environment is something that I care about.

So, there you go. The myth of the white tennis shoe, debunked! Wear your baskets to your heart’s desire, as long as you feel confident and comfortable in quality clothes that seem as if they were exclusively made for you. That’s how you know you’re doing it right.

And of course, whenever possible, get your clothes from sustainable places like thrift shops, vintage stores, or ethical fashion brands, since protecting the environment and human rights is always, always chic.


All opinions expressed in this post are purely my own. I received no compensation or solicitation from any of the brands represented.

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