Business casual sneakers have found their place in the American office thanks to a post-pandemic culture that demands comfort. People have seen the light; many grew accustomed to the ease of working from home in their favorite joggers, cozy hoodies, and footwear of their choosing. But when it came time to head back into the real world, they were less than excited to button things up, and rightfully so — who wants to feel restricted?
Thankfully, dress codes are skewing lax as companies learn of the possibilities of presenting professionally through carefully planned outfits. This doesn’t mean sweats and slippers, but many guys are trading in their khaki pants for a pair of well-fitting jeans and unbuttoning their dress shirts in favor of comfortable polos or even crisp, slim-fit t-shirts that layer nicely under a blazer. But one of the earliest items cut from the roster in favor of comfort was the dress shoe.
What Are Business Casual Shoes?
Though men’s dress shoes are often powerfully stunning and men’s boots will work on occasion, neither comes close to the all-day comfort and shock absorbency sneakers can provide, especially for guys who work on their feet. But there’s a very fine line as to what makes a sneaker appropriate for business casual attire and what’s better suited for everyday life. Consider these four things when shopping for sneakers to wear at the office:
- Style: The best office sneakers will have a slim silhouette without a lot of chunkiness and an overall low profile. Sneakers like this don’t make feet look small or oversized but somewhere in between. Slip-on sneakers tend to look too casual. Running shoes are an immediate “No.”
Material: Leather and suede are going to be the best materials for business casual sneakers. That’s not to say canvas can’t sometimes work, but anything fabric-based will make an outfit look even more casual.
Color: Men’s office sneakers should stay in the neutral color lane. That means black, brown, white, and gray. Subtle pops are also acceptable, like navy blue, oxblood, or forest green. Colorful office sneakers, though dependent on the work environment, are best worn on a limited basis or as part of a larger rotation of shoes. Avoid anything that’s too bright unless it’s spirit week.
Your Outfit: It’s a balancing act. If you’re still required to wear a suit and tie, opt for a slim-fit and add a sharp-looking sneaker or sneaker-soled dress shoe that allows the pants to drape properly. Better yet, tailor the pants right to the ankle. Former NFL tight end, Rob Gronkowski, always pulls this off as a sports personality. Otherwise, if you’re in a chino or jeans-wearing office that has all but denounced the necktie, the sky’s the limit on sneakers.
How Much Should You Pay for Business Casual Sneakers?
The price of business casual sneakers ranges — widely. While popular designers like Saint Laurent or Salvatore Ferragamo offer beautifully handcrafted sneakers at a very premium price, smaller brands, like Ace Marks and Taft, have started to emerge with special business models that allow them to cut out the middle-man and charge a fraction of the cost for similar-caliber products.
For the best business casual sneakers, considering quality, materials, and longevity, feel comfortable spending between $150-$250. In this price range, you can find Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese-made shoes that are just as incredible as higher-end designers (if not already manufactured in the same factory). Even if they’re not hand-made, many shoes in this range are of exceptional quality.
For sneakers outside this range, still, consider them. Many brands, like Cole Haan, Cariuma, and Todd Snyder still pay a considerable amount of attention to design, comfort, and usefulness.
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The Best Business Casual Sneakers of 2023
The Greats Royale OG sneaker took off like a bat out of hell when it launched in Brooklyn about a decade ago. It was a very handsome Italian-made basic sneaker that rivaled Saint Laurent for a fraction of the price. The OG has undergone some changes since then, but the newly-released Royale 2.0, now made in Portugal, is a well-executed update that features a gold foil embellishment. Even with added flexibility and reduced weight, the 2.0 still offers a structured feeling thanks to high-quality leather and a sturdy rubber sole that can handle tougher street surfaces. The new lineup consists of 12 mostly office-appropriate colorways.
Men’s business casual sneakers started to catch on with the rise of the Common Projects Achilles, which is expensive, just shy of designer pricing. But when Cole Haan dropped the GrandPro Tennis, it was game-changing — an affordable leather office sneaker in excellent neutral colors that’s well-cushioned, offers some traction, and is astoundingly lightweight. For nearly a decade, this has been the choice of many guys to wear with slim suits, jeans and a sweater, or anything else. The brand has expanded on the GrandPro line, but this one is the “it” shoe.
This is the best canvas office sneaker to wear because, with the right outfit, it strikes a nice chord between playful and professional. The Cariuma OCA Low is a very low-profile sneaker that’s built with a memory foam and cork insole and, speaking from experience, is far more comfortable than one would originally expect. It’s well-cushioned for all-day comfort and even has some tread on the sole for city commuters. My go-to outfit for this shoe, specifically in black canvas, combines one of The Tie Bar’s popular knit polos with the Dockers Workday Khaki, tucked in, and a black leather belt. It’s a home run every single time that’s easy for anyone to recreate.
Is it a dress shoe or a sneaker? Well, it’s neither and both at the same time. This Johnston & Murphy shoe combines the brand’s reputation for sleek silhouettes with its version of an office-ready sneaker sole. Made in Italy, the Jameson Wingtip is a longwing dress sneaker that uses a split-leather welt to affix the brand’s proprietary EVA sole. The sole is different than those of other similar dress sneakers because it features sharp, refined ridges on the sides instead of a typical bulbous sneaker-style sole. Despite Cole Haan popularizing the dress sneaker category with a model very similar to today’s OriginalGrand, it’s Johnston & Murphy’s Jameson Wingtip Derby that refined the hell out of the style to create something really interesting.
Rob Gronkowski might be a member of Wolf & Shepherd’s “Wolf Pack” of brand ambassadors, but it’s hard not to believe that he actually loves the shoes. His eagle-eyed Instagram followers have probably noticed him wearing many of the brand’s business casual sneakers while suited up as a sports personality, when mini golfing, and when (previously) heading into the locker room. The most comfortable of these has to be the Swiftknit Derby, seen on Gronk in all white. This sporty business casual sneaker has a flexible knit upper that doesn’t restrict the contours of a foot but still looks sharp enough to wear with office attire. It’s built atop the brand’s signature thick sole and comes in five colors, including this very attractive slate blue.
Designed to sit in first class, the Ace Marks Travel Sneaker is the best business casual shoe for those who frequently fly for work. This sneaker does everything you’d expect it to with regard to versatility and comfort, but the brand specifically designed it for the hassles of packing. If you opt not to wear the Travel Sneaker on your flight, it is completely collapsible, as demonstrated on the brand’s website. The heel cup folds forward and the sides lay flat on top of it. Not only do they look amazing and feel great in real life, but I can personally attest that these sneakers pack into a single shoe bag and store neatly in the zippered half of a carry-on suitcase. They really do save a ton of space. If you’re down to wait a little for a made-to-order pair, you’ll be glad you did. Get them in brown.
The name might elicit a Who’s On First response, but The Sneaker by Taft is one of the brand’s best business casual shoes. Known for their Spanish-made men’s boots, dress shoes, and sneakers that are simply different (in the best way), Taft’s rendition of The Sneaker in “Multi-Color Jacquard” hosts both flare and sophistication in chocolate brown leather with a very neutral, multi-colored woven metallic upper. The sneaker pops on its own, but when the look is completed with some dark slim-fit jeans, a plain T-shirt, and a knit blazer, like this chore coat from Buck Mason, that’s when the compliments start to roll in. The Sneaker is also available in an incredible black or brown leather weave and multi-colored chevron stripe — each of which is wicked cool.
On occasion, high-tops make great business casual sneakers. And while there’s a case to be made for select pairs of Jordans, it’s too often that the sharp and loud color combos take them out of the professional conversation. Despite also sometimes having crazy prints, the Vans SK8-Hi is a compact high-top sneaker that’s usually offered in basic but versatile colors that work perfectly with the office vibe. This pair in light brown suede is a great option to wear with a fall wardrobe filled with earthy colors like brown, green, and orange. You could also color block using these and a pair of black jeans.
[$81 (was $90); zappos.com]
Big tech pushed business casual culture into the 21st century — but had Steve Jobs favored fashion over firmware, he may have opted for Madewell’s Kickoff Trainer Sneakers instead of his now-immortalized New Balance 992. More office-appropriate than the often-dubbed “dad shoe,” the Kickoff Trainer is a retro-inspired runner that’s been modernized with mixed-media materials and a neutral color palette. Madewell baked in their special sneaker cushioning system that, combined with the wide toe box, means long-lasting comfort. They’re bulkier than the average men’s office sneaker, but for any tech job, they’re a sure bet.
City commuters know how quickly shoes can get ruined from the daily grind. The convenient thing about Rothy’s shoes is that once they get dirty, you can chuck them in the washing machine and get them looking brand new in no time. That’s why they’re the best business casual sneaker for commuters. Not only are they cool looking, this one boasting oxblood accents around the ankle, but they’re also soft, thanks to their fabric upper, and supportive with their contoured footbed and thick rubber outsole. The RS01 comes in 13 colors, each of which is a great sneaker for an office environment.
Combining his love for old-school basketball and tennis shoes, Todd Snyder’s Tuscan Court Shoe is the latest drop from the New York-based designer and the very first sneaker bearing his name. The Tuscan Court Shoe is a low-profile, Italian-made sneaker featuring suede and nubuck uppers, brogue detailing, and a cork footbed. As a business casual sneaker, it doesn’t get much cooler than this, with Snyder considering even the smallest of details, like opting for a speckled rubber sole over plain gum. Wear this shoe to the office with one of Todd’s newest suede jackets and his popular classic fit selvedge jeans.