Without fail, my wardrobe gets one major criticism from friends, family, loved ones and nosy house guests: Why do you need so many pairs of white sneakers?
I’ve counted 15 pairs of white sneakers in my closet. And if you think that’s a lot, here’s a tidbit: I owned even more a few months ago, prior to moving out of the country and being forced to wisely pick and choose footwear.
The simple answer to the question is: You don’t need that many white sneakers, but they’re a difficult product to vet before buying. Options may seem well and good online or even in the store, but after a month of wearing them, they get dirty beyond recognition or you realize that they’re too uncomfortable to wear on a daily basis. As someone whose main sartorial statement is white sneakers, I tend to go through a lot of pairs, only to settle for a few that actually stand the test of time.
See, for the uninitiated in the sneaker world, every white sneaker may seem the same. But the truth is, there are huge discrepancies across brands, styles, materials and construction that make some pairs more attractive than others. Breathability, longevity, comfort and overall style have to be considered before you buy just any plain old white sneaker.
It’s why all three factors were in the selection of the six pairs below. Each have been worn for at least a year, with many being worn well beyond that time frame. Additionally, all of the footwear on our list has gone through some sort of cleaning cycle, whether through a machine wash or through hand cleaning, depending on the materials. (Pro tip: Baking soda and water usually do the trick, but if you want to be buttoned up, Jason Markk makes a handy shoe cleaning kit that’s worth checking out).
The result? All six of these footwear options surpassed expectations when it came to durability (both in terms of construction and overall color), ease of cleaning and aesthetic.
There are reasons why Stan Smiths have been in the fashion zeitgeist the past few decades: They’re equal parts fashion-forward, comfortable and long-lasting. It’s no surprise they ended up being our absolute favorites.
Where the Stan Smiths truly impress is their level of durability. After 18-plus months of wearing, I’m continuously amazed by their ability to hold up. While the toes and the soles have scuff marks here and there, to the naked eye, it only looks like a few months’ worth of wear and tear instead of a few years’ worth. More noteworthy is the fact that unlike other leather sneakers that I’ve owned, there’s no noticeable cracking on the surface.
No sneaker is without its flaws, however. As someone with particularly high arches — and therefore subject to an excruciating break-in period on most shoes — I found that these don’t have as much support as some of the other options on this list. You’ll want to break the shoes in before you start clocking serious miles with them.
However, the biggest issue I’ve noticed over the past months is that this design lacks ventilation holes, especially compared with the other options on our list. As a result, my feet can feel overheated, especially during the warmer seasons. While these two issues are ones I’m willing to accept for the benefit of the shoe’s longevity, if you’re looking for a more summer-friendly shoe, I’d suggest you scope out the breathable options below.
After selling nearly 3 million pairs of its Zerogrand sneakers, it’s safe to say that Cole Haan has design down when it comes to footwear.
The Generation Stitchlite comes with the brand’s signature sole support and comfort, something that proves to be a real godsend when you break in your shoes. The Stitchlite, in particular, ups the ante by providing a springy arched outsole, as with as comfortable insoles that help mimic the motions of the human foot.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed during my time wearing them. Among the biggest benefits of these shoes is how quickly they have conformed to my feet’s natural curvature and shape. While I’d by no means place them in the performance category, it’s worth noting that their shock absorption won’t take a toll on your feet during long walks or a hectic day of errands.
In many ways, I treat them as slip-on sneakers (thanks to their innovative lacing system and stretchy material, which makes them easy to pop on and run out of the door). They also happen to be among the brand’s lightest sneakers to date, with a perforated, stitched design that makes them completely breathable. Plus, I find the perforated detailing an on-trend addition to my athleisure outfits, and it gives more texture to an otherwise boring sweatshirt and leggings combo.
Rothy’s The Sneaker ($125; rothys.com)
For those who want a real slip-on sneaker (as opposed to the aforementioned Cole Haan pair that acts like one), it’s hard to beat the comfort, look and feel of Rothy’s The Sneaker. It’s the comfiest slip-on shoe I’ve ever owned, period. Scratch that, it’s the comfiest shoe I’ve ever owned.
This is due in large part to its soft-to-the touch, moisture-wicking fabric. Unlike its canvas counterparts, Rothy’s The Sneaker isn’t made with tough materials that lead to blisters and scratches. There’s no need for band aids or insoles when you break in these shoes. Heck, there’s no need for socks, either. I find they’re completely comfortable straight from the box. Plus, it gets bonus points for the fact that its insoles are crafted from recycled water bottles.
These also happen to be among the rare group of white sneakers I own that can stand up to a wash cycle, so long as you pop out the insoles and wash them both on a cold cycle (and air dry after). The color stays relatively vibrant.
Even more impressive is the fact that after a year and a half of constant use, both the soles and the insoles are perfectly intact. If I retire these shoes before the two-year mark, I’d be shocked. That’s saying something.
Allbirds Wool Runners ($95; allbirds.com)
Many of us are making conscious strides to be eco-friendlier. We take reusable bags to the grocery store, carpool as often as we can and invest in brands that are doing social and environmental good in the world. Allbirds is no exception.
The company utilizes materials from a variety of ethically sound and environmentally friendly sources, including Merino wool from sheep farmers who are held to high standards of land practices and animal welfare.
Among its most popular sustainably sourced designs are its Wool Runners. These machine-washable sneakers are crafted from renewable materials, as well as moisture- and odor-wicking fabrics that make it possible to wear them without the constant need for socks (although I still suggest opting for no-show socks with these shoes).
There’s no denying the comfort and cool factor that come with these shoes. And since all white sneakers get dirty (it’s an unfortunate fact of life), it’s amazing to have the ability to throw them in a wash cycle instead of scrubbing them with a toothbrush.
However, while I love the look and feel of my Allbirds, I’d say proceed with caution: I’ve noticed the wool loses its luster after multiple wash cycles. So, to prevent that, I’d advise against wearing these where you could get them particularly dirty and need to throw them in the wash over and over again (festivals, trail walks, you name it).
The overall quality of the materials of the Superga Cotu Sneakers is immediately noticeable. This design features a cotton unlined canvas upper, a rubber sole for added traction and a very-on trend platform that’s about an inch high. The canvas, in particular, strikes the ideal balance between durable and comfortable, and the sole is by far the grippiest of the designs on this list. And thanks to the elevated platform, most of the scuffs and marks are concentrated at the sole of the shoe, rather than becoming noticeable blemishes on its most visible areas, like the toe.
The biggest selling points include its roomy design that’s ideal for those with wider feet (aka, me) as well as a refined, simple aesthetic that I’ve found elevates my classic jeans-and-tee errands outfits.
And while these are relatively easy to spot clean and then throw into the wash, shoppers should keep in mind that canvas tends to show its age. While still durable, these sneakers may not stand the test of time in the same ways that the Stan Smith do.
Greats Royale Knit ($119; greats.com)
I’m a big proponent of knit sneakers. This is all thanks to their flexibility and pliability that makes them a more comfortable alternative (especially for those with wider feet) to leather options.
During warmer months, I swap my Stan Smiths with the Greats Royale Knit, which are much more breathable. You won’t feel overheated or uncomfortable running or walking miles in them. Plus, styling them with practically any outfit is a breeze.
They can take a beating and come out of the wash looking brand new. It’s everything you’d want in a pair of shoes you’re wearing seven days a week.
Like Rothy’s, the Greats Royale Knits are also made responsibly, and are crafted from 100% vegan, recycled plastic (one pair helps eliminate seven plastic bottles from the ocean). And like many of the knit options here, they’re incredibly comfortable to wear, although you’ll definitely need to wear socks with them. While they could benefit from extra support, I find it’s enough to help me get through an entire day on my feet.
The biggest benefit is the fact that these shoes are machine washable and that the fabric doesn’t hold onto stains as much as others on our list. If you get caught in a shower or accidentally step into a muddy puddle, as I have done on multiple occasions, there’s not much to worry about.
Best of all, $15 from every sale is being donated to the NAACP.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed price at the time of publication.