I have a trip planned for summer — half in cities and half in the countryside, walking every day. I’m planning to buy new shoes for the trip. I have bulky gym sneakers, but I’m looking for a more stylish alternative, particularly for city wear. What should I look for? — Melinda, Far Hills, N.J.
Packing shoes for summer travel is like trying to solve a Sudoku puzzle: You need to figure out how all the exigencies add up in multiple directions before you make a choice. After all, shoes are bulky, so you don’t want to take too many, which means each pair has to play multiple parts.
Ideally, you would have a single pair for touring — around cities and country — that would be sturdy enough to manage some hill and trail hiking and not look out of place with shorts. But they would be chic enough to pair with a dress or culottes for sightseeing of the more urban kind. The goal being not to have your shoes act like a neon sign that blares “tourist,” no matter where you are.
(There was a time, for example, where Germans were widely identified by, and mocked for, their penchant to wear white athletic socks with their sandals, the same way Americans were derided for their baseball caps. They were national stereotypes that proved hard to shed.)
So back to the shoe issue at hand. Does such a hybrid exist? Imagine the wholphin of footwear, the zonkey of sneakers, the grolar of galoshes.
I am not making up those names; they really do exist in the animal kingdom, albeit not in large numbers. And, increasingly, the shoe equivalent exists, too. Call it the sleaker. Or maybe the snoafer. I did invent those terms, but they have sort of a nice ring, don’t you think?
Like the skort (the skirt/shorts) and the shacket (the shirt/jacket), the sleaker and snoafer represent the marriage of two styles (the slipper and sneaker; the sneaker and loafer), and both are distinct from the clodhopper monstrosities that took over kicks culture for awhile.
And just as the “dress sneaker” has wormed its way into Wall Street (and was recently worn by Hakeem Jeffries during a meeting in the Oval Office), so, too, the sleaker and snoafer should worm their way into your suitcase.
Light and low-profile enough to look more like a summer slipper than a hiking boot, sleakers (and snoafers) are supportive enough for easy walking. According to Dr. Elizabeth Cody, a foot and ankle surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery, the key is to look for a “thicker, stiffer sole.” How to identify that? “You can test the stiffness of the shoe by trying to bend it from heel to toe,” she said. “A stiff shoe will be very difficult to bend.”
Then look for breathable fabrics like light wool and canvas rather than, say, leather, and a cut that dips cleanly below the ankle bone. Think classic names, like Stan Smith, Superga and Vans, as well their newer cousin, Allbirds, and basic colors, like black and white.
And finally, as with all shoes, wear them before you pack them. It’s the only real way to know if you can walk that way.
Your Style Questions, Answered
Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.
Vanessa Friedman has been the fashion director and chief fashion critic for The Times since 2014. In this role she covers global fashion for both The New York Times and International New York Times. @VVFriedman
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