Well Worn: The Coolest Distressed Sneaker Models For Men

Image Credit: Oliver Cabell

Here at Ape, we’ve always been staunch advocates of classic style, clothing that’s built to last and getting the most out of every garment. These core values put us fundamentally at odds with the rising trend for pre-battered, artificially grubby footwear, but we’d be lying if we said there weren’t a couple of distressed sneaker models that have caught our eye in recent years.

Distressed sneakers are sneakers that have been deliberately made to look worn in, and in some cases, completely destroyed right out of the box (we’re looking at you Balenciaga). Champions of the look claim it means they can have a shoe that feels well loved and has character without the wait, while naysayers call it nonsensical at best and classist at worst.

Whichever side of the argument you’re on, there’s no denying that distressed sneakers are fast becoming a genre of footwear in their own right. Now with many brands creating their own versions, we thought it would be a good time to take a detailed look at some of the trend’s most notable models.

Understanding The Distressed Sneaker Trend

Oliver Cabell

The distressed sneaker trend has been cropping up repeatedly for a few years now, and it’s a tricky one to wrap one’s head around. Particularly when you consider that most of the brands dabbling in it are premium designer labels charging a small fortune for each pair. After all, why would anyone in their right mind spend several hundreds – even thousands – of their hard-earned on a pair of shoes that look like they’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards?

It’s a question we don’t have a clear-cut answer to, but it probably has something to do with people wanting to look like they don’t care (is there anything cooler than sartorial nonchalance?), while simultaneously flexing their wealth and fashion knowledge to others in the know.

Italian brand Golden Goose popularised the concept of premium pre-distressed sneakers in the mid 2010s, and everyone from Gucci to New Balance have since hopped on the bandwagon.

The Coolest Distressed Sneaker Models To Buy

Oliver Cabell Low 1

Direct-to-consumer footwear brand Oliver Cabell is able to offer premium products at relatively competitive prices by cutting out the middleman. The label is known for its high-quality minimalist sneakers, which are often talked about as a more accessible alternative to the likes of Common Projects, but it also makes a number of its best-selling styles in tastefully distressed finishes.

The Low 1 is Oliver Cabell’s signature style and comes in a wide range of distressed options, ranging from well-worn suede to scruffy off-white leather.

Shop now at Oliver Cabell

Golden Goose Superstar

Golden Goose is the Italian label at the centre of the distressed sneaker movement. Each pair of sneakers is carefully handcrafted, and the wear marks, scuffs, stains and rips are all added by hand to create what the founders describe as “perfect imperfection”.

The Superstar is one of Golden Goose’s bestselling models, featuring a simple round-toe design not dissimilar to a Stan Smith, and adorned with the brand’s iconic oversized star logo to the sides.

Shop now at END.

Balenciaga Paris

Balenciaga’s quite frankly outrageously distressed Paris sneaker made quite a splash last year when it launched. It became the subject of headlines, online ridicule and the collective hatred of the internet, thanks to its OTT holes, yellowed fabric, rips, tears and scars.

That specific version of the shoe was limited to just 100 pairs, but there is a much less distressed version available for anyone who likes the silhouette and doesn’t happen to be one of the chosen few who snagged a pair.


Maison Margiela Fusion

Maison Margiela is no stranger to deliberately ruined footwear. The brand’s iconic Replica sneaker has been available in various paint-splatter finishes for many years now, and the Fusion sneaker offers a chunky, maximalist alternative.

This mutant mashup of a shoe features elements borrowed from several different styles of sneaker, all stitched and glued together to form a single piece of footwear.

Each pair is made completely by hand too, which means no two shoes are exactly the same. Whether or not that makes them anywhere near worth the £1,100 price tag is entirely up to you.

Shop now at StockX

New Balance 2002R Protection pack

This imperfect sneaker from New Balance has been one of the most talked about shoes of the last few years. It’s not distressed in the traditional sense – there are no carefully engineered scuffs, scrapes or discolouration – but if you look closely you’ll notice that all of the panelling is jagged and uneven around the edges.

This gives the sneaker a distinctive roughed-up look that has seen it become a favourite of sneakerheads, and made it an off-kilter alternative to iconic NB models like the 990, the 993 and the regular old 2002R.

Shop now at StockX

Visvim Skagway

Japanese brand Visvim is famous for creating garments that are engineered to get better with time. Materials are carefully selected to ensure each piece takes on character as it ages, so the idea of making a sneaker that has been pre-distressed admittedly seems a little out of line with the label’s philosophy.

Either way, we still love the look of this distressed version of the brand’s Skagway sneaker. It’s a chunky soled canvas kick with leather lining and deliberate yellowing and discolouring to the midsole.

Unlike other distressed sneakers, the uppers are left untouched, meaning it’s down to you to wear them in.

Shop now at MR PORTER

Gucci Screener

This retro distressed sneaker from Gucci takes its design cues from the footwear styles of the 1970s, with a perforated leather upper, discoloured suede overlays and a towelling lining. It boasts the Italian label’s web stripe to each side and bears the vintage Gucci logo to the tongue.

It’s handmade in Italy, but if you fancy a pair for yourself it’s going to cost you. A grand total of £715 to be precise.

Shop now at Farfetch

Paddy Maddison

Paddy Maddison is Ape's Style Editor. His work has been published in Esquire, Men’s Health, ShortList, The Independent and more. An outerwear and sneaker fanatic, his finger is firmly on the pulse for the latest trends, while always maintaining an interest in classic style.