You don’t have to be a fashion insider to know that something unprecedented has been taking place in the world of footwear this past couple of years. A pocket of menswear that for so long was dominated by white, minimalism, clean lines and low-profile silhouettes has been taken over by exactly the opposite.
We’re talking vivid colours, over-the-top detailing, cluttered designs and garish styling. This is the age of the chunky sneaker – one of the most divisive fashion trends we’ve ever seen emerge from menswear.
Love it or hate it, the style seems to be around for the long haul. So, if you’re looking to strap yourself into a pair, here’s everything you need to know, including what to buy, how to style them, and a few well-advised dos and don’ts.
Recommended Chunky Sneakers Brands
In the market for your first pair of bulky kicks? Here’s Ape’s carefully selected edit of the best-looking options money can buy, including everything from high fashion to sports-inspired.
For a long time, German sportswear label Puma had fallen into a role as the underachieving sibling of Nike and Adidas: the other big sports brand that had never quite managed to match up in terms of design or innovation. Yet with the surge in popularity of oversized kicks, Puma has found its niche, delivering some of the slickest styles we’ve seen to date and consistently churning them out at machine-gun pace.
If it wasn’t for high-fashion heavy hitter Balenciaga, this sneaker trend would probably never have grown the legs it needed in order to achieve world domination. The launch of the much-hyped Triple S model was the catalyst for the entire movement and will probably always be considered the definitive chunky silhouette.
Being one of the oldest names in fashion and remaining relevant is no easy feat, but it’s something Louis Vuitton consistently manages. A historic collaboration with transcendent streetwear label Supreme and the appointment of Off-White’s Virgil Abloh as artistic director of menswear have both helped in recent years, while the release of the brand’s “Archlight” sneaker enabled it to keep a proverbial foot in the chunky shoe market, too.
It could quite easily be argued that Adidas, with a little help from Belgian tastemaker RAF Simons, started the chunky sneaker trend. The brand’s long-running collaboration with Simons wielded some of the very first maximalist kicks, and although they never achieved Balenciaga levels of mainstream success, they most certainly paved the way for it.
A label famous for its Parisian take on minimalism and luxury wardrobe staples may not be the first place you’d expect to find chunky trainers, but French ready-to-wear brand A.P.C. is making some of the most tasteful versions available right now. Expect subtle colour palettes, curvy silhouettes and just the right amount of bulk.
Oregonian sportswear giant Nike is the undisputed industry leader when it comes to technology and innovation in footwear. But that doesn’t mean its retro, bulky trainers aren’t worthy of admiration, too. Some of the label’s throwback styles offer great examples of old-school chunkiness, with models like the Air Max 95 and the Air VaporMax providing slightly less outrageous options for anyone looking to try the trend out in a less in-your-face manner.
Italian luxury label Gucci is one of the hottest brands in high fashion, and it has the chunky trainers to prove it. With oversized logo detailing and an earthquake-inducing silhouette, Gucci’s Rhyton model allows you to tick off two trends in one fell swoop. Not into the whole logo thing? Don’t worry, Gucci has plenty of other oversized footwear options to try on for size.
Donatella Versace is renowned for her bold, maximalist approach to design, so it comes as no surprise that Versace has produced one of the best chunky models on the market: the Squalo. Inspired by the jaws of the Great White Shark, they are positively understated in comparison to the brand’s usual output, coming in muted black and white colourways and crafted from smooth Italian leather.
Valentino has long been at the forefront of modern sneaker trends, with its now legendary Rockrunners (camo uppers, rock stud detailing) arguably the first luxury “It” trainer for men. Bold colours, patterns and innovation have long been Valentino hallmarks and the brand’s chunky sneaker collection is a prime example of this, featuring aggressive-looking soles, vibrant pops of neon, oversized logo detailing and some of that signature camo print.
Now under the guidance of the late Mr McQueen’s long-time collaborator, Ms Sarah Burton, Alexander McQueen collections are typically dark and edgy, yet the British brand’s sneaker output remains clean and minimal. Its exaggerated sole sneakers have quickly become industry favourites, coming in a range of tennis and running shoe silhouettes that will slot into any contemporary wardrobe seamlessly.
Yes, you read that correctly. The New York/Italian footwear brand famed for its definitive take on the premium, minimalist sneaker has branched out into the world of chunky trainers. The label now boasts a number of slightly beefier alternatives to its iconic Achilles low, none of which ever venture into bright colours or garish styling. If you’re looking for a subtle way to get involved in the trend, you just found it.
If you’re familiar with Axel Arigato then you’ll know the brand is famous for its understated designs. However, when it comes to sourcing a luxurious pair of chunky sneakers, it should not be overlooked. In recent years, the Swedish brand has wholeheartedly embraced the shift towards bigger, bulkier silhouettes, which has resulted in some of the coolest maximalist silhouettes around. To get an idea of what we’re talking about, check out overstated styles like the Marathon Runner and the Catfish.
Chunky sneakers and minimalist design don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Not if Amsterdam’s ETQ is involved anyway. Going against the grain of outlandish and brightly coloured, ugly kicks, this label keeps clean design at the fore when experimenting with bigger, beefier shapes. There are others, but the model that immediately comes to mind for us is the brand’s MT 02, which is a mid-top shoe that somehow manages to be both chunky and low-profile at the same time. The perfect option for anyone looking to dip their toe into larger-than-life kicks without going OTT.
How To Wear The Chunky Sneaker Trend
For even the most stylish of dressers, chunky trainers are hardly the most wearable item you’re likely to come across. Pulling these sneakers off effectively requires skill and confidence.
The key when it comes to making it look right lies in creating a sense of balance throughout your outfit. That means loose, relaxed-fit clothing and absolutely no skinny jeans (although that’s a style rule you should probably already be observing anyway). You’ll also want to err on the side of streetwear.
For a surefire everyday look, team a hoodie underneath a bomber jacket. On the bottom, go for turned-up, straight-leg chinos and top it off with your chosen chunky kicks. During the summer months, swap your hoodie out for a logo tee.
Chunky Sneaker Dos and Don’ts
Nailing the chunky sneaker trend doesn’t have to be rocket science. Stick to these simple rules and you can’t go too far wrong.
DO experiment with loose-fitting clothing to balance the sneakers out.
DON’T team them with anything tight-fitting, it will look out of proportion.
DO shop contemporary minimal labels like A.P.C. and Common Projects for subtler versions.
DON’T buy a pair just because everyone else is – if you don’t feel comfortable in them it’ll look contrived.
DO look to sportswear brands like Puma, Adidas and Nike for slightly more affordable options.
DON’T fork out for a pair of Balenciaga Triple S if it means you’ll have to live off instant noodles for the next three months.
DO allow yourself the opportunity to experiment with some new colours.
DO have fun. Regardless of the above, if it feels good and you like it, then wear it.