This page was last updated May 2023 except where otherwise noted.
Sure, we all know what wardrobe essentials for work professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.
Here’s a timely question, readers: Which are the best sneakers for work outfits? When are “sneakers for work” appropriate in your offices? Do you think there’s a generational divide here?
Table of Contents:
Sneakers For Your Commute
Here at Corporette, we’ve always taken the position that sneakers are fine — for your commute. I certainly wore my Chucks with suits on a lot of commutes, and kind of thought it was a cute look… for my commute. But retailers have been showing sneakers with outfits for years (some of the product photos we’ve featured are pictured below), so I thought it was prime time for a discussion.
Readers even recently had a threadjack pondering this issue (with several saying sneakers were never appropriate for work outfits). I’ve included some of the choices from Team Sneakers for Work below.
For my $.02, a lot of the newer (expensive!) sneakers look like the kind of thing I kept in my gym locker in middle school — the thinking at the time was they were so fugly they could stay at school because I’d never want to wear them elsewhere. But obviously, tastes and styles change, and after a bit of adjustment (and seeing it enough places), those of us on the older side adapt. This is partly why I’ve always suggested being really wary of a new trend or aesthetic that wasn’t popular five years ago — but at the rate that fashion moves these days that may be difficult (and, I suppose, another vote for classic style for work outfits because you’re more likely to get more wear out of them).
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Commuting Shoes: Sneaker Flats That Will Blend in With Trousers
The main claim to fame for these kinds of sneaker flats is that if you’re working in a really conservative office and want to wear comfortable shoes for your commute, but not have a coworker look too closely and think, “Hey, there she is in her sneakers again,” these will blend in. (We’ve even had conversations in the past about whether commuting shoes should be swapped in the lobby or even outside your office building!)
I will freely admit that these are not chosen because they’re “cute” — many are pretty hideous, in my opinion. But they blend with work clothes and are comfortable, and lightweight enough to carry in your bag if you want to.
Reader favorites that have been called out over the years:
Note that if your trousers are hemmed to wear with heels, these shoes might not be the best because your hems might drag on the ground — you could either look for platform sneakers, or go for commuting shoes like comfort brands with chunky heels such as FLY London, Dansko, Eileen Fisher, and Børn.
2023 Update: Some of our latest favorite commuting heels are pictured below – also keep an eye out for brands like FLY London, Dansko, Eileen Fisher, Børn to help you maintain height for pants hemmed for heels — but with more comfortable shoes for your commute.
Sneaker Sneakers for Weekends: The Classics
What to Look For in Sneakers to Wear with Work Outfits
Here are the things I think you should look for in work sneakers:
- They don’t look like they were run over in the street.
- They’re not super chunky/athletic.
- Look for a design that is just a BIT more than your basic white sneaker — interesting stitching, a contrasting detail
If you need outfit inspiration advice, we highly recommend watching the movie I Care A Lot (currently streaming on Netflix) — lots of colorful suits worn with sneakers.
As always, the most important part of knowing which sneaker to wear to work is knowing your office. Our advice here is the same as it always is: look to the mid-levels above you for fashion inspiration, not the CEO, partners, or other C-suite people — they’ve earned the right to wear whatever they want.
For example, in a March 2023 conversation, some readers noted that Golden Gooses were great for their office — but others noted that a “distressed” shoe, no matter how expensive, just wasn’t appropriate for their offices.
Another important thing to note: when you wear sneakers to work may be highly dependent on what kind of day you’re having, who you’re meeting with, and more. You may want to keep a pair of neutral flats or heels in your office just in case — here are some of our latest roundups of comfortable work heels, as well as the most comfortable flats for work.
(Another note: if your bosses are “non-fashion people” and tend to be a bit curmudgeonly, tread really carefully before wearing sneakers to work.)
The Best Sneakers to Wear to Work in 2023
Without further ado, here are our favorite sneakers to wear to work in 2023!
Best Overall Sneakers for Work Outfits
I think this sneaker meets all of the above qualifications — in particular, the contrasting details such as the beige leather strip around the sole and the lighter beige details on the tongue and back of the shoe are great standouts.
The other HUGE pro here is that Cole Haan is an established, safe brand that is known for making office-appropriate shoes for both men and women — which means that your non-fashion-y boss will almost certainly have seen the shoes if they’ve been in a store recently.
Another great option here: Cole Haan’s oxford sneakers, available in a wide range of colors for both women and men, are $170 at spots like Zappos.
Best Affordable Sneakers for Work
Cariumas are consciously made in ethical factories, using natural premium materials, with carbon neutral shipping — and more. The look to old-school sneakers isn’t by accident — they’ve branded themselves as “old school looks; new school ethics.” Accordingly, the rubber used is collected through an ethical tapping, the vegan insole is made from cork, and the cotton is all organic.
The shoes are $79, available in sizes 5-13 in canvas, suede, leather, and a TON of colors.
The Best Classic Sneakers for Work
Like a lot of the “classic” sneakers, the Superga has been around for a loooong time. According to the Nordstrom product page,
“founder Walter Martiny designed the first Superga sneaker in Torino, Italy, in 1911. But it wasn’t until 1925 that he expanded his collection to include vulcanized-rubber soles, and in doing so created the now-iconic 2750 tennis shoe. The brand’s classic minimalist styles and new hits—beloved by Italians for weekends and getaways—now count fans all around the world.”
For some reason, I always associate Superga with Extremely Fashionable People (perhaps because I’ve always been a Converse girl myself). Any of the classics can work, though, especially if they’re part of your personality and you’re comfortable with them.
The Best Athletic Sneakers for Work
Know your office very well before you try to wear an athletic-looking sneaker to work as part of your outfit — a lot of older people in the workforce will strongly associate this with movies like Working Girl, where the heroine commuted from Staten Island into the city wearing white sneakers with black hose.
THAT SAID – I’m seeing these New Balance sneakers everywhere (particularly this beige-on-beige one pictured), so they deserve a mention. They’re available at J.Crew, too, so they’ve become as popular as J.Crew is.
There are a TON of different options in terms of colorways — for the office I’d keep it relatively neutral. (These particular shoes are 50% off full price at the moment, so if you’re interested, now is the time!)
The Best Comfort Sneakers for the Office
There are, of course, a ton of options for the most comfortable sneaker. VIONIC has built-in arch support, as well as a podiatrist-designed footbed.
Here’s how the company describes their comfort system:
The innovative biomechanics of THREE-ZONE COMFORT deliver enhanced stability with a deep heel cup, superior forefoot cushioning, and ultimate arch support midsole. These essential contact points hug your foot’s natural curves in all of our casual, dress, active, and slipper styles.
If you have foot issues, this is definitely one of the top brands to check out. They’re available in whole sizes 5-11 for $120.
Other great comfort options: Vionic makes insoles, so you can add those to any shoe of your choosing. AllBirds (below) also get rave reviews for comfort, and readers have also sung the praises of Kizik shoes.
The Best Sneakers for Lousy Weather On Your Commute
Readers have noted that they really love their AlllBirds to wear with work outfits, singing the praises of the extreme comfort of the brand. Their water repellant shoes are renowned for being great in bad weather, so they’re getting our pick for the best sneakers for lousy weather on your commute.
As the company notes, they’ve combined “cozy ZQ Merino wool and a bio-based water repellent shield,” so that “our rain-ready sneaker keeps your feet predictably dry in unpredictable weather.” Nice.
They’re available in whole sizes 5-11, in both classic and limited edition colors, for $125-$165 (depending on the style of shoe).
Rothy’s has similar styles that are washable.
The Best Pricey Sneaker for Work ($$$)
There are a lot of pricey middle options! Tory Burch has some of my favorites though — not only are they at the more affordable end of this range (roughly $250-$500), but they’re simple yet elevated.
The Ladybug sneaker comes in a bunch of different colorways, but they’re all predominantly white sneakers.
Reviewers call the sneakers “quite comfortable” and note that they “look super cute with dresses!”
They’re available in half-sizes 5-11 for $288.
The Best Fancy Sneaker for Work ($$$$)
There are a lot of options for Very Fancy sneakers if you’re looking to spend a lot of money — Golden Goose, Gucci, Chloé, Maison Margiela, and more. For my $.02, my vote goes to the Loewe Flow sneakers.
Yes, they’re much more athletic-y than a lot of the other sneakers we’ve featured… but the distinctive cursive L, the multicolored sole, the colorblocking, the leather and rubber details — all of this adds up to a *chef’s kiss* of a beautiful sneaker.
How to Keep Your Sneakers Looking Clean
Whatever sneakers you’re wearing, we love this reader trick: Magic Erasers work great on cleaning dingier white soles and sometimes white leather also.
What do you think, readers — are you on Team Sneakers for Work, or on Team Please Wear Shoes? Where would you draw the line for which sneakers are acceptable for work and which aren’t? (E.g., certain colors like white or black, only “well taken care of sneakers,” sneakers with a specific sole color (e.g., the way that historically, heels with a cork sole aren’t appropriate for work).
Like this feature? Check out other recent installments!
Stock photos via Pexels / Godisable Jacob.