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A fashion influencer demonstrates how to wear sneakers in a business casual environment

18 Sneakers You Can Actually Wear To Work — For Any Dress Code

Yes, business casual sneakers are a thing.

by Rachel Besser
Originally Published: 
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In plenty of work environments, comfortable shoes, like sneakers, aren’t just allowed, they’re welcomed. Thousands of business casual sneakers and similar footwear crowd virtual shelves at this very second. While it can be a major work perk to don any footwear to the office, it’s not always the norm. There are just as many offices with strict dress codes like business casual, business formal, or even business professional as there are workplaces with no dress codes whatsoever.

In these formal work domains, a run-of-the-mill sneaker may not go over well with the big boss. That being said, sneakers don’t have to be out of the picture all together. Hard to believe? Hear me out. Tons of brands are making business casual sneakers and luxury sneakers that can actually look the part for work, thanks to sleek, clean designs and materials that rival leather loafers. Sure, there’s no denying that there are some cases where sneakers just won’t fly in the workplace, but ahead, you’ll find some tips to walk through the workday feeling footloose and fancy free, no matter the dress code at hand.

Sneakers For Casual Work Environments

When it comes to the sneaker game at work, casual work environments with little to no dress code are the easiest to navigate. Many startups, digital media companies, and creative professions fall in this category. The key here is not to take advantage of the free dress code. You’re still at work after all, so use discretion and go for clean-looking sneaks. While a favorite pair of old, beat-up sneakers may technically be OK, it’s a better look to leave your well-loved sneakers for the weekends. If all your sneakers fall under the well-loved category, there's no better excuse than to buy a new pair exclusively for work. In other words, you can be expressive with your sneakers, but if you covered them in dirt recently, it’s probably best you skip those.

A great example of a sneaker that reigns supreme in a casual work environment are styles like these Converse Chuck 70 high tops ($90, Converse). This pair of sneakers looks upscale while maintaining its cool factor. In a work environment that loves sneakers, these are a great choice with some social clout. If you happen to work in an environment that is super lax when it comes to dress code, go all in with a cool, athletic pair of sneakers that are extremely comfortable, too, like these Adidas Ozweego Celox Sneakers ($120, Adidas). Of course, Commes Des Garçons classic heart logo sneakers ($150, Nordstrom) are both quirky and upscale. These are a great for-work sneaker in a casual, creative environment where people still look very put together.

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Business Casual Sneakers

Business casual (also sometimes called “executive casual”) is one of the most common dress codes. Because of this, the scope of what business casual entails can vary from company to company. A general rule of thumb is that business casual means you have to dress up for work a bit, but you can still show off some of your personality in your clothes. In a business-casual environment, though, it may feel tricky to apply that logic to sneakers, but believe it or not, sneakers are almost always doable. The key to rocking sneakers in a business casual environment is to make sure that they are are clean, sleek, employ muted colors, and don’t stand out as a bold fashion statement. And the dressier your outfit, the easier it is to get away with a subtle sneaker. As always, when in doubt, check in with HR if there are any questions.

Some office environments may call for something slightly less funky. If that’s the case, make sure to think about sneakers made of luxe-looking materials, like leather. Clean and simple, the black leather Nike Air Force 1 Pixel sneaker ($100, Nike) will look the part in a business casual environment. These Steve Madden Gametime Sneakers feature the trendy, sock-sneaker silhouette that keeps an outfit looking elevated and your feet feeling comfortable. These sneakers will undoubtedly bode well with work clothes and in a business casual work environment. Also, Reebok’s Club C 85 Women's Sneaker ($75, Reebok) is a sleek shoe that is good for the more low-key business-casual work environment. The textured detail and outer logo keep the overall feel fashionable and interesting, while the classic white colorway and sleek design still feels serious enough.

Business Professional And Business Formal Sneakers

Business professional and business formal are the most formal workplace dress codes today. Clothing in these work environments is typically traditional and conservative. Think: formal suits, dresses, heels, etc. Given that, wearing sneakers to work can be especially hard to navigate and may even feel off-limits entirely, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a clever sneaker solution available.

With such regimented dress codes, women are more often than not expected to wear heels, so the most viable way to sport sneakers is by way of luxe, hybrid sneakers that could pass as another shoe, like a loafer or wedge, but are as comfy as any other sneaker on the market. The key to wearing sneakers in formal business environments is to think about your look holistically. If the outfit itself feels appropriate and the sneakers do not stand out, your sneakers shouldn’t ruffle any feathers. For business professional environments, sneakers are best kept generally laceless and dark in color.

These luxe Vans Slip Ons ($70, Vans) aren’t totally unassuming, but they do mimic the look of a luxe, slip-on loafer with the gold chain detail along the top. They’re one of the many options on the market that could work in a formal work setting so long as they are paired with the right outfit, like a super sleek suit. Slip-on, wedge sneakers, like Aerosoles’ Zia ($84, Aerosoles), are the ideal middle ground between comfy sneakers and heels, with super high-quality suede, to boot. This sumptuous leather GrandPrø Spectator Slip-On ($100, Cole Haan) is another type of hybrid between loafers and sneakers. Your co-workers might not even notice the fact that you have cozy sneakers on your feet. An easy sneaker that features a studded, jeweled, or otherwise designed front strap instead of laces — like these Journee Ash Slip On Sneakers ($59.99, DSW) offers the appearance of a fancy pair of flats, pairing exceptionally well with a power suit.

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