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Are “Retro” Sneakers Fashion For The Over-50?


See those shoes? Don’t those look like what we used to call sneakers?

Guess what’s fashionable right now? Sneakers. The woman above, Jony van Stralen at Shout Out To You, looks insouciant and comfortable, in my eyes.  And given my foot problem – now formally diagnosed as not arthritis but A Foot Thingie That Could Be Tendonitis Could Be A Nerve Is Probably Both – I’m hunting on beyond in the world of comfort shoes.

Here’s the Nike Air Max 90, for so it is known, in the flesh. The teal flesh.Nike Air Max Teal

Or black and pink, if you prefer.Nike Air Max Black And PinkThere’s another model, the “Thea,” that I think I like better. More, um, architectural, if such can be said of a sneaker.Air Max Thea Gray and Pink


You may shake your head and say no, not in your lifetime, but I have been to Grechen’s Closet and she has spoken. Birkenstocks and Nike Air Maxs are shoes of the moment. And then the redoubtable commenter Flo left us this link. Seems New Balance is in the game too.

Key to the look? No other athletic gear. In other words, do not throw these on with your $200 sweatpants. You want something tailored, a pair of boyfriend jeans, skinnies, or a long camel coat. Very Commuting To Work In The 80s, wouldn’t you say? Proving again that every getup known to mankind is fair game for recycle.

Please don’t say I didn’t warn you if I show up here in a pair of, yes, sneakers. Have you ever noticed what a funny word that is, sneakers? Especially if you say it over and and over again. Sneakers. There you go.


[Or, because we are never dogmatic about shoes here, you can go to and buy yourself a pair of Jimmy Choos. My wedding shoes, for example, would generate all kinds of commissions for Dress for Success;)]

74 Responses

  1. Interesting. As someone who has had running-related foot issues in the past, I have long been a fan of super comfortable shoes. That said, it’s a rare occurence for me to wear sneakers if I am not also dressed for exercise. (And yes, when I am dressed for exercise, the exercise does occur.)

    Tom and Lorenzo made an interesting observation yesterday about the current trend in comfortable footwear:

  2. The retro sneaker thing has long been a favorite, especially some of the old Chuck Taylors. These are more upscale, I actually tried on a pair of vintage-influenced New Balance a few weeks ago and really liked them!

    Sending you a smile,

    PS: Those $200 sweats? I’m invoking Nancy Reagan: “Just say no.”

  3. YES! They are great being over 50 in my life. I too have been having problems with arthritis and sport Converse All Stars that come in dozens of colors. Jack Purcell’s are great too. Birkenstocks have been a life saver. When I really want to have some fun I wear REAL cowboy boots…well made ones by Lucchese or Old Gringo (both brands make gorgeous boots for women) because being a Texan I have always known that a well made cowboy boot gives your feet and body a lot of support. I can walk all day in those boots!

  4. As you have rightly commented…the key to stylish sneakers is to wear them with classic clothes.

  5. As a tall woman, I am always interested in shoe fashions that don’t involve towering heels, sky-high wedges, and platforms of any measurement. A comfortable, good-for-my-feet sneaker with little or no height sounds right up my alley. I love when fashion is sensible!

  6. You know, as casual as I am, I don’t care for sneakers (although my daughter lives in Chucks when she’s not in flip flops, something else I don’t care for on my feet). I like Crocs, although I rarely wear their iconic “boat shoes” any more. Their flats, sandals and Mary Janes are so cute, and so comfortable.

  7. I love this trend – long may it live! I’ve always had hard-to-fit feet, and have been having more problems lately that I’m told are probably nerve damage from an old injury. I often wear Converse with my orthotics in them for casual wear, usually with jeans or chinos and a nice top, maybe a blazer too. I like those Nikes – they might be good for variety. Despite the edicts about how fashionable women don’t wear sneaks out and about, I got my first pair in Paris – right after I noticed that about half the women on the subway on the weekend were wearing them, and, unlike me, they weren’t limping.

  8. I am so old school…I can’t imagine wearing sneakers for anything other than athletic pursuits. I wear flats for casual wear – interchanging several pairs of Ferragamo and Talbots flats.

  9. Oh, yikes. She looks like she’s headed to a day at Disneyland, where foot comfort trumps all other concerns and everyone else is going to be even more sloppy.

    1. Alas, sometimes food comfort does trump all other concerns. But I still yearn for the Holy Grail of cute shoes that are also comfortable. As yet, I have not found any.

    2. Two words, Gold Digger: Fly London.

      Include me out on the sneaker trend. And I can’t wear flats–doctor’s orders, and I just plain don’t like them. Fly London’s “Y” styles (Yala, Ylva, etc.)are my footwear bliss.

  10. Yes, I have noticed the sneaker-as-style moment. As someone who spent way too many frumpy childbearing years in sneakers, I can’t get excited about this trend. Combined with the new “track pant” style, I fear we are on a slippery slope to sloppiness. (Not that we are ever too far from that in the U.S.)

  11. We have something in common here. Have recently been diagnoses with a neuroma on my foot. Therefore am looking for comfortable shoes. I have some old Tretorns and some newish ASICS. Both pretty good in the comfort department. Although I find with a neuroma, after awhile the shoe doesn’t matter. It all hurts.

  12. The difference being, in the 80s, we removed our sneakers at the office, not remained in them for the day.

    I wear Chucks and Tretorns with jeans, but running sneakers with jeans is very day at Disney (thanks, Karen!).

    Do I sound judgy enough?

  13. Sorry your feet are hurting. Stylish or not, just get yourself some shoes that are supportive and comfortable. I’ve found that the salespeople at running stores are often able to point you to good models. You might want to try someplace like Fleet Feet.

  14. methinks “retro” is a bit misapplied here, as is “sneaker;” that stacked heel is a dead giveaway as a contemporary add, and the accents on most of those pairs are exceedingly current-running-comfort-tech, almost aggressively so. the blogger in your example photo does look comfortable, but she looks like a commuter; boyfriend jeans and running (or running-adjacent) shoes together are, as noted above, a day-at-disneyland look. a true sneaker is flat-soled, and could be modified from the inside with orthotics if need be; i can certainly respect the need for support. let’s not fool ourselves about the fashion involved, though. this is a retro sneaker look.

  15. When I had foot problems (morons neuroma/trapped nerve) very painful I had to live in sneakers and continue working in the corporate market. Everything else needs to be very formal.

  16. I had a Morton’s Neuroma a couple of years ago and have since gone all the way comfort shoe — but regardless of what the trendsters are saying this is never a look I’ll embrace. It reminds me of my stint as a bank teller during college in the 80s — everyone wearing their cheap “smooth office blend” suits from the mall, with running sneakers on under the counter. My go-to casual shoes are flat Born loafers, driving mocs, or colored leather sneakers (Pikolinos has some great ones).

  17. I’m in runners enough for running (and we don’t call them sneakers so much, up north across the line) that I’m not keen to wear them otherwise, but I’ve been wearing Birks forever. I actually prefer the Nike Free for comfort and looks to the AirMax. Have to admit I’m skeptical of these cyclically recurring claims that something or other “retro” has been reborn as fashion, when the style has, quite honestly, been chugging along quite functionally in the background until it’s discovered.

  18. i really wanted to love the nike air max sneakers, but they weren’t very comfortable on me, well, at least compared to my birkenstocks ;)

    i think i’ll go for something a bit less “thick”, i have my eye on adidas by stella mccartney. a black pair no less.

    1. @grechen, Well, I had to buy a pair because I was at the Stanford Shopping Center, in pain, and that was what the Nike store had. Mine are ugly blue leopard but for my particular foot problems they are also actually perfect.

  19. Everything changes once a foot injury diagnosis has been made. [Do I recall your mentioning a foot problem some time back, I think it was arch related?] Those &%$#*$ arches! So now in addition to a Morton toe [which Nike has historically been unable to accommodate], I must add fallen arches together with an monster Rx orthotic in the footbeds of whatever shoe will accommodate it, so far New Balance has done the job for me. Fortunately I, too, am retired from work but I confess, my feet are unhappy from the first step I take right out of bed, but once I lace up my NBs, my feet are happy!

    Any kind of uncorrected foot dysfunction will play havoc right up the leg, often right on to the hip. I learned this at a course my husband teaches “When the foot hits the ground, everything changes,” so the foot must be respected. Or else.

    Any case anyone has considered/rejected velcro straps, I give you Sarah Jessica Parker in, yes, velcro strapped comfort shoes!

  20. Sneakers, for sports ( don´t do that kind of sports ) ok.
    A total no for me, forced – I´d only sneak in the dark.

  21. Ouch! I have a toe thingie tendon nerve something too on my 40something foot and wear sneakers as much as possible so I can wear other dressier shoes when needed. I often wear Merrell Bare Access Arc2 sneakers (I take a sharpie and color in the brand name so it’s not blazing bright on the back side of the shoes). I see my friends sporting Birkenstocks more but I haven’t been able to stomach wearing them myself. Reminds me too much of my college years in the 80’s.

  22. I don’t ever find sneakers comfortable so I spend as little time as possible in them! If your foot “thingie” is plantar facitis, a common affliction for the over 50 set, try over the counter orthotics in a pair of comfy shoes or slipper. This spring I could barley walk some days due to the pain in my foot. I was going on a 2 1/2 week trip to France and was desperate for relief. I put the orthotics in my lepoard print Cole Hahn slippers and wore them around the house for several days. I couldn’t believe what a huge difference it made in just a few days. I also bought a compression thing to wear at night and found that it helped too. Stretching and foot massage thing helped too. I bought my orthotic inserts at a Comfort One shoe store. Not sure if they’re on the West Coast or not. \
    Good luck! When your feet hurt, life is miserable!

  23. Hurting feet are the worst! Perhaps, as said earlier, a Neuroma?
    I’ve just switched the New Balance brand Aravon shoes. They feel like tennis
    shoes on the inside, look nice. I have the Kasey and Eleanor, and love how comfortable they are. Hope your feet feel better soon!

  24. I wear athletic shoes to my exercise class and sometimes out at our farm. Period. I don’t embrace this trend. That being said, you would look adorable in them and I never judge what another person chooses to wear.

  25. The barkingdogsshoes website looks great. I’ll follow up on some of the shoes there. Many of my days at work are spent in Dansko clogs and on the weekend NB sneakers provide casual bliss for my feet. When I do need to present a more polished appearance I wear my wonderfully comfortable Ecco flats. These shoes have many stylish options and pamper the feet. I haven’t tried their heels yet.

  26. I guess I’m the only one who wears Salomon. They are extremely unattractive, but waterproof. I wear them hiking, on vacation, anytime I have to do a lot of walking. I can’t emphasize enough how unattractive they are. I have three pairs of them. Of course, I put my orthotics (for plantar faciitis) in them. Since I started using orthotics I haven’t had any pain. If I’m just standing, I wear Dansk or Sanita clogs. I have three pairs of them, too.

  27. I’m not keen on the wedge heels on these sneakers but the bigger question is….would that help with your foot pain?

  28. I bought a pair of Vans “slip ons” with a Kenzo design and have enjoyed them enormously. Givenchy has some gorgeous ones but the price is way too crazy to contemplate. I agree with the look–keep the rest classic casual chic and the shoes will work.

  29. I think what you should really consider is spending a bit of time barefoot. Westerners seem inevitably to have feet and back issues, but they are often the result of lifestyle and can be corrected by strengthening our body structure. Wearing supportive shoes is like continually using a crutch to walk – in the end the result is actually weakening of the structure of your feet/legs/hips. Initially going barefoot can be challenging to your body because most feet have been weakened from a lifetime of support. If you start going barefoot a few hours a day and work towards strengthening your body alignment you will find you don’t need “supportive” shoes at all.

    1. I have found this to be true, also.I began walking at nine months and they always had me in shoes. I was put in orthotics as a child, when I complained of foot pain, and wore them off and on throughout my life. My feet never became stronger. Just recently, now at almost fifty, I have been walking barefoot, doing foot and leg exercises, and ditched the orthotics. When I leave the house I wear minimalist shoes. My body alignment is improving and my foot pain has all but disappeared. And, it’s great to be free of restrictive orthotics!

  30. I like this look if it’s done right, which I’m sure you can/will do. I used to wear those black nikes when they first came out with the velcro straps with a black linen skirt and people would stop me in the street to tell me how much they liked my outfit. But you know, it’s not for everyone :)

  31. That is pretty much the look I ran around Provence/FR a few weeks ago. Don´t like that yellow mirrored sunglasses.

    For work I change to booties instead of sneakers. In winter the jacket is a tweed one or a knee length cardi. It`s the look I feel most comfortable and authentic in!

  32. It’s funny to me because I never cared for sneakers or any kind of sporty footwear when I was a kid and young but now not only do I own a pair of wedge sneakers and high top ‘chucks’, I really like this look. As long as they are the only ‘sporty’ item in the outfit as you point out. I have the bf jeans and slouchy tee, not the white jacket but I’d probably add one of my knit jackets instead which is more me.
    Go for it Lisa!

    1. In reading through various links that commenters have left [including yours for which I’m grateful because it lead me to put in an order for some greys that’re hard to find locally], I can’t help laughing that these shoes are repeatedly termed “retro,” when they’re all I’ve ever worn! Age-related reality check, I guess, gulp. These are on their way:

  33. Wearing J Crew Ballet flats and flip flops did my feet in a few years ago. I ended up tearing the fascia in my foot and being off of it for 6 months. I was banished to wearing running shoes professionally fitted with semi custom orthotics and I still wear them for exercise and extended walking. During the 1980’s I cringed at the business suit with sneaker trend the movie 9 to 5 popularized. Now that I am older and have to respect the feet I am thrilled that sneakers are in style and are workable with certain clothes as you pointed out in this post. I will check out the Nike Air Max 90 that you mention but I have to put fit above all else.
    I just bought a pair of London Fly shoes (wedge heels) and they are also very kind to my feet and can work with dresses and clothing that I would not want to wear sneakers with. For the Plantar Fasciitis ladies: I’ve had great luck using the Orthaheel brand heel cup in some of my shoes and wear their slippers at home.

  34. Ms van Stralen looks good, I think. Coordinating shoe and clothing colours does it I guess.

    Tendinitis NEEDS REST. I had Achilles tendinitis 2 years ago as a result of traipsing over Moscow asphalt roads in thin soled summer shoes 3 years ago. I was prescribed orthotics for sunken arches and cold wraps but the real healing came a year later when I had to stay in close quarters with my sick mother and basically moved from chair to bed to sofa for 3 weeks. It all went away then.

    I now proudly wear hot pink imitation crocs with my orthotics at home which is very comfortable and don’t often wear high heels and thin soles when I’m out and about.

    There seem to exist foot exercises which can help correct fallen arches over time. Such a seminar was offered at our community centre but unfortunately I didn’t have the time then. Will keep you posted if I can get hold of some teaching materials.


    which can heover time correct fallen arches etc.

  35. And thanks for bringing this blog to our attention – lovely modern style. I’ll pass this on to a young woman who has just started to represent a new Swedish fashion firm and is welcoming information.

  36. Never have worn them/never will… plimsolls count worn for gym at school?Checked out women locally in given age group not a sneaker insight,TG.

  37. As I sit in my recliner, elevating my left foot which is currently in agony following my third surgery for Morton’s neuroma, all I can say on the subject is that you get one pair of feet, and when they’re gone, you’re done. So, perhaps one could be less concerned with appearance and pay more attention to the longevity of the feet. Once the pain becomes bad enough, you will wear ANYTHING that doesn’t hurt.

    1. So sorry! And I’m too much of a princess and the pea to put up with foot pain for the sake of beauty:).

  38. I wear converse. Less keen on the American sneakers above though I tend to wear my tennis footwear out and about these days. Bear in mind that it’s all about how You feel. Nothing else matters, not even fashion;-)

  39. So delighted by the idea NB sneakers coming back into style. They were super-popular in Paris in the early 2000s, and I remember them being super-comfy and surprisingly versatile (love the blue NB WL501s with a pencil skirt in Commenter Flo’s link!). They’ve become a classic for French men ever since, but not so much for women. I’ll be checking them out again ASAP, especially since all the hipster kids have been wearing Vans lace-ups this summer, and they are just too flat for me.

  40. Just returned from Manhattan, where I lived for years. I was not in a typical tourist area, and saw tons of sneakers on everyone of all ages. With outfits that were “put together” and sneakers that sort of went with the outfit. Of course lots of black, with touches of other colors. It looked great!

  41. I think it’s great that retro sneakers are coming back into style. It’s so hard to find shoes nowadays that are comfortable and stylish. However, sneakers are some of the most comfortable shoes out there, so wearing them while being in style sounds like a dream come true. I hope this trend stays around!

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