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Style Advice

How to pull off chunky trainers

How to pull off chunky trainers
Photographed: Adidas Yung 1 'Watermelon' (£35)

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what triggered the chunky trainers' explosion. Often dubbed the dad sneaker, this new style of bigger, bolder footwear seems to be more than just a way to pay homage to your old man’s style, and more like an antidote to the minimalist trainers that have permeated fashion in the past decade. And this wave of maximalism is hardly exclusive to footwear: streamlined silhouettes are being replaced with looser fits when it comes to trousers, outerwear, and shirts as well. Yep, the fashion pendulum has swung again. The chunky trainer trend, which began as a revival of classic 90s styles, is just one part of a larger shift towards more-is-more style. People are ditching their sleek white trainers for a style often described as ugly. What a time to be alive. 

It’s up to you to decide where you stand on this divisive trainer, but personally, we’re here for it. It might be a 21st-century form of peacocking or yet another version of 90s nostalgia, but after years of pared-down, pristine footwear, the chunky trainer is a welcome opportunity to show more personality. The styles available range from bold neon designs to trainers with a collage of mesh, rubber, and leather materials. There are also a number of all-white and cream varieties, but we’d caution you to choose from this bunch wisely, as they can stray into orthopaedic trainer territory. So when it comes to chunky trainers, the louder styles are a surprisingly safer choice. 

The trick to pulling off some of these statement designs is how you carry yourself in them. If you’re lacking confidence, the shoe will come across as silly and ill-considered, so if you decide to lean into the trend, that means really committing – attitude and all. What helps is that unlike many other statement-making shoes, the chunky trainer is incredibly comfortable. The surge of outdoor and athletic detailing in mainstream fashion has trickled into everyday trainers, so many chunky styles feel as at home at the gym or on a hiking trail as they do at the pub or on the city streets.  

Now that you’re familiar with the bloated shapes and fun-house features, it’s time to pull off a dad sneaker in a way that doesn’t make you look like you just walked off the set of Space Jam. You can absolutely wear them with other athleisure pieces, but as Thread stylist Toby Standing explains, they look even better when paired with the right elevated pieces. “You want to wear your chunky trainers with more relaxed, looser fitting trousers and shirts,” he says. “If you pair them with skinny jeans and a slim-fitting top, your statement trainers can look quite jarring.” If you’re apprehensive to wear voluminous shapes from head-to-toe, stylist Toby recommends pairing them with classic straight-leg jeans, like a pair of Levis 501. "They go great with a chunky pair of Adidas trainers, which manage to feel interesting without being too over the top." 

One place to avoid going too bold is in the office. If you work in a more creative, smart-casual environment, you can absolutely throw on a pair of chunky trainers. (If you work in an industry like finance or law, you should probably reserve your sneakers for the weekend.) If you choose to style yours with a suit, opt for one with a loose silhouette, and replace your tie and button-up with a simple tee. “You want to make sure the overall look feels intentional,” Toby says. “You don’t want to look like one of those guys on public transportation that will swap his trainers the minute he gets to the office. It’s not a good look.” So make sure the more voluminous shapes are consistent from head to toe, and if someone near the photocopy machine refers to them as ugly or dad trainers, be sure to thank them. When it comes to chunky trainers, those are basically compliments. 


Words: Allison Pavlick
Photography: Jon Cardwell
Styling: Toby Standing