As politicians and CEOs slip off their shoes – are trainers now the smart choice?

We’re used to seeing tech bros in Nikes, even Theresa May wore those leopard-print sneakers, it seems how we dress for work is changingHeels or flats? It’s a typical sartorial question and one the British prime minister, Liz Truss, faced this past week. On a …

Heels or flats? It’s a typical sartorial question and one the British prime minister, Liz Truss, faced this past week. On a morning visit to the Conservative party’s annual conference, followed by an interview on Sky News at lunchtime on Tuesday, Truss swapped her usual court heels for white trainers.

Boris Johnson may have worn crumpled suits with his shirt tails hanging out while in power but few expected to see the PM on duty in a pair of £138 trainers from the British high street retailer Reiss.

Truss isn’t the first politician to wear them in public. Presidents Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Emmanuel Macron have been pictured in New Balance, while former president Barack Obama regularly sported Stan Smiths. However, context is key. Zelenskiy is in a war zone but Macron and Obama were pictured while technically “off-duty” in public spaces.

On a byelection campaign trail in 2016, Theresa May was pictured in leopard-print sneakers and in 2021 while prepping for the budget, Rishi Sunak tapped into Gen Z’s favourite socks and sliders trend.

This raises the question in 2022, is there anywhere now that trainers can’t be worn?

While Harrods may have ditched its infamous dress code, trainers are still banned at the Ritz. A spokesperson for Lloyd’s of London said since spring 2019, they have implemented a “dress for your day” policy. For face-to-face client meetings, formal wear is de rigueur, whereas for a “desk day”, many workers leave their trainers on after a lunchtime gym session.

A graduate worker for a large city bank, who did not want to be named, explained that post-lockdown, her company’s dress code had been updated. Trainers are now allowed in the office but were ruled out for seeing clients unless they are “smart and sleek”. (She flags a simple Common Projects or Axel Arigato trainer as potentially fitting the brief.)

We’ve become accustomed to seeing Silicon Valley “tech bros” such as Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg in hoodies and Nike sneakers but evidently this style doesn’t translate so easily in the real world. BBC’s hit show Industry captures the dilemma. While the US hedge-fund manager Jesse Bloom (Jay Duplass) bounces around in New Balance trainers, his British counterparts wear Oxford brogues.

Even nightclubs that for years have had “no trainers, no ripped jeans” policies are caving in to the inevitable. Annabel’s, the smart Mayfair members club, allows “fashion trainers”, but “trainers that appear to be worn for exercise are not suitable for wearing in the club”, reads Annabel’s dress code. The rules were updated in 2017 by the US journalist and socialite Derek Blasberg.

This means Truss potentially in her clean white kicks would get in but Mark Zuckerberg, in his Nike sneakers, might have some trouble at the door.

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