There was a post on the Male Fashion Advice subreddit I found recently that more or less read my mind. “I’m 30 years old and work at a large company in the corporate office,” it explained. “Attire is business casual but jeans and sneakers are allowed on Friday. Recently picked up a pair of rigid dragon 511s and a gray pair of Vans Authentics. So far, I like the look, as does my wife, but a friend at work today jokingly asked if I rode a skateboard to work and did some ollies on the way in. I used to wear Nike Frees with jeans on Friday, and I’ve seen this particular coworker wearing sneakers as well. So my question is, am I too old for Vans, or should I just brush off this one comment?”
I very much know how this guy feels, because I’ve been feeling the exact same way lately. I grew up in Southern California, never more than a 20-minute drive to the coast. I used to skate. I still surf. I’ve owned Vans in nearly every color and of every kind: Slip-ons, Sk8-His, Old Skools, and of course, Authentics. But I’ve also felt this creeping sense that my go-to sneakers might be better suited for a younger man.
Vans, the company, would obviously beg to differ. “Vans has this incredible ability to be cool with everybody,” Doug Palladini, the brand’s global president, told Business Insider in 2017. It’s easy to see why. Vans are made of canvas, and unlike other sneakers or basketball shoes, they’re free from big logos and intricate designs. If anything, their defining characteristic is their austerity. And their popularity amongst people in every age group is based largely on the proliferation of California skate culture.
Giving them up because of age is also, surprisingly, not a very male impulse — at least per a small study by Julia Twigg, a professor of social policy and sociology at the University of Kent. She conducted 24 in-depth interviews with men between the ages of 58 and 85, to find out how their responses to fashion and clothing choices had changed over time. She found that while it was common for women to have this changing-room moment when they put on a dress and thought, “Hmmmm, not any more,” she told Inverse that “none of the men had had that.” “I think it’s that clothing has a different significance in women’s and men’s lives,” she explained.
“I think it’s just exposure,” says a 35-year old redditor who used to wear Vans but has since switched to suede shoes. His point is, if you take an interest in men’s fashion, you begin to see that there’s a wider range of available, casual shoes, which, in turn, may force you to re-evaluate your “old style.”
I have a hunch there’s another reason, too.
We live in a world of fancy sneakers. A lot of people might even say that the $200 sneaker has replaced the leather dress shoe. The consensus is that these sneakers, many of which are designed by the most esteemed fashion houses in the world, can even be worn with a suit. But Vans, in all their simplicity, have the reputation of being a skateboarding shoe. Their cultural milieu is that of a $50 shoe for everyone. The same can’t be said about a pair of Common Projects or Balenciagas.
Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Vans can’t be ageless. Which also seems to be the consensus on r/MaleFashionAdvice. “Thanks for all of the feedback!” the redditor who read my mind wrote after sifting through all 157 responses to his original post. “Most people are saying that it’s no big deal, so I shall continue to wear them.”
Or as a different redditor put it, “I’m 48 and Vans are all I wear. Ever since 1981. Lately, folks have been saying I should really grow up and dress my age. Never gonna happen. Also, I’m in the market for new friends!”