Cheap Shoes That Age Well
Although I wouldn’t call it a “rule” for myself, when I can, I try to buy things that I think will look better with time, rather than worse. That is, after all, why most of us value full grain leather shoes over corrected grain ones. It’s not because they’re cheaper in the long run (because they’re not). It’s because high quality shoes acquire a beautiful worn in look that only good materials and years of wear can impart. Shoes made from corrected grain leather, on the other hand, look terrible new and even worse with time.
Unfortunately, shoes that age well are typically expensive. The exception to this is canvas sneakers, which always look better with a bit of dirt and grass staining. Think:
Converse Chuck Taylors and Jack Purcells
Vans Authentics and Classic Slip-Ons
Superga 1705 and 2750
Sperry Top-Sider’s striped CVOs
Tretorn Nylites
All of these retail for under $75, but can be had for less than $50 if you wait for sales.
The best thing about these shoes isn’t their price, however. It’s their designs. Most have been around for decades and their designs are hard to improve on. Take Maison Martin Margiela’s interpretation of Vans’ slip-ons, for example. The heavier look and feel of leather doesn’t evoke the airiness of summer like canvas, even if the design itself looks more luxurious. Similarly, Nigel Cabourn’s interpretation of Chuck Taylor All Stars has a nice retro feel, but truth be told, I think the standard model today is hard to beat.
You can wear these with any number of spring or summer ensembles. I often wear my Chuck Taylor high tops with a white t-shirt, leather jacket, and pair of jeans, and my Superga 1705s with chinos and a madras shirt. On a cooler spring day, the madras shirt gets swapped out for a sweatshirt and light parka. Neither of these feel like compromises over full grain leather shoes, and they’re appreciably much cheaper. It’s nice that good things don’t always have to be expensive. 

Cheap Shoes That Age Well

Although I wouldn’t call it a “rule” for myself, when I can, I try to buy things that I think will look better with time, rather than worse. That is, after all, why most of us value full grain leather shoes over corrected grain ones. It’s not because they’re cheaper in the long run (because they’re not). It’s because high quality shoes acquire a beautiful worn in look that only good materials and years of wear can impart. Shoes made from corrected grain leather, on the other hand, look terrible new and even worse with time.

Unfortunately, shoes that age well are typically expensive. The exception to this is canvas sneakers, which always look better with a bit of dirt and grass staining. Think:

All of these retail for under $75, but can be had for less than $50 if you wait for sales.

The best thing about these shoes isn’t their price, however. It’s their designs. Most have been around for decades and their designs are hard to improve on. Take Maison Martin Margiela’s interpretation of Vans’ slip-ons, for example. The heavier look and feel of leather doesn’t evoke the airiness of summer like canvas, even if the design itself looks more luxurious. Similarly, Nigel Cabourn’s interpretation of Chuck Taylor All Stars has a nice retro feel, but truth be told, I think the standard model today is hard to beat.

You can wear these with any number of spring or summer ensembles. I often wear my Chuck Taylor high tops with a white t-shirt, leather jacket, and pair of jeans, and my Superga 1705s with chinos and a madras shirt. On a cooler spring day, the madras shirt gets swapped out for a sweatshirt and light parka. Neither of these feel like compromises over full grain leather shoes, and they’re appreciably much cheaper. It’s nice that good things don’t always have to be expensive. 

Germany Army Trainers
If you’ve ever wanted German Army Trainers, now might be one of the better times to get a pair. Readers might remember when Jesse wrote about them last year. German Army Trainers (or GATs for short) are simple white sneakers accented with a bit of grey suede at the toe. They were designed by two brothers who would later go on to launch Adidas and Puma, which is perhaps why the design feels so familiar.
For many people, the easiest and most recommendable source for GATs is Zeemon – a StyleForum member in Germany who has been supplying people with these shoes for years. Unfortunately for us - though fortunately for him - he’s moving to Japan in April for a study abroad program. Which means if you want a pair, you should contact him soon. He’ll send you a pair for $85 flat, and you can either message him on StyleForum or email him here for details.
Another option is to go through ajdesa – a StyleForum member who’s organizing a bulk-buy for slightly used trainers. Used pairs can be found through military surplus dealers on eBay Germany, but you’ll have to deal with Google Translate and not all sellers are willing to ship to the United States. Plus, ajdesa is selling them for slightly less than what you’ll find on eBay. Since he’s a new user, however, I’d recommend paying him through Paypal, but via your credit card, so that you get a bit of protection in case anything goes wrong. You can private message him on StyleForum if you’re interested.
For the most affordable (and easiest to order), there’s JC Penny, who surprisingly came out with a GATs inspired design this past season. Cost? $25.50 with the code LASTDASH. I haven’t handled them, but some people have reported them as being surprisingly good for the price.
Lastly, if you have a bit of money to spend, the current round of seasonal sales makes this the best time to snag a pair of Margielas (the most popular replica). End has a 60% off sale going on right now with a couple of Margiela GATs priced between $215 and $250.

Germany Army Trainers

If you’ve ever wanted German Army Trainers, now might be one of the better times to get a pair. Readers might remember when Jesse wrote about them last year. German Army Trainers (or GATs for short) are simple white sneakers accented with a bit of grey suede at the toe. They were designed by two brothers who would later go on to launch Adidas and Puma, which is perhaps why the design feels so familiar.

For many people, the easiest and most recommendable source for GATs is Zeemon – a StyleForum member in Germany who has been supplying people with these shoes for years. Unfortunately for us - though fortunately for him - he’s moving to Japan in April for a study abroad program. Which means if you want a pair, you should contact him soon. He’ll send you a pair for $85 flat, and you can either message him on StyleForum or email him here for details.

Another option is to go through ajdesa – a StyleForum member who’s organizing a bulk-buy for slightly used trainers. Used pairs can be found through military surplus dealers on eBay Germany, but you’ll have to deal with Google Translate and not all sellers are willing to ship to the United States. Plus, ajdesa is selling them for slightly less than what you’ll find on eBay. Since he’s a new user, however, I’d recommend paying him through Paypal, but via your credit card, so that you get a bit of protection in case anything goes wrong. You can private message him on StyleForum if you’re interested.

For the most affordable (and easiest to order), there’s JC Penny, who surprisingly came out with a GATs inspired design this past season. Cost? $25.50 with the code LASTDASH. I haven’t handled them, but some people have reported them as being surprisingly good for the price.

Lastly, if you have a bit of money to spend, the current round of seasonal sales makes this the best time to snag a pair of Margielas (the most popular replica). End has a 60% off sale going on right now with a couple of Margiela GATs priced between $215 and $250.

It’s On Sale: Shoes at Tres Bien Shop

Tres Bien is offering a 20% discount on all their fall/ winter 2013 shoes. The sale seems to apply to the Common Projects and Maison Martin Margiela sneakers you see above, which get dropped down another 20% if you’re exempt from European taxes. Discounts are automatically applied at checkout and the promotion ends November 26th.  

Totokaelo Man Sale

A store I’ve been really digging lately for casualwear, Totokaelo Man, just did another round of price drops in their sale section. Some items that caught my eye included:

  • An APC striped sweater for $82.25 (I picked up one this season, and think it would make for a nice layering piece this fall)
  • Twins for Peace leather sneakers in white and black for $61.25 (I’ve never handled these in person, but they seem like they could be a nice alternative to pricier options)
  • Twins for Peace canvas sneakers in navy and white for $42
  • Grenson suede crepe soled chukkas for $140.
  • APC Chelsea boots for $180.25 (would look great with a pair of slim jeans or chinos)
  • Margiela chukkas and sidezip boots and for $311 and $344, respectively (a bit more fashion forward, but I think they’d look good with the right ensemble)

You can see what else they have here

Five Sneakers for Summer
As much as I like leather hard-bottom shoes, summer is really a great time for sneakers. They go well with chinos and madras shirts, jeans and t-shirts, and even the occasional casual button-up with shorts. I mainly rely on five different models for my rotation.
German Army Trainers: If German Army Trainers (GATs for short) seem new but familiar, it might be because the two brothers who invented them would later go on to launch Adidas and Puma, two classic sneaker companies that often make shoes bearing a familial resemblance to GATs. They were also used by German soldiers for indoor exercises during the 1970s, which is how they got their name.
You can find GATs today at a pretty affordable price. They’re about $30 if you’re in Germany and can get to a military surplus store, but if you’re not, you can find them between $60 and $90 on eBay and through German proxy sellers. Jesse wrote a great article on how to score them here.
There are also a couple of slightly modified designs by Svensson and Maison Martin Margiela (the second of which issues them in a number of different colors every season). I have the black pair you see above, the grey ones here, and the classic white leather/ grey suede combination. The last is probably the most popular among style enthusiasts, but I find myself wearing the black and grey pairs most often. You can get Margiela GATs for about $250 on eBay or during sale seasons. 
Common Projects: Enough has probably been said about how useful this minimalistic design is, so let’s talk about alternatives, in case Common Projects are too expensive for you. The good news is that there are a ton of alternatives. Check, for example, these by Acne (some on sale here), ETQ, Erik Schedin, Vor, Marc Jacobs, Svensson, National Standard (some on sale here), Twins for Peace, Kent Wang, Zegna Sport, Aspesi, Buttero, Generic Surplus, Superga, and Adidas (Stan Smiths, Soloist collaboration, and Campus 80s). Admittedly, the last few don’t look very much like Common Projects, but they’re somewhat similar and it’s nice to have options.  
Hydrogen-1: A few months ago, Hydrogen-1 offered to send me a free pair of sneakers to review. I was skeptical, to be honest, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to give their black Oxygen high-tops a try, so long as they knew a positive review wasn’t guaranteed.
I’ve been happily surprised with them and find they’re just as well made as my Common Projects or Margielas. The slightly pebbled black calf leather doesn’t show creases easily and the padded collar makes them exceptionally comfortable. The sole looks chunkier online than in real life, but they do give the shoe a nice casual look. Like the aforementioned minimalistic options, the simplicity of these high-tops makes them very versatile.
I also like these grey chukkas. Hero, the founder behind the company, tells me they’ll be doing an end-of-season sale in a few months, and that both models will be coming out in different colorways and materials this October or so.
Billy Reid: Billy Reid has a collaboration line with K-Swiss that I really like. It’s a very sporty, slightly retro design that goes well with a grey sweatshirt and pair of jeans. A bit more “designed” than the other options on this list, but in a way that still feels simple and basic.
Canvas sneakers: The great thing about sneakers is that they don’t have to be expensive. If you’re on a budget, aim for something classic and made from canvas. My go-tos are Superga 1705s in white and navy, but you can read about a number of other options in this old post I wrote a couple of summers ago. It’s hard to go wrong with any of those models.
If you want something more unique, check out these other designs by Superga, Converse, Twins for Peace, Industry of All Nations, and Nigel Cabourn. Wooden Sleepers also has a pretty neat-looking Italian military sneaker that I’ve always admired. Like with all the models mentioned in this post, I think they’d make for a really great pair of summer shoes.
(Pictured above: Margiela GATs, Common Project Achilles, Hydrogen-1 Oxygens, Billy Reid x K Swiss, and Superga 1705s. For what it’s worth, I’ve found all these run true to size, except for the Supergas, where I had to take a 10 instead of my regular 9).

Five Sneakers for Summer

As much as I like leather hard-bottom shoes, summer is really a great time for sneakers. They go well with chinos and madras shirts, jeans and t-shirts, and even the occasional casual button-up with shorts. I mainly rely on five different models for my rotation.

German Army Trainers: If German Army Trainers (GATs for short) seem new but familiar, it might be because the two brothers who invented them would later go on to launch Adidas and Puma, two classic sneaker companies that often make shoes bearing a familial resemblance to GATs. They were also used by German soldiers for indoor exercises during the 1970s, which is how they got their name.

You can find GATs today at a pretty affordable price. They’re about $30 if you’re in Germany and can get to a military surplus store, but if you’re not, you can find them between $60 and $90 on eBay and through German proxy sellers. Jesse wrote a great article on how to score them here.

There are also a couple of slightly modified designs by Svensson and Maison Martin Margiela (the second of which issues them in a number of different colors every season). I have the black pair you see above, the grey ones here, and the classic white leather/ grey suede combination. The last is probably the most popular among style enthusiasts, but I find myself wearing the black and grey pairs most often. You can get Margiela GATs for about $250 on eBay or during sale seasons. 

Common Projects: Enough has probably been said about how useful this minimalistic design is, so let’s talk about alternatives, in case Common Projects are too expensive for you. The good news is that there are a ton of alternatives. Check, for example, these by Acne (some on sale here), ETQ, Erik Schedin, Vor, Marc Jacobs, Svensson, National Standard (some on sale here), Twins for Peace, Kent Wang, Zegna Sport, Aspesi, Buttero, Generic Surplus, Superga, and Adidas (Stan Smiths, Soloist collaboration, and Campus 80s). Admittedly, the last few don’t look very much like Common Projects, but they’re somewhat similar and it’s nice to have options.  

Hydrogen-1: A few months ago, Hydrogen-1 offered to send me a free pair of sneakers to review. I was skeptical, to be honest, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to give their black Oxygen high-tops a try, so long as they knew a positive review wasn’t guaranteed.

I’ve been happily surprised with them and find they’re just as well made as my Common Projects or Margielas. The slightly pebbled black calf leather doesn’t show creases easily and the padded collar makes them exceptionally comfortable. The sole looks chunkier online than in real life, but they do give the shoe a nice casual look. Like the aforementioned minimalistic options, the simplicity of these high-tops makes them very versatile.

I also like these grey chukkas. Hero, the founder behind the company, tells me they’ll be doing an end-of-season sale in a few months, and that both models will be coming out in different colorways and materials this October or so.

Billy Reid: Billy Reid has a collaboration line with K-Swiss that I really like. It’s a very sporty, slightly retro design that goes well with a grey sweatshirt and pair of jeans. A bit more “designed” than the other options on this list, but in a way that still feels simple and basic.

Canvas sneakers: The great thing about sneakers is that they don’t have to be expensive. If you’re on a budget, aim for something classic and made from canvas. My go-tos are Superga 1705s in white and navy, but you can read about a number of other options in this old post I wrote a couple of summers ago. It’s hard to go wrong with any of those models.

If you want something more unique, check out these other designs by Superga, Converse, Twins for Peace, Industry of All Nations, and Nigel Cabourn. Wooden Sleepers also has a pretty neat-looking Italian military sneaker that I’ve always admired. Like with all the models mentioned in this post, I think they’d make for a really great pair of summer shoes.

(Pictured above: Margiela GATsCommon Project AchillesHydrogen-1 OxygensBilly Reid x K Swiss, and Superga 1705s. For what it’s worth, I’ve found all these run true to size, except for the Supergas, where I had to take a 10 instead of my regular 9).

It’s On Sale: Common Projects and Margiela Sneakers

Oki Ni is having a spring/ summer sale for customers in the United States and Canada. Take 30% off with the code SUMMER30. The code works on the Common Projects and Maison Martin Margiela sneakers you see above, both of which come out to about $275 after discount. You can then email the store and ask for VAT to be refunded. That’ll knock these down even further, to about $220. Shipping is free. 

(These run true to size, from my experience. Also, note that in order to get the code to work, you have to specify your shipping destination to be either the US or Canada). 

It’s On Sale: Mr. Porter

Mr. Porter is one of the best collections of menswear available online, but the full retail prices for designer clothes can be staggering. In their seasonal sales, the Mr. Porter folks mark stuff down 30-50%, and that’s when things start to get really interesting. Of course, even at 50% off Maison Martin Margiela is expensive, but we can dream, right?

Above, left to right, top to bottom, a few favorites:

Drake’s Striped Grenadine Tie

Drake’s Pocket Square

LVC 1960s Star Shirt

Row Two

Incotex Slim Wool Trousers

Woolrich Woolen Mills Madras Shirt

Belstaff Motorcycle Jacket

Row Three

Billy Reid Cable-Knit Sweater

Maison Martin Margiela Silk Bomber

J. Crew Madras Shirt

“By all means, if you are willing to buy into this (H&M x MMM) collaboration, please do, just don’t think that you are buying ‘fashion’ or a part of Margiela’s legacy — what you are buying are assembly-line knockoffs that you will discard by next year. But if this has become your idea of fashion, I urge you to reconsider.” — Eugene Rabkin making the case against fast fashion collaborations. (Note: we’re not against affordable clothing, but there are some good points in Rabkin’s article on how fast fashion companies use these collaborations for marketing purposes, and how consumers buy this stuff in the bundles, presumably because they think they’re getting designer clothing on the cheap).
The German Army Trainer - GATs - A Sneaker Icon
It can be maddeningly difficult to find a simple pair of sneakers.
If you’re comfortable with something that’s heavily branded, there are some decent options. There are Adidas Stan Smiths and Sambas, Nike Air Force Ones and Tennis Classics, Converse Jack Purcells and Chuck Taylors. But when you’re looking for something without a logo on the side, your choices narrow dramatically.
I recently went on a quest for all-white summer sneakers, and ended up with a pair of Common Projects Achilles, the laughably expensive (but tastefully simple) designer sneakers favored by streetwear enthusiasts. I paid for them with some store credit to a website that had been gathering virtual dust for months - I was days away from using it to buy artisinal sausage links. If you haven’t returned something expensive for credit lately, though, CPs might not be an option for you; the retail on the Achilles was $380. The shoes are made in Italy and the materials and build are excellent, but there are few among us who’d feel comfortable dropping that kind of coin on sneakers.
The good news is that there’s an alternative.
There is one simple leather classic that bears no brand: the GAT, or German Army Trainer. As the name suggests, it was designed for use in the German military, who’ve been using them for decades when exercising indoors. The simple, utilitarian style has inspired famous designers to knock them off - the Maison Martin Margiela version costs about $500. Adidas has knocked them off as well, but adding branding to a shoe whose raison d’etre is its unbranded aesthetic seems a bit silly.
The real deal is still being manufactured, though, and like most military surplus, they’re reasonably inexpensive. The only tricky bit is that they’re tough to find outside of Germany. You can search on eBay, where, for example, this seller is selling them for about $50, shipped, and says he has a variety of sizes. You can also use the search terms “bundeswehr turnschuhe,” “bundeswehr hallenschuhe,” and “bundeswehr sportschuhe" on ebay.de to see if you can turn any more up. They tend to sell for about $30-50, with an additional $25 or $30 for shipping. (You’ll need an assist from Google Translate here.)
There are also German style enthusiasts willing to proxy. One who’s gotten good reviews on StyleForum is this guy, who sells the shoes new for $85, including shipping to anywhere in the world. That’s a lot to pay for surplus gym shoes that go for $30 or so in Germany, but what you get is a genuinely iconic shoe, and I don’t use that term lightly. Simple, unbranded and imminently wearable: qualities that are shockingly difficult to find.

The German Army Trainer - GATs - A Sneaker Icon

It can be maddeningly difficult to find a simple pair of sneakers.

If you’re comfortable with something that’s heavily branded, there are some decent options. There are Adidas Stan Smiths and Sambas, Nike Air Force Ones and Tennis Classics, Converse Jack Purcells and Chuck Taylors. But when you’re looking for something without a logo on the side, your choices narrow dramatically.

I recently went on a quest for all-white summer sneakers, and ended up with a pair of Common Projects Achilles, the laughably expensive (but tastefully simple) designer sneakers favored by streetwear enthusiasts. I paid for them with some store credit to a website that had been gathering virtual dust for months - I was days away from using it to buy artisinal sausage links. If you haven’t returned something expensive for credit lately, though, CPs might not be an option for you; the retail on the Achilles was $380. The shoes are made in Italy and the materials and build are excellent, but there are few among us who’d feel comfortable dropping that kind of coin on sneakers.

The good news is that there’s an alternative.

There is one simple leather classic that bears no brand: the GAT, or German Army Trainer. As the name suggests, it was designed for use in the German military, who’ve been using them for decades when exercising indoors. The simple, utilitarian style has inspired famous designers to knock them off - the Maison Martin Margiela version costs about $500. Adidas has knocked them off as well, but adding branding to a shoe whose raison d’etre is its unbranded aesthetic seems a bit silly.

The real deal is still being manufactured, though, and like most military surplus, they’re reasonably inexpensive. The only tricky bit is that they’re tough to find outside of Germany. You can search on eBay, where, for example, this seller is selling them for about $50, shipped, and says he has a variety of sizes. You can also use the search terms “bundeswehr turnschuhe,” “bundeswehr hallenschuhe,” and “bundeswehr sportschuhe" on ebay.de to see if you can turn any more up. They tend to sell for about $30-50, with an additional $25 or $30 for shipping. (You’ll need an assist from Google Translate here.)

There are also German style enthusiasts willing to proxy. One who’s gotten good reviews on StyleForum is this guy, who sells the shoes new for $85, including shipping to anywhere in the world. That’s a lot to pay for surplus gym shoes that go for $30 or so in Germany, but what you get is a genuinely iconic shoe, and I don’t use that term lightly. Simple, unbranded and imminently wearable: qualities that are shockingly difficult to find.