What Are the Different Types of Sneakers?

Model wearing the Men's Carlo Sneaker in white.

Long gone are the days when you simply grabbed your white velcro shoes out of the closet and ran outside. Today, there are countless options for rubber-soled shoes that are functional, comfortable, and fashion-forward. Many of these are the shoes we know as sneakers.

Some of the different types of sneakers you can buy today include slip-on, casual canvas, and even gravity-defying platforms. With a variety of sneakers for men, you can choose from different styles to go with all of your favorite outfits.

This guide will walk you through some of the trendiest sneaker styles in sneaker culture out there, and give you tips on how to find the best sneaker for you and how to wear them with confidence.

Cropped feet view of model wearing the Men's Carlo Sneaker in Camo.

What Are Sneakers, Exactly?

You’ve probably heard many shoes referred to as sneakers, including:

  • Running shoes
  • High-tops
  • Canvas shoes
  • Slip-ons

…and many more. 

Technically, all of these shoes are sneakers. This is because sneakers is a catchall name for any type of footwear that’s made from a synthetic material and has a rubber sole. 

Along with the material they’re made out of, the most defining feature of sneakers is comfort. The cushioning of the rubber sole offers slip-resistance and more support for your feet and a soft touch not often found in other shoes. Not sure what slip resistant shoes are? Read our latest blog to learn more. 

What Makes Sneakers Different from Other Shoes?

You’re probably wondering what separates sneakers from different types of shoes? It may seem like there are similarities—after all, you can wear platforms or classic closed back flat shoes and call them dress shoes. 

While there are styles of shoes found in both sneaker and non-sneaker forms, such as tennis shoes or sport shoes, you can tell the difference by simply examining the bottom of the shoes. If there is a thick, rubber sole, you might be holding a pair of sneakers. A quick check of the upper part of the shoe can confirm your suspicion. Sneakers will have a canvas or synthetic material upper.

However, shoe styles like high heels, loafers, and other dressy shoes aren’t considered sneakers.

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Which Sneaker Styles Are Popular Today?

Today, many more people are saying no to sore soles and opting for comfort. To keep up with this demand, more shoe companies and sneaker brands are crafting sneakers in unique styles. This is excellent news for those of you who refuse to walk around with aching feet—you can find sneakers in styles suited to get you through a week at the office and casual weekend errands.

These seven styles are some of the most popular sneakers to wear anywhere and anytime you want comfort and amazing looks. And adding a pair (or several) to your collection will keep your feet happy during any occasion.

#1: Canvas Sneakers

The classic canvas sneaker you’re picturing right now likely has several notable features, including:

  • A thick rubber outsole
  • Canvas uppers
  • Thick laces that lie flat against the shoe

Did we get it right? Canvas sneakers are a casual shoe that have a pretty memorable look and they’ve been a popular choice for comfortable, casual wear for over a century. You can find canvas sneakers in just about any color or pattern you can think of today, making them an excellent choice for fashion-forward shoe-lovers anywhere.

Canvas Sneakers Are Perfect When…

The flexibility of a canvas sneaker makes it a perfect choice for many occasions. Throw them on with a pair of jeans or leggings for a casual night out or slip on your favorite pair and stroll around the park with your friends. Canvas sneakers can easily be paired with a cute sundress for a comfy summer look.

#2: Athletic Sneakers

The category of athletic sneakers or an athletic shoe comprises quite a wide range. Whether it’s walking shoes vs. running shoes, the term athletic sneakers covers any sports sneaker you wear specifically for athletic activities, such as:

  • Running
  • Walking
  • Tennis
  • Basketball

One thing you should be careful of when selecting athletic sneakers is to choose the style appropriate for your sport. Running shoes are made with extra cushioning to support your feet against the pounding on the pavement, while basketball shoes have high ankle support to protect against ankle injuries.

Cropped feet view of model wearing the Men's TRVL LITE Sneaker in brown.

Opt for Athletic Sneakers When…

You should wear appropriate athletic sneakers when you’re performing a specific sport that requires them. Running shoes are also a good choice for long days on your feet because of the extensive support and cushioning they offer.

#3: Mid-Cut Sneakers

Seated firmly between their short canvas and high top sneaker cousins are mid-cut sneakers. Just as the name implies, mid sneakers rest halfway up your ankle. They have a relatively thick rubber outsole but retain a lightweight and comfortable feel. As a bonus, you can buy mid-cut sneakers that are better for your feet and the environment. 

When you shop, look for shoes that are made from:

  • Eco-fibers
  • Recycled materials
  • Biodegradable content

Comfortable shoes that make you feel good about wearing them are a win-win.

Mids Are Best When…

Mid-cut sneakers are an excellent choice to wear with jeans and a casual button-down shirt for date night. You can also slip on this sneaker style when watching a fall concert in the park or attending a chilly spring baseball game. And they’ll keep your ankles warm on those days when it’s not quite shorts weather.

#4: Slip-On Sneakers

Love the look of slip-on flats but wish they were more comfortable? You’re in luck because slip-on sneakers offer the cute look of dressier shoes without forcing you to sacrifice comfort. Some key features of slip-on sneakers that we love include:

  • Cushioned insole for the ultimate comfort
  • Thick, sturdy rubber outsole for durability
  • Textile upper in countless colors and prints

Slip-on sneakers are also very easy to put on and take off since they generally have an elasticized collar—the open part of the shoe’s upper where you put your foot in and pull it out.

Wear Slip-On Sneakers When…

You can wear slip-on sneakers with any casual look. They’re an excellent choice paired with:

  • Shorts
  • Jeans
  • Leggings
  • Comfy cotton skirts
  • Casual sundresses

But, it’s probably best to leave the slip-on shoes at home in freezing or snowy weather because the tops of your feet will get cold and wet. Most other times, however, they’re a winner.

#5: Platform Sneakers

If you’re seeking sneakers that will elevate your day-to-day life—literally, then platforms can give you the lift you need. Instead of cramming your toes into uncomfortable high heels, wearing a platform sneaker will give you an extra inch or more of height, without sacrificing feet-soothing comfort.

Platforms have a thicker outsole that really stands out and makes a fashion statement. The uppers of platform sneakers are typically made from canvas or another lightweight material. This means you can find a pair to match any outfit. You can also rest assured that your platform sneakers won’t weigh you down. Just slip your feet in and enjoy the plush interior.

Pick Platforms When…

These cute, chunky sneakers will complement most casual outfits, especially when the weather is warm, but not quite warm enough for sandals. They’re an excellent choice to bridge that time between winter boots and summer sandals. Platforms can look nice with jeans, simple leggings, and even capris.

#6: Velcro Sneakers

If you want to rocket back to your pleasant childhood days, pull on a pair of velcro sneakers. These old-school favorites are making a comeback. Typically, velcro sneakers have the following features:

  • Thick rubber soles
  • Two or three velcro straps across the top
  • Canvas or synthetic material upper

They’re a soothing choice when you’re in the mood for a little nostalgia.

Velcro Sneakers Are Perfect When…

These comfy throwbacks are best kept for casual situations. They’ll look cute with jeans or athletic pants but they definitely aren’t appropriate for a fancy date night.

#7: Alpargata Sneakers

Alpargatas are also known as espadrilles. They’re just two different names for the same type of shoe. This slip-on style gets its own name because of the shoe’s construction—the key feature that sets alpargata sneakers apart from traditional alpargatas is the sole. 

Traditionally, these shoes have a sole made of braided fiber or rope, but sneakers replace that style of sole with thick, cushioned rubber.

The stitching on top of the shoe also differentiates alpargatas from other slip-on shoes: There are generally two pieces of material—one that loops over the toes and another that wraps around the back of the foot. They’re stitched together around mid-foot. And you can find a bevy of colors and patterns in alpargata sneakers for women and men alike.

Alpargatas Rule When…

These very comfortable shoes are quite flexible and you can wear them for many occasions, including:

  • Warm weather strolls
  • Concerts
  • Casual date night
  • Weekend errands

The wide variety of looks you can find alpargatas in makes them some of our favorites for everyday wear. Check out our Alpargata Resident, an all new sneakerized-slipper part of our women’s slippers collection.

TOMS: Always the Right Sneaker Choice

Shoes with thick rubber soles have been around for over one hundred and fifty years. But the style we know as sneakers today gained popularity in the early 20th century and has continued to remain the favored shoe style of millions since then.

At TOMS, we know that comfort is the key to a harmonious shoe relationship, but you also want shoes that last for a long time and that you feel good about buying. At TOMS, we’ve got it all. 

No matter what types of sneakers you’re searching for, check out our extensive collection of men’s sneakers and women’s sneakers to find your next favorite pair.

Reviewed By Andrew David Stewart

Andrew David Stewart is the Manager of Digital Marketing at TOMS and has been working in the digital marketing and social media world for 6 years. Andrew is a lover of nature and the outdoors, and is passionate about telling stories through digital media.

Sources: 

Vocabulary.com. Sneaker. https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/sneaker

The Washington Post. The History of the Sneaker. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/2002/05/14/the-history-of-the-sneaker/aa2096d1-a7e2-4427-a324-cb603512722d/

CNN. Eco-friendly Shoes That Are as Comfortable as They Are Sustainable. https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/18/cnn-underscored/eco-friendly-shoe-brands/index.html

Shoe Guide. Anatomy of the Shoe. https://www.shoeguide.org/shoe_anatomy/