For me, the fetishisation of ‘boxfresh’ trainers is dead. Done. Sayonara, gleaming white panels. Auf wiedersehen, scuffless suede. I am breaking free of the tyranny of perfectly preserved trainers - sneakers in glass cases, footwear in formaldehyde - and going back to enjoying them again.
Last week I reached what Malcolm Gladwell or Ben Shepherd might call my tipping point.
I was staring out of the tiny window of our office’s front door at the grey water pooling out front, the people running past with umbrellas and lunches in tupperware boxes held over their heads. Thanks to the subterranean nature of our office, I had no idea it was even raining. I felt that familiar feeling of dread, of anxiety, washing over me.
Fucking hell, I thought. Not again.
I was wearing a brand new pair trainers: white/blue/gum J. Crew x Nike Killshot 2. You can only get them from J. Crew in New York, and even then it’s a ball-ache. They’re mostly sold-out as soon as they drop, and but for good fortune and holidaying friends with decent carry-on baggage I wouldn’t have them at all. They’re the ones Aziz Ansari keeps wearing in Master of None. I’ve wanted them for about three years straight. Every time I saw Aziz’s face, I thought about his trainers: how he had them and I did not. They weren’t even his “favourite sneakies” - they were just another pair to him. Trainers have always played a big part in my self-confidence. Now I have them and I keep them in a box by my bed so sometimes I can look at them while I drift off to sleep…
So there I was, by the front door, looking at the rain, then down at my shoes, and then at my bag. I’d kinda suspected this would happen and had… yeah, I brought a spare pair of trainers in my bag so that my Killshots were not ruined. Or not even ‘ruined’ - ‘slightly marked’ would’ve been a huge blow to me. I feel physically repulsed by the word ‘sneakerhead’ - I always pictured lonely men with crippling debts surrounded by loads of boxes of vintage adidas and Jordans but with nobody to love them - but the term had come to encompass me, too. I had checked the lamentable weather app on my iPhone in the morning and it hadn’t deigned to report a single cloud on its timeline, and yet I still took a spare pair just in case, the rubber tread ruining the book I’d been reading, messing up its cover.
I stood there by the steps that lead to the communal bathroom, staring out the window again before hanging my head in shame. I changed into the spare Stan Smiths I’d brought with me… a colleague walked past looking confused, and I felt obliged to explain what I was doing.
“The, uh, rain,” I said. “It’s raining.”
“Oh…” she said. “OK.”
And then I had the epiphany. I can’t be this person anymore. I can’t be the person who ruins their day with worry over something that goes on my feet.
Stans already on, I unlaced them again, and replaced my Killshots, took a deep breath and went out into the rain. I felt great trepidation, a tightness in my chest. I could feel myself walking down the street like a cat burglar, hoping that a lightness of foot on the ground would somehow save me. I passed a man hovering by the doorway of the Post Office by Exmouth Market trying to cover his trainers with plastic bags and elastic bands. This freaked me out and I started to jog towards the pub, scared that the longer I exposed them to the rain, the higher my chances of ruin - and the pain, suffering, further begging of friends to pick me up yet another pair of very-hard-to-get trainers from a shop 3,460 miles away that outcome would bring.
But as I ran, the crystalline sanctuary of the pub starting to appear, I began to feel loose, my shackles starting to give. My gait straightened, like Forrest Gump running from that car, and I honestly could not give a fuck about the trainers anymore.
I mean, I still love them. I still have the Killshots right by my bed. I still think about them when I’m not wearing them, drifting off into a daydream about them like they were a long lost lover. And I still write about trainers every day, spend my bathroom moments idly scrolling through feeds full of them, still have drop dates memorised, I just don’t care about boxfresh. I have drunk the Kool Aid and deemed it nice but boring. Boxfresh trainers are empty calories.
Earlier this year, Nike and New York contemporary artist Tom Sachs collaborated on a trainer called the Nike Mars Yard 2.0 - a successor to the 2.0, one of Nike’s most coveted archive pieces - and right there on the red box with the white swoosh they came in it read: “These shoes are only valid if worn, and worn to death, by you. Posers need not apply” in handwritten black marker.
“We all die alone, and we die without our possessions, including our sneaker collection,” Sachs told Vanity Fair.
“Keeping [the Mars Yard 2.0] on a shelf and never wearing them is my worst nightmare,” he told GQ.
But that was in June. It’s easy to wear your best footwear a lot in June, isn’t it? And while I agreed with Sachs’ statements in principle, I also had to enter a damn lottery just to try and snag a pair of the £130-ish sneakers and still came up empty. Now if I wanted a pair, my best bet is a reseller on eBay for something in the region of about a thousand pounds.
This whole culture has gotten out of hand. There’s no way that whoever is paying a grand for a pair of trainers will be getting the most out of them. Trainers are to be lived in or, at the very least, worn. They are literally called ‘trainers’: they are supposed to be put through their literal paces. (Sidenote: The Oxford English Dictionary attributes the first use of the word ‘sneakers’ to British prison officers in 1895, who used the term to refer to the quiet rubber-soled shoes worn by inmates who would use their cunning footwear to try and stab an officer to death. So, go figure.) And in Britain, especially in London, the weather is unpredictable, and the commute is full of footwear-endangering crowds on the Tube and bus, not to mention myriad other dangers: spilled cups of tea, heretofore unseen murky puddles in the middle of the pavement, a structurally compromised burrito, a football that lands right in your path while kids beckoning you to return it from whence it came. Even sitting at a desk too long will fuck them up, drawing you into idly tapping your foot on your chair, which somehow crinkles the leather all around the toes…
But all that’s finished. I will not be beaten by fear. I’ve spent so long trying to protect my trainers, that I forgot to actually enjoy them. And what bigger flex is there than to have a pair of great shoes that actually look like they’ve lived a life? Any ol’ cunt with a credit card could buy some grails off Depop and Howard Hughes them away for the rest of their life.
By all means still take care of them. In the past I have bought lotions and creams and solutions and dyes and sprays and brushes and combs and all sorts of things to try and make my trainers look like the absolute best they can be. But at the end of the day, you can’t take them with you, can you?
I’m going walking in mine. I’m going straight to the pub. I might still put the odd bit of Crep Protect on there, just for old time’s sake, but it’s over. There are plenty more important things to care about.