Dirty Is Stylish, Clean Is Not

’Tis the season of scruffy sneakers

An MRT commuter seen with a pair of stained Sperry canvas sneakers

By Ray Zhang

Pristine is passé, dirty is dapper. If what I have been seeing during my daily commutes in the MRT train these days is any indication, the more soiled your sneakers are, the more fashionable you will appear to be. Unclean is today’s ugly. You are probably saying the same thing: We have Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia to thank for this preference for the dirty deed, er, kicks. He is probably laughing every day now since the “fully destroyed” Paris canvas high-tops were launched and had gone viral. I have no idea who’d want to own the really hammered shoes (those are the really expensive ones. Most others are less destroyed [see below for an example]), but it seems that there is a flaming desire for the deliberately damaged, even when the shoes are generally slammed by Netizens.

For the longest time—since school days, in fact—I have this thing about clean sneakers, not just your regular clean, but immaculately clean: Not a spot, not a crease, I could appreciate. Which explains why, for the longest time, I would not buy white sneakers even when they were the kicks to wear. Till now, they are not only reminders of school days, they are canvases for grime and mud. It even took me a long time to accept white mid-soles. And the few sneakers that I own with that wide white underscore are always worn only when I carry in my pocket Crep wipes. So you can imagine my delight when, in Italy years ago, I bought my first Premiata sneakers with white mid-soles that were graffiti-ed—marvelous camouflage for filthy matter that must adhere down there.

Dirty preferred. Clockwise from top left: Golden Goose Super-Star, Balenciaga Paris high top, Autry Super Vintage Medalist, and Premiata Steven low top. Product photos: respective brands. Collage: Just So

As you know, Balenciaga did not only destroy the Paris sneakers, they’ve roughed up the Adidas Stan Smith, too. I won’t be surprised if there are more to come, but I think it would be bolder and more of a mockery, even arrogant if Balenciaga messes up their own iconic Triple S (although in latter iterations, some mid-soles did look somewhat dirtied, but definitely not destroyed! Ugly and dirty—double the cool?). To be sure, Mr Gvasalia is hardly the first designer to smear the spotlessness of new sneakers. One of the earliest to do so was Raf Simons on the collaborative Stan Smith (again Mr Gvasalia was not the first). I remember it well because, while I was oddly attracted to them (that perforated R!), I could not bear to part with good money to buy shoes that are scruffy before they’re worn. And by the time the really dirtier and scruffier Golden Goose ones came around in the early 2000s, I was still stuck with the stainless and sterilised.

I consider myself a fairly adventurous sneaker fan, but I stop before the toe box of those dirty and defiled. It is disconcerting to me if I wear kicks that are more stained than those seen on waste collectors (who, in my estate, are, conversely, very well and neatly shod!). While I understand that soiled sneakers reflect a don’t-give-a-shit attitude (that commensurate with today’s fashion and habits, such as placing shoes on a dining table, next to food) rather than a grubby appearance, I can’t subscribe to the “destroyed”, whether intentional or the result of wear and tear, or with a mission to “mock poverty”. “Vintage experience”, as it’s also called? Scuff marks are “decorative art”? What will be cool next? Holed and soiled socks?

Photo (top): A. B. Tan

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