My grandmother was an unrepentant clotheshorse. No stranger to the thrilling sensation of showing off a new cop, she reveled in cheffing up A1 fits and in complimenting her grandchildren on theirs. Whenever I’d show up at her house for a surprise visit in some freshly unwrapped purchase, she’d say the same thing: “Wear it and tear it.” Whatever new item I bought (or, in true grandmotherly fashion, she’d given to me) wasn’t meant to sit on a shelf. It was meant to be used. Loved. Worn until it was quite literally worn out.
In her infinite wisdom, my grandmother (all five foot nothing of her) made the best argument for the knockaround shoe I’ve ever heard. The knockaround shoe—the accessible canvas low-top you should be lacing up with abandon right now—is a type of sneaker you’re doubtless already familiar with. As a genre of footwear, it encompasses everything from Chucks to Vans to their designer brethren. These are shoes that can easily cost much less than a hundred bucks but retain a certain devil-may-care cool no matter the price. And they are meant to be worn.
We talk a lot about investment-worthy footwear here, and we’ll always back buying an expensive shoe and treating it with the kind of reverence that’ll let it last a lifetime. But what we’re advocating for at the moment is investing differently—diversifying your portfolio, if you will—by picking up a pair of sneakers that are built to live fast and die young. So much of life requires care and preservation. Knockaround shoes are carefree. They ask nothing from us. Treat them terribly and they’ll look all the better for it. As the scrapes, scratches, and scuffs stack up, your sneakers will start to tell a story that’s uniquely their own. And, funny enough, it’s that singularly thrashed-and-trashed nature that makes them surprisingly versatile.
The washed OCBD you’ve been throwing on with your baggies lately? Nothing will look better than a destroyed pair of knockarounds anchoring the whole outfit down below. The patterned-sweater-vest-and-cropped-chinos combination you’d normally wear loafers with? Try swapping in knockarounds in their place. The soft, crumpled linen suit you’ve been waiting to bust out since the summer before last? Yeah, a knockaround will look great with that, too. Road-worn beats box-fresh any day of the week.
My grandmother knew this. She wasn’t precious with her clothing. She wore it—and wore it hard. And now, when wearing shoes at all still feels like cause for celebration, there’s something deeply satisfying about putting on a sneaker you don’t have to give a shit about and then wearing it into the damn ground.
So, dear reader, you know your mandate. Find a pair of knockaround shoes to make your own, and then absolutely refuse to take them off for six months straight. In other words: Wear ’em and tear ’em, baby.
This story appears in the April/May 2021 issue of Esquire magazine
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