Justine Carreon remembers the first pair of sneakers she latched onto. “I wore the same pair of slip-on Vans every day of my sophomore year in high school,” ELLE’s senior fashion market editor shares. The combo she wore on repeat: a pair of workman jeans, a studded belt, and “not-so-vintage” band tees sourced at the mall. “My sneakers were so worn down that I could stick my entire foot out through a four-inch hole that ripped at the seam where the fabric meets the rubber sole,” she recalls. Today, that nostalgic skater aesthetic remains an influential part of her wardrobe.
These days, Carreon’s still wearing Vans but with a slightly less tattered vibe. And with spring around the corner—a season she dubs as “goldilocks sneaker weather”—she’s lending her California-cool sensibilities to help you find your perfect pair of sneakers and plan some looks around them. (She’s originally from the Bay Area and is currently spending time at home with her parents and brothers, who also happened to photograph this story.)
“I’m a big fan of comfort, but I don’t let that stop me from getting weird with my style,” she shares. She adheres to a pick-your-shoes-first methodology for planning outfits, which works like a charm. “To me, sneakers are always the foundation for creating a look that doesn’t compromise who I am, or my foot health.”
Above all else, Carreon views the perfect sneakers as a comfort choice. “It’s more of a feel than how it looks,” she says. “It doesn’t try too hard and comes across as authentic to your true style.” Though she jokes that her early days of sneaker-wearing were spurred by a desire to earn street cred with the sneakerhead skaters, Carreon’s current collection of sneakers complement her confident, don’t-take-yourself-too-seriously style.
Ahead, find out what all the fuss over sneakers is about as she puts three statement pairs from DSW to the test for spring.
If you’ve been putting outfits together long enough, you know that neutrals are the easiest color palette to build an outfit around—particularly white sneakers. “They give you ample wiggle room to experiment,” Carreon explains. “These Nikes are the clean slate that lets me get a little strange with silhouettes or wild prints.”
She paired hers with a chunky knit and pleated midi skirt, an unexpected duo. “I’ve been streaming a series lately and there’s a character who wears sneakers with literally everything—tweed business skirt sets, suits, mini dresses, everything. She’s been a major source of inspiration when it comes to balancing sporty shoes with more feminine silhouettes,” Carreon says.
You’ve probably grown tired of hearing how to wear your sweatpants well over the course of the pandemic—the internet’s efforts to link stay-at-home orders to loungewear sometimes feels like overkill. However, if you’re up for one more suggestion, Carreon has a solid idea: a pair of New Balance sneakers. “Wearing sweats with a fresh pair of sneakers makes me feel a lot less like a slob,” she says. “Hint: bright white tube socks instantly freshen up an athleisure look, as does adding gold hoop earrings (a trick I stole from an ELLE cover star).”
Beyond the sweats, Carreon also deviates from the expected head-to-toe cozies and adds in a few statement pieces. “I’ll contrast my sweat set with more street style pieces like a statement jacket or a puffer vest,” she adds.
“As a Californian and an avid surfer, skate culture has always influenced how I dress, even though I consider myself to be more of a skater groupie than an actual skater,” Carreon says. So it’s no surprise that professional skaters are serving as her style inspiration these days. This aesthetic translates to Carreon’s spring looks via slouchy silhouettes and a pair of high-top Vans.
“Lately, I’ve been gravitating toward baggy ‘menswear’ pieces—the differentiation of menswear vs. womenswear is arbitrary, IMO—so this argyle cardigan is unisex,” she notes. “I stole these trousers from my dad, and these Vans are sneakers you can see on literally anyone.”