Monochrome Kicks: The Hottest Black & White Sneakers For 2023
Our edit of the best monochrome kicks ion the market right now, from affordable to luxury, designer to sustainable, low top to high.
Name a more iconic colour combination than black and white. We’ll wait…
They say opposites attract, and so it goes with this marriage of light and dark. Completely timeless yet somehow completely contemporary at the same time, black and white – whether it’s an outfit, art, photography or today’s subject, sneakers – always looks slick and sophisticated while oozing effortless cool.
Plain white tennis shoes might be more versatile, but introduce a splash of black and suddenly your sneakers turn into a statement without looking try hard.
So, if you want to add some monochrome kicks to your rotation, we’ve handpicked the very best models for 2023 below, from affordable to luxury, designer to sustainable, low top to high.
Minimal black & white sneakers
Uniform Standard Series 1 Double Black
The founders of Uniform Standard spent 18 years designing sneakers for some of the world’s leading brands before starting their own business in 2018. And such intimate knowledge of the industry helped shaped exactly how they wanted their own kicks to be: minimal in design and crafted using the finest sustainable materials in ethical Portuguese factories.
The Series 1 model is the result of all those years of hard-earned experience, and quickly became a bestseller. Every element is carefully considered and of the highest quality, from the full-grain Italian leather upper and insole, sourced from LWG Gold and Silver certified tanneries, to the recycled moulded footbed, to the waxed finished cotton laces.
Hand-stitched and lasted in Portugal, they come with a protective 100% recycled cotton drawstring shoe bag and are shipped in a 100% recyclable and reusable kraft card drawer shoebox. Mother Nature would approve.
Founded in 2014 by Isabel and José Maria, JAK is an independent shoemaker based in Lisbon, Portugal. The company manufactures its sneakers in its homeland at family-owned factories known for their fair working practices and traditional shoemaking techniques, allowing them to keep tight control over the quality.
The ‘Royal’ style was the first design that JAK released and remains its bestselling model. It’s not hard to see why: an extremely clean design, full-grain calf-leather uppers, an ultra-soft calf-leather lining, full leather midsoles, and a cemented and stitched rubber sole for durability. But the best part? The brand’s direct-to-consumer model means you get all this for a fraction of the price of comparable ‘luxury’ sneakers.
We love this alternative take on the traditional black and white colour combo, which sees a clean white upper sitting atop a striking black rubber outsole. It offers all the versatility of a classic white tennis shoe but with a contemporary twist.
Los Angeles-based Clae has been quietly producing its own brand of minimalistic sneakers ever since it launched in 2001, garnering a devote following thanks to its ‘Bradley’ model, an elevated take on the classic court shoe.
Available in a wealth of premium materials – including buttery-soft nappa leather, nubuck, waxed suede and textured canvas – the most impressive of all is the brand’s proprietary cactus leather: a certified organic, plant-based vegan leather that’s highly sustainable and has even been approved by PETA.
As you can see above, it looks and feels like any other high-end sneaker, but without any of the associated guilt. So you can invest with a clear conscience.
Common Projects Achilles Low
No minimal sneaker list is complete without the brand that almost single-handily invented the genre back in 2004, Common Projects. The New York-based brand’s Achilles model was a minimalist masterpiece, elevating the humble tennis shoe into something that could legitimately be teamed with a suit, transforming where and when a sneaker could be worn.
Today the design remains just as iconic, with those premium Italian leather uppers and signature gold numbering a low-key flex. Now available in a wealth of colours, from timeless neutrals to summery pastels, as well as both leather and suede, this black and white full-grain version will never, ever fall out of style.
Chunky black & white sneakers
Axel Arigato Genesis
Despite being a Scandinavian brand, Axel Arigato is anything but minimal. Starting life as a direct-to-consumer company, having no shareholders or board members gave the founders license to experiment and really express themselves, with the designs continuing to show this creative spirit today.
Shapes are fashion-forward (even sculptural), colourways are fresh and vibrant, and the finer details highly considered – all of which is a breath of fresh air in an industry seemingly dominated by simple monochrome tennis shoes. No wonder they’ve quickly become an industry insider’s favourite and are now stocked by luxury retailers like END., Selfridges and MR PORTER.
The Genesis is the distillation of what Axel is all about: oversized silhouette, multicoloured uppers and high-end materials (this one is responsibly made from certified premium leather and recycled PET bottles) combining to create a sneaker that garners attention without trying.
New Balance 990v3
The choice of middle-aged suburban dads everywhere, New Balance’s 990 line offers an ‘anti-fashion’ take on the chunky sneaker trend. Built for comfort and practicality above all else, it’s the kind of shoe that was made for mowing lawns and ferrying kids around.
Yet despite all this, they’ve managed to find their way onto the feet of hypebeasts and fashion editors, who wear them ironically but likely appreciate the breathable mesh panelling, ENCAP midsole cushioning and Ndurance rubber soles. This particular model is also part of the Made in the USA line, so you’ll be supporting home industries. Pops would be proud.
Nike Air Force 1 07
Chunky skate shoes and low-top basketball sneakers have become a huge sneaker trend, in part thanks to the 90s fashion revival. Think models like Nike’s Dunk, Vans’ Old Skool and Converse’s One Star. Yet the Air Force 1 is arguably the best of the bunch.
Named after the President of the United State’s official jet, they were almost as big and you couldn’t walk through a city centre without seeing a pair in the nineties and early naughties. This updated ’07 version features the same thick rubber outsole, Nike Air cushioning and padded collar that made the originals so loved, both on and off the court, while the black and white colourway capitalises on what made the Dunk such a huge seller over the past 12 months.
In the words of pioneering, plaster-wearing rapper Nelly, we’ll take “two pairs” so we can “get to stompin’ in them”.
Alexander McQueen Exaggerated Sole
The chunky sneaker trend and minimalist sneaker trend are two fundamentally different movements, so what would happen if you brought them together? That’s exactly what Sarah Burton did at Alexander McQueen, taking the classic tennis pump silhouette and giving it an injection of fillers, puffing up the outsole to oversized proportions.
It was an instant hit when released in 2016, and is now considered a modern icon. Fusing clean, pared-back Italian leather uppers with that signature ‘Exaggerated’ sole unit, this black and white colourway strikes the perfect balance thanks to the additional white heel tab, which stops it from becoming too dark.
If you want to dip your toe into the ‘ugly’ kicks trend but have found it hard to step away from the Stan Smiths then this is the shoe for you.
High top black & white sneakers
Oliver Cabell Jabbar High
Luxury fashion houses have been quick to jump on the distressed sneaker bandwagon recently, with everyone from Balenciaga to Gucci to Golden Goose releasing ‘dirty’ versions of their popular models to capitalise on the trend. Yet there’s something jarring about paying north of $500 for a pair of shoes that appear old and battered from the off.
That said, for those that aren’t fans of bright, spotlessly clean kicks, these pre-worn, lived-in sneakers definitely have their merits. And the best versions we’ve seen come from Oliver Cabell. Applying its own unique distressing process (no two pairs are the same) across its entire range, from low-tops to retro runners to these excellent Jabbar high-tops, the US brand manages to get the balance been ‘loved’ and ‘ready for the trash’ perfectly.
There’s also no compromise on quality. Operating a direct-to-consumer model allows OC to keep price points lower that its designer rivals, but you still get Italian full-grain calfskin leather uppers, Margom rubber outsoles, a full calfskin lining and moulded in-sole – all hand-stitched and lasted by artisans in the Marche region of Italy. Worn in, but not worn out.
Converse Chuck 70 Trek
We’ve all owned a pair of Chuck Taylors. It’s an iconic high-top that looks good and doesn’t cost the earth – the perfect everyday ‘beaters’. But what makes them so great for nine months of the year – sturdy flat rubber sole, lightweight canvas upper – are the same reasons why they just don’t work in winter or wet weather. Unless you’re a fan of trench foot, that is.
The Chuck 70 Trek looks set to solve the issue, capitalising on the current trail runner trend by strapping a huge lugged hiking sole to the bottom, increasing the side wall and switching the upper for a premium waxed canvas version for added weather protection.
The result is a sneaker boot that retains the look and feel of the original but will keep you dry and sure footed. Wear them in exactly the same way you would your current pair.
Nike Dunk High
Arguably the hype shoe of the moment, when you think of black and white sneakers Nike’s Dunk is likely to be the model that instantly springs to mind. That’s because this striking monochrome version has been everywhere over the past 12 months, which is surprising for a shoe that for a long time was rarer than hen’s teeth.
The resale market was exploding with Dunks last year, but it seems the US giant has rectified supply issues (or perhaps just taken the handbrake off). Now you can get hold of both the Low and High version, but we’d opt for the higher silhouette as a point of differential.
Vans Sk8-Hi Comfy Cush
Vans’ Sk8-Hi is a hall of fame sneaker, as popular now as it was on launch back in 1978. Having originally been conceived as a way to offer increased protection to West Coast skaters, the model is now just as popular off the half pipe thanks to its rugged aesthetics and affordable price point.
This updated model takes everything that is great about the Sk8-Hi – simple good looks, classic monochrome colourway, durable construction – but introduces Van’s new ComfyCush technology: a softer, foam and rubber outsole that ups the comfort factor to all new levels.
One of the greatest high-tops ever created just got better.
Designer black & white sneakers
Off-White Out Of Office
The late Virgil Abloh was a visionary who, along with the likes of Vetements’ Demna Gvasalia (now Balenciaga), redefined luxury fashion. Through his label Off-White, and later as Creative Director of Louis Vuitton, Abloh transformed what was an elitist, stuffy and insular old boys club into something that was accessible, contemporary and just plain cool.
Don’t get us wrong, the price tags are still high. But a pair of sneakers is arguably the easiest entry point into high-end designer labels, and Off-White continue to make some of the most sought-after kicks on the market season after season.
This Out Of Office model came about because Abloh wanted to create a sneaker that could be worn 24/7 (and he often did). It takes inspiration from classic low top basketball shoes, with the thick cushioned sole and supple suede uppers offering all-day comfort. Meanwhile the signature ‘Arrow’ logo and leather hang tag bring the cachet.
Designer Mike Amiri founded his eponymous label in 2014 and it has quickly become one of the hottest luxury brands on the planet thanks to its edgy streetwear-meets-rocker aesthetic.
AMIRI’s bestselling Skel-Top sneaker shows why the label is so hyped, with those distinct hand-cut skeleton bone appliqués instantly identifiable to those in the know. For those who aren’t, the branded tongue, outsole and signature silver hang tag will soon set them straight.
It’s also available in an excellent backless mule version for summer.
We could have easily picked the brand’s bestselling Ace shoe here – it’s a modern-day classic that’s now intrinsically tied to Gucci – but we can’t help feel it’s a little overdone having spent the best part of five years as the ‘It’ sneaker for luxury fanatics.
Instead, this Screener model represents everything that was great about ex creative director Alessandro Michele’s tenure at the Italian house: oozing retro flair, not afraid to stand out, and of the highest quality.
Made in Italy with more than a little 70s about them, the black and white leather upper features sporty perforated detailing as well as brand’s signature red and green webbing and an embossed metal ‘Double G’ on the vamp.
They’re undeniably Gucci, without having to resort to try-hard embroidered snakes or all-over monogramming.
It’s fair to say that Balenciaga has been the primary force in setting a number of modern-day sneaker trends, which is testament to lead designer Demna Gvasalia’s willingness to push not only the boundaries of fashion but also what he can get people to part with their cash for. (Its destroyed Paris Sneakers, Joey Tribbiani-esque Seven-Layer Coat and ‘Trash Bag’ pouch being Exhibits A, B and C.)
The brand’s now-iconic Triple S kickstarted the chunky maximalism trend that continues to dominate sneaker design today, while the current craze for laceless sock sneakers also stems from another of its bestselling models, the Speed.
A unique and instantly identifiable silhouette, the knitted, sock-like upper offers a breathable and customised fit, adapting to the shape of your foot, while the thick, moulded rubber soles absorb shock to ensure all-day comfort.
Although there are a number of monochrome versions available these days, including an excellent collab with adidas, we like the discrete branding and red-spliced sole on this design.