Men’s Chunky Sneakers: The Best Models To Buy For 2023
Bulky, oversized, ugly - whatever you call them, chunky sneakers are THE footwear trend right now.
Some footwear trends come and go like the changing of the tides. Others are slow burners, evolving over the course of years and leaving a lasting mark on the menswear landscape.
Bulky, oversized, ugly… whatever you want to call them, the big chunky sneakers that have dominated mainstream fashion for the best part of half a decade fall firmly into the latter camp.
Chunky sneakers are ubiquitous nowadays. So much so that the whole thing doesn’t even register as a trend anymore. It’s just the way things are. Of course, that’s bound to change at some point – in 2015 it felt very much like minimalist, white leather sneakers would be the default setting forever, but fashion stops for no shoe. Still, for the time being, pumped-up kicks appear to be here to stay.
So, how did we get to this point, and what exactly do we mean when we talk about ‘chunky’, ‘ugly’, or ‘oversized’ sneakers? Below, we’ll explain everything in detail, including the origins of the movement, and the best brands and models to shop in 2023.
What are chunky sneakers?
This umbrella term refers to any type of sneaker that is notably padded, puffy, platformed, deliberately over-styled in terms of detail or, well, just big and beefy in general. If thin canvas plimsolls are at the lower end of the chunkiness spectrum, then these sneakers occupy the upper third.
That can include anything from a relatively innocuous (but still chunky) New Balance 990v5, all the way up to a balls-out, Richter scale-bothering Balenciaga Triple S. But more on both of those later.
In terms of styling, chunky sneakers are great for balancing out proportions if you’re wearing baggy, slouchy, relaxed-fitting pieces north of the ankles. A pair of wide-leg pants can dwarf the feet when worn with low-profile shoes, but there’s no such issue when a bulkier piece of footwear is worn.
Conversely, it’s best to avoid pairing chunky sneakers with tight or slim-fitting legwear – the contrasting silhouettes exaggerate one another, making legs look skinny and feet look too big. Like a high-fashion clown (in more ways than one).
How did chunky sneakers become popular?
These gargantuan sneakers were prolific for the best part of the decade, featuring giant padded tongues, bulky collars and oversized laces. They were the first truly chunky sneakers, and their echoes still resonate today in the world of high fashion, with labels like Lanvin, Louis Vuitton and Gucci all releasing 2000s skate-inspired styles within the past couple of years.
In a broader sense, these beefed-up board shoes set the tone for what was to come a couple of decades down the line. Inevitably, the pendulum began to swing the other way, and in the run up to 2010, simple, stripped-back, low-key styles took over. Think Stan Smiths and Achilles Lows – the footwear of choice for the best part of a decade.
Minimalist sneakers reigned supreme for a time, until they were booted firmly off their throne by Balenciaga’s beetle-crushing Triple S in 2017. But, rewind a few years back and the signs were already there.
Raf Simons – the same Raf Simons who was well known for wearing Stan Smiths everywhere he went – set the scene when he launched his footwear collaboration with Adidas in 2013. It consisted of four silhouettes, including two maximalist interpretations of an archive running shoe called the Ozweego.
Balenciaga’s Triple S is often cited as the shoe that started the current wave of chunky sneaker madness, but it could be argued that it was really Raf Simons and this futurist rework that was the catalyst.
Either way, in the years that followed, oversized sneakers took over the world, and they remain some of the most popular footwear styles around to this day.
The hottest chunky sneaker models for 2023
Diverge was founded by a group of friends that were fed up with cookie-cutter sneakers and how much waste the industry produced, so they set out to change it. And they have seemingly achieved their goal by offering a range of contemporary kicks that are fully customisable.
It’s a unique and personal approach which ensures that not only do you secure a pair of sneakers that are truly one-of-a-kind, but as they’re produced to order (ethically in Portugal we might add), it also eliminates wastage and has a lower environmental impact.
Diverge’s Landscape model is the chunkiest silhouette in the range. Made from a meticulous colour-block leather patchwork – including calf leather, floater, suede and nubuck – it has a premium feel and offers many opportunities to get creative with colour combos.
If you want a pair of chunky sneakers that no-one else will be seen in, these are for you.
Axel Arigato Marathon Runner
Axel Arigato came onto the scene during the age of white, minimalist sneakers and became well known for producing some of the best in the game. It still makes simple kicks to this day, but has also expanded its offering to incorporate a number of chunkier, more heavily detailed models too.
The Marathon Runner is now one of Axel Arigato’s bestselling designs, taking its cues from 90s running shoes with a futuristic bent, and winding up looking not unlike a Raf Simons x Adidas Ozweego as a result.
Balenciaga Triple S
When Vetements’ Demna Gvasalia joined Balenciaga in 2015, it marked a turning point in high fashion. Streetwear’s influence had now fully infiltrated haute couture, and in the years that followed, many other historic fashion houses followed suit in appointing young renegade creative directors – LV with Virgil Abloh and Dior Homme with Kim Jones (although he’s famously not a fan of the term ‘streetwear’) to name a couple.
In 2017, Balenciaga released the Triple S sneaker: a gargantuan shoe, featuring a triple-stacked sole unit, intricate mesh and suede uppers, along with an extreme oversized silhouette. It was a departure from clean, minimalist styles like the Arena that the brand was previously known for and into bulkier territory.
It’s the sneaker that kicked the trend off and it’s a piece of fashion history, whether you like it or not.
Born in Los Angeles, Clae epitomises the laid-back, easy-going vibe of the US West Coast, drawing inspiration from the architecture, design and colours of its surroundings.
Sustainability is a primary focus for the company, which places great emphasis on timeless design and upcycling in order to reduce its carbon footprint and impact on the world. A noble gesture, sure, but how does this translate to a notoriously polluting and damaging industry like fashion?
Well, each model is decidedly minimal, which aids longevity – these are the type of shoes that will not fall out of favour in six months’ time (ironic that they should be included in a ‘trend’ article, then). The idea is you wear them until they fall apart, which is going to be a while seeing as the build quality is superb and the brand only utilises the highest quality organic, vegan and recycled materials to craft its kicks.
Clae’s Malone model is the chunkiest silhouette it produces and is clearly inspired by old-school basketball and skate shoes. You know the type: thick sole, slightly higher cut upper, two-tone colourways.
Available in a low-top and high-top, the former is our favourite and comes in a variety of slick colour options. Including one that looks suspiciously like a black and white Dunk.
An up-and-coming name, JAK produces some of the finest sneakers on this list. Hailing from Lisbon, Portugal, the brand shows up many of its rivals when it comes to quality, choosing to only manufacture in its homeland at family-owned factories that are known for their fair working practices and time-tested, traditional shoemaking techniques.
JAK’s direct-to-consumer model also helps to keep overheads low, meaning you get premium-quality kicks at fair prices, without the traditional retail mark-up.
Its S03 model offers something different to the chunky running shoes on offer from competitors in that it integrates a Vibram sole unit, which is what you’d typically expect to see on more practical hiking or work boots.
This gives the sneaker added traction, meaning not only does it look good, but it will perform on any terrain. Ideal if you’re active and don’t like to sacrifice style for performance.
Zespa ZSP23 Max
If you want to bring some continental flair to your footwear rotation, look no further. Found in 2009 in the Aix-en-Provence in the South of France, Zespa offers luxury sneakers featuring patterns and colours inspired by its Mediterranean roots.
Each of the brand’s shoes is made in Portugal, often in family-run factories, using exceptional materials that include full-grain nappa leather for the uppers, combed cotton for the laces and premium quality gum for the soles. They also come in their own branded dust/carry bags, ensuring your sneakers stay looking their very best, whether you’re storing them at home or packing them for a vacation.
The ZSP23 is a basketball-inspired shoe (’23’ being a reference to Michael Jordan) with exaggerated proportions which features an oversized 50% recycled rubber sole and a silhouette that sits somewhere between a low- and mid-top sneaker.
Crafted in full-grain Italian calfskin with contrast suede panelling, they come lined in calf leather for a truly luxurious take on chunky kicks.
Originally launched in 1996, the Ozweego was a distinctly ugly sports shoe that blurred the line between sports and lifestyle. It was updated at regular intervals throughout the back end of the decade with proprietary Three Stripes technology like adiPRENE cushioning and Torsion soles, but it was when Belgian designer RAF Simons got his hands on the design that it really entered the chunky sneaker hall of fame.
Simons launched his first collaborative footwear collection with Adidas in 2013, including two futurist spins on the Ozweego. They became some of the most hyped sneakers in streetwear circles for a time, and when ugly sneaker madness took off at the end of the 2010s, Adidas relaunched the original shoe with a fresh set of aesthetic updates.
If you’re looking for a chunky sneaker with history, this is it.
New Balance 990v5
New Balance’s Made in USA 990 line has been going since the 80s, serving as the Boston-based brand’s premium offering. The original 990 launched in 1982, and was famous for being one of the first sneakers to retail for three figures. It received updates at regular intervals over the next few decades, until we arrived at its current incarnation in 2019: the 990v5.
The 990v5 is the chunky sneaker generation’s answer to something like a Stan Smith or an Achilles Low in that it serves as a sort of blank canvas. Although undeniably bulky, it’s subtle and understated, making it versatile enough to be worn in all sorts of ways. It’s also extremely comfortable, making it one of the best everyday sneakers on the market.
Let’s see if the Teddy Santis-designed 990v6 can top it when it lands later this year.
Alexander McQueen Exaggerated-Sole Sneakers
The chunky sneaker trend and the minimalist sneaker trend that preceded it are two fundamentally different movements, so what would happen if you brought them together? That’s exactly what Alexander McQueen’s Exaggerated-Sole Sneaker does, fusing clean, pared-back uppers with an enormous sole unit.
If you want to dip your toe into the trend but have found it hard to step away from the Stan Smiths then this is the shoe for you.
Nike Air Max 95
Unchanged since 1995, this iconic Nike model exists outside of the ebb and flow of trends. It’s been chunky this whole time, doing its own thing in the background and remaining a cult classic throughout.
The shoe features a layered upper, with white contrast panelling used to create wavy lines around the side of the sneaker. This all sits atop a thick sole unit, packed full of visible air bubbles that run all the way from the sides to the back.
Wear it with athletic pieces like track jackets, hoodies and tees.
The current proliferation of trail-running shoes is all part of menswear’s ongoing obsession with function. Brands like Arc’teryx and Patagonia have gained clout in fashion circles as a result, but as far as fashion/outdoors crossover footwear goes, it’s France’s Salomon that has the monopoly.
The XT-6 is one of the brand’s archive trail shoes, revived for the gorpcore generation. It features a sporty lugged sole, drawstring lacing system and a gusseted tongue for a slip-on like feel. It is THE fashion trail runner, famous for its top-notch colourways, and remains one of the best chunky sneakers on the market today.
Gucci has been the biggest label in fashion for quite some time now. With Alessandro Michele at the helm, the French house has one of the strongest visual languages of any high-fashion brand, and its earthy colour palette and 70s-inspired designs have set the tone for the last several years.
Still, that hasn’t stopped Gucci from experimenting with contemporary styles. Take the Rhyton sneaker, for example. This beefed-up shoe is Gucci’s take on the chunky sneaker trend, featuring an off-white finish and oversized branding to the side.
Uniform Standard Series 5
Offering the most minimalist options on this list, Uniform Standard are a British shoemaker based in East London. Having spent 18 years working as product developers, designing kicks for other big-name brands, founders Georgina Taylor and Stephen Galea decided to go it alone in 2018.
Wanting to produce sneakers with a clear approach towards sustainability, Uniform Standard only use the finest quality Italian leathers from tanneries that are audited and certified by The Leather Working Group. along with premium recycled components for its outsoles and footbeds.
The brand’s Series 5 sneaker is inspired by 90s tennis shoes but brought bang up to date via a modern panelled upper and huge recycled rubber wedge outsole. A substantial, imposing silhouette with a minimal overall aesthetic, it’s ideal for those that want to get in on the trend without going overboard.
Hoka One One Clifton L
France’s Hoka One One is another outdoorsy brand that’s been adopted by the fashion crowd in recent years. It’s known for making pretty ugly running shoes with pronounced soles that are designed for comfort and performance above all else.
The Clifton L is one of Hoka’s bestselling styles, featuring mesh uppers, OTT detailing and a massive, springy sole unit.
New Balance 327
Launched in 2020, the New Balance 327 has been inescapable ever since. It’s a contemporary take on a retro running shoe, featuring suede panelling on the uppers, an cartoonishly oversized midsole, and pronounced rubber lugs to the outsole.
The shoe was first unveiled as a collaboration with Parisian label Casablanca, setting social media ablaze when the first images began to surface. Fast forward to today and everyone from hypebeasts to yoga mums have adopted the 327, making it one of the biggest sneaker success stories of the last few years.