Last week, to help a friend find the perfect kicks for a big convention week—something comfortable and hip—I careened into the world of men's casual footwear. Over the last couple of decades or so, designer, limited-edition footwear has caused stampedes and lines out the door at sneaker stores, and athletic-shoe brands have capitalized on the trend.
So, where might you go to appease your inner sneakerhead?
Blends (726 Market St.; soon moving to the corner of Eighth Avenue and G Street) has been Downtown for eight years and has a loyal following of collectors who stop by regularly to get a bead on new trends. Blends gets dibs on limited-edition shoes from Nike and is one of only 30 retailers in the U.S. to carry Van's Vault—a line started in 2003 with a focus on classic styles and unique materials. I liked the "palm leaves" retro-look sneaker, harking back to Vans' 1970s roots. My friend gravitated toward the Vans Rawlings short-top lace-ups in black pebble leather for a work-or-casual look.
Blends' top sellers are the New Balance SuperLights running shoes, and the store had just about every color combination. The guys at the shop were excited about the new store, set to open in September, but said details are under wraps. They did say that the design of the place will be "unique."
Mint (525 University Ave. in Hillcrest) was the busiest shop I visited. Jammed with shoes for men and women, the store uses a sticker system on each shoe to let you know which sizes are (still) available to cut down on staff time spent hunting through boxes in the back.
I found some unusual brands like Onitsuka Tiger (Japan), Volley (Australia), Palladium (France), All Black (Singapore) and Gola (England), along with Converse, Keds, Sperry, Toms, Generic Surplus and a huge section of Saucony. Buyer / manager Justin Davis says the store tries to offer brands and styles that aren't available in mall stores and focuses on fashionable over collectable. Case in point: the OTW collection for Van's, featuring seven styles and an assortment of colors. Mint also sells non-sneaker shoes by boutique designers like Munguia and Jeffrey Campbell.
Overload (3064 University Ave. in North Park) is primarily a skate shop, but it's also known for having an excellent selection of shoes for skaters, like Nike's signature Stefan Janoski and Eric Koston styles. The Janoski sneaker was available in a red suede leather with a tonal brick-red swoosh; the Koston model was an inky navy suede with mustard accents. The store also carries other well-known skate lines like DC Shoes, Supra, Adidas and Vans.
Attic II (920 Fifth Ave., Downtown) has a monster-size storefront and arguably offers the biggest selection of kicks in town. Like other stores I visited, it had plenty of Nikes (Air Jordans, Rosherun and LeBron) but also offered Converse, Puma, Asics, Supra, Creative Reaction and, of course, Vans. Equally as tempting is the off-beat selection of T-shirts and hats, with brands like Diamond Supply, Ten Deep, Obey and Pink Dolphin. The price-conscious shopper will be happy to find a well-stocked sale area, too.