Larry David is many things: comedian, curmudgeon, champion of baldie rights. But the Curb Your Enthusiasm star is not generally considered an authority on style. There is one subject, though, on which he practically rivals Gay Talese in his sartorial sagacity. And that subject would be sneakers. Gray sneakers, to be exact. “So I’m really happy with my new sneakers. You know, ’cause they’re gray,” David says, apropos of nothing, in an episode of his HBO series. “And, if you think about it, it’s a good color, ’cause white is really too bright and black is like a pair of shoes. And gray is kind of like right in the middle. They look good.” I regard this statement not just as a sly dig at his former sparring partner Jerry Seinfeld and his penchant for ridiculous white sneakers, but also as the expression of an essential truth. Black sneakers are for aging rock stars. White sneakers have a place in any man’s rotation, and that place is the tennis court. Gray sneakers, on the other hand, are “right in the middle,” not to say just plain right.
My own infatuation began with the New Balance 996, a symphony of gray suede and mesh released in 1989, now tragically discontinued. There was a story that the closer a model’s serial number was to 1,000, the closer New Balance considered it to sneaker perfection. That may be apocryphal, but when in 1998 the company reverted to manufacturing the 990 series, it seemed to me a rare case of corporate honesty, an admission that they had flown too close to the sun. Since then, I have pursued my obsession in places high and low, from Margiela to Vans via Common Projects. My current sneaker of choice is the Superga 2750 in steel gray, an Italian classic that became a favorite of Tribeca stroller moms but which is enjoying a bit of a comeback. I’m not a label hound, though. I’m not a fashion dictator. I believe that people should be allowed to wear any sneakers they want, as long as they’re gray.
Dirk Standen is editor in chief of Style.com.