Last summer, in the midst of the inescapable street style takeover of three-stripe Adidas Sambas, an unexpected sneaker started to emerge as a counterweight. Among dozens of pairs of the classic black-and-white Sambas and a handful of iterations from the Wales Bonner and Gucci collaborations, was a more technical take on the trainer: a soccer cleat.
At first, the footwear choice seemed satirical. Surely the wearer had just come from practice or was wearing them ironically. She was standing outside of the popular Lower East Side restaurant, Kikis, sporting spikes on pavement. The outfit was far cry from a soccer uniform, and aside from the shoes themselves, an unathletic ensemble. It wouldn’t be the first time a cleat was placed in a fashion setting (Virgil Abloh and Nike collaborated on a cleat in 2018, and Comme des Garçons created a heeled cleat with Nike in 2021), but it was the first time I had seen them in the wild. I was inspired and bought a pair of my own the next day.
It may seem silly to wear spike-bottomed shoes that click and clack on pavement, but bear with me. The aforementioned pair I saw downtown last summer had less-exaggerated studs, which are easier to walk in, and the traditional leather with stitching makes for a comfortable sneaker. One can go all out with a pair of seriously spiked cleats, like the Adidas Copa Mundial, or opt for an indoor cleat, designed with shorter spikes. It’s not the size of the spike that counts; rather, the trend is about adopting a more technical shoe into everyday style.
Before diving into the nascent arrival of cleats in fashion, it’s worth revisiting the rise of the Samba, which was also originally designed for serious sports. They may be most commonly seen on influencers and celebrities today, but they’re a spiritual and sartorial sister to the cleat. The humble black-and-white, low-profile sneaker was first released in 1950. It became the technical shoe for football players before it was adopted by streetwear culture for the first time in the 1990s. Now, the shoe that was once associated with the world of football is a symbol of sport and street style alike. For the past two summers, trendsetters like Bella Hadid, Sienna Miller, and Kaia Gerber were seen wearing the classic styles—and collaborations with Alessandro Michelle’s Gucci and Wales Bonner further amplified the three-stripe craze. Soon after, the Samba hit its high. Last year more people were searching the shoe on Google than ever, and Stock X reported search volumes were up by 736%. Although the Samba is an original sneaker that will arguably never go out of style, once a trend hits mainstream fashion, we look for what’s next—something unique, unexpected, and niche. Enter: cleats.
On a warm spring day outside of the Chlöe Sevigny closet sale (the “sale of the century,” where fans waited in line as early as 6 a.m.), I counted at least 10 pairs of cleats and cleat-like styles, featuring the classic fold-over tongue and studs on the soles of the shoe. Ranging from indoor iterations like the Adidas Mundial to velcro-tongue versions like the Puma King Top (these are the ones I bought) to a full-spike performance shoe, cleats were worn unironically with miniskirts, high socks, and gym shorts. Imagine lining up to buy Sevigny’s Tom Ford–era Gucci while tapping your cleat spike, for hours on end, on New York City’s paved sidewalks.