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The 8 Best Stylish Sneakers to Buy Now

WHEN CÉLINE DESIGNER Phoebe Philo walked on to the runway for her post-show bow in March of 2011, her outfit—gray turtleneck, dark trousers and Adidas Stan Smith tennis shoes—punctured many women’s preconceptions. Coming from Ms. Philo, then fashion’s most influential designer, the idea that sneakers could be worn with office-appropriate garb suddenly seemed not lazy but inspired. It was also something of an official directive.

The stylish set obliged. Six years later, Stan Smiths are no less acceptable than Manolo Blahnik BB pumps, and sneakers in general anchor a fashionable wardrobe, along with a well-cut blazer or high-waist jeans. As a result, style options abound, from pricey designer models—like Simone Rocha’s black leather high-tops, laser-cut to resemble broderie anglaise, and Common Projects minimalist white sneakers—to old-school kicks like the Nike Cortez and Adidas Gazelle. Even companies that have not normally sold sneakers have snuck into the game. J. Crew-owned label Madewell is collaborating with Vans and Saucony on exclusive styles and will increase its sneaker selection for fall. “I look around and we’re all in sneakers,” said Joyce Lee, Madewell’s head of design.

In short: Sneakers are everywhere, and at every price point. But women are so spoiled for choice that they can easily become overwhelmed by the onslaught of mesh and stripes. Which athletic sneakers have enough style cred to cut it as a fashion statement? Which luxe sneakers are over-designed fashion-victim fare? Which once-beckoning sneakers have crossed the line into sad ubiquity? Women like Joanna Drescher, 40, are asking themselves such niggling questions. “It’s stressing me out. I don’t know what to get,” said Ms. Drescher, a stay-at-home mom who formerly worked in retail and needs a pair to replace her Stan Smiths. “I want something with a certain level of coolness, but not too cool because that’s not me.”

We might steer her toward the streamlined Common Projects Achilles as a fitting replacement. Or a pair of Gavia Biancos from fledgling label Koio, which are utterly minimal save for gold mountaineering-style eyelets that telegraph distinction with extremely modest flash.

An all-white tennis shoe like these remains a great baseline option. “It works with jeans, a skirt, trousers—with everything,” said Claire Distenfeld, owner of Manhattan boutique Fivestory. It can be the sporty punctuation mark on a dark, conservative look or temper a more recklessly vivid outfit. “I don’t like a funky sneaker. I don’t like glitter, I don’t like studs,” said Ms. Distenfeld, who currently stocks Koio.

But increasingly many women are going in for sneakers with more personality. Among the 30-odd pairs of sneakers in the closet of Eva Chen, head of fashion partnerships for Instagram, Gucci’s floral embroidered versions rival Roger Vivier’s crystal-buckled slip-ons for charisma. Both let Ms. Chen attain adequate heights of chic without backaches or bunions. “Comfort is important,” said Ms. Chen. “I feel like I’ve been pregnant for the past three years, so I’ve lived in them.”

Benefits of athletic shoes over designer sneaks include price and the way they offer a grounding foil to potentially precious designer clothes. “When you’re wearing a high-fashion look, it’s cooler to go with a traditional athletic sneaker,” said Veronika Heilbrunner, co-founder of Hey Woman!, an online magazine. Ms. Heilbrunner’s collection includes Converse All-Stars and Vans Old Skools. Some stylish women staunchly oppose designer takes. “The fashion sneaker doesn’t have the same appeal it once did,” said Los Angeles stylist Annina Mislin. One athletic favorite of hers: a pair of custom-made, all-black Nike Flyknits. She pegs retro running shoes from brands like Saucony as the newly minted hot style.

Perplexing though it may be, the plethora of interesting options for women’s sneakers is a step forward. “Until three or four years ago, you couldn’t get a cool sneaker in a women’s size,” said Ms. Mislin. “Before that, they were all pink and pastel.”
1. The Definitely Designer | Tough but sweet shoes whose leather mimics broderie anglaise exemplify Simone Rocha’s buzzy sensibility. Flower High-Top Sneakers, $665, Simone Rocha, 646-810-4785

2. The Avant-Garde Remake | Maison Margiela’s backless riff on the German Army sneaker, a favorite of stylish men. Deconstructed Replica Sneakers, $495, Maison Margiela, 212-989-7612

3. The Fashionable Throwback | Care of Ms. Philo, the ’70s-style plimsole is the ne plus ultra in un-blingy designer-sneaker chic. Plimsole Sneakers, $590, Céline, 212-535-3703

4. The Pleasing Print | An easy-to-wear (and buy) shoe that adds a dash of zhuzh and comfort to your summer look. Madewell and Vans Authentic Sneakers, $60,

5. The Baseline | The universal donor of sneakers. These may be very popular but are sleek enough to fly under the radar. Tournament Sneakers, $388,

6. The Classic Runner | Now that the popularity of the court shoe is winding down, the running shoe is hitting its stride. Stalwart Sneakers, $300, Dover Street Market, 646-837-7750

7. The Retro Chic | Beloved by fashionable women, the Cortez, launched in 1972, comes in a wide array of colors. Cortez 72 SI Sneakers, $130,

8. The Almost Gym Bunny | Performance meets panache. You could go from the gym to dinner in these without missing a beat. Adidas by Stella McCartney Ultra Boost X Sneakers, $200, adidas.com