The Sneakers This Creative Wears on Repeat
Mike Kim was 12 years old when he wore his first pair of Vans. Well, pairs actually. He had them all—high-tops, low-tops, slip-ons. And the outfits he wore them with were about as early aughts as it gets: a graphic tee and a pair of jeans or cargo shorts, some pop-punk music in the background.
“When I was a kid, I loved skateboarding and basketball and was either in basketball or skating shoes,” says Mike, Esquire’s Digital Design Director. “Vans came into play naturally. I thought they were cool, and my parents didn’t mind buying them for me, so I wore them constantly.”
You don’t outgrow them; they grow along with you.
They were functional, sure, but they also looked cool. The kind of sneakers you wanted to be seen wearing. He has matured since then, of course, and so has his style. But that’s the beautiful thing about Vans: they’re made for lifelong partnership. You don’t outgrow them; they grow along with you. Mike is the perfect example of that.
“I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and I was drawn into skate and punk-rock culture at an early age,” Mike says. “I grew up wearing Vans all the time to skate. But even as I grew up and started having money to buy more expensive shoes, Vans always stayed in my collection because they’re so versatile and easy to wear.”
Mike’s style is cool, clean, and expertly put together: simple silhouettes, monochromatic outfits, and elevated pieces of every kind. (For the record, no more graphic tees or oversized cargo shorts.) Vault by Vans is the more elevated collection based on the brand’s own Classics, and is perfect for this more stylized look. Vault takes the most iconic shoes from the brand’s archives and memorializes them to feel special, stylish, and just plain cool. This line of premium fabrications is only available in select stores (think sneakerhead havens like Dover Street Market and KITH), which make it one of the brand’s most coveted collections, too.
As a Vans connoisseur, Mike takes us through his three go-to Vault styles below: OG Authentic LX, OG SK8-HI LX, and OG Classic Slip-On LX. Together, they’re the core of his day-to-day sneaker rotation. Here’s when and how he wears them, and some insights he’s learned along the way.
OG SK8-Hi LX
Mike sees the OG SK8-Hi LX as the ultimate cultural crossover. “These are the shoes that have most notably expanded past skate,” he says. “Back in the day, they were the perfect skate shoe to get, were super durable, skated well, and always felt special. Now you can see them on anyone, whether they skate or not.”
Although Mike wears his OG SK8-Hi LX year-round, he especially leans on them in the winter as an alternative to boots—they’re super sturdy. “I grew up wearing these and now I wear the premium Vault version of them all the time,” he says. “They are the kind of shoes that look even cooler worn-in.”
Mike will wear these to the office, which means he makes sure the rest of the outfit feels put together. His method: Start with a simple single-color base and add a button-up or a cool jacket as a top layer.
“The key to making high-tops work is to always wear them with pants—not shorts,” he says. “The styling looks cooler this way, for sure. But because I’m on the shorter side, wearing them with pants makes my legs look longer.” Keeping a continuous line from leg to sole is one styling trick that looks great on anyone, though.
OG Classic Slip-On LX
The OG Classic Slip-On LX are easy to pull on and take off, which makes getting dressed easy as can be. It’s pretty hard to go wrong here aesthetic-wise, too: They have that laid-back, California vibe while still feeling stylish. Pair them in off-white (or the neutral of your choosing) with comfy basics for the kind of outfits that feel as good as they look.
Esquire editors are noted fans of the white sneaker for all occasions, and Slip-Ons work in any situation—at the office, traveling, and even with a suit. Plus, you don’t have to be too precious about wearing them.
“All Vans look cool when they’re well-loved,” Mike says. “They were made to be worn, not to sit in your closet. There’s something really special about having a go-to shoe like this. As a sneakerhead, you are constantly thinking about what you have on your feet. Sometimes it’s nice to have shoes that you can show love by wearing them.”
OG Authentic LX
OG Authentics LX are the ideal everyday shoe, with a hyper-low profile and expertly crafted design. Mike wears these for every casual activity, from grabbing dinner with friends to running to the bodega.
They’re the kind of shoes that you can slide into and feel like your look is instantly put-together—not just because they’re comfortable (they are) but also because they are guaranteed to go with pretty much whatever you’re wearing. And cool things that go together effortlessly are kind of Mike’s whole thing.
“With my designer background, I think about color a lot,” he says. I like staying in one color family. Adding maybe a pop of a brighter color or two if I’m feeling it. I tend to lean toward clean, monochrome outfits.”
Art Direction and styling by Hannah Miller; Photography by Alexa Viscius; All clothing and accessories the talent’s own.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.