It’s one of the last great fashion debates: Should you or shouldn’t you wear white shoes?
For years, the rule dictated that white shoes are unsophisticated or make you look like you’re wearing a uniform — as in the movie “Working Girl” back in 1988, when Melanie Griffith paired white sneakers with her cheesy suits before moving up in the world and into dark, stylish heels.
But now that white pants have escaped the confinement of the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day, many tastemakers have gone one step farther: They’re wearing white shoes — and not just at the altar or on the tennis court.
Hip-hop stars Usher and Kanye West made white wingtips cool at this year’s Grammys, and women all over the country are teetering on heels that look like ivory towers thanks to Paris Hilton and Mischa Barton.
There are still rules, though. In general, the less hosiery the better — think short ankle socks for sneakers and bare ankles for everything else. And don’t let your shoes be too overwhelming to the rest of our outfit. Clunky pumps are risky and generally should be avoided unless you know how to navigate the fine line between fashionista and fashion victim.
Other dos and don’ts are more personal:
—Tamara Mellon, president and co-founder of Jimmy Choo, says simple or strappy styles, either a delicate flat or sandal, are best for white: “The most important part of wearing a white shoe is that it blends with your skin and what you are wearing and doesn’t end up being the focus of the look in a ‘shocking’ way.”
There’s a patent leather white pump in Jimmy Choo’s summer collection, which Mellon says is a little bold, but doable because there are lots of cutouts. The danger in wearing white shoes is that they can be overwhelming and distract from the rest of your outfit.
—Accessories designer Kate Spade wears her white jeweled sandals or ballet slippers with white or black cigarette pants or jeans, an “easy and crisp” look for summer.
“I don’t know if there are any rules, but I find wearing white shoes in the winter can be tricky.” But, she adds, “I do love the idea of a white rubber boot for a slushy winter day.”
Sexy any time of year?
—Singer Thalia, also the designer of a Kmart fashion collection, likes an all-white look from head to toe. She calls it “the ‘in’ thing right now.”
White shoes “give a retro-glam feel to an outfit,” Thalia says. While they’re ideal for the summer, Thalia, who was born and raised in Mexico, says white shoes can look sexy any time of year.
—Bruce Pask, fashion director of the men’s shopping magazine Cargo, says “white shoes certainly are out there. It looks good with black, but it’s a bit of a forward trend and you need confidence to pull it off.”
He’d recommend men first try white shoes — from bucks to canvas Converse sneakers to Vans pull-ons — with jeans before tackling dark tailored trousers. Either way, the shirt should be a light color.
Personally, Pask is only a part-time member of the white-shoe club; he’ll wear sneakers, but not constructed leather footwear.
—Michael Kors says white shoes are OK for men and women as long as the wearer has kept up on his or her grooming. “They look best with self-tanner and a good pedicure, preferably not red nails.”
The fashion designer adds: “You never wear hosiery with white shoes!”
—Victoria’s Secret model Ines Rivero, who walks runways around the world in all sorts of footwear, owns three pairs of white shoes for her personal wardrobe. Her favorites are white satin Manolo Blahniks, which she wears with jeans.
Yes,, white shoes are mostly for summer, Rivero says, but she spent most of this past winter in a pair of ankle-height white Chanel boots.
—Even though she’s a fashionista, Suze Yalof Schwartz, Glamour’s executive fashion editor at large, is not as big a fan of the white shoes as her stylish peers: “I’d have to agree with Mom. I think they (white shoes) are fine with a wedding dress or a nurse’s uniform, or if you’re on the courts playing tennis. I know people might be wearing them elsewhere, but they shouldn’t.”
She will make exceptions for strappy sandals with silver heels, a thong sandal with just a strip of white leather, a white espadrille with a tan woven heel or spectator styles that mix white with another color.
Her suggested substitute would be to wear sand, tan or brown shoes, which are neutral and can blend into almost any outfit.
—Gordon Thompson, executive vice president and creative director of Cole Haan, says white has become the building block of a summer wardrobe because it’s crisp, modern and versatile.
“Everyone’s ready to start fresh and white becomes the new neutral a woman will reach for in her closet — replacing brown and even black from the fall and winter.”
—Joe Zee, editor in chief of Vitals, is clear on his position: “White shoes? I love them!”
“I like the idea that white shoes should be treated like black shoes. There’s such a fashion stigma, but I say, ’What would you wear your black shoes with?’ Wear it with white.”