The best low top canvas sneakers
The coming of the summer heat means swapping to some lighter footwear. For us the quintessential summer shoe is a white (or off-white), lightweight, low top sneaker. After researching around 20 pairs and testing nine we found the Novesta Star Master to the best. They’re comfortable and hard wearing, with a utilitarian look. Our runner up, the Spring Court G2 Washed Vintage Heavy Twill, are a supremely soft shoe that requires a bit of babying. Our budget pick is the Muji Water Repellant Trainer, which are a pretty decent pair of trainers for a rock bottom price.
Novesta Star Master
A visually striking pair of trainers that get better with age, are reasonably priced, and made in Slovakia.
The Novesta Star Master leaves a striking impression right out of the box. The aggressively large eyelets and brutalist ridges along the sides and toe cap give way to a beautiful yellow interior. Although the looks can be… potentially off-putting when looked at in product photos online, we found the Novestas much more palatable and understated when actually worn on foot.
Just like any white trainer, they will attract dirt. What separated the Novestas from others in testing is that they actually get better looking after being beat up and developing a patina, which is not something we could say of any other pair we looked at. After a while they did develop a slightly odd crease about a centimetre behind the toe cap, but this wasn’t a major issue.
Getting the right fit for these shoes can be tough as they run very large. I ended up sizing down a full UK size (from 10 to 9), or 2 EU sizes (from 45 to 43). Others with feet less wide than mine could potentially size down even more. We recommend buying from a retailer with a good returns policy because sizing the Novestas correctly can be difficult.
Provided you get the right fit, they are very comfortable underfoot with a substantial and soft removable insole. I got some slight rubbing on the tops of my toes after longer periods (more than one hour) of walking, potentially due to a slightly low toe box. Overall they are very comfortable though, and they could be worn without socks for shorter periods of time without irritation.
The shoes are made in Novesta’s factory in Partizánske, Slovakia (Isadore took a trip there and documented the factory for their collaboration with the brand). The company have more recently moved to what they describe as “vegan” materials, which was nice to see. In terms of price they are excellent value at £49.
Spring Court G2 Washed Vintage Heavy Twill
An incredibly comfortable, premium pair of sneakers with legit tennis heritage and a refined, understated look. Made in Spain.
The Spring Court G2 Washed Vintage Heavy Twill are supremely comfortable thanks to their excellent removable insoles and soft cotton twill upper. The insoles were bouncy and thick, and the cotton twill upper was much more soft and comfortable than any other shoe we tested. The soft upper meant they were comfortable even without without socks, and they can be worn for long walks without any issues whatsoever. Their comfort meant I instinctively reached for them whenever I was running out the door.
Spring Court has some legit style heritage, having being worn by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Serge Gainsbourg, and David Hockney. According to Steve Sanderson, founder of the Mancunian menswear juggernaut Oi Polloi, “they’re as classic as Converse or Vans or Superga”.
These shoes are made in Spain, although this is not indicated anywhere on Spring Court’s website and only on a small, easily removable sticker on the shoes themselves. We were confused as to why Spring Court would not advertise this. Beware though, as some Spring Court’s models are made in a different factory in Vietnam (the way to determine this is via the SKU of the shoe: if it has a “-1-” before the last three digits it’s made in Spain, if it has a “-2-” it’s made in Vietnam). Unfortunately Spring Court are not transparent about the conditions inside either of their factories, which we were disappointed to see.
The fit was slightly long and narrow. I am usually a UK10/EU44, but I ended up taking a EU45 for the additional width. If you do not have wide feet, you can probably take your normal size.
Although the Spring Courts were priced higher than our other picks, we still feel they are a fair price for a high quality pair of shoes made in Europe by an independent company.
Muji Water Repellant Trainers
A solid pair of canvas sneakers for a truly rock bottom price. Muji’s online ordering experience leaves a lot to be desired, though. Made in China.
I found myself sending pictures of the Muji Water Repellant Trainers to my friends with captions along the lines of “only £20!”. For that price these shoes are exceptionally high quality, easily matching (or exceeding) shoes more than twice the price.
They are comfortable and have understated, tennis shoe styling. The removable insole is plush, and was nearly as comfortable as those in our top picks (it did have unusual bumps at the arch and ball of the foot, but these weren’t irritating in practice). The upper was not as soft as either of our other picks. In particular, the heel of the upper was stiff and gave some irritation to the achilles tendon when worn with no or low-cut socks.
Sizing is done through the Japanese system which will be confusing for many. However you should be able to figure out your size with a bit of online sleuthing. I ended up with the 28.3cm size and I am usually a UK10 or EU 44⁄45. The fit was slightly roomy for my wide feet, but comfortable. Muji’s return window is fair at 30 days but returning items is a bit if a hassle: you’ll have to package up and post your parcel yourself — no slick returns system like ASOS or Amazon here. The shoes come packaged in a plastic bag rather than a box, which is clearly a budgetary decision although didn’t impact the shoe in any way.
For this rock bottom price there are a couple of caveats. Firstly, they attract dirt extremely easily. The toe cap in particular picked up some heavy markings within a couple of days of use. But the main issue with these shoes is the experience of purchasing them from Muji, which feels like stepping in a time machine. The website itself is tough to navigate on desktop and mobile, and sometimes exhibits strange seizures and flickering. The shoes also seem to go out of stock frequently. When I did eventually purchase a pair it was “waiting for dispatch” for around a week, after which I was told they would take “2−15 working days” to arrive (it did only take three though). But if you make it through this gauntlet you will be rewarded with a real gem of a summer shoe at an unbelievable price.
These shoes are manufactured in China and Muji are not transparent about the conditions. Eco brand directory Good On You says “Muji does not communicate sufficient information about its labor policies” and rates the company practices as “not good enough”.
Why you should trust us
We are the team behind the (now defunct) menswear website Epochs. Epochs examined the cultural and social history of menswear and produced some well received articles in the menswear community (e.g. Epochs Field Guide to Nautical Clothing, Epochs Field Guide to Camoflauge). We pride ourselves on our in-depth approach to research and focus on good design.
I (Andrew Emerson) am a designer in London and have been unwittingly writing this guide for several years. Some would say I own too many pairs of white trainers and I shouldn’t wear them year-round. To them I would say: Would you ask the sun not to shine? I wear white trainers with pretty much every outfit. I also run almost every day, so I know a comfortable pair of shoes when I see them and know what to look for when assessing a good fit.
How we tested
As usual our first port of call was online. The r/malefashionadvice subreddit provided some useful information (thread 1, thread 2). Although this was more leather and other shoe type focused, there was still information on canvas shoes. We also looked at GQ’s “13 White Canvas Sneakers to Wear the Hell Out of This Summer” and took inspiration (if not necessarily style advice) from Input Magazine’s “These are the shoes you should beat up all summer (for less than $100)”.
We were also aware of a few more niche brands that were well regarded within the fashion industry and among stylists, such as Muji, Novesta and Spring Court.
We looked to compile a shortlist that would have a spread on price point, origin, style, and be a mixture of popular brands that everyone knew and more niche but well regarded brands.
The shoes on this shortlist were purchased and worn out and about on various occasions while carrying out everyday tasks. The shoes were then judged against our criteria (see “What to look for” below).
We also looked to educate ourselves in the construction of canvas/rubber footwear. Rose Anvil’s YouTube channel, where he cuts shoes in half and analyses their construction, was interesting and useful (“What’s inside Converse”, “Chuck 70 vs Basic Chuck Taylors”). His channel is also just entertaining to watch. We also looked at Sneakerfreaker’s “Material Matters: Vulcanised Rubber Sole Construction” and FindSourcing’s article on vulcanisation was also useful.
What to look for in a pair of white canvas sneakers
Type of sneaker: There are a number of popular types of canvas shoe such as tennis shoes, basketball shoes, boat shoes, plimsolls, etc. We looked at a variety of styles in our testing didn’t have a preference for one style over another.
Unisex: We included only shoes that were unisex or had comparable men’s and women’s version because we think a lot of what makes a summer shoe look and perform great goes beyond gender. That said, we admittedly only tested for fit on, decidedly wide, male feet so women’s mileage may vary on sizing and fit.
Comfort: Comfort is one of the most important areas we looked at. It is the culmination of a number of other contributing factors such as fit, materials, and quality of insoles. Shoes should be comfortable out of the box and remain comfortable for long walks in the summer heat without resulting in irritation. We discuss fit, materials, and insoles in more detail below.
How they should fit: This is arguably the most important factor in comfort. Shoes should fit properly in terms of length, width and height such that the wearer’s foot isn’t grinding uncomfortably against the interior of the shoe when walking. We advise aiming for a slightly roomy fit to allow for foot expansion in heat, and to allow toes splay out in the toe-box of the shoe when walking.
Sizing: An annoying fact of footwear is difference of fit across the industry. Different sizing systems in the US, UK, Europe and Japan create additional headaches. Shoes that fit true to size are preferred, but we try to offer guidance on sizing for any shoes we tested. We advise shopping somewhere with a good return policy so an ill fitting pair can be returned or swapped.
Insole: A large factor in comfort and we paid particular attention to them. They should be thick, soft, supportive and removable. The foam of the insole (if it exists) should be plush and bouncy. Insoles should be removable to aid cleaning and to be replaced if needed. The internal layers between the insole and outsole can be difficult to identify without ripping apart the shoe so we instead deferred to how the shoes feel underfoot.
Aesthetics: We looked for minimal detailing and in a plain white or off-white colour way. The plainness of the footwear is one of the reasons it will work well with a large variety of outfits.
Upper material: All uppers were made of some type of cotton. Cotton is used because it won’t melt under the high heat of the vulcanisation process. We looked for an upper that was soft without being flimsy. The material should be breathable enough so the wearer’s feet won’t overheat on a summer day.
Outsole material: The outsoles were made of vulcanised rubber. The soles are bonded to the upper with high heat. This process cures the rubber and makes it hard wearing and flexible. Sometimes the soles are directly bonded to the upper using this process (e.g. Spring Court), other times an interface known as foxing is wrapped around the sides to help bond the sole to the upper (e.g. Vans).
Durability: Being both lightweight and light in colour means these shoes won’t last forever. But durability is still an important factor and indicator of quality. These shoes should last a full summer of being worn multiple days a week at minimum (and preferably much longer). We also looked to see how much dirt they would attract, how quickly, and how gracefully they would handle it.
Origin: Where the shoes are made. Much production of footwear happens in Asia today but some smaller companies manufacture in Europe. The shoes we tested came from five different countries: Vietnam, China, Slovakia, Spain, and the Philippines. Much of the knowledge of footwear manufacture exists in Asia today, which means it is difficult for companies to manufacture elsewhere at scale.
Transparency: Most companies we tested were not transparent about the conditions of their factories (even those made in Europe, surprisingly) or their supply chains, which we found disappointing. We researched this information online and also leaned on Good On You, a eco fashion brand database, where possible.
Ownership: Many of the companies we looked at are 50 – 100 years old. This means some of those companies have changed hands multiple times, so we decided to examine the ownership and corporate history of the brands we tested. We preferred to see brands still owned by their founders (or still independent) and not owned by huge multinationals.
Price: The price was deliberately restricted to a more accessible price point (sub £80) as we felt this was appropriate for a lightweight pair of single-season shoes. This meant we avoided testing the luxe end of the market which included Japanese brands like Doek (£145) and Shoes Like Pottery (£109), and techbro favourite Allbirds (£95-£120). We tested a range of price points within the sub £80 bracket.
Availability: We looked for items to be in stock most of the time and easy to get hold of in major geographies.
The ARKET Canvas Trainers were somewhat uncomfortable, felt cheaply made, had stiff uppers, and fit large. Although they appear to have once been available for women, that is no longer the case and only the men's version is now available. For this reason we discounted them. They are made in China.
Of course the ubiquitous Converse had to feature in our testing. We chose the more upmarket Converse Chuck Taylor 1970s Ox, which feature improved quality and a removable insole over their more basic counterparts. The insole proved very comfortable and impressed us. However we found the shoes narrow fitting and thought they were overly elongated in appearance. They are quite expensive at £65 and not deserving of this price tag: Cheaper shoes performed better and our top pick can be had for £4 more. They are made in Vietnam.
You would be mistaken for thinking the Spring Court G2 Scratch is a sister to our Spring Court pick, but it is more of a distant cousin. Although they bear a close resemblance, this shoe is actually made a continent away from our Spanish top pick, over in Vietnam. Other than that, and the lack of laces, these were as comfortable as our top pick, and presented similar sizing issues (slightly too narrow and needing an EU size up for a comfortable fit with wide fitting feet). The scratch/velcro twist is a divisive styling option, equally bringing to mind an old folks home, a Westworld style mental institution or a child that has yet to master their laces. Ultimately we felt the scratches were a bit too long, and after some use had an annoying tendency to bend upwards even when tied down.
We found the Superga 2750 Cotu uncomfortable due to their narrow fit, minimal cushioning and stiff upper material. The (glued in) insole is thin and means the shoes feel overly firm underfoot. We also thought the tag with the brand's logo on the upper was garish. Finally Superga has a strange licensing deal in the United States which means they are distributed exclusively by the Steve Madden Corporation, which we didn’t like. Overall we found them to be basic and overpriced at £55. They are made in Vietnam.
The good looks of the Tretorn Nylite couldn't overcome their okay-ness in our testing. They were not uncomfortable, but also weren't particularly comfortable either. The non-removable insole did its job but didn't excel like our top picks. The upper was slightly stiff out of the box, resulting in some discomfort at the heel which faded after a couple of wears. Being owned by the "Authentic Brands Group", coupled with okay construction, makes this Swedish brand feel anything but authentic. They're also relatively expensive at £60. Having said all that, the looks may be enough to sway some to take the plunge. They are made in Vietnam.
The boat shoe styling of the Vans Authentic 44DX harks back to the early days of the company. We found their looks appealing and the fit true-to-size. They were also reasonably comfortable, but not as comfortable as any of our top picks. The upper was stiff and the foxing (where the sole meets the upper) has an ugly join at the heel of the shoe which we didn't like. Vans is owned by VF Corporation, who also own Timberland, Jansport, Smartwool, The North Face and many others. That’s not necessarily a negative but doesn’t exactly fill us with joy either. They are made in the Philippines.