House sneakers: Canada’s parliamentarians embrace comfort and style in the office shoe trend

OTTAWA – You won’t catch Omar Alghabra in a pair of Jordans.

The federal transport minister has been loyal to the Adidas brand since he was a boy playing soccer in Saudi Arabia.

“Adidas was the shoe of choice for kids in the late ’70s and early ’80s,” Alghabra said. Those known as the “originals”, black with three thick white stripes down the sides, were “big trouble”.

That nostalgia is what drives his current sneaker collection, often turning heads when strolling the halls of Parliament Hill or attending a G7 meeting where his peers rave about his sneakers.

“Positively, of course,” he said.

He also wants to make one thing clear: he is not a sneakerhead, but an “Adidas-head”, which is the kind of thing only a sneakerhead would say.

This fascination with history and specific sneaker models has fueled what is now a multi-billion dollar resale industry and created a sneaker culture that has now found its way into the workplace, normalizing a less formal and less formal type of shoe. painful in the office. Even the highest office.

During a Liberal caucus retreat in January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wore the Nike Dunk Low SB ‘Los Angeles Dodgers’ shoe, with pink on the outsole representing the chewed gum players chew on.

At the time, he said they were a gift from his son who, “like his mother, is much cooler than me.”

And no, he doesn’t have the Montreal Sesame Bagel Dunk, a Nike shoe styled after the famous food in the city that elected him to the House of Commons.

Some attribute the sneaker boom on the Hill to Alghabra. He said he started wearing them as a comfortable alternative during the COVID-19 pandemic, realizing at the same time that he was breaking the norm.

But that is the point.

“Wearing sneakers is more about breaking tradition than perpetuating it,” said Elizabeth Semmelhack, director and senior curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, men with white-collar jobs were expected to wear the same attire, Semmelhack said.

Then came the concept of “casual Fridays,” he said, where men, for just one day a week, revealed a little more about who they were in their private lives.

The next step was the rise of the tech sector, he said, where innovators could basically wear “playground outfits and be the most powerful men in the room.”

“Sneakers allow both men and women to participate in fashion,” he said. “They’re not hypersexualized and can seem edgy and trendy.”

Conservative Vice-President Melissa Lantman said she always wears sneakers to work, and that includes to the House of Commons.

Lantsman’s favorite sneakers are the Jordan 1 Mids, which he says he gets cheaper because they fit kids’ sizes.

She said that the wardrobe of female politicians is always subject to scrutiny.

But he said that clothes have the power to give people confidence.

Even more so when they are comfortable, he added.

Plus, he said, it makes it more accessible.

“There is a new type of politician. People wear sneakers in their lives, and showing up in a park in a suit doesn’t work,” Lantsman said.

For women politicians, sneakers, unlike heels, can have additional symbolic meaning, Semmelhack said, in that they show they are starting work or ready for action.

“It’s the equivalent of a man taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves,” Semmelhack said, noting that US Vice President Kamala Harris portrays that image when wearing her Converse sneakers.

In Ottawa, women parliamentarians, including Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, are often seen wearing sneakers as they run from one meeting to the next, but then change them into a pair of heels when cameras are rolling.

That doesn’t work for Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner, who gave up heels after spending years wearing them as a broadcaster in Hamilton.

“I can’t even wear them for a few minutes,” he said.

Hepfner is looking for comfortable, affordable and brilliant sneakers. For that extra comfort, he puts Birkenstock insoles on everything he wears.

Security guards on Parliament Hill have told her they can identify her by her shoes, she said, even before seeing the pin MPs wear on their lapels.

For the leader of the Government House, Mark Holland, the sneakers are a form of expression.

“They just feel like me,” Holland said.

“We are in Parliament, we wear suits and we dress appropriately for the business that is going to be done,” he said.

“But there aren’t many ways to express yourself in terms of clothing, particularly as a man. And so it’s a small way of expressing myself.”

His first pair came from former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who had gifted Holland a pair of red “Chucks” (Chuck Taylor Converse) during the 2011 campaign, to represent a race to the finish.

Red shoes were a common fixture at Liberal events in the closing days of that election, which ended with Harper’s Conservatives securing a majority, the NDP forming the official opposition and Ignatieff resigning as leader.

The Netherlands also lost their seat that year.

“You’d think it was bad luck because I lost that election, but then it became fashionable to wear red Chucks on election campaigns,” said Holland, who returned to the House of Commons in 2015.

“Omar (Alghabra) and I had one thing: 100 days before a campaign, we go and buy a new pair of red shoes.”

Holland now has about 10 pairs of Chucks in different colors. And they are all short, so she has strong feelings.

While lawmakers agree that sneakers are a respectable form of fashion, most don’t think they lead to the way things are in the United States, where a congressional sneaker committee exists to foster bipartisan relations.

Holland, however, suggested that he could be convinced.

“I like the idea of ​​making connections that aren’t political and seeing each other as human beings,” Holland said.

“We live in a very divided, prickly, partisan age,” he said. “So it’s a way to not take ourselves so seriously and to remind ourselves that despite our differences, we have much more in common and to reduce resentment. So on that basis, sure.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 2, 2023.

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