• 5 minute read •
What does an American World War II army recruit, grandfather, dad and the hipster all have in common?
Chances are, they’ve worn a pair of Converse sneakers in their lifetime. Elvis crooned about blue suede shoes, but rocked them off-duty. In 1957 with the release of the optical white low-rise version, eccentric journalist Dr. Hunter S. Thompson made the “Oxford” his uniform. A more recent pop-cultural moment is the blink-and-you-miss fleeting image of sky blue 1923 Chuck Taylors showing up in the French salons of Versailles in Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette,” where the director herself has suited up with them to a boyish gamine effect.
Converse shoes are as American as apple pie, but don’t tell that to South Africans, where its popular in townships from pantsula’s, break dancers from the hood, to magogo’s, their grandmothers. And while there is no recognizable anthem to Chuck Taylors like Run DMC’s ode to his Adidas, musicians such as the late Kurt Cobain, Bruno Mars and Kendrick Lamar have given them their “sole.” Regardless of background or field one came from, what’s truly fascinating is how Converse has managed to capture this motley crews imagination.
Designed for soccer & netball, Converse Rubber Company originally focused on galoshes and work shoes with “better grip, less slip” but decided there was something in the canvas-topped “All-Star”. The 100+year-old company hit their stride when Charles H. Taylor, a basketball player who loved wearing them so much he was invited to join the firm, fine-tuning it for basketball and promoting the high-top with such zeal, his name was forever immortalized by his employers on the side-starred ankle patch. As they gained in popularity, dominating 80% of the sneakers market in the 60’s “Connies” transitioned from sports shoe to première sneaker for casual fashion in an array of colors and printed graphics.
Now owned by Nike, one pair of Converse is sold every 43 seconds. A pair of Chuck’s sets you back the price of dinner in New York, while the low-rise Oxford is equal to a movie ticket with popcorn, making this a fairly wallet friendly option. Basketball player Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in them, and unlike the fetishistic red-soled Louboutins (or Wilt) wearing them will not guarantee you getting laid. To the credit of its design, the basic shell of Chuck’s hasn’t changed much–for the wearer, this is a shoe that gets shit done. But perhaps what makes these kicks enduring is that, while they are no longer prized by sneakerheads they manage to still connect to the idea of youth and rebellion. Corporate America would be more interesting and less stuffy if executives donned them.
I had to retire my pair recently. Adidas and Vans were de rigueur growing up in the gang and skateboarding culture of the West Coast (though I was more a British Knights sort of girl), and it wasn’t until living in New York that I wore them—Ice Cube may have waxed lyrical about his chucc’s living through the heyday of 60’s stoner lifestyle—but I will forever associate them, however incorrectly, with the East Coast.
The rubber soles have peeled away from the canvas with the caked-in grime of many subway rides and city jaunts—some good times were had. I’ve learned to ride a bike, belatedly, and have rolled up in them working weekends rigging walls and illustrations sporting Chaplin-sized khakis, white wife beater tee and Kelly green cardigan. Friends held an intervention upon hearing my plans in taking them to the top of Machu Picchu. They need not have worried—the guides zipped up the mountain ridge in open toed sandals when we arrived, and had I stuck to my guns, there would’ve been one more story to tell in them.
In my mind they’re still wearable, but when they squeak, stinky with every step, water seeping in addition to the two ventilation eyelets into your toes, it’s time. Perhaps I’ll try it’s badminton brother, Jack Purcell next.
Now more of a classic, wearing Converse has become an anti-fashion statement for the non-conformist. Ironically enough, if you put it that way, it becomes just that, a fashion statement. To paraphrase Donna A., of the San Francisco group, The Donna’s has said, “When you’re wearing your Converse, you’re just wearing shoes. You’re not trying to really be cool.”
But here’s the thing. Living life in them just is.
Where have you rocked your Chucks?