The Beyond Retro Guide to Converse
Now we all know that the Cheese Burger was invented at the 1904 St Louis World Fair and Donuts were introduced by the Dutch settlers of New York, duuuhhh, but have you ever looked at your trusty canvas cons and queried “WHERE ARE YOU FROM, HOW DID YOU GET HERE?”
But we just got our mitts on a whole bunch, so I’m about to drop some serious Chuck knowledge.
In the Beginning
Believe it or not, Converse All-stars were not invented for maximum traction on booze-soaked indie/nu rave dance floors of the early to mid-2000s. Nor were they invented to help assist the anarchy uprising of the mid-70s. The first incarnation was actually invented over 100 years ago in 1917, for the newly emerging American sport of basketball. The flat-footed, zero shock absorbent shoe was actually made for physical activity. Mental.
Original Converse ‘Non-Skid”, note no Chuck signature
Surprisingly, the All-Star was quite technologically advanced for its time. The rubber ‘ non-skid’ sole and the lightweight Canvas was the tits in 1917 and by 1918 they were making 20,000 shoes a day! It wasn’t till 1921 that a man named Chuck Taylor changed Converse forever.
Chuck Taylor, a semi-pro basketball player, started wearing the shoes in 1920. Converse noted this and gave him a job as a salesman and brand ambassador and toured America with his Converse team showing off their kicks. During these tours, Chuck suggested some design tweaks to Converse to help improve the flexibility and ankle support of the ‘Non-skids’. Converse adopted his ideas and in 1932 slapped his signature on the ankle patch and the Converse All Star we know today was born!
Chuck Taylor, great posture, greater shoe designer.
The Sports Sneaker
Converse All Stars quickly became America’s preferred basketball sneaker. It was the official shoe of the Olympics from 1936 to 1968 and during WWII All stars were the official athletic training shoes of the U.S armed forces.
Post World War II the Chuck Taylor All Stars became sporting standard for all basketballers, from Highschool gyms to the Pro NBA and ABA leagues, everyone was wearing Chucks on the hardcourt. It was so popular that in the 1960s Converse had captured 70-80% of the basketball market share, to put that in perspective industry leader Nike has about 40% of the basketball share today.
Trends and technology changed but Converse All Stars remained the same, and the inability to adapt to the sports market meant that the Chucks slowly faded out of the realm of the athletic sneaker world. The classic canvas All Star was last seen on the NBA court worn by Tree Rollins in the ‘79-80 NBA season, 63 years after the Chuck Taylor All Stars was born.
Tree Rollins, wearing canvas All Stars
Off the Court
Fortunately for Converse, another movement was shaking during Converse’s basketball boom. Back in the 50s, wearing athletic sneakers outside of the gym was seen as a slightly rebellious act, similar to Marlon Brando wearing underwear (a T-shirt) and blue jeans on the silver screen. Greasers started to slowly adopt Chucks and wore it as a subtle fuck you to the tie wearing, straight-laced “Man”. Converse’s low price point also helped, due to the no-frills canvas and rubber construction, it was affordable to the working-class and teens.
Rock n Roll
This counterculture association stuck and started gaining more traction throughout the decades. Slowly, Converse All Stars became apart of the uniform of nonconforming Youth. By the mid-70s, the counterculture explosion of punk reared it’s scraggy face and wrapped around its feet was our mate Chuck- The first commercially successful basketball sneaker, one of the first mass-produced sneaker, had become a punk footwear staple- OH THE IRONY. What also may have helped that the two largest punk bands on either side of the pond, The Ramones and The Sex Pistols, were also donning them and that they also looked mint in a pair of drainpipe jeans.
Ever since Converse, All Stars have become synonymous with music and individualism.
Hair metal, Gangsta Rap, Grunge, Post Punk, Indie and New Rave; the music trends changed but the shoes remained the same.
Converse on the Catwalk
These subconscious advertisements from industry leading musicians and artists helped Converse gain a certified ‘classic’ and ‘cool’ rep and with Converse’s current and past collaborations with brands such as Off White, Comme des Garcons, Carhartt, J W Anderson and Dover Street Market, the classic Converse All Star will continue to remain relevant for another 100 years.
Icons and artists who braved the bleeding heel blisters of Converse All Stars include: Eddie Vedder, Farrah Fawcett, Elvis, David Bowie, Robert Plant, Blur, James Hatfield, The Strokes (and every Indie band of the 2000s), Drake, Wiz Khalifa, Hunter S Thompson, Jane Birkin, Pharrell etc etc.
Rapper Ice Cube
Robert Plant and his lemon rocking the reds.
Teenage Heartthrob turned Dad bod spokesman, Leo in Basketball Diaries
Gonzo Journalist Pioneer, Hunter S. Thompson in the white ‘Oxford’ All stars
Elvis, not Costello, wearing Converse on set
1970s style icon Jane Birkin