When most people think of basketball shoes, they think Air Jordan. Dozens of silhouettes and colors flash through their minds, the very name suggesting “flight”. I belonged to this majority until I bought my first pair of Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars. My dad and I stood in front of a wall of Chucks at the local store, and as I decided on a colorway, he told me about his own experiences with the legendary basketball shoe turned fashion icon.
Back when my dad was in junior high in the late 60's, All Stars were the cutting edge of basketball shoes. When he decided to try out for his school’s team, he ran to the store and bought the classic Optic White Chuck. Without White Chucks (below), you just couldn’t compete.
In the days before Converse, the biggest name in basketball shoes was Spalding, the company now famous for making the balls themselves. But in 1917, a small Massachusetts-based shoemaker released the “Converse Rubber Shoe Company All Star,” revolutionizing athletic footwear overnight. The Converse All Star was, and still is, an all-rubber sole attached to a canvas upper. The high-top version features the famous circular “All Star” logo on both ankles. The All Star decal did not display "Chuck Taylor" until 1932. The name comes from the super fan, or original sneakerhead of All Stars, Chuck Taylor, a high school basketball star who repped the shoe. After graduation, Taylor went to work for Converse, lending both his name and basketball experience to the shoe’s development. Sometimes, it pays to be sneakerhead: once Converse realized how vital Taylor was to the company, they added his name to the logo, creating the first truly iconic named shoe.
At the time, Chuck Taylor All Stars were the best of the best; even the first United States Olympic Men’s Basketball team laced them up in 1936. Converse themselves tell it best: "We made them to sink jump shots on the court. You, however, saw them as something more… and started wearing our sneakers to do whatever you wanted." Close to a century after their debut, everyone from famous musicians (Kurt Cobain and Jason Mraz) to skateboarders (Kenny Anderson) have taken the shoes from the court to the stage. Even today, Converse remains popular; a day does not go by when I don't see at least one pair hitting the pavement. And for good reason: they’re great-looking shoes.
When I don't know what to put on at the beginning of the day, I always throw on Chucks. My triple-black All Stars have seen me through everything; I wear them in the rain (all rubber sole functions as a rainboot), on sunny days, and in snow. Chucks look good beat up or totally pristine. People wear them with button downs and khaki's or tee shirts and ripped jeans; it all works. And although I'm partial to the monochrome and famous black and white, the company's decision in 1971 to make the shoe in different colors was a crucial choice.
To this day, Converse continues to experiment with designs, colors, and materials; and collaborations with famous artists seem never ending. Their ability to rebrand while guarding the integrity of the silhouette (last significant update: 1949) speaks to a skill and heritage that’s uniquely Converse. From basketball shoe to fashion icon, the Converse Chuck Taylor hasn't quit for nearly a century. Keep your eye on Converse – their great sneakers aren’t going anywhere.
Happy March Madness and Stay Sneaky.