Wearing Chuck Taylor

I guess it’s kind of like this.

I just don’t care much about shoes. I certainly want them to look good. And I do care quite a bit about how shoes look with certain pants.

Although, I’m not really talking about how they MATCH with the pants.

No. What I mean is this: I really want my pants to fall nicely on the shoe itself. In my mind, the smaller and skinnier the shoe the better. But maybe it’s just me.

I suppose these words maybe contradict what I just said. Maybe I do care quite a bit about shoes.

You see, I’ve always been a person that’s had about one or two pairs at a time. A pair of tennis shoes. A pair of dress shoes. Maybe one more pair — something versatile — and that’s it.

I would wear the shoes for a year or two. And then move on.

But I started thinking about shoes a little more the other day when I went to put on my pair of Chuck Taylors. These are the laceless Chucks*. They call them “Chocolate” colored, and I guess they are. You’ve probably seen them.

*Royals manager Ned Yost once saw me wearing them and asked if I was on suicide watch. I didn’t quite follow. I suppose I’m not quite used to major-league managers asking me such questions. And then he pointed to my shoes. “They took your shoe laces!” he said.

I looked down. And looked back up. Well. Yea. I guess they did, Ned.

Where was I? Oh, yes. So I went to put the shoes on the other day. And I was hit in the face with something that I’d hardly noticed before.

My Chuck Taylors look like shit. (see above)

I’ve had these shoes for about two months, maybe worn them about 20 times or so, and they look like they actually came from the 1970s.

The shoe that is supposed to look vintage doesn’t just look the part. They freaking are vintage.

The rubber is stained by dirt and grime. The stitching on the canvas is falling apart. They are old and saggy and sad. And I suppose this sort of makes them cool.

Look: I know the deal. These shoes are manufactured this way; to break down easily; to fade and tear, ever so slightly.  Hipster customers want their shoes to look (spitty).

Hey, look, my shoes look old and terrible. And I don’t give a fuck.

But a part of me is fighting this. And I’m not sure why.

Listen, I don’t want my shoes to be all clean and white. No, I’m not saying that at all.

I guess I just began to wonder about Chucks, and what they say about a person*, and maybe what they say about me.

*You know: Where they going… where they been? 

But we’re dealing with Chuck Taylors here — a shoe that, in and of itself, has a pretty complex and inspired history.

We’re talking about a shoe that has hop-scotched between mainstream and subversive — and perhaps both at the same time — for the better part of 100 years.

The shoes date back to the beginnings of the Converse Rubber Shoe company in the early 1900s. As the story goes, a man named Charles Taylor — that’d be Chuck — played on a basketball team called the “Converse All-Stars” and the shoes were part of the sell. They toured. They balled. They sold shoes.

I suppose this is not unlike the modern-day NBA.

By the 1950s, the rubber-soled shoes were ubiquitous; the patch on the side — which apparently was to protect the ankle* — became as synonymous with basketball as Bob Cousy or George Mikan.

*Seriously.

These days, I still wonder how the hell anyone ever played defense in these shoes? How the eff do you step-slide or pivot or cross-over in those things?

If that’s state of the art, what the hell did the other shoes look and feel like? Were they playing basketball in boots?

Come to think of it, this is probably somewhat related to why basketball was pretty damn boring in the 50s: One can only take so many set-shots and point guards with no left hand.

But let’s jump ahead.

By the late 1980s, the shoes Chuck Taylor made famous had become somewhat intertwined with the burgeoning — and fractured — punk movements throughout the country.

We know this, of course, because Kurt Cobain came out of the womb wearing Chucks and thus decided to wear them while Nirvana rose to the forefront of the incendiary grunge scene in Seattle.

You’ll often hear people say that Cobain and Nirvana ignited this relationship between counterculture and Chucks; that young kids saw the flannel and the long hair and the shoes — and pretty soon an entire platoon of grunge-inspired Gen X’ers were wearing the shoes that were once synonymous with white basketball players from Indiana, Kentucky and Kansas.

I pretty sure this is not the case. In fact, I’m positive this was not the case.

I’m fairly certain that these shoes had been worn by so many subcultures — greasers and punks and skaters and surfers and so on — that by the time Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl started to show up to magazine shoots wearing them, they were probably already overplayed and overexposed.

But, of course, this is a blog with a bent toward pop-culture. So I must now nod my head in appreciation while talking about Nirvana. And I must now tell you that Nirvana saved rock. And I know this because I can tell you a story about the first time I heard the opening guitar riff of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” And then I must add in a sentence about how I knew from a few simple chords that music “would never be the same.” That life would never be the same.

Sorry. I watched way too much VH1 when I was a kid.

Truth is, I don’t know what Chuck Taylors mean to me — or to America. I don’t know what “message they send” or why people still wear them.

But I do know that you will see a pair of Chuck Taylors if you go to any indie music club in America. And you will see them at sandwich shops and headshops; high schools and frat houses.

And in newspaper newsrooms.

From the Sex Pistols to the Pistol, they are everywhere.

You probably know this, but I’ll say it again: Converse has had some pretty severe money problems over the years. And the company is now owned by Nike, which, in and of itself, is pretty fucking ironic (At least, I think it’s irony).

The shoe that is still worn by punks and hipsters and artists (and frat boys) is now owned and produced by the richest shoe company in the world — a behemoth of a corporation that has been criticized over the years for human-rights violations in controversial overseas workshops.

But this is not about that. Not totally.

This is about a pair of shoes. Maybe my favorite shoes right now.

I’ve only had them for a couple months, taking somewhat decent care of them in the meantime.

And for some reason, these shoes look as if they were beaten senselessly with a tar-soaked rockhammer for hours and hours.

So I guess it’s kind of like this.

Yes. I want my shoes to look worn and weathered. Yes. I want them to have character. Hell, I kind of even want them to look beat up.

I just don’t want them to look that shitty.

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2 thoughts on “Wearing Chuck Taylor

  1. […] written about this before. Back in October, Rustin pondered what exactly it meant to wear Chuck Taylor. Beyond the contents of that post, I don’t really know much about the history of the iconic […]

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