Described as people-pleasing, a good all-rounder and out-of-this-world reliable, the Converse Chuck Taylor is the one sneaker that everyone - regardless of their affinity or dedication to the sneakersphere - has in their rotation. The century-old basketball shoe has remained pretty much unchanged in its long lifetime, but that isn’t to say it’s been without hardship. Facing many trials and tribulations, it’s impressive that the Chuck Taylor still stands so strong today. But how did Converse’s Chuck Taylor become such a cultural icon? Starting off on the hardwood and making its way to the stage, screen and streets, it’s been one hell of a rollercoaster for the humble All Star sneaker.
Converse started off simply as a rubber company in Malden, Massachusetts in 1908, led by Marquis Mills Converse. Appearing to lack direction, the company trialled making anything it could out of rubber, before settling on basketball sneakers nine years later. In 1917, Converse rolled out their first “Non-Skids”. Created in 1891, basketball had become exceedingly popular over the last twenty years, and the sport was looking for a shoe that didn’t wear out or wear away. Converse were happy to oblige; despite the war and torment that riddled the US in these years, their business initially flourished.
How The Chuck Taylor All Star Came To Be
Six years into Converse’s sneaker venture, Charles H. Taylor joined the company as a travelling salesman. At the time, it was normal for businesses to start up their own teams and send them around the country showing off how good their product was, so the jobs of salesman and coach went hand in hand. As well as playing games, Charles “Chuck” Taylor would put on coaching lessons too, before smooth-talking participants into the store where the sneakers were sold. This set Converse apart from all other sporting competitors at the time and Chuck made quite a name for himself in the process.
It was rumoured that the All Stars coach approached Converse designers with the thought that the shoe required more ankle support and flexibility, making the sneaker what it is today. Equipped with the Chuck-signed patch on the medial sidewall, rather than the lateral which is more commonly seen, it would make sense that Mr. Taylor influenced the ever-evolving design of the shoe. However, it was revealed that Converse actually has no record of this in its archives. More of a mascot than a leader, Chuck Taylor held no decisions on the design or making of the shoe, it just merely adopted his name in order to help sell more pairs.
As well as this, the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star became the official shoe for the US Olympics Team from Berlin 1936 to Mexico City 1968 - quite the lifespan! Before this time, the Converse on offer took the form of an all-black canvas or all-black leather iteration, but this was the first time we caught a glimpse of the all-white sneaker with the iconic blue and red trim. The amount of times this sneaker has been repurposed and refigured cannot be counted, but the introduction of this colourway was revolutionary for the brand and provided that timeless style that remains a hit nearly 90 years later. Furthermore, Converse was also the official provider of training shoes for American soldiers in World War II. ‘Versatile’ doesn’t do it justice.
From Court Classic to Daily Stepper
By the 1960s, 90% of professional basketball players wore Chuck Taylor All Stars. The brand had taken over the sport in a way that no other company ever had in the sporting industry. Basketball and Converse had become synonymous with one another, and the Chuck Taylor brand identified with being a sports company, rather than a part of the footwear industry. That being said, it wasn’t all plain sailing. By the ‘70s, there were a few brands all trying their hand at being the biggest name in the basketball-sneaker industry. Many players moved to competitor brands, resulting in Converse losing sales and, consequently, its reputation in the scene. Arguably, this is where society’s fascination with footwear started. Sneaker culture killed Converse.
Converse’s saving grace actually came from a reconfiguration that happened in the late ‘50s. In 1957, Converse introduced the low-top “Oxford” silhouette. This streamlined, low-key aesthetic was originally introduced at the suggestion of the players and coaches from the All Star team. The low-top provided more ankle mobility for players, but was also Converse’s first venture towards adopting a non-sporting audience. In an attempt to save their basketball rep, Converse introduced coloured canvas for the first time to match US college colours, but this had the opposite effect of what they actually wanted. Coloured sneakers, and sneakers in general, were still considered improper for anything other than exercise, therefore Converse began adopting an anti-authoritarian reputation that was popular with rebels and musicians in the ‘70s and ‘80s. This shift towards individualism could have saved Converse, however, the traditional sporting-goods brand wasn’t necessarily on board with this way of thinking. They disliked the thought of being associated with other sub-genres, but eventually caved in the ‘90s after filing for bankruptcy several times since the ‘70s. What never changed, however, was that Converse sneakers were authentic and raw. You wore them to death and loved them endlessly, and the same applies today.
Nike Saved The Day
After a long, hard road, in 2003 sporting giant Nike, who was partly to blame for Converse’s collapse in the ‘70s, bought the company for $305 million. The timeless, never-out-of-date-style of Converse’s roster obviously proved to the Oregon-based brand as being well worth the money. In 2001, Converse sold only 1 million Chuck Taylors. By 2007, Nike’s investment caused the sales of Chuck Taylor sneakers to increase to a whopping 55 million.
The Difference Between The Chuck Taylor All Star & The Chuck 70
Almost impossible to distinguish with an untrained eye, the modern Chuck Taylor All Star and Chuck 70 remain a staple in rotations all around the world today. But what are the differences? In 2013, the Chuck 70 was introduced as an option that was more alike to the traditional court sneaker from the ‘60s, rather than the Chuck Taylor All Star we’d come to know and love. This revival paid homage to Converse’s roots, yet spoke to the vintage, aged trends that were taking over - and still are - sneaker trends of the time. This modern ode to the classic Chuck made sure that durability and stability were essential to the anatomy of the sneaker.
Like the retro style, the toe cap and midsole comes varnished to show off a yellow-tinted rubber that’s associated with the vintage look, whilst the taller sidewall provides more stability and creates a studier shoe that delivers a more premium wearing experience for the owner.
That’s not all though, side by side you’ll see that the canvas appears thicker and more substantial thanks to the double-ply build, whilst reinforced stitching provides a stronger upper. More arch support is welcomed in the form of an Ortholite sole, which comes thicker and chunkier than the All Star silhouette, and underfoot, you’re greeted with an increased traction and grip that helps with shock absorption. Stylistically, the patch is embossed, giving off a nice texture, whilst the nickel-plated eyelets and denser cotton laces deliver luxury in abundance. A definite step up.
Collaborations & Pop Culture Appearances
As mentioned, in the latter part of the 20th century, Converse took a massive culture shift from being a sporting hero to gracing the feet of Brit-pop and rock legends across the UK. As well as this, however, you’ll recognise the humble Chuck Taylor from many big-screen hits. A popular silhouette for any type of character, the Chuck Taylor All Star has been seen rocked by the likes of Michael J. Fox in Back To The Future and David Tennant in Dr. Who, as well as the kids in Stranger Things and even older kids in Grease Lightning! And the names certainly don’t stop there. More recently, though, Converse continues to catch the eye of many high-end designers, meaning the Chuck has been refigured multiple times with a variety of visions in mind. Most famously, Off-White’s Virgil Abloh caused a stir by adding the brand’s signature zip-tie to Chuck 70, whilst Comme des Garçons PLAY’s coveted heart-eye decoration causes sell-out after sell-out, every single time.
How The Silhouette Has Evolved
Since 2013, Converse have reimagined the Chuck 70 and Chuck Taylor All Star a number of times. Notably, in 2019 the brand partnered up with Jonathan Anderson to design the Run Star Hike: an outdoors take on the Chuck Taylor that played to the chunky sneaker trend whilst remaining fully functional. Coming with superior cushioning, the Run Star Motion took the design of the Run Star Hike to the next level again, providing another exaggerated trainer that looks set to be a future classic.
The most baffling fact of all about the Chuck Taylor All Star is that despite staying pretty much unchanged in design since the 1920s, the shoe still looks bang up to date. Easy to style and trendy no matter the decade, Converse has mastered timeless design in a way that is impossible to convey on paper. Remaining as stylish and as essential as ever, the Chuck Taylor is the most storied, yet reliable form of footwear of the modern age. Nothing else even comes close.
If you’d like to check out the rest of the Discover series, click the links below:
- Discover: How the New Balance 550 Became Every Influencer's Favourite Sneaker
- Discover: How the adidas Ultra Boost Went From Running to Runway
- Discover: How the Nike SB Dunk Went From Skateboarding's Favourite Beater to a Streetwear Staple
- Discover: How the Air Jordan 4 Changed the Game Forever
- Discover: How Kanye West & Steven Smith Rewrote the Sneaker Game