Chucks!: The Phenomenon of Converse: Chuck Taylor All Stars

Chucks!: The Phenomenon of Converse: Chuck Taylor All Stars

by Hal Peterson


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A sneaker’s evolution from style dud to global icon.

In this book, shoe enthusiast Hal Peterson takes an in-depth look at the history, significance, and magic of “Chucks.” Originally a rubber shoe company, Converse rolled out the canvas All Star in 1917, nicknamed “Chucks” for the basketball hall-of-famer, Charles “Chuck” Taylor, who was a lifelong promoter. The shoe quickly became a phenomenon that has lasted for nearly a century with a fanbase that has varied greatly. Though they have a simple, classic style, the many shoes photographed here make clear that true believers always find ways to individualize their favorite footwear, even though black was the only color available for almost fifty years.

Peterson explores trends in everything from lace styles to color schemes and highlights Converse’s feature that allows you to “design your own.” He also takes a look at the social importance of Chucks: appearing in sports, rock and roll, movies, and art, they are known as one of the most iconic examples of twentieth-century footwear design. What is it about this sneaker that makes it so culturally pervasive? With help from Converse-wearers, we’ll find the answers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781510702219
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 08/16/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 7.20(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Hal Peterson is one of those many Chucks-wearers that this book is about. He is the webmaster for The ChucksConnection, the world’s largest website dedicated to the Chuck Taylor shoe. The ChucksConnection is a division of Hal Peterson Media Services, a business that operates educational and commercial websites, and distributes music publications and books on music technology. Besides his Media Services work, Peterson is an expert in music technology and software, and is active in the San Jose area as a conductor, arranger, and digital media instructor.

Read an Excerpt


Phenomenal Fans

PEOPLE WHO WEAR chucks come from all segments of society. Chucks are regularly worn by people of all ages, by celebrities and regular folk, and by people with all types of occupations and interests. If you look around, you see chucks on the feet of the rich, the middle class, and the poor. Chucks are daily footwear for men, women, boys, and girls. Chuck Taylor shoes have been worn by millions of people from different backgrounds and ethnicities. High school, college, and professional basketball players wore them on the court for over fifty years. Baby boomers wore them as kids and continue to wear them as adults. Chucks have been a favorite shoe of musicians in bands for decades. Chucks are worn by our newer generations to make a fashion statement. Chucks are the shoes of people advocating alternative lifestyles and the shoes of mainstream America.

At least 60 percent of all Americans own at least one pair of chucks in their lifetime. There have been more than nine hundred million pairs sold, making chucks the number one athletic shoe in America. They were one of the first mass-produced athletic shoes and have been continuously manufactured since 1917. Today, thousands of pairs of chucks are sold each week worldwide. Soon they will be like McDonald's, advertising over one billion sold. The amazing thing about chucks is that this simple shoe continues to appeal to each generation, and the fan base of dedicated chucks wearers continues to increase. People who like chucks show an unparalleled loyalty to the product, a fact that is especially remarkable when you list all of the possible footwear choices these days and the lack of mainstream advertising by Converse. It's no accident that one of Converse's advertising slogans for the Chuck Taylor All Star was "Stay True."

Insiders and Outsiders

ONE OF THE IRONIES you discover when examining the history of chucks is that they have been the favored athletic shoe for both "insiders" and "outsiders." During their first fifty years, chucks were recognized as the premier basketball shoe, sought after by top players and those who aspired to be the best. Owning a pair of chucks was a special moment in a young athlete's life — you had arrived, and your "limousines for the feet" were worn with pride. There are many stories about young boys scheming to get a pair of real Converse chucks, and of how disappointed they would be if they had to settle for "buddies" or any other second-rate "wannabe" pair of cheaper basketball shoes. It was a big deal to get together the money for a pair of chucks, when you could buy a competitor's sneaker for half the cost.

Then in the 1970s, when basketball players and teams started gravitating away from wearing chucks, the shoes started being popular with the counterculture, especially among rock musicians and other people who wanted to show that they weren't part of the establishment. Matt Chittum described it best: "They were a symbol of membership in the brotherhood of counterculture, a vulcanized heel with which to mash the penny-loafered toe of convention." Chucks were now available in a rainbow of colors and patterns, allowing for a wide variety of individualized looks. Best of all, chucks were a shoe that would wear well and look cool even when worn to tatters. Because the design of chucks hadn't changed, their price remained stable while the prices of high-performance athletic shoes skyrocketed. This had great appeal to students and others with limited incomes, and now part of the allure of chucks was their low price.

Chucks Make a Fashion Statement

THESE DAYS, WEARING chucks can represent about just anything you want. If you want the classic look (still the bestseller), wear a pair of black high-tops or low-cuts. If you want to adopt the hip-hop look, wear a pair of two- or three-color foldovers. If you want to make a political statement, wear a pair of John Lennon "peace," American flag, or democracy chucks. If you want to support the military, wear a pair of camouflage chucks. If you want to get people's attention, wear a pair of red, orange, or bright green chucks. If you want to dress conservatively, wear black monochrome chucks. If you like the well-worn grunge look, wear a pair of "distressed" or "rummage" chucks. People who like wearing chucks usually start with one favorite pair in a certain color, but with so many core and seasonal models available to choose from, your typical chucks enthusiast soon acquires several pairs and gets into "wearing the colors."

In the past fifteen years, chucks have made inroads in the fashion industry. Once dismissed as a low-fashion shoe for kids or out-of-touch adults, the Chuck Taylor All Star is now recognized as a shoe that will lighten up your look, give you some "rock star" credibility, and allow you to mix formal wear with casual wear for an interesting balance of high and low fashion. This new view among fashion insiders and celebrities who follow popular trends is part of the reason that you see so many more young women and teenaged girls wearing chucks now.

For those who wear chucks as their main shoe of choice, any occasion is an appropriate one for wearing chucks and every type of clothing looks good with chucks. You see them worn at symphony concerts and theatrical productions, by wedding parties and at senior proms, at church services and funerals. You see them worn in the classroom by both teachers and students, out in the country by those hiking nature trails and wading streams, by people playing all kinds of sports or just walking. You see them worn with business suits and tuxedos, with khaki pants and polo shirts, with shorts and sweatshirts, with ragged jeans and torn T-shirts.

Why do Chucks Wearers Remain Loyal?

At The ChucksConnection, we hear from many long-time wearers of chucks. When you ask them why they continue to wear them, you get comments like, "Chuck Taylors are the best shoes in the world," "They are the coolest shoe style ever," "I like the look of high-top chucks," "They're lightweight shoes that breathe well," "I will wear chucks as long as they are made," and "You instantly have something in common with others who wear chucks, and we all notice each other." Stores that sell chucks are aware of this brand loyalty. As Doug Plocki, a shoe store employee commented, "The people who come in to buy them are usually the ones who have a pair already on."

Dedicated fans are aware of the life cycle that each pair of chucks goes through. Going through the various stages of wear is part of the pleasure of wearing chucks. When you first lace up a brand-new pair, the laces, toe guards, toe caps, and outer wrap are a pristine white in color. As a pair begins to age through wear, the laces start to darken from daily exposure to dirt and the color of the canvas uppers. The toe caps and outer wrap begin to lose their bright sheen and pick up dirt stains. The diamond patterns on the outer soles start wearing down to flat squares, and the insoles conform to the shape of your feet. In a few months, when the shoes are fully broken in, the canvas uppers are barely noticeable on your feet, the laces have creased and marked corners where the laces meet the eyelets, and the inner canvas starts to wear in places. On the rubber parts of the shoe, the diamonds and lines on the toe guards start to wear down to a smooth surface, the outer soles show wear places on the lines, and the diamonds are pretty much worn down to solid square blocks. For some people, this is the time to start thinking about getting another pair; for others, this pair of chucks is just starting to reach the glory days of its grunge look. Depending on how you treat them, and how often you wear them, pairs of chucks can last six months to a year, and even multiple years. When a pair of chucks has reached the end of its daily-wear life, it often has a second life, because most people will keep their used chucks around "in case of emergency" or because a well-worn pair is a souvenir of good times in the past. Old pairs are also great for yard work, painting, river rafting, or other activities where you don't want to mess up a new pair.

The devotion that people have for their chucks is something that is hard to explain. You just don't see it expressed for other footwear or fashionable items. If the word "cult" didn't have so many negative meanings associated with it, you could use the word to describe the feelings that dedicated wearers have about chucks. One of the definitions of cult is "something popular or fashionable among a devoted group of enthusiasts." Ironically, one of the interesting things about chucks wearers is that they belong to all kinds of very different political, religious, and social organizations, embrace establishment and alternative lifestyles, can be very hip, fashion-oriented, part of the counterculture, nerd-like, or just regular folks. Perhaps the unifying fascination with chucks that draws all these disparate types together is their unsophisticated simplicity of design and function. Chucks have no pretensions or fancy airs about them. In this era of high technology and constant change, chucks are the shoes that never change.

Why do people like chucks?

WITH SO MANY TYPES of people wearing chucks these days, it's hard to pin down just a few reasons why they like them. You could start the discussion by saying that chucks are great conversation starters, especially among the folks who wear them. "Cool-looking chucks" will always get a response, and some people say that one of the things they like about being in the "chucks club" is the friendships formed with others who wear chucks. Bill Storer, a long-time wearer, describes their allure: "Chucks are maverick sneaks. They separate us from the dull sneaker herd." Brett Staggs describes his feelings about chucks in an interview with Regis Behe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "They emit an aura of sorts. They cause a ripple in the air that everyone feels when you walk by in them. And most of the time, you're not even wearing All Stars — All Stars are wearing you." Staggs, who is the drummer in the Cool Grand, a local Pittsburgh band, goes on to say, "They're simple, they're smart, they're functional, they're frugal, they're decadent, they're humble, they're selfish, and the size of the shoe is in an easy-to-read place on the bottom. That's why I love All Stars. They are hands down the coolest shoe ever made."

Chucks are also responsible for people wanting to sniff their athletic shoes. One of the most noticeable things about a new pair of Made in USA chucks was their strong smell of vulcanized rubber. Just like new car smell, it would last for a while until your pair started to get worn and broken in. Unfortunately, that rubberized smell is now lost when you buy a new pair made in Asia. The rubber formula has been altered somehow and mixed with what the product label describes as "textile," so there is no more pungent aroma of a newly minted outer sole when you open the box these days.

Here are a dozen more reasons why people like chucks

1 Chucks appeal to our youth culture. Chucks are always being "discovered" again by the next generation. Regardless of what brand they actually wear, surveys have shown that the large majority of young people think of chucks as cool, inexpensive shoes. By wearing a pair of chucks, young people instantly have something in common with others who wear them. People who wear chucks notice each other, because the brand of athletic shoes you wear is a big deal in today's youth culture. With so many models and colors to choose from, a young person can show individuality or conformity with a large number of chucks-wearing subgroups, or wear them in a way that makes a lifestyle statement. This youth appeal doesn't end at age twenty-one or even thirty. A very common comment from older people who wear chucks is, "They make me feel young again."

2 Chucks are classic style. Classic style is simple, restrained, and refined. All elements are balanced. The Converse Chuck Taylor All Star, especially in its high-top model, is the classic athletic shoe because its blend of boldly colored canvas uppers; rows of stitching; distinctive patches on the inside, heel, or tongue; white flashing on the side; unique footprint; and black, red, or blue piping is perfectly balanced. The chucks look has great visual appeal and is easily recognized by the general public. Chucks complement many types of clothing, and because they are a classic, they will never go out of style. There have been modifications over the years since Converse All Stars were first introduced in 1917, but the original design was so good it appears to be timeless.

3 Chucks are comfortable. Fans of chucks seem united on this point: the shoes are very comfortable to wear. Some typical comments: "Once you get used to them, you don't like wearing anything else." "They're real comfortable and lightweight ... not clunky." "You almost feel like you're barefoot." "Chucks are the only shoe that treat my feet right." Another consensus opinion about chucks is that they get even more comfortable as you continue to wear a pair and they become molded to your feet: "They're not so much a shoe as they are a foot glove." Chucks have been criticized in the past for not having enough arch support. But now the thinking on that point has changed, with new research showing that it is better for your feet to walk in lightweight footwear and mold their own support, which is the experience you get wearing a pair of chucks. Converse did spend a lot of time and money developing their "comfort arch" insole, and apparently what worked fifty years ago is still good today. "They are super comfortable — super individualistic — my second skin and alter ego."

4 Chucks are durable. While initially it might seem to be an exaggeration to state that a canvas-and-rubber shoe can last a long time, chucks have always been well made, with a very low failure rate. This is due to eighty years of experience manufacturing them, and also to key modifications in design, production techniques, and materials over the years that improved the quality without changing their basic look. A lot of concern about the quality of chucks was expressed when the manufacturing was taken from the US and moved to Asia. Although there are still some people unhappy about this move and some of the changes in the materials used to make chucks, most people are happy about the quality of the shoes, the new variety of models, and their availability. There are also a few tricks people can use to make their chucks last longer, like alternating pairs and letting them dry out completely before wearing them again. Many long-time wearers of chucks still keep pairs that they have had for many years. "I still wear them," says Sam Cordova of Dallas, Texas. "Some of them are pretty old and they're still in real good condition. That's why I buy them. They last a long time."

5 Chucks represent freedom from the mundane world. If there is such a thing as a "philosophy of footwear," you soon discover that wearing a pair of chucks represents freedom: freedom from the world of work (although these days many people are fortunate enough to be able to wear them at work), freedom of expression (with many colors and styles to choose from to express your individuality), freedom from heavy boots and shoes that weigh your feet down, and the freedom associated with summers and vacations. Wearing chucks can make a difference in your life. Many people have commented on what a pleasurable moment it was when they laced up a pair of chucks for the very first time. That special feeling is one of the reasons that people continue to wear chucks throughout their lives.

6 Chucks are great for special activities. While most people think of their chucks as a fun casual or athletic shoe, some people like to wear chucks for special activities. One devoted wearer of black high-tops states that he prefers to drive his high performance car wearing chucks. "My chucks mold perfectly to the shape of the gas, brake, and clutch pedals. The rubber sole is just thick and firm enough to prevent puncturing, yet thin enough to bend to the shape of whatever I'm stepping on. So when I'm braking around a sharp turn, or hitting the gas to avoid a big semi, my All Stars keep me connected with the car, and with the road." Other chucks wearers tell us that chucks are great for playing the drums. With your left foot on the hi-hat pedal and the right foot on the bass drum pedal, the flexible sole of your chucks make you feel as one with your drum set. Another chucks wearer reports that chucks are great secondary footwear on hiking or cave exploration trips. After arriving at the location, he takes off his heavy hiking boots and puts on a well broken-in pair of high-tops, because it is so much easier to crawl around and explore wearing chucks.


Excerpted from "Chucks!"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Hal Peterson.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Phenomenal Fans,
Chapter 2: A Brief History of the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Basketball Shoe,
Chapter 3: A Blank Canvas on a Piece of Rubber: The Art and Design of Chucks,
Chapter 4: The Marketing of Chucks,
Chapter 5: Chucks in the Media,
Chapter 6: The Future of Chucks,
Acknowledgments and Credits,

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