You know 'em when you see 'em... The stitched canvas, the white rubber toe cap, and the brown rubber sole
The company Converse started making an early version of the shoe in 1917 but redesigned it in 1922 when semi-pro basketball player Chuck Taylor asked the company to redesign it. Taylor joined the company in 1921 as a salesman but became the driving force behind the shoes design, logo and future popularity. In 1922 they added the classic "All-Star logo" to its shoe with his name on it.
Making It Big
Early on Chuck Taylor toured as the player-manager of the company based Converse All-Stars basketball team. They toured the country while promoting the Converse brand. Later on, Taylor took up teaching at basketball gyms, high schools and YMCA's where he taught the fundamentals of the game while simultaneously growing the sport and the shoe's popularity.
Soon enough numerous professional basketball players were wearing Converse All-Stars. The shoe not only became popular with basketball players but also athletes in the Olympic Games and even American soldiers in 1940s. In fact, the All-Star was the official shoe of the Olympics from 1936 to 1968. And get this...the All-Stars were the official athletic training shoe of the U.S. armed forces during World War II aiding in the defeat of evil Jew-hater and overall madman Adolf Hitler.
By the 1950s it was the standard shoe for basketball players on the high school level and all the way up to the pros. While its popularity continued to grow during the 1960s they began to lose market share in the late 1970s. This caused the company to struggle financially, eventually filing for bankruptcy several times while going heavily into debt. However, this all changed when Nike acquired the company for an estimated $305 million in 2003.
In tune with the theme of our blog, we are now going delve into the hip-hop part of Chuck Taylor's history. During the decline of the Chuck's popularity in sports during the 1970s, they began to experience a comeback as retro streetwear during the 1980s which included casual wearers, punk rock and of course hip-hop.
According to several people in hip-hop at the time, the shoe was seen as far from cool during the advent of "sneaker culture" in the late '80s. It was losing to its competitors which were adding new features such as cushioning, more fly colors and leather material instead of the canvas material found on the classic Chucks.
However, Chucks were still popular with the gang bangers in California who were assigned Chucks in prison and in Youth Authority camps. After being released the gangsters would go to the surplus stores and buy Chucks because they looked good with a pair of khaki pants and a T-Shirt. It was a simple outfit which cost them $60 and fit their budget on their first day home.
This association with gang banging made Chuck Taylors a west coast thing in the minds of east coast hip-hop heads. And they were not wrong in that assessment. Some Crips would wear blue Chucks while the Bloods wore red Chucks with white shoelaces. At this time most east coasters were wearing the modern basketball sneakers being made by Puma, Adidas, and Nike.
The '90s and forward
With the Chuck Taylor becoming a stronghold in Los Angeles gang culture, the shoe managed to maintain its popularity in west coast hip-hop with the explosion of gangsta rap during the early 1990s. Many top gangsta rappers like Snoop Doggy Dogg, Ice-Cube, and WC wore Chucks with pride as they celebrated the west coast lifestyle.
Even post-2000 rappers like Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar and a slew of others have worn Chucks from time to time. This is not surprising considering they grew up listening to the iconic gangsta rap of the 1990s.
Chucks In Pop Culture
- The character Dennis The Menace in the TV Series (1959)
- Elvis Presley in the movie Change of Habit (1969)
- Cast members of the TV series M*A*S*H (1972-83)
- Cast members of the TV series Happy Days (1974–84)
- Many punk rockers during the late 1970s
- Basketball players in Grease (1978)
- Tom Hanks in Bachelor Party (1984)
- Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future (1985)
- Cast members of basketball movie Hoosiers (1986)
- Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in Wayne's World (1992)
- Will Smith wore Chucks in I, Robot (2004)