By Aaron Miller
I just bought a new pair of Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Yes, this is a column about shoes. But Chuck Taylors, also known as Chucks, are not just any pair of shoes. Like blue jeans or Wayfarer sunglasses, they are an American classic that will never go out of style.
If they do go out of style, I won’t know. I also won’t care. I will still wear them.
It was a difficult choice, but this time I went with black. Nike, which purchased Converse in 2003, offers Chucks in a multitude of styles and a countless number of colors.
My new black high tops replace a pair of aging green Chucks. I do not remember when I bought the green Chucks, but I know they are more than 20 years old. They persevere, but time is catching up with them. The green shoes are pretty dingy with a few holes that are growing. Before the greens, I owned a pair of tan Chucks. The tan high tops bit the dust a long, long time ago.
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Chuck Taylors are really comfortable to wear while driving or bumming around the house, but I could not imagine playing basketball in these shoes. Although they are light and flexible, they do not offer much support.
Chucks are now 100 years old. Converse originally called the shoe “Non-Skids.” With a rubber soul and a canvas upper, the shoe has remained relatively unchanged since 1917. Converse originally advertised the shoe as “specially designed for Basket Ball work.” Just like shoe companies today, Converse promised that their product would offer an advantage over an opponent.
The popularity of the shoe was largely due to the work of Columbus native Chuck Taylor. He played basketball at Columbus High School while the game was still relatively new. Taylor went to work for Converse in 1923. A player, coach and promoter, Taylor sold the shoe by traveling across the country and conducting coaching clinics and exhibitions. Converse renamed and labeled the shoe Chuck Taylor All-Stars in 1932. American athletes wore a red, white and blue version of the shoe for the 1936 Olympics. During World War II, Chucks went to war. American soldiers wore them for physical training.
It is no surprise that I would like a pair of shoes with history. Chucks are a relic, a survivor, from the 20th century. Yet they remain vital and popular into the 21st century.
Like the sculptures and modern architecture that inhabit the Columbus landscape, I think Chuck Taylors are a work of art. They are distinctive. Chucks are instantly recognizable in a sea of faceless running shoes. They are historic, yet modern.
A few years ago, Converse offered special editions of the venerable shoe to celebrate Chuck Taylor. Converse sold orange Chucks for Columbus East and royal blue shoes for Columbus North. The Chucks also featured a unique design with an outline of Indiana taking the place of the lane on a basketball court. Columbus was represented by a star within the outline of Indiana.
The Columbus Chucks were extremely popular around town. Some people even bought two pairs so they could support both schools at the same time. They would wear one orange Chuck and one blue Chuck. There are many ways to show civic pride, wearing a pair of Chucks is as good as any other. The special Columbus editions are currently selling on eBay for more than $130.
Over the decades, Converse has sold more than 800 million pairs of Chuck Taylors. Converse estimates that it sells an astounding 270,000 pairs of Chucks every day.
I just can’t do it. I have not thrown the old green Chucks in the trash. They are still in my closet.
Aaron Miller is one of The Republic’s community columnists and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. He has a doctorate in history and is an associate professor of history at Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus. Send comments to email@example.com.