Before the thin canvas sneaker became a favorite of mall punks, it was a serious athletic shoe with zero arch support.
You don’t have to have seen Rocky to know Rocky. Rocky is in your imagination, jogging up some outdoor staircase in Philadelphia, dewing up sweatshirts, raising his arms, lightly tapping his feet, punching some stuff, being the embodiment of determination. Bumhpababum bah bah bumhpababum, forever and ever.
Is this Rocky of your imagination wearing Converse sneakers? I don’t think he is. But, in 1970, the fictional character Rocky Balboa is wearing Converse sneakers. His strapping athletic bod is carried by the staple shoe of mall-punks and real punks and stand-up comedians and small-time weed dealers and regular guys who are just walking around and wearing some shoes that match with a lot of outfits. Rocky, the physical expression of undeterred and practiced athleticism, wears canvas Chucks with zero arch support—though that's finally changing.
It seems like a continuity error. Do Converses belong there?! Their role is popular culture seems solidly claimed. They are on the stoned smelly feet of Wayne and Garth. They are Kurt Cobain sitting on the floor by those huge hard suitcases designed to lug amps and such. They are the Ramones pouting in the middle of an interrupted jaywalk. They are footloose and fancy-free shoes and also the shoes worn in Footloose. They peek out from the bottoms of exquisite dresses on reluctant actors who are playing the red carpet game, but want you to know they would rather be in a dive bar.
Challenge these rebellious starlets to an endurance sport. Take Wayne and Garth to the gym. Hand one of them a barbell. Picture Kurt Cobain wiping a dewy forehead during a post-work jog, along the bike path. Imagine the Ramones with a sports ball of any kind.
Converses are for continually unsticking from beer-soaked concert floors. Converses don’t wake up for two-a-days.
Or do they?!
"It’s like Chucks had a secret life they’re don’t really like to talk about anymore, but they can’t hide the paper trail."
Maybe they used to. Chucks were originally proliferated by salesman Chuck Taylor, who peddled them to high school under auspices of teaching basketball clinics. He taught basketball to sell the shoe, though, again, it doesn’t have arch or ankle support. Wilt Chamberlain reportedly scored his 100 point-game in Converses.
Perhaps now there’s a cognitive dissonance to watching Chucks performing athletic feats. In Grease, the whole gym classes are wearing high tops. In some posters for Hoosiers, Converses take up nearly the whole image. Seeing Converses communicate athleticism is even more difficult than grokking that Hemingway loved shopping at Abercrombie and Fitch.
What is the moment when the solid signal of the Converse sneaker changed teams, from the alpha jocks to style-conscious burnouts? Well, the Ramones put a Converse sneaker on their 1976 album cover and Kurt Cobain was peak grunging in the early ‘90s, but I think that 1979 cycling classic Breaking Away marked the beginning of the end of Converse’s more hard-core athletic affiliations. In this very important bike relay, the three negligible members of the Cutters team are all wearing Converses. Our hero is not. He beats great odds and emerges victorious. In case you don’t know the ending of Rocky, he doesn’t. We should have known.
Looking at those moments of Converse athleticism today, it’s like Chucks had a secret life they’re don’t really like to talk about anymore, but they can’t hide the paper trail. I wanted to call after the Converses I saw, scuttling up the grand training stairs: How did you get on Rocky’s feet? It’s like spotting a Grateful Dead tattoo on a Republican presidential candidate. Hey! What are you doing there! Come back and explain yourself!
By Maggie Langef | GQ Magazine