Growing up in the 80’s with cheap parents meant that our clothing and sneaker options were fairly slim. I still remember the trauma inflicted upon us from our once-yearly “back-to-school” shopping trips -if we were lucky, we ended up at Clover (RIP) or Bradlee’s (RIP). If they were feeling especially cheap, we ended up at K-Mart. I console myself with the fact that as horrible as my wardrobe was back then, it was even worse for my younger brother who got stuck with the hand-me-downs. In the 80’s, “Chuck’s” were the only cheap shoe you could wear in open public and still be spared constant ridicule from your so-called friends. Standard price was $14.99 and on-sale they were $9.99. Knock-offs could be had for $4.99 a pair. We wore the shit out of our Chucks and only replaced them when the corners had broken through.
As a Gen-X’er, few things have actually been as consistent (persistent?) in my life as the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star. Introduced in 1917 (yes, that means they’ve been around for over 100 years now), the design of the shoe has been fairly consistent over these past few decades and at one point Converse had an 80% market share of the entire U.S. sneaker market. Not bad for a design that started out as “just” a basketball shoe. Yes, there was even a time when most of the NBA wore the shoe (though no one does now), and it lives on today as still a popular choice for weightlifters (due to the shoe’s flat sole design). It’s hard to believe that a company could go from an 80% market share to being bankrupt, but that’s basically what happened in 2001, forcing Converse to announce the cessation of operations in North America and move production overseas. Nike went on to acquire the company in 2003.
Upon hearing of the company’s imminent demise, I immediately set out to scoop up as many pairs in my size that I could find. Now being sold for the princely fee of $29.99, I could only afford three pairs: 1 each of the colors black, white, and blue. Though the black ones wore out long ago (since replaced with an inferior Vietnamese pair), and the nearly pristine white pair walked away with a friend, I still have my blue pair (eighteen years on) and rock them every now and then. Today’s shoes look the same, but I will say that my U.S.-spec Chuck’s are more comfortable and seem to be made with a much softer and higher quality of canvas. The sole feels more flexible, a bit more squishy; the laces a shred softer and stronger. Then again, maybe my sense of nostalgia is affecting my judgment and I’m just full of shit.
Nike has flirted with the idea of making shoes in the U.S. again (no doubt they have found a way to make it cheaper and sell it for even more) so there’s always the chance that Chucks could be made here again. At that point, they’ll probably be $99.99 a pair and I’ll be posting some old-man shit about how I used to buy the same pair of shoes for ten bucks…
Until then, if you’re like me and want a “real” pair of Chuck’s, you can still buy U.S. made shoes online, though be prepared to pay a pretty penny for them. They will almost certainly be USED and set you back $100 – $200 per pair when all is said and done. Of course, with retail prices of $55 – $155 for a pair of foreign-made “new” ones, it might not be such a bad deal after all. One website that still sells them is CollectorNet (https://www.collectornet.net/shoes/) and I’m sure there are others if you look hard enough -E-Bay being another possibility.