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Of shoemakers and elves. . .
April 16, 2007 12:44 AM   Subscribe

Design your own Chuck Taylors. Not normally a fan of corporate gimmickry. However, I grew up wearing these, and as a wee lad always dreamed of this day. (In the eighties the best that could be managed was to try to sneak a mixed pair under the nose of the sales clerk.) My Chucks were as beautiful as they were useful. And in those days they were still sweatshop-free.I knew little of the man, as the youth of tomorrow may know little of this one. I conclude with a parable.
posted by flotson (68 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
"These little wights have made us rich".
posted by tellurian at 1:01 AM on April 16, 2007


U.S. only :(
posted by sveskemus at 1:15 AM on April 16, 2007


Design your own Reeboks, for those of us in love with the Gr80's.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:20 AM on April 16, 2007


I live in my chuck taylors. They're just the black high tops with the converse brand plastered on practically every inch. I need more, dammit, moooooore. Green, red, pink and every colour of the rainbow.
posted by liquorice at 1:28 AM on April 16, 2007


AV, was this the design your own reeboks link?
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:48 AM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


I have a question for you Chuck Taylor otaku*. I bought some Chucks about 3 years ago and they were the most uncomfortable shoes I had ever put on. Really flat soles and no ankle support in the least. I have pretty high arches, which was probably the main problem, but even with arch supports it was bad. So do they become more comfortable in time? Seems like they wouldn't "break in" as they're already sort of broken in.

*Japanese for "geek" or "nerd", but more like "obsessed to the point of insanity".
posted by zardoz at 2:14 AM on April 16, 2007


as cool as the "design your own" thing is, they cost more and don't include nearly as many of the great designs.

i love my chucks, and wouldn't trade them for all the blowjobs in the world.
posted by danman_d at 2:20 AM on April 16, 2007


I used to have burgundy velvet converse low-quarters. Also, I used to have zebra-striped ones that glowed in the dark.

Do I ever miss those shoes.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 2:28 AM on April 16, 2007


Though I could probably balm my tristesse with a pair of these.

posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:01 AM on April 16, 2007


ISo do they become more comfortable in time? Seems like they wouldn't "break in" as they're already sort of broken in.

Eh, no. With the Chuck Taylor there is no break-in period, there is just that very short period of time before they wear out.
posted by three blind mice at 3:17 AM on April 16, 2007


As obsessive as that Charlie's 'Chuck' page is, he seems bizarrely oblivious to Nike's acquisition of Converse. He makes it sound like Converse is still an independent company and some hand-waving mystery caused the recent crapification of the product and price inflation.

Nike's charging twice as much now as Converse did six years ago is criminal (it was dead-easy to get a pair for $20, less on discount sales), considering how much worse they've become. I wore Chucks for years, still have a beat-up pair for yardwork and the occasional bike ride, but I stopped using Chucks as everyday shoes them shortly before the Nike buy-out because my aging ankles and knees need better shoes.

I've still got some pairs of US-made black hi-tops and all-black hi-tops unworn and in their boxes. I'll wait until the collector's market gets a little more insane before dumping them on Ebay.
posted by ardgedee at 3:37 AM on April 16, 2007


Keds!
posted by Goofyy at 3:54 AM on April 16, 2007


Wonderful site and idea! Wouldn't it be cool to design all one's stuff that way!

If you like wearing sneakers, check out this Sneaker Freaker cool laces and lacing site.

My fave sneakers of all time, Air Jordan '91 but then discovered the ugly-as-sin wonderfulness of croc styles.

zardoz , Spenco cross trainer inserts.
posted by nickyskye at 4:14 AM on April 16, 2007


Hmmm. Those Neehi ones would be just the thing for speedmarching, especially in hot weather. I'll have to investigate this -- I was thinking of getting lineman's boots for the ankle support, but these would definitely breathe better.
posted by pax digita at 4:30 AM on April 16, 2007


Having not looked at Chuck Taylors for several years....OMFG! I can't say for the quality but ardgedee has hit the price thing direct to the engine room! I thought that a 3x make up seemed excessive for the design your own thing, but now I realize I'm just naive.

So much for overseas manufacturing keeping the prices low.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:37 AM on April 16, 2007


ardgedee,
Thanks for the Nike reminder. I had got out of the habit of buying Chucks about six years ago and had actually forgotten why! Do Chucks have the Nike logo on them now?

My fave pair, since we're all into the nostalgia, was a pair of stars-n-stripes red white and blue ones that my brother got me for an xmas present.
posted by Cookiebastard at 4:47 AM on April 16, 2007


I wear orthotics in my Chucks, and they are insanely comfortable that way. (Also, they are the only shoe that fits my wide-toed feet properly without having to buy either a Wide size or a couple of sizes too large. The shape of them just suits my toes well.) I can see that without orthotics they could be a problem for some.

New Chucks, though it breaks my heart to say it, are crap. They rip out on the sides very quickly. Old Chucks had quality construction. Outsourcing in theory is supposed to bring prices down. But Converse is a classic example of prices going way up and quality going way down. I still buy the shoes because they fit me, but I try to only buy them on sale.

(I got my first pair, purple hi-tops, 25 years ago. I cannot count how many I have owned since. Currently I have pink and black, purple, and a Christmas-themed pair.)
posted by litlnemo at 4:55 AM on April 16, 2007


it's a classic design, like the coca-cola bottle and the 747, timeless really. too bad they stink like hell.
posted by matteo at 5:15 AM on April 16, 2007


I loved my pairs of Chucks, preferably dark blue but oh how I would've gone for a plaid pair in an instant. Without arch support, though, they really were a pain to wear, but after some trial and error with a few Dr. Scholls type inserts, had a more comfortable time of it.

Now, in my older and crankier days, it's all about the New Balance 606s. Never thought I'd be one of those shoe loyalists, but heck, why mess around with anything else when you've found something you like?
posted by Spatch at 5:17 AM on April 16, 2007


Someday, a grad student somewhere will do their dissertation on the connection between Chuck Taylors and underground music. There's some interesting connections there whether punks wore chucks because they were cheap, or because the other punks wore them, or because they "liked the look."

I wonder if part of the slow death of the Chucks has been the underground kids switching to other shoe brands because Chucks weren't that good for skateboarding (in the 90s).
posted by drezdn at 5:46 AM on April 16, 2007


Is there published research, in addition to anecdotal evidence, that discusses the (lower) quality of new Chucks (or "Cons", as we called them around my schoolyard)?

(I've noticed that my off-the-shelfs tend to wear'n'tear quickly around the seams but thought that was just me being rough on shoes.)

And are the custom models any better made?
posted by the sobsister at 6:05 AM on April 16, 2007


My favorite pair of chucks were made of red burlap. I think they only made them one year. I loved 'em, but they weren't the sturdiest shoes I ever owned. That was 15 years or more ago, though.

Somewhere around here I have a pair of Vans (I think) that are made out of the same stuff tennis balls are made out of. That is, they're yellow and fuzzy. Never wore 'em but thought one day they'd come in handy. When will that day come?!
posted by dobbs at 6:15 AM on April 16, 2007


Been wearin' Chucks since high school (lo those many years ago). Used to wear purple high-tops back then, but these days its just plain white Oxfords (low-tops for those not hip to the lingo). I generally order them online and buy like 2-3 pairs at a time. I have two primary types of footwear: my Connies and hiking boots. Thats it.

Okay maybe there's a pair of Tevas and some Bean boots in there somewhere...
posted by elendil71 at 6:42 AM on April 16, 2007


Yeah, I had a pair of chucks essentially blow up on me. I was working at a camp and in the head of a heated dodgeball game, the side completely blew out. Boo.
posted by craven_morhead at 6:49 AM on April 16, 2007


I grew up wearing these in the 80s because they cost $12-15. I was one of those girls that had pairs in a few colors and would wear mismatched pairs. The price increase is criminal, especially considering they are as cheaply made and lacking in support as ever.
posted by Miko at 6:51 AM on April 16, 2007


From about 1982-1990, the only pair of shoes I owned (besides the steel-toed shitkickers that I kept for hardcore shows to protect my delicate toesies) were black high-top Chucks. I'd blow a pair out, go get another. They were an affordable badge of membership in the Punk Rock Club. Then I got a real life and had to wear real shoes, and I switched to the ugly, plain, black Red Wing work shoes I've worn since (adult life lesson #103: never buy cheap shoes if you work on your feet).

I had a moment of nostalgia a few months ago when I saw some old-school Chucks in a shoe store display. Then I checked the price tag. Holy crap. These are Chucks! They're supposed to be cheap and flimsy, and these were merely flimsy.

It is interesting how as social signifiers of outsider-rock changed over the years (denim jackets became flannel shirts, safety pins became nose rings, bandanas became doo-rags, and kids at the mall started wearing Misfits t-shirts), Chucks stayed cool for a whole generational cycle. My theory is that the rise of the pricey designer sneaker fueled something of a cultural backlash, and here were these shoes that were so ugly they were cool, made in America, and easily within reach of a semi-motivated panhandler.

Alas.

I think I might get a pair of these soon, just for archival purposes.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:21 AM on April 16, 2007


bitteroldpunk, I actually now own two pairs of those, and so far I have no complaints. They have styles in pretty much any variety, so you'll probably find one that you like. Personally, I have the cyclones (reminds me of New Balance) and the surf (reminds me of vans).
posted by drezdn at 7:31 AM on April 16, 2007


Chuck Taylors are for hippies.

Gimme a pair of Adidas Stan Smith and STFU.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:39 AM on April 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


Interesting and fun. But lump me into the old man with bad feet and knees who needs motion correction running shoes just to get around on a daily basis.

Although, I did recently buy a pair of black, leather Converse (to wear to a wedding, no less) at Crossroads for $22. They are prety much like new, but indeed, I immediately noticed they were a little bit different than my previous old leather pair (which I STILL have and they are worn the hell out). Mainly, the soles are very different and not as cool as the old standard flat bottoms. This Nike buying them thing explains that. (I admit, I wasn't aware of that myself since I've been buying Brooks Beast as my daily wear shoe for nearly five years now.)
posted by smallerdemon at 8:04 AM on April 16, 2007


I wore Chucks almost exclusively from my college years until some point in my 30s (at which point my body decided it needed better shoes). Back in college, I'd have several pairs in different colors at any given time, and would wear mixed colors when the mood struck me. Now I've got a pair in velour leopard-print that I only haul out for parties.

Thing is, they've always been crap. They've always fallen apart quickly. I don't know how much worse they've gotten since Nike took over, but all this nostalgia for the good old days strikes me as misplaced.

Nike charging a premium for that nostalgia is predictable, opportunistic, and funny/sad, as it removes Chucks from their natural habitat of scruffy young people and makes them into a Disney version of themselves, undermining their counterculture cred at the same time they cash in on it. Someday there will be a punk-rock themed casino in Vegas, and it will be exactly the same.
posted by adamrice at 8:11 AM on April 16, 2007


possibly the most uncomfortable sneakers i've ever owned.
posted by tremspeed at 8:13 AM on April 16, 2007


As basketball shoes, CTs sucked. I wore 'em back in the day and was glad to see them go. Then I went to Berkeley for grad school and saw all the hip kids wearing them. I thought "WTF? Those fools are wearing really uncomfortable basketball shoes. Don't they know there are good b-ball shoes available?" Needless to say, I wasn't very hip.

PeterMcDermott: Agreed about the Stan Smith's. Those are great shoes.
posted by MarshallPoe at 8:13 AM on April 16, 2007


BitterOldPunk, I'm the same boat, only younger. Wore them all through high school and into college from the late 80s in the mid 90s. Now wear Rockports.

In college I'd buy them at the Boulder Army Surplus Store on... Pearl? Walnut? I think they were under $20. Then I moved to Seattle and discovered Chubby and Tubby.

And then Chubby and Tubby closed, and I started buying real shoes.
posted by dw at 8:17 AM on April 16, 2007


My dream cons.
posted by drezdn at 8:19 AM on April 16, 2007


My dad wore Chucks. I wore 'em. My daughters wear 'em. I can only assume their children will wear them, too.
posted by padraigin at 8:20 AM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


God, I loved my Chucks. Getting a bit older and a bit heavier have removed them entirely from my daily routine.

What I wouldn't give for a pair of chucks with really good arch supports soles! I'd be glad to pay double. That's what, $50?
posted by chimaera at 8:50 AM on April 16, 2007


As a long time wearer of the White Man's Moccasins I'd say it is precisely the lack of support that makes them good. You can feel the ground like few other shoes. Orthotics help if you have bad feet. Thick wool hiking socks makes them appropriate for cold weather. However, the move to Malaysia and stupid pricing has made them a lot less desirable these days. Anybody know of any shoes that have the Chuck's design philosophy but without the shitty construction?
posted by well_balanced at 8:53 AM on April 16, 2007


I had a pair of Chucks in college that were tie-dyed - I wore them until they fell apart, and then I kept them anyway, moving them from apartment to apartment. For formal occasions, I also had a black pair.
posted by rtha at 9:03 AM on April 16, 2007


all this nostalgia for the good old days strikes me as misplaced.

I think the only thing we're nostalgic for is the fair price. They still have all their other virtues (or lack thereof), but they are drastically overpriced for such poorly constructed, and now outsourced, shoes. They're still worth $15, but now they cost $40, and they're made overseas by a company with a terrible sweatshop record. Someone's getting rich.

It's too bad; they look great.

is precisely the lack of support that makes them good.

That's actually kind of true. That's what makes them very good boat shoes (a litle-known market subset) - plenty of sticky foot-grip and toehold-ability.
posted by Miko at 9:14 AM on April 16, 2007


Thanks, BC!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:16 AM on April 16, 2007


That's what makes them very good boat shoes

And terrific driving shoes, too.

I personally love my Chucks. They're pretty sturdy, easy to clean (stick 'em in the washer, son!), and come with a little cool cachet. Plus, they're fucking breathable, which is something I cannot say for any other pair of shoes I've ever owned.
posted by grubi at 10:05 AM on April 16, 2007


I had a couple pairs of faux Chucks in the 80s that were made of white lace. They were totally beyond fabulous, especially after I dyed them black with Rit so they acquired that special just out of prison gray color. And I loved them to death, just like I did the black ones, but I've kept those for fishing in for a couple years now - they're excellent summer trout fishing shoes, you can still grip rocks with your toes and they dry quickly. I have to say, though, this design your own thing, even though it's ridiculously expensive, may just get me back into them for street wear since I'm loving the pink and orange and black pair I made so much.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:28 AM on April 16, 2007


Wonderful site and idea! Wouldn't it be cool to design all one's stuff that way!

posted by nickyskye

Warning: self link ahead. I have a directory of such sites, Customize Your Life.
posted by Soliloquy at 11:06 AM on April 16, 2007


Oh I love my Chucks so much. I've been wearing them more or less exclusively since I got my first pair in the third grade. In fact I'm so used to them that I have hard time wearing any other shoes. Everything else feels like wearing clown shoes in comparison.

This gets me into trouble from time to time, especially now that I'm out of college. I try to wear them to all sorts of inappropriate places. "Hmm, I'm going to the courtroom today. The nice black shoes my parents bought me or my chucks?" I'll put on the appropriate shoes, take them off, slip into my chucks, hesitate, change again, rinse and repeat. I did the same thing when I was kid too. I'd try to keep my dad from seeing my feet until we had left the house and it was too late to change.

Oh, there was one thing I wanted to ask. What shoes are you guys buying now that aren't made in Asia? Serious question, I wouldn't know.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 11:35 AM on April 16, 2007


GalaxieFiveHundred: Why not ask Metafilter? Also, here's a list of shoes made in the USA from US Stuff. Searching on "Made in USA" + shoes or "Sweatshop free" +shoes will result in a lot of hits.
posted by Miko at 12:39 PM on April 16, 2007


G500: Every once in a while I still see a pair of made-in-the-USA New Balance kickin around.

[Bad news: I took the day off work. Good news: my Heelys were delivered. Bad news: at work. Ah the irony. Ah the spring.]
posted by flotson at 12:42 PM on April 16, 2007


Whoops -- US Stuff Shoes
posted by Miko at 12:44 PM on April 16, 2007


I think claims that Nike caused the quality to nosedive is a bit... inaccurate. I bought my last pair (red only, chumps!) right before they were acquired and 'slipshod' would be the word of the day. Extraneous glue, slightly uneven size from L and R foot and a few other flaws.
posted by phearlez at 12:56 PM on April 16, 2007


'No Sweat' Chuck clones are not only sweatshop-free but a little better quality than the originals. I will purchase again.
posted by liam at 12:59 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


phearlez: IIRC, the shoe people at a giant converse retailer told me the quality went down after the switched to non-US production (which happened before the sale to Nike).
posted by drezdn at 1:23 PM on April 16, 2007


Who was Chuck Taylor anyway? What, did he lead the league in rolled ankles?
posted by czarth at 1:55 PM on April 16, 2007 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I never thought the quality was top-notch even in the 80s. Converse did have one interesting quality, though -- their secondary lifetime, that which occurred after their initial catastrophic heel or sidewall blowout, was amazingly long. You could have a pair that retained barely any canvas but was still laceable and had a sole. It was kind of a weird half-life that I guess was made possible by decent canvas stitching. I do remember having to Krazy-Glue the flapping layers of a sole or two together again.
posted by Miko at 2:02 PM on April 16, 2007


I remember being able to buy Chucks for about twenty quid as an indiekid sixth-former. In a fit of nostalgia, I bought a pair of black hi-tops just before production moved abroad. They're fine, but I honestly don't wear them much: like Doc Martens, another iconic name that's now gone abroad, they're part of my past.

(My kicking-about shoe of choice: the equally-iconic Adidas Samba. Made in China, alas but truly comfortable. And I had a few years of wearing nubuck Gazelles.)
posted by holgate at 2:06 PM on April 16, 2007


Awwww. I still loves me my Doc Martens. Even in my present guise as an employable professional, I can easily wear the Mary Janes and the red boots. Fortunately, I haven't had to wrestle with their outsourcing yet, since both pairs are over 15 years old, and still going strong.
posted by Miko at 2:23 PM on April 16, 2007


If they ever brought back the old suede One Stars, I'd be all over 'em.
posted by arto at 4:12 PM on April 16, 2007


I'm not a big fan of chucks myself(especially now that the going rate seems like ~40 bucks for a pair!), I'm glad they have this though. I was lamenting the other day how their camo pattern would be much better if it was a modern type of camo not left over from the vietnam era. I ended up getting a pair of chuck like GBXs the other day, they are low, made of green canvas and generally awesome looking. Are Converse related to Nike somehow? The customizing tools look just like the Nike Id interface. Thanks for the post though, I've recently started becoming a bit of a 'sneaker head'...
posted by thylacine at 4:57 PM on April 16, 2007


“So do they become more comfortable in time?”

Yeah, I’d go with the arch supports. Do that and they’re like Tabi. I spar in mine. And yes, you can feel the ground nicely. Switch to boots and you feel bulletproof but numb. I stockpiled a bunch of them a bit back when I used to bounce. I love chucks, but I would, in fact, trade them for all the blowjobs in the world.
*looks around expectantly*
*reality sets in*
posted by Smedleyman at 5:05 PM on April 16, 2007


Miko--

If your Docs ever fail you, you can always start hittin' the Fluevogs.

(Though now that I think of it, I've had my gloriously ugly, 16-hole flowered Docs for about 10 years now, and they're showing absolutely no signs of aging.)
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 6:21 PM on April 16, 2007


palmcorder etc: Those are incredible! Such range. I am not one of those shoe people, but these are shoes to break your heart. When I'm living higher on the hog I'll be after these.
posted by Miko at 6:44 PM on April 16, 2007


Soliloquy, Thanks for your site link, it's great. :)
posted by nickyskye at 7:58 PM on April 16, 2007


As someone mentioned above, the drop in quality predates Nike by a few years and coincided with the move to foreign production. I used to have a US pair and an offshore pair that you could compare side by side, and the US pair was noticeably less "cheap." Still not exactly a high-end shoe, of course.
posted by litlnemo at 8:49 PM on April 16, 2007


Who was Chuck Taylor anyway?

You being facetious or Wikignorant?
posted by dw at 9:06 PM on April 16, 2007


palmcorder_yajna writes "Miko--If your Docs ever fail you, you can always start hittin' the Fluevogs.

Jeez, but those Fluevogs are some ugly ass shoes.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:31 PM on April 16, 2007


PeterM--

Some of them are quite quite gorgeous. But yeah, there are definitely a few pairs that only a mother could love.

(Though actually, most of my favorite shoes are pretty darned odd-looking. I suspect that your definition of ugly may be different from mine, when it comes to footwear.)
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:52 PM on April 16, 2007


If you ever wanted a more mil-spec Chuck (ignoring its past in our own armed forces, of course). Back in the day they used to come in ten-eyelet heights with buckle-on ankle support and were way l33ter, though as cheap in every way as Chucks.

I officially retired my Chuck obsession after I realized, high as a kite on some HST kick (with cocktail, natch), that I was on an effing lava field with razor sharp rocks all around me protected merely by a thin layer of canvas. I decided my lifestyle required more substantial footwear from then on, or at least until Seattle when my combat boots became sewage-soaked.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:56 AM on April 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Naot makes (or made, don't feel like checking) Chuck-style boots like the Zahals. I never had the blowout problems with Chucks like I did with the Naots. Maye the Zahals are better.
posted by ardgedee at 3:06 AM on April 17, 2007


I have a pair of black and a pair of white. I wear one of each.
posted by Lucinda at 10:15 AM on April 17, 2007


Rubber Converse chucks.

Tennis shoe Converse Chucks.
posted by nickyskye at 2:05 PM on April 17, 2007


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