Friday 20 July 2018

Why we'll never get tired of our beloved Converse

The iconic shoe has been given a makeover - but can diehard fans be lured away from the original

A step too far? Converse's new Chuck Taylor II has been met with a mixed reaction among fans
A step too far? Converse's new Chuck Taylor II has been met with a mixed reaction among fans
Kristen Stewart wore classic Chucks at the 2009 MTV Movie Awards

Eva Hall

After selling more than 1 billion pairs worldwide, becoming one of the bestselling shoes of all time, and cementing itself as one of the most iconic brands to grace the world's feet, it's safe to say Converse Chuck Taylors are among the most iconic shoes ever made.

But have they ever actually been comfortable? Many Chuck lovers would say a resounding 'no'. And podiatrists and physiotherapists go a step further to say our favourite shoes are actually damaging our feet beyond repair.

Dublin-based chartered physiotherapist Gillian Walker says due to the flat design of Converse, the shoe puts extra stress on the longitudinal arch.

"The upper has no heel counter and the mid-foot tends to be relatively loose. Heel pain can be caused by Converse or similar shoes," she says.

"We are living in an era where we are mainly on hard surfaces so the shock absorbing element of the shoe is important. [With Converse] there is no liner as such and the sole material is not a good shock absorber."

So when the brand unveiled a new design last month after 98 years - the Chuck Taylor II, courtesy of Nike's Lunarlon technology (Nike bought Converse in 2003 for $305m) - which includes a soft cushioned insole and a foam around the collar, marketers expected fans around the world to rejoice at the new comfortable shoe.

Instead, they received a backlash from loyal fans who missed the recognisable stripe on the rubber sole and the different colour eyelets on the front, and with an increased price from ¤65 to ¤85, fans accused Nike of ruining a classic.

So why, after nearly a century of blisters, scuffed heels and squashed toes, can Chuck lovers not let go?

Because, like their first gig or first kiss, everyone remembers their first pair of Chucks. They remain an integral part of our culture - whatever generation bracket you fall into.

Introduced in 1917 and originally marketed to the basketball community, the flat canvas shoe became known as 'Chuck Taylor All-Stars' after a basketball player of the same name endorsed the shoe.

After dominating the athletic world for more than 40 years, Converse got a new lease of life when grunge and punk came crashing onto the music scene in the early 90s, with Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam opting to wear the shoes at the band's early gigs, and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana being photographed numerous times in black Chuck Taylors. Further capturing the zeitgeist of the 90s, the opening scene to Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit video features someone tapping their foot wearing a classic black pair of Chuck Taylors.

In the noughties the brand moved from punk to rap, with Snoop Dogg and The Game wearing them for promo shots (the latter removed the laces to give them a hip-hop edge). It wasn't long before they entered the mainstream, with FLOTUS Michelle Obama even sporting them at official engagements, and Twilight actress Kristen Stewart pairing them with her dress for the MTV Movie Awards red carpet.

Personally, Converse will always have a special place in this writer's heart, when an all-white high-top pair of Chucks and DIY ripped jeans became my wardrobe staple after discovering The Strokes in the early noughties.

I'm not ashamed to admit this outfit has followed me into my 20s, and Converse are still my go-to gig and lounge-about-town-on-a-Saturday runners of choice; although I have passed the 'scuffing them up in the backyard so they look worn' phase.

But they're not comfortable - in fact, it's only when you wear them in after a few mosh pits that they start to become bearable, and by then they're usually heelless or toeless and it's time to throw them out.

Gillian says: "When you look at the construction of a shoe you have the upper and the sole.

"The upper serves to hold the shoe in place and support the structure. A firm heel counter adds to this support. People with well-conditioned feet who are not walking long distances in them probably find Converse suitable for their needs. They are similar to pumps, Uggs and other such shoes."

But what about the claim from Boston-based podiatrist Dr Lloyd Smith - who has consulted on Converse and Nike designs in the past - that Converse are as bad for your feet as a five-inch heel?

"Both are damaging in different ways," agrees Gillian. "A five-inch heel can cause issues right up the chain due to its influence on the standing posture such as excessive forces on the metatarsals and clawing of the toes due to the changed position and the need to hold them on.

"With Converse, low-arched feet tend to have tight calf muscles and flatten out when not supported, leading to stretching of the ligaments and damage to tendons such as tibialis posterior and other soft tissues. [Other issues can also occur] further up the chain such as knee, hip and back pain," adds Gillian.

So will the new 'comfortable' Converse make any bit of difference to our feet? Gillian says the new cushioned insole and modified upper part of the shoe "should certainly improve the performance of the shoe".

Dublin-based podiatrist Justin Blake is not convinced however, saying "It's feet that are the issue - not the shoes. Certain foot types work better in some shoes than others - everyone is individual."

"All feet are different and shoe selection is a huge challenge. What I recommend for one patient may differ from another, with regard to heel height, sole type and their different activities," says Gillian.

"People present with all sorts of foot issues. I usually advise them not to wear Converse and explain what to look for in a more suitable shoe."

After 98 years of loyalty - and no comfort - it remains to be seen whether the Chuck Taylor II, which have dropped in Irish stores, will be as popular as the All-Star. Without any current celebrity endorsement, the Chuck II will have to rely on the All-Star legacy if they want to hit the ground running.

Irish Independent

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