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Department of Anthropology

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Museum of Anthropology

American Material Culture

From Function to Fashion: How Chucks Have Changed Roles

converse

A pair of "Stars and Bars" Chuck Taylors, first released in 1992.

All Stars, Chucks, Non-Skids. The Converse All Star has been known by many different names in its soon-to-be 101 years of existence. It was a staple of basketball in it's prime, but even after it was outclassed by competing shoes, the iconic Chuck still held a firm place in fashion culture. The transition from shoe of purpose to every-day shoe is painted clearly when looking at the changes the Converse All Star has undergone. Perhaps more interesting though, is to look at what did not change.

The very first Converse basketball shoe was the 1917 Non-Skid, which did exactly what the name intended. It featured a unique rubber sole, and in the years following the invention of basketball, no other shoe really compared. By 1920 the shoe had gained a lot of popularity, and also the admiration of one "Chuck" Hollis Taylor, a renowned basketball player. His nationwide basketball clinics did much to speak for the character of the shoe, which was the "All Star" by 1920.

By the 30's the shoe had seen huge increases in sales and a number of player requested improvements including cork insoles, a heel cushion, and a looser collar. Because much of the All Star's success was attributed to the shoe's official spokesperson, Chuck Taylor. The shoe was given his name in 1932.

The shoes continued to be popular and slowly improve, and by the 1940's Converse produced Chuck Taylors and boots for American Soldiers during WW2. After the war ended, Converse All Stars had an even higher demand due to the establishment of the NBA in 1949. Chuck's ruled the NBA for the next 20 years, and were worn by the vast majority of players in the league.

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Chuck Taylor 2, Converse's return to basketball.

Courtesy of Static Flikr.

In 1957 the low "Oxford" cut Chuck was developed with the help of the Harlem Globe Trotters, adding a little variety to a shoe with such simplistic roots. The shoe was eventually deemed outdated for basketball. Tree Rollins wore the last pair of All Stars in the NBA in the 79-80 season.

Although no longer used for basketball, the shoe has maintained its popularity in other areas, serving as an item of comfort and style. Chucks have become acceptable for a vast number of occasions including weddings and red carpet walks. This combined with the comfort and variety of styles and colors the Chuck comes in has allowed the shoe to keep an important place in American culture. Converse appears to be going full circle. In 2015 they released the sporty Chuck 2, in an attempt to get back to their roots.