The Converse All Star as a Pop Culture Sensation
The Converse All Star is a model of sneaker that became a pop culture icon in the 20th century; its unique style has remained a symbol of fashion and sports through the decades into the present day. According to Mary Gottschalk, Converse’s famed sneakers have been “riding the popularity roller coaster since [their] introduction in 1917” (1). The All Star’s appearances on the feet of famous athletes from first Chuck Taylor to the athletes of today have probably fueled the worldwide sneaker-sensation (1). Regardless of the reason, each generation since the advent of the “All Star” has purchased the shoes in an ever-increasing number of styles and colors. Today, Converse sneakers seem to be as hot as any item you will find in the American footwear industry.
The Converse All Star has played an enormous part in the development of a unified, global style. However, the All Star’s path to global recognition has never been uninhibited. Conservative critics of Converse have opposed the sneakers on account of moral, ethical, and logical reasons. The conservative criticism the shoes have faced has fueled their popularity as Converse sneakers are consumed in mass by the rebellious pop culture upcoming generations.
The conservative critics of the All Star believe it is morally wrong for Converse to include deceased and seemingly immoral musicians in their marketing “campaign” (1). These critics oppose the sneaker company that has chosen to affiliate itself with modern mainstream musicians who are known for committing acts of violence and for using illegal drugs (Whitehead 1). However, to the pop culture consumers of the All Star, the sneaker itself is a statement of defiance to both old-fashioned tradition and modern fashion fads. Converse owes its popularity to these same international musicians and their fans, but now the All Star has come to symbolize an upcoming generation of resilient underdogs who are giving the Converse icon a new meaning. From each color and model to the designs and texts young consumers across the globe draw on their sneakers, the All Star is becoming a customizable statement of individuality.
On the ethical side, the Converse company was purchased by Nike; the production of the Converse sneakers was soon completely moved to “low-cost” nations in Asia in 2003 (Low 1). This was very unpopular among the conservative “[antiglobalization] protesters” in the United States, who want to purchase an All Star made in their own country (1). Most of these probably hold it is not ethical to move an American icon to the Far East to be made in crowded factories by underpaid workers. Conversely, across the world the All Star is becoming more than a uniquely American style. The pop culture in the nations of Asia has especially embraced the originally American sneakers. According to Nick Thompson, Converse, who actually first began having some of their shoes produced in China in the 1980’s, has made their product available for purchase in over “90 countries worldwide,” as of 1992 (1). An argument could be made the love for Converse’s sneakers is now greater in these same Asian countries than in the United States. Consumers worldwide do not oppose a globalizing industry fulfilling the demands of a globalizing style. Rather, it appears they welcome it.
From a conservative viewpoint, the All Star does not have a logical place in everyday life. It is not perceived as being formal, there are now many superior athletic shoes on the market, and Converse sneakers have been accused of being uncomfortable (Whitehead 1). On the other hand, there is nothing logical about the Converse pop culture sensation. Rather than being fueled by logic, the All Stars are purchased to be unconventional. Since 1917, the “simple canvas shoe” has broken the rules of conservative normality of dress set by tradition. They are worn by young students in schools and churches, and even sported by high school students at Prom dances. Regardless of the criticism they have faced, the Converse All Stars are unique statements from the voices of millions of rebels on every continent.
Historically, Converse sneakers were originally designed to function as a “basketball shoe”, and the popularity of the sneaker grew with the upcoming sport of basketball (Van der Pool 1). According to Lisa van der Pool, the All Star “was the dominant shoe in basketball through the 1970s,” when it was replaced by modern athletic footwear (1). For most of Converse’s history, the All Star has been marketed as a “basketball shoe;” and consumers have purchased it because of its association with the emerging sport of “basketball” (1).
However, according to one writer, the Converse All Star’s assent to its current popularity has not only been perpetuated by sports in the United States (Stuever 1). The All Star has earned not only the endearment of the “basketball” culture, but also among the fans of music (1). Stuever also writes that Converse sneakers are often worn by “punk [rockers]”, and Converse has designed shoes to cater to the “hipsters” and the “skateboarders” who have taken the “high-tops” from the hardwoods of the basketball courts to the sidewalks of cities all over the world (1-3).
Writing on Converse’s 100th anniversary, Karen von Hahn states that “the world’s first performance basketball shoe” still very much resembles its appearance “In 1930, when [Chuck] Taylor’s [an athlete who endorsed and sold the All Stars] signature was first affixed to the All Star ankle patch” (1). There has been no reason to make major changes; the All Star is adored no less by young consumers of the 21st century than it was in 1930 (1). Converse marketing director, Michel Laramee says, “’We’re really one of the few brands whose demographic runs from 7 to 77’” (qtd. in Von Hahn 1).
The Converse All Star sneaker has remained one of the most popular shoes in the world through the last several decades into the present day. Consumers continue to purchase the All Stars, regardless of the emergence of new and trendier sneakers. Each generation of these consumers have remained loyal to Converse on account of three ever-evolving sociological reasons.
Sociologically, in more recent years, the All Star has been purchased to make various statements by its individual wearers. During the last few decades, Converse All Stars have not been worn as an athletic shoe. On the contrary, they have been worn as a distinct declaration of the way in which the wearers wish to portray themselves. These social statements continue to evolve with the global culture.
The first sociological reason consumers purchase the All Star is it can be customized, giving the consumer an outward appearance of individuality through the sneakers. Even something as simple as the doodles of young consumers on an All Star of their favorite color and design gives the shoes their own creative touch. The shoes introduce the wearer in a sense, but not because the shoe is making the statement. Rather, the shoe is merely a medium on which the wearers express themselves.
Secondly, the All Star is purchased because of its “retro-style” (Wayne 1). According to Haysun Hahn, “’The retro look in sneakers is a logical rebellion against complicated technology’” (qtd. in Snead 1). The All Star is reminiscent of a simpler “[time]” with which the consumers identify themselves (1). Amongst a world of systems and fashions all becoming faster or more intricate, the Converse All Star has remained constant for over one hundred years; some consumers are trying to capture a piece of that security (Wayne 1).
The final sociological reason consumers purchase the All Star is the sneakers are kept in high demand through impeccable marketing techniques. According to Dennis Rodman, “People know about Converse, they just need to find a figure they can connect to who wears it” (qtd. in Wells 1). Converse sneakers are endorsed by strategically selected athletes and musicians, who heighten the interest in certain sneakers to the members of specific demographics of customers (1). Millions of young people worldwide covet the various models of Converse sneakers worn by their favorite celebrity (1). The result is variations of the All Star are being worn by people from every walk of life across the globe.
Today, Converse Sneakers continue to fly off the shelves. So much more than just a “basketball shoe”, the All Star is a shoe for all types of people (Van der Pool 1). Although the sneakers remain primarily unchanged, the exact reason for each consumer’s purchased of the classic shoe is unique. To each of the millions of consumers worldwide, the unpurchased All Star is a blank page on which he or she can begin expressing the story of an entirely unique individual. The way the All Star appeals to each unique wearer in a slightly different way may be its greatest strength and gives the Converse pop culture sensation much stability.