Replicating the sweat and stench in 1978 at my first Ramones gig is both a pleasurable yet frightening thought. Like so many Punks or Rock music enthusiasts my footwear of choice was either a pair of 1460 Dr Martens or Converse All Stars. Although the durability of the Drs provided me sanctuary it was often my Converse shoes that would accompany me. I fell in love with their bold yet simplistic designs.
Times were hard, political skepticism was rife and angst festered away in popular subcultures. Many people of my age, as well as younger and older, adopted a certain look and image to help distinguish themselves away from the pack. Whether it was to ‘Bic’ up your head top for the skinhead look, matched with a checked Ben Sherman shirt or you were sticking two fingers up to the establishment wearing The Clash T Shirts and a pair of Converse All Stars there were certain pieces of clothing that summed up not just your style but your ideology and social status. Yet the riotous connection between Converse and culture started long before the kicking and screaming birth of the Punk scene.
How The Stigma Of Converse Evolved
It was way back in the 30s when Converse first got coined with a 'bad boy' rebellion tag. Iconic Hollywood actor James Dean was famously photographed wearing a pair of Converse trainers. His wild, dangerous and experimental lifestyle, not to mention his role in the movie Rebel Without A Cause, helped to catapult Converse from a high performance basketball boot into a cultural shoe for crowds to follow. People looked up to James Dean as an icon, someone who made popular culture exciting and flamboyant, so when he was pictured wearing Converse it did wonders for the brands image.
Later on in the early 70s it was the likes of The Ramones that helped to carry the rebellious flame of Converse footwear. Band members and their fans began to inherit the Converse All Star as a statement and a marker to declare their attitude and ethos. Fashion became a crucial way for people who felt disconnected to further separate themselves from the status quo.
Punk bands such as The Clash also pioneered the blossoming connection between Converse and deviance. With Punk and Heavy Rock music becoming more dominant, fear mongering in the press gave the subcultures a very bad name, and subsequently tarnished the Converse brand as a somewhat 'demonic' piece of footwear and a choice that represents disobedience. Converse had now attracted attention from unengaged and unimpressed outsiders, many of them thinking that anyone wearing Converse was a trouble maker.
How The Anarchy Ceased And The Stigma Disappeared
Although the release of the Converse One Star made inroads within skating and surfing scenes that previous flourishing anarchic image was slowly becoming faded. Punk no longer ruled the roost, and the 80s-90s saw Converse concentrate on high performance trainers for athletes rather than catering for the chaotic crowds of Punk and Rock n Roll. However, the late 80s to early 90s did see a slight resurgence of harum-scarum, coming courtesy of the Grunge music scene, most notoriously Kurt Cobain.
Attempts were made by the likes of Grunge music pin up Kurt Cobain to bring back the rebellious and outspoken Converse identity, whether this was intentional or not, soon it was the Grunge crowd that adopted Converse as it's shoe of choice. Unfortunately for Nirvana, Converse and Grunge music in general, Kurt Cobain took his own life and Converse's latest ambassador, just like James Dean all those years ago, was no longer around to represent the image.
As the entire Grunge scene seeped away into the distance and the year 2000 loomed Converse shoes seemingly took on a new mantra. The brand was no longer strictly a choice for rebels, it was open to anybody and everyone, and their latest ranges can reflect their more fashion conscious approach using glamorous trims and added decoration to invite trendy dressers. Converse has jumped from a way to show your social situation into a fashionable piece of footwear, even musicians without guitars and banging drums are now endorsing the Converse brand.
Having said this Converse UK senior marketing director Cheryl Calegari was quoted saying in 2012: “We are very privileged to be a part of these generational moments. You could call it edgy or evolution. Converse continues to be embraced by optimistic rebels.” Is this still the case? As we sprawl into 2014 it would seem that Converse is a much different proposition to all those years ago. But perhaps, like the Grunge era tried to reignite, it will be back with a vengeance in 20 years time.