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Kickin’ It Old School: The Roots Of “Sneaker Head” Culture

Ever since Spike Lee and Michael Jordan graced my television screen and told me to “just do it” back in the early 90’s, I’ve been following sneaker culture. As a youngster I can vividly remember having verbal spats with my fellow peers at lunchtime about whether the Bo Jackson Nike Air Trainers made you run faster and whether the Nike Air Max Penny Hardaway IIs made you jump higher. Not only did these various models of shoes help us live vicariously through our favorite athletes, they gave us confidence that we never knew we had before. 21 years and over 100 sneakers later, I’m still amazed at how sneakers still influence so much in hip-hop culture. What is even more astounding is how the subculture of underground sneaker collecting has grown to astronomical proportions. No longer is the assumption made that just little Black kids on the Southside of Chicago and West Philadelphia want to “be like Mike”. Middle aged White parents from suburbia are just as a part of the sneaker world as young kids of color.

Today’s sneaker game is highly influenced by the trends of the past. Whether it is Dom Kennedy rockin’ the all Black Air Jordan XIII’s with the hologram on the side in the “1997” music video, or Chuck Inglish from The Cool Kids rockin’ the classic Carolina blue Nike Terminators, young innovative artists are going back to their roots, sneaker wise. On any given day in the South Loop in downtown Chicago you find flashbacks of the Reagan administration on people’s feet. However, these trends are not trickling down, they are spreading out. “Sneaker Heads” all over are still rockin’ classic kicks with rich histories. Although many sneakers have been revolutionary in urban footwear I want to focus today’s article on “Chuckie T’s”, better known as Converse’s Chuck Taylor All-Stars.

If you ask a historian about consumer patterns they will probably tell you that fashion has a way of repeating itself. 50 years ago Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain was breaking backboards while flying high in Converse Chuck Taylors. In the 1990’s the official West Coast street dress code was a flannel shirt buttoned all the way to top, khakis with stiff creases, and a pair of low top All-Stars.  Today, you can walk down Michigan Avenue and see businessmen fully adorned in fine Italian cut double breasted suits with cream colored low top Chuck Taylors and a mean swag to match.  The Chuck Taylor blossomed into a stylishly laid back, yet versatile shoe. A shoe alternative enough for the counterculture kids who loath “the mainstream”, dressy enough for the young professional who wants to still maintain their hipness while navigating corporate America, and laidback enough for Wiz Khalifa.

We are highly influenced by the past in everything we do. Next time you throw on a pair the classic canvasses, remember that you are covering your soles with spirits of past legends and future revolutionaries.


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