Fashionista or no, can't beat `Chucks' for heart and sole

July 01, 2006|By ROB KASPER

Thanks to my pair of "Chucks," Chuck Taylor Converse All Star sneakers, I might have joined the ranks of the faintly fashionable.

Long regarded as the simplest of sneakers, Chucks have gone glitzy. The other day, I read an article in The Wall Street Journal saying that some styles of Chucks are being sold for top dollar at fancy stores such as Barneys New York. The term "fashionista," one I am rarely in vicinity of, was actually applied to my brand of sneakers.

I confess that I felt smug about the fact that I didn't go out in search of the au courant, rather it came to me.

I bought my Chucks a year or so ago at the Sports Authority in Towson. I have patronized these big-box stores ever since my favorite sneaker store, Simon Harris, a quirky operation on North Gay Street (where, no kidding, you could buy one shoe), went out of business in the early 1990s.

A clerk watched as I discarded a number of Nikes, Adidases and some going-out-of-stock Filas. Then he went into a back room and emerged with a pair of white high-top Chucks. They had leather tops, a step up from the conventional canvas tops, but the price was about $40, which is close to my limit for basketball shoes. Moreover, they had enough room to accommodate my ankle braces.

These Chucks were with me this winter when I played in my weekly pick-up full court basketball game. They generated hoots from my fellow players, who remarked that my shoe style, like my game, was dated.

My Chucks and I had retired from basketball for the summer when I saw the headline in The Journal touting Chucks as fashionable footwear.

A closer reading found that the gurus of style were not buzzing about my version of Chucks, the white lace-up basketball shoes. Rather the hot Chucks were the $62 low-cut metallic numbers, the $1,800 special-order snakeskins and the vibrant neon numbers, one of the many new looks in the shoe that Nike, the parent company of Converse, has helped introduce.

I figured any mention of anything in my closet that uses the word "fashionista" is a good mention. Having some Chucks, even the less-cool variety, was as close as I was ever going to come to being in vogue.

Charged by the rare thrill of being almost with it, I started prowling around Web sites devoted to the lore and lifestyle of Chuck-wearers.

There I saw the familiar account of the shoe's namesake. Chuck Taylor was an Indiana native, a former basketball player for the Akron Firestone Non-Skids who was hired in 1921 by Converse to travel from town to town, set up basketball clinics and persuade top local players to wear Converse shoes. In 1932 his signature went on the shoe. In 1968 he was inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He died a year later.

I also read accounts of guys remembering their first pairs of Chucks, the smell of the shoe's new rubber, the box inside the tongue where you wrote your name, the price. I recalled the sense of privilege I felt when, as a member of my high school basketball team, I got a $2 discount at the school bookstore, dropping the price of my Chucks to $7.

After the shoe fell from favor in the 1970s among professional basketball players, it gained acceptance from movie stars and musicians such as the late Kurt Cobain. These days, there are Web sites sporting photos of celebrities wearing Chucks.

Scanning these sites, I didn't see many photos of the beautiful people wearing my kind of Chucks. The snapshots of Leonardo DiCaprio, Orlando Bloom, Drew Barrymore and Will Smith, for instance, showed them wearing stylish black, not my bright-white Chucks. One Web site, chuckscon nection.com, had photo galleries showing celebrities wearing black Chucks and celebrities wearing red Chucks. But there was no celebrity gallery for white-Chucks wearers, just one for "people" wearing them.

The white-Chucks gallery featured pretty tame stuff. There was a shot of dutiful father playing basketball with his son, a shot of a couple walking on a beach and my favorite, a rearview shot of a guy in white high-tops climbing in a cellar window.

That looked like something I might do in my white Chucks. Instead of the height of fashion, my shoes and I more often dwell in the basement of real life.

rob.kasper@baltsun.com

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