How Converse Became Fashion's Favorite Sneaker

Everyone from Blake Lively to Michelle Obama is a fan of this classic brand — which got its start over 100 years ago.

Converse History

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Demi Lovato once begged the question, “Who says I can’t wear my converse with my dress?”

Answer: Baby, not us. After all, to the fashion lover who prefers a fresh pair of kicks over break-your-ankle platform heels, Converse's black and white All-Star logo is as iconic as a Louboutin red bottom.

Actresses like Emma Roberts and Blake Lively, musical performers such as Beyonce, Rihanna, and Madonna, former first lady Michelle Obama, and more notable names have all been photographed in a pair of Converse. Back in the spring of 2022, Converse high tops were a hit with off-duty supermodels like Gigi Hadid and Kaia Gerber, and it would appear that Gen Z has an appreciation for the historic shoe as well.

According to the semiannual Piper Sandler survey of teenagers, Nike and Converse topped the list of popular footwear brands, and young celebs (and yes, nepo babies) are proving the statistics right: Suri Cruise was recently spotted wearing a pair as part of her airport outfit over the holidays, while Zahara Jolie-Pitt paired classic Converse with black pants and a navy sweater on an outing with her mom in NYC.

What started as a rubber shoe company in the early 1900s has secured itself as an authority in the athletic apparel sphere, and the story of how the Converse of yesteryear became the Converse you know and love today is an interesting one.

gigi hadid wearing converse

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Who founded Converse and when did the company launch?

Converse was founded by Marquis Mills Converse in 1908 in Malden, Massachusetts. Originally, the label was known as the “Converse Rubber Company” and its earliest inventory included practical and functional footwear like galoshes, leather duck-hunting boots, and tennis shoes.

But as its name would suggest, the Converse Rubber Company wasn’t just a shoe company; the manufacturer also made automobile tires and “really anything you could make out of rubber,” according to Sam Smallidge, the brand’s in-house archivist.

“[Converse] only made rubber products in the fall, winter, and spring, and [Mr. Converse] wanted to keep those people working through the summer months,” Smallidge previously told Mr Porter. So, by 1916, a full basketball product line was introduced to keep employees on the assembly line year-round. The Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star wasn’t behind; it hit the market in 1917 and, amidst World War I and the impending Spanish flu pandemic, was a practically instantaneous success.

What made Converse Chuck Tayor All-Star sneakers so unique?

Basketball was invented in 1891, which means it would be 25 years by the time Converse would throw its hat into the ring of footwear options for the sport — and by that time, it had already been done. For the label’s style of sneaker to stand out among its competitors, its creative designers had to think outside the shoe box, so to speak.

The Chuck Taylor All-Star was designed with a few key features that skyrocketed the sneaker to the forefront of the category. The canvas high top had a cushioned insole for optimal arch and heel support, a heel patch to offer extra protection around the player’s ankle, a heel counter and double wing tongue to avoid chaffing around the foot, and army duck rubber to extend the shelf life of the shoe. Its diamond tread pattern is what would give the shoe the upper hand (err...foot?) over competitors. As Smallige told Mr. Porter, “the shape allowed people to push off in multiple directions and stop quickly.”

Converse Sneakers History

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Who is the Chuck Taylor style named after?

 The Chuck Taylor All-Star sneaker is named after the late Charles ‘Chuck’ H. Taylor. Chuck H. Taylor was a professional basketball player for the Akron Firestones Non-Skids, an amateur industrial team founded by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. His passion for the potential of the All-Star sneaker led him to join Converse as a salesman and product marketer. He is now known as the first-ever player endorser of a sneaker.

Though he was not directly involved in the shoe’s original design, he did travel across the United States to promote it and in 1932, the brand would add “Chuck Taylor” to its signature ankle patch. Flash forward to 1936, however, and Taylor did have a hand in designing the brand’s sneaker for the U.S. Olympic team. It was All-Star’s first white model and featured a pointedly patriotic red and blue trim.

Taylor would go on to promote the shoe during his stint as a United States Air Force captain during World War II, and as a coach for regional teams. Because of Taylor, the shoe would be dubbed the official sneaker of the United States Armed Forces, as well as the “it” shoe for professional, collegiate, and even high school basketball players.

Reimagined colors and a new cut.

The Chuck Taylor All-Star sneaker was exclusively sold as a high top and was available in white and black until the 1960s. Converse dropped an oxford (aka low-cut) style of the sneaker in 1962 and in 1966, the shoe was available in seven additional color schemes so that teams could color-coordinate their shoes and uniforms. Today, the sneaker is available in a myriad of colorways and patterns and can be customized to your design preferences.

Converse Outfit

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Who owns Converse?

Converse was owned and operated by many throughout the years. Due to financial troubles in 1929, the brand went bankrupt, and the president of Hodgman Rubber Company, Mitchell b. Kaufman took over for Marquis Mills. Unfortunately, Kaufman died a year later, and the company was sold to Albert Welchester, who remained in charge of Converse until The Great Depression hit, and he could no longer afford the business.

In 1939, Converse was sold to the Stone family, who would own the company until 1972, when the Eltra Corporation would acquire the up-and-coming athletic apparel brand and expand its offerings to sporting goods (think hockey pucks and teeth guards) to industrial products. In the late 1970s, however, the economy went south, causing Eltra to hand control of Converse over to its parent company, Allied Corporation until 1983 when Eltra executives had enough funds (aka a whopping $100 million) to buy the brand back.

Believe it or not, ownership would change hands a few more times throughout the years. Interco acquired Converse in 1986, but financial problems leading to bankruptcy in 1991 left the apparel brand an independent subsidiary of the parent company. Finally, in 2003, Nike acquired Converse for $309 million, and remains its parent company to this day.

Michelle Obama Wearing Converse

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Converse didn’t enter the skate scene in the 1990s.

While Converse made its name in the basketball sphere, the brand is also recognized as a wardrobe staple in skater closets, too. In the '90s, the sneaker gained popularity in the skate and punk scenes, and the label saw it as an opportunity to cater to another demographic. 

Converse wanted to go above and beyond in the category, so they designed the CS Pro 1, which was named after and endorsed by professional skateboarder Chany Jeanguenin. It contained a helium capsule in the heel of the shoe. Though on the bulkier side, the shoe was somehow lightweight and featured foam cushioning for extra support.

Which Converse shoes are the most popular?

Today, Converse makes shoes in men's, women's, and kid's sizes. Styles range from countless plays off the original Chuck Taylor All-Star sneaker and include both high and low-top cuts, platforms, boots, and slip-ons.

According to the Converse website, low and high-top platform Chuck Taylor All-Star Lifts are the best-selling sneaker for women, while the Chuck Taylor All-Star classic (high and low top), as well as Chuck 70 Vintage Canvas, remain the brand’s best sellers in the men’s category.

Vanessa Hudgens Wearing Converse

Where are Converse shoes sold?

In short, pretty much everywhere you can think of. You can shop the brand’s website and at brick-and-mortar locations, pairs are also available at department stores like Nordstrom, shoe stores like Foot Locker and DSW, skate shops like Tillys and Journeys, as well as online via retailers like Amazon. You can also explore a myriad of customizable designs on Etsy.

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