Basketball sneakers are much more than just that these days. They’re coveted fashion pieces, the prized possessions in a $60 billion industry. So it’s hard to imagine that it started with the desire for something as simple as an idea for a better sneaker. But once upon a time, that idea came from Converse, and that sneaker was the Chuck Taylor All Star.
Often referred to as “Chuck Taylors” or “Chucks” in honor of the former basketball player and Converse employee who popularized them, the sneaker still has legendary status today. Over about 100 years, Converse has reinvented the Chuck Taylor All Star while remaining remarkably true to the history of its most famous sneaker. The company’s most recent update dropped this month, but we’ll have more on them later. First, see for yourself how much has changed since the original pair debuted.
1. Original (1917)
The first Chuck Taylor All Star actually predates Chuck Taylor himself. Shortly before Taylor joined the company as a salesman, the Converse Rubber Shoe Company released this sneaker, the original All Star. It was the first designed to be worn specifically for playing basketball, a groundbreaking step in athletic footwear.
Charles Hollis “Chuck” Taylor was a basketball player from Indiana who played guard for semi-professional teams like the Dayton Non-Skids. After his playing career ended, he was hired by Converse exec Bob Pletz as a salesman. Not long after Taylor arrived, he proposed some changes to the sneaker that drew from his years playing. Mainly, he suggested additional support and flexibility.
This is the iteration of the All Star that reflects Taylor’s input. As a Converse employee, Taylor ran Converse basketball clinics around the country, selling these shoes along the way. In the late-1920s, the NBA’s inaugural season was still another 20 years away, and the idea of a basketball sneaker company was as foreign as self-driving cars.
3. 1934 (Leather)
This 1934 edition is a rarity for Chucks: a leather sneaker. It looks most unlike any other edition of the Chucks, but it might have been prescient, because its structure looks a lot like the high tops that NBA players wear now.
By the late 1950s, the NBA as we know it today had begun to take form. And this era was the sneaker’s heyday in the NBA. The version above, the white canvas with red and blue accents, is one of the most recognizable colorways of the All Star. Modern Chucks in this colorway are largely true (at least in look) to this pair from the ’50s.
Around this time, Chucks became a sneaker for more than just ball players. In fact, these canvas Chucks weren’t popular on the court anymore. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, players started opting for heavier, leather sneakers (like Pumas) that were better suited to the modern, fast-paced game. Atlanta Hawks center Tree Rollins became the last player to wear canvas Chucks on the court in 1980.
But as the visibility of Chucks diminished on the court, the sneaker took on a new life in the subcultural music scene. Punk fans rocked Chucks as an everyday sneaker, following the lead of artists in bands like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. In later years, grunge bands like Nirvana and their fans carried the Chuck Taylor torch.
6. Chuck II (2015)
This was Converse’s attempt to bring Chucks into the 21st century. Though it looks much like the original silhouette, the Chuck II boasts a new canvas that Converse said was lighter, stronger, and more sustainable than the original. The classic star logo has been tweaked and modernized. There’s a bit of memory foam in the tongue, and the upper has been redesigned so that it doesn’t bunch up like the 20th century’s edition did. Plus, the Chuck II incorporates Nike technology for a more comfortable, better-fitting insole.
7. Chuck Modern (2017)
These days, Converse has mostly withdrawn from the performance basketball sneaker space, which is now dominated by Converse’s parent company Nike, as well as Adidas and Under Armour. Since the late-20th century, Chucks have mostly been worn as a lifestyle sneaker rather than an athletic one. The Chuck Modern represents that departure better than any of its predecessors. With its mesh upper, it goes a lot better with jeans or khakis than it does with gym socks and basketball shorts.
That doesn’t mean that Converse sneakers are completely missing from the world of basketball, though—Phoenix Suns guard Kelly Oubre has a sneaker deal with Converse, and though he usually wears Nikes in games, he’s worn Converse on occasion. Additionally, Philippine Basketball Association superstar Asi Taulava has rocked low-top Chucks on the court before.
The latest iteration of the All Star, announced by Converse, makes perhaps the largest stride away from the original Chucks that we’ve ever seen. The new kicks benefit from a materials toolkit called CX. Converse claims that the toolkit improves the sneaker in three areas: the stretch canvas, the insole/midsole foam, and a new outsole design.
While the upper canvas doesn’t stray too far from the original, the bottom of the sneaker looks pretty starkly different than what we’re used to. The transparent foxing is reminiscent of Virgil Abloh’s Off-White collabs with Nike. The infrared midsole is energizing and revolutionary. And they can be yours now, since they’ve dropped for the first time.