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					                                                                     Fashion feature
                                                                        Nikki Walker
The Dirtier The Better

It’s Friday night and I’m standing at the bar, when I notice a girl, probably early
twenties. Her make-up is flawless; her outfit could have walked straight off the pages
of a fashion magazine.     But it’s her shoes that have caught my attention: she’s
sporting a pair of dirty Converse All Stars. It’s not that I’m judging her scruffy choice
of footwear – no, I’m forming a silent alliance. Because alongside my perfectly
planned outfit and meticulously straightened hair, I’ve also chosen to leave the house
in a pair of those iconic grubby trainers. The fabric at the heel of my left shoe has
ripped through almost completely; one of the laces has come undone and is
threatening to trip me up at any moment. As far as footwear goes, they’re a mess. I
actually have a cupboard full of perfectly acceptable footwear at home – patent
courts, slouchy ankle boots – all of which I loved unconditionally when I handed over
my credit card. Yet months later, I continue to run around London in the same filthy
Converse high-tops that I wear almost every single day, leaving a massive collection
of abandoned heels behind me. Glancing at the girl at the bar, and noticing the
gaping hole in the side of one of her trainers, it would seem that I’m not alone in this
Converse phenomenon. More and more of us are ignoring our shiny, on-trend shoes
in favour of beaten up trainers, adding to the recent craze of looking like we just don’t
care – a fashion movement defined by looking as untidy as possible.


Despite starting their life in 1917 as sporty basketball shoes, Converse have become a
fashion staple of the current ‘indie’ trend.     Now seen as the ultimate in casual
footwear, they somehow give the wearer an air of rebelliousness despite their massive
popularity. Teamed with smudgy eyeliner, a dirty Glastonbury wristband and skin-
tight jeans, the “I’m in a band” look just isn’t complete without a pair of All Stars,
usually torn to shreds and covered in spilled beer. Because whether they’re high-top
or low-top; black or green or purple; dragging the laces through puddles or tied in a
bow; there is one universal feature: they’ve got to be dirty. Scuffed, caked in mud,
ripped heels – clean Converse just aren’t done. Wearing a pair of clean Converse
suggests they’re a new purchase, and that takes away the whole illusion of vintage
footwear… All Stars wearers don’t buy their All Stars. We’ve had them forever, you
know.
“I’d never admit to buying a new pair of Converse,” says Hannah, a 21-year-old shop
assistant from Cardiff. “It’d be like you were just jumping on the bandwagon. All
Stars are about not following the trend.” How can that make sense, though, when so
many of us are wearing them on a daily basis? With 750 million pairs sold worldwide
they’re certainly not difficult to get hold of, and they’re not particularly expensive.
But there is still a bizarre air of nonconformity that surrounds the shoe – even if the
reality is the complete opposite. The Converse company boasts that the design is a
“global youth symbol of originality, individuality and self expression”, and wearers
certainly appear to buy into the belief that their rubber-toed trainers are a reflection
of their rebellious streak. But it still seems strange that a shoe known for being a
symbol of rebellion is owned by corporate giant, Nike. After buying the company in
2003, they promised that the Converse brand image would not be damaged (rightly
choosing not to add the famous ‘swoosh’ symbol to the traditional design) but sales of
the trainers have still tripled since the $305 million takeover. Nike CEO Mark Parker
was quoted as saying “it’s such an iconic shoe that we’re trying to be careful not to
overextend it,” but suddenly I don’t feel quite so original with my choice of footwear.
Perhaps that’s why we all want our All Stars to look as worn-in as possible. The more
rips in the canvas, the more believable it is that we’ve owned them for years – rather
than just following the crowd now that a mass-producing monster has got its hands
on our beloved trainers. Kelly, a 23-year-old web designer, uses electrical tape to
stop hers from falling apart. “They’ve been on their last legs for about two years now,”
she laughs. “But I won’t replace them. I just find new ways of keeping them together.
I secretly feel quite good about how scruffy they are.” It seems that those in the cult
of Converse will even look down on people openly wearing a brand new pair:
Lindsay, a 20-year-old student, admits “I always laugh at the people with super-shiny
new Cons on. Fashion victim!”


Even so, there’s no doubt that people are still buying them. Suzanne Morrow, a shop
assistant at high street store Office, says sales are booming: “The white canvas pair in
particular are selling out as soon as we get them into the shop. Everyone seems to
love them.” And with popularity at an all-time high, it seems inevitable that other
shoe designers have tried to cash in on the love of All Stars. Even Manolo Blahnik
created a pointy-toed denim pair, complete with stiletto heels, but the recent price
reduction from $690 to $299 suggests they weren’t selling quite as impressively as
the real thing. It seems that adding high heels and extra glitz to the trainers goes
against exactly what the wearers love about them: their simplicity. “They go with
pretty much anything,” says Amy, a 24-year-old charity worker. “They are a bit ugly,
but they look amazing with jeans, and the variety in colours and styles is fantastic –
you could have a pair for every outfit if you wanted.”


But whatever happened to feminine heels, or shiny leather boots? Are we no longer
lusting over the latest Jimmy Choos? “I'm still a shoe junkie,” Amy tells me. “But I
can't totter about in high heels on a daily basis, and Converse are so comfortable.
They’re a slightly cooler version of your bog-standard trainer.”


The truth is, even if they are slightly easier on the feet than pair of five inch stilettos,
All Stars still aren’t very practical. I’ve never had a pair that last more than a year
before they become too ripped to wear – and if you get caught in a downpour, your
beloved canvas trainers will soak up litres of the rainfall. Frozen toes, wet socks, and
a pair of shoes that won’t dry out for at least 24 hours aren’t particularly comfortable.
And for all the talk of individuality, the majority of youths at any festival or gig will
have a pair on their feet. Suddenly the shoes that once defined anti-fashion have
actually become the complete opposite.


But will I give up my high-tops? Will I finally take my new wedges out of the box and
wear them to the pub next Friday? I doubt it. And as I walk past the girl at the bar, I
see her glance at my shoes. There may be millions of us, but we’re still part of a team
– if only because we all have gaping holes in our trainers and soaking wet socks.


Nikki Walker

				
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