White Converse All-Star high top basketball shoes.
They were the must-have for any kid trying to impress on the playground back in 1964.
It was back when you still bought athletic shoes in the sporting department of hardware stores. It was before the world heard of Home Depot, Foot Locker, or even Nike.
Actually Nike got its start that year as Blue Ribbon Sports hawking 1,300 pairs of imported Japanese running shoes. They wouldn’t be known as Nike for another seven years.
White Converse were the shoes NBA basketball legends wore in 1964, including one Wilt Chamberlain with the Philadelphia Warriors.
Converse All-Star basketball shoes were also available in black and white. For some reason, they were decidedly uncool although NBA players did wear them as well.
For kids there were only two sneakers that dominated playgrounds – Converse and Keds. Vans wouldn’t be around for another two years.
Some considered Keds not to be as tough as Converse, probably because you bought them in shoe stores where your parents took you to buy Wingtip shoes for special occasions such as going out to dinner or to church. Converse were displayed next to fishing tackle, basketballs, and hunting rifles.
The real cool kids had the high-top, white Converse All Stars. They cost a full dollar more than the black and white low-top Converse. Most parents thought it was frivolous for young kids to have such an extravagant shoe costing what was then an outrageous $5.95. One can only imagine what parents back in 1964 – who had a median weekly gross income of $115 – would think of those who shell out $250 for a pair of Air Jordan Lasers for their kids.
Don’t chalk up the price increase as simply being due to inflation. The median new house back in 1964 cost $13,050 compared to $298,100 in 2014. If the hottest production sneaker price matched the jump in housing prices from 1964 to 2014 it would cost $136 and not $250.
And while certain sneakers were status symbols back in the day as some Nikes are today, the big difference is sneakers are now for many people the equivalent of dress shoes 50 years ago.
If you went to dinner at a steak house or sit-down restaurant – think Outback or Applebee’s – a half century ago wearing sneakers you would have either garnered stares or in some cases would been asked to leave. Of course, your parents would never let you leave the house to go to dinner wearing sneakers or denim jeans for that matter. It was slacks, dress shoes, and tie.
Yes, 1964 was a quaint time. Drive-by shootings weren’t a common occurrence. Kids played things such as hide-n-seek, cop and robbers, the now politically incorrect cowboys and Indians, built forts, had pickup baseball games in empty lots and used their imaginations instead of plunking down both $49.95 and their behinds to play Grand Theft Auto. People actually used garages to park their cars. And parents’ biggest complaint was getting kids to come in from outside at the end of a day of play as opposed to trying to pry them away from electronic devices and go outside for a breath of fresh air.
It was a time when no one wore a bicycle helmet, toy guns looked like toy guns, you could play in the creek without someone calling Children’s Protection Services, and if you failed miserably in organized sports you didn’t get a ribbon or a participation trophy. You just kept looking for something that you could excel at.
None of this implies that 1964 was better than today.
If you’re in the market for an economy car you’re not stuck with a Ford Fairlane or a Rambler, as you were in 1964. And certainly you have so many choices as a consumer that if a working stiff living in the Soviet Union in 1964 was to do a Rip Van Winkle act and wake up in America today they would be convinced they were in heaven.
At the Manteca Big 5 Sporting Goods store on Saturday, a gentleman was browsing the sneaker selection marveling at what he called “great looking shoes.” He commented to a lady I assumed was his wife about the amazing selection and that he was sure to find the right pair for “that semi-formal thing we were invited to.”
Sneakers? At a semi-formal affair?
Then I paid closer attention to what he was looking at. They were black walking shoes that unless you got down on your hands and knees you couldn’t tell whether they were standard dress shoes or essentially sneakers.
Actually, that’s why I was at Big 5 — to buy walking shoes that could pass as dress shoes. For years I had to look for wider shoes due to bunions but after a recent episode with one of my hammertoes I decided enough was enough (persistent pain is so overrated) and that I’d break down and try something less formal.
As for my choice in “sneakers,” I’m a Nike guy through and through as long as it is an Air Monarch.
Based on 1964 sensibilities, my choice in footwear is both scandalous and extravagant.
Not wearing anything short of Wingtips when you “go out” would have qualified as blasphemy back then. As for the white sneakers, it would have reeked of being pretentious.
But it wasn’t until I saw Vincent Garcia roll up on his Harley on Monday that I really realized how much sneakers have taken over the world. He was wearing a pair of black and white Converse All-Star high tops.