• History Of: The Vans Checkerboard

    For skaters and laymen alike, Vans have become the standby sneaker for generations. With their vulcanized rubber soles and customizable uppers, their unmistakeable design has been celebrated and copied around the world. But one style in particular—the checkerboard— has gone on to become an enduring icon, a symbol for skaters, ska bands, and Spicolli fans everywhere. 

    The story of the checkerboard begins in 1977 when Vans style #48—the Classic Slip-On— was invented. With its low profile and slick design made it immensely popular. In the late ‘70s, Steve Van Doren, son of Vans founder Paul Van Doren, noticed that teenage skaters were coloring the rubber midsole of their shoe with black pens to create a checkerboard look. Steve further developed this idea, moving the pattern to the canvas upper to create the unmistakeable look. 

    It wasn’t until 1982 that the Vans checkerboard slip-on really took off. In 1982, Fast Times at Ridgemont High took the world by storm, and Sean Penn’s lovable slacker character, Spiccoli, immortalized the checkerboard slip-on forever. Universal studios had asked Vans to send over some shoe options for the film. Vans had no plans to specifically promote the checkerboard slip-on though the film, but Sean Penn picked the style for his character, and can be seen hitting himself in the head with it in the trailer. Requests for the shoe skyrocketed as soon as audiences saw the preview, and it was later featured prominently on the cover of the movie’s soundtrack. 

    Beyond just a simple upper on shoes, checkerboard patterning has come to symbolize many things for many different people. Around the same time that Van Doren was developing the checkerboard slip-on, the second wave of Ska music was taking over England, where punk musicians combined the music’s raw rhythms and speed with the melodic underpinnings of the Caribbean music style. Bands like the Specials and the Toasters were on the rise. The second wave— dubbed the Two Tone wave, represented racial unity. During this politically charged era of the genre, the checkerboard pattern came to symbolize the breaking of racial barriers. The Vans checkerboard became a favorite amongst the subculture. 

    It's the mark of a great icon to be both representative of a specific time and place and also timeless. With their classic silhouettes and styles, and more specifically, the checkerboard sneaker, Vans have not only crafted a shoe that look as good as it feels to wear. They have created an icon. 

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