May 26, 2017 | By Samuel Trotman
Get more Denim insights as a WGSN subscriber
May 16, 2016
Both original icons of American style, Levi’s Jeans and Converse sneakers, are two androgynous staples that have shared a special love affair for years. It’s a love affair that’s seen them travel together through some of the most iconic and memorable moments in recent history. They were together when teens were shredding the pools of So-Cal, stamping in the grimy mosh pits of London’s punk scene, stumbling through the dusty fields of Woodstock and climbing the broken Walls in Berlin. And throughout it all their edgy style never wavered. Always classic, always timeless.
Both are as equally democratic and omnipresent as it gets, which has solidified their worldwide status as icons of American pop culture. Fans span from young skater dudes and grungy rockers to Michelle Obama. It’s almost guaranteed you won’t go more than 5 paces at any summer festival without spotting someone in a pair of cut-off Levi’s denim shorts and high-top all stars. Their looks have become impressively versatile too. Whether it’s smart or casual, monotone or colourful, box fresh or trashed, the combination of rigid jeans and canvas instantly guarantees an irresistible, original look.
For me, the proof is in the years of wear and tear, once you’ve broken them in, they repay you with a pheromone of authenticity that’s unlike any other.
Both masterpieces of utilitarian design, their marriage was inevitable. With Converse’s sleek lines and textured contrast of canvas and vulcanized rubber, and Levi’s clean cut and sturdy twill, the pairs black-and-white beginnings were rooted in retro style. Converse and Levi’s golden era emerged in the 1950s and the 1960s, when both items became the uniform of the youth – jeans traversing off the legs of blue workers to rebel boys, while the ubiquitous rubber-soled shoes made a successful leap from sport to streetwear.
Films like The Outsiders reference typical bad boy style, while Marty McFly’s famous skateboard chase in Back to the Future channels a more casual aesthetic. “Get yourself some 50’s clothes … something inconspicuous!” – Doc.
Fast forward to the 1970s where America saw an explosion of experimental style that was as colourful as Converse’s rainbow range of shoes. Throwback photos of Woodstock are packed with long-haired hippies in perfectly stiffened flares and vibrant high-tops. And where would we be without Jane Birkin? It is her effortless pairing of high-and-tight boho orange tabs and ecru cons that continue to fuel the mainstream appetite for this genuine all-American look.
Throughout the decades since then, a wave of musicians have helped solidify a more rebellious style. After all, no one dons denim and cons quite like a rockstar. Those who manhandle a microphone or create those quaking guitar riffs for a living tend to have a knack for making well-worn canvas and true blues their own.
Consider punk icons like Sid Vicious of Sex Pistols, who headbanged with awe-inspiring angst in skinny denim and black and white Chuck Taylors. The uniform-wearing members of The Ramones followed suit in the same rough-and-tough style of denim (high-rise 505s to be exact) — always topped off with their signature leather biker jackets and larger-than-life shag hairdos. And of course, there is always Kurt Cobain, the patron saint of grunge style, pairing his trashed Chucks with equally destroyed denim.
And in recent years both brands have revamped and restyled their icons. Levi’s tightened up its 501 and 505 fits through its CT collection, and Converse polished up its Chuck Taylor’s All Stars and 70s editions thanks to Nike’s Lunarlon sole and luxe suede lining, both of which keep these heritage labels as relevant as ever for a new generation. Here’s some denim-Converse muses to inspire a crescendo of cool into your next look. Drum roll, please.
Like what you just read? Follow Samuel on Instagram for the latest indigo inspiration and denim news.
DENIM HEAD? Our team of experts are at every trade show, determine tomorrow’s trends and know which looks are going to have a huge impact on your business. Sound good? Join WGSN.
Know what’s next. Become a WGSN member today to benefit from our daily trend intelligence, retail analytics, consumer insights and bespoke consultancy services.