Last Updated on April 12, 2021
Have you ever wondered what the real difference is between a pair of Vans and a pair of Converse?
These staples of the 90s certainly divided a generation over which brand was best!
Both Vans and Converse are American brands that manufacture footwear. One could argue that their shoes are very similar, indeed! They are both simple, comfortable, durable, and stylish…
So, how can we pick one?
- A little intro to Vans …
- Over to you Converse …
- Origin Story
- What’s cool about each brand?
- Loved by Celebs
- Design and Aesthetics
- So…Which brand is best? Pros and Cons
- Quick Styling Tips
- So, who is the ultimate champion?
A little intro to Vans …
Vans is renowned as the main sponsor of the Vans Warped Tour, a traveling rock festival, and of Core Sports like surf and snowboarding since 1966.
Many talented and diverse personalities of those sports endorse and help design their unique products relying on their authentic first-hand experiences.
Their involvement has had a deep impact on the brand’s development and the brand’s history is tightly linked to the development of several action sports competitions.
Over to you Converse …
Converse was originally a simple basketball shoe. Thanks to Chuck Taylor’s contribution to the brand, it was later altered to be more flexible and to offer more support.
His efforts were recognized and immortalized by the brand when they added his signature to the new design’s ankle patch, which caused them to be known as Chuck Taylor All Stars.
This new model quickly captured the basketball shoe market during 1960. However, they lost their traction during the next decade, when other brands got more visibility. They became famous again as retro-style casual footwear in the 80s.
Let’s dive in and learn a bit more about each brand so we can begin this competition!
Vans was founded in 1966 by brothers Paul Van Doren and Jim Van Doren with venture partners Gordon Lee and Serge Delia, at 704 E. Broadway in Anaheim, California.
What made this new company so unique was its approach to manufacturing and selling, both activities taking place on the same premises, and their politic to sell directly to the public.
On opening day, it is said that 12 customers purchased shoes that were made that same day and were ready for pick-up in the afternoon. Originally named the Van Doren Rubber Company, it soon became known as House of Van during the early 70s.
It became a favorite brand of skateboarders because of its sticky sole and rugged style.
Vans changes with the time
During the 80s, Vans filed for bankruptcy because although the core Vans shoes were selling well, it couldn’t overcome the debt generated by the wide range of products that it offered.
Paul Van Doren returned as President and restructured the company to its core. He let employees know that raises would be on hold for at least three years and that they were planning to cut back on everything but the quality of the shoes.
It was a tough sell that really produced results. In three years, Vans paid all of its debts and re-emerged as a reborn brand.
By 2000, it was recognized by Forbes as one of “America’s best small companies for 2000” and in 2014 it was chosen as “Brand of the Year” by Footwear News.
But what about Converse? Well, it all begins in 1908, in Malden, Massachusetts, where Marquis Mills Converse first founded the Converse Rubber Shoe Company.
In 1921, Charles “Chuck” Taylor joined the brand as a salesman. Within a year, he revolutionized the company with his ideas based on his personal experience as a semi-professional basketball player. At that time, the re-styled shoe began sporting the circular All-Star logo on the ankle.
Converse and athletics
To promote the Converse All Star shoes, Taylor gave open classes in high school and college gyms to showcase the new footwear. The Chicago-based Converse All Stars team was also established around 1926 and it toured around the country to promote the brand, with Taylor working as a player-manager.
Due to the popularity of the shoes amongst basketball players and young athletes in general, Converse managed to become the official shoe of the Olympic Games from 1936 to 1968. They were also the official athletic training footwear for American soldiers during World War II.
By the 1950s they were at the top of their popularity, having become the most worn type of show for high school and university students as well as most professional basketball players. Around that time the company opened more factories as it expanded its reach, becoming a general favorite.
Converse dips then is reborn
It all started to go downhill during the 70s as athletes switched to other brands that offered more support and better-cushioned soles. It wouldn’t be until the 80s when All Stars would make a huge comeback as a casual retro style.
Artists and musicians both favored them and by 2000 it had regained a huge part of its original popularity. In 2003 it was acquired by Nike and it has remained as part of their company ever since.
What’s cool about each brand?
After becoming a sponsor for the first time on the Warped Tour in 1995, Vans bought a controlling interest in the Vans Warped Tour and it never pulled back. It’s now the longest-running concert series in America.
Vans also sponsored the inaugural Triple Crown of Skateboarding event in 1996 and launched a long-term partnership with Supreme.
Taking the action sports by storm, it also created the Vans Triple Crown Series in 2000 after purchasing the Triple Crown of Surfing. It went on to include events in skateboarding, snowboarding, wakeboarding, surfing, BMX, supercross, and freestyle motocross.
In 2014, the Vans Triple Crown series had more than 285,000 event attendees plus a remarkable 50 million+ watching spectators through Fox and NBC. From then onwards, it only multiplied and expanded!
So much so that in 2009 Harry N. Abrams published Doug Palladini’s book: “Vans: Off the wall, stories of sole from Vans Originals” with numerous stories of how these personalities helped the brand become an icon.
Although Chuck Taylors flourished in popular culture and among youth cultures they vanished from any professional basketball-related areas.
They became a fashionable item and their company promotion was aimed towards this type of branding. Converse was portrayed in films, art, and music. They were also featured in popular shows like The Big Bang Theory.
Loved by Celebs
Converse was popularized by James Dean and has thus been associated with outcasts and lifestyles of the rebellious throughout varied media.
They were also featured in many films like Back to the Future and even in The Sword in the Stone, where we can see Merlin wearing a pair of Chuck Taylors!
Design and Aesthetics
Vans #44 “The Authentic”
Vans’ first model, Vans #44, now known as the Authentic, was their first hit. The rugged style and sticky rubber sole would set the tone for every other product made by them in the future.
- FLATTERING FIT. Our Aura jeans are a style staple made to flatter every figure. Love the way you look with a silhouette that slims your figure the second you put them on.
- BOOT-CUT JEAN. This mid-rise jean incorporates a boot-cut opening that falls perfectly around your favorite pair of boots.
- QUALITY MATERIALS. Constructed from a durable cotton stretch blend, these mid-rise jeans are built to last. From a lunch date to a night on the town, these jeans are built for comfort with a fashion forward style in mind.
- INSTANTLY SLIMMING. These flattering boot-cut jeans are equipped with slimming features - a tummy control panel, slimming side panels and a no-gap contour waistband instantly flatter your figure.
- ICONIC EMBELLISHMENTS. This boot-cut jean is finished with our iconic embroidery stitching on the hip pockets. Maintain that effortless classic style with a touch of western.
Vans #95 “The Era”
Their second famous model was the Vans #95, now known as the Era. It has a padded collar, sported different color combinations and was designed by Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta. It became the favorite shoe of a whole generation of skateboarders.
Vans #36 “Old Skool”
Right after that, the “Off the Wall” logo was launched and in 1977 the Vans #36, Old Skool, debuted with the Vans Sidestripe. This design incorporated leather panels that guaranteed more durable shoes. The unmistakable van stripe became a hallmark element.
The Vans #98 was also introduced during the 70s and its classic slip-on silhouette went on to become an icon for generations.
Vans #38 “Sk8-Hi”
Sk8-Hi was introduced in 1978 as style 38, with another innovative silhouette that sported the recognizable jazz stripe. This model reached above the ankle and was an instant hit because it shielded an area that skateboarders usually use and abuse a lot, and it did so in style!
Vans Snowboard Boot
After the 80s debacle of debt and re-emergence of the brand, Vans introduced the Snowboard Boot in the fall of ‘93/winter ‘94. Right before snow season started. This design went on to win a couple of Olympic medals.
Vault by Vans
In 2003, Vans launched the Vault by Vans collection. A timeless collection that showcases premium designs worthy of any high fashion runway in Vans classic models.
It was followed right after by the launch of Vans Customs on their online webpage, the options were by the hundreds in color and pattern combination.
Vans “Hosoi Rising Sun Sk8-Hi”
By 2006, Vans was known as an action sports footwear leader and went out for more! It launched its apparel collection for men and women, and that same year it launched the limited edition Hosoi Rising Sun Sk8-Hi.
Vans x “The Simpsons Series”
The next year, it launched its Vans x The Simpsons Series with varied artists’ artwork.
Vans UltraCush Lite technology
The next step for Vans was to introduce their UltraCush Lite technology in the LXVI line around 2012.
It boasted a custom blend of foam that provided super-light cushioning. It was followed right after by the vulcanized cupsole using Wafflecup technology that combined the support and durability of the cupsole and the extraordinary grip of the vulcanized shoe.
Disney and Star Wars Collaboration
Next came a collaboration with Disney in 2013 featuring Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh and Donald Duck on Vans classic shoes in 80s designs. And a collection featuring artwork from the original Star Wars trilogy in 2014.
To celebrate 50 years of heritage, it launched a Vans Pro Classics Anniversary Collection in 2016 featuring iconic silhouettes and re-issuing many archive models.
Converse “Non Skids”
The primordial Converse design, “Non-Skids”, took its first steps in 1917.
It was designed for basketball players with a rubber sole and an upper part made of canvas. The Converse All Stars were made in three different models.
- The first shoe was made of black canvas and black rubber soles and an all-white option was available.
- The second shoe was a high-top model with red and blue trim that had been originally created for the Olympic Games in 1936.
- The third and final model was made of leather instead of canvas.
Converse “Chuck Taylor All Stars”
By 1923, Converse had almost arrived at today’s final form: the Chuck Taylor All Stars, after his re-design. The high-top sported the All Stars logo with the signature five-pointed star and Taylor’s signature on the ankle patch.
It wouldn’t be until the 70s when they would reach their final form, though.
The white toe guard was invented around 1949, with laces and outer wraps matching in color, creating the classic black and white style.
Converse low-cut top “Oxford” version
In 1957 Converse introduced a low-cut top “Oxford” version that also sported a tag on the tongue with the same logo appearing on the heel. Soon after that, new colors and prints started to proliferate.
Re-run of vintage models
In 2013, Converse launched a re-run of its 70s model that differed a little from the then-current All Stars in a bunch of ways.
It featured thicker canvas, higher rubber midsole (with thicker cushioning for extra comfort), a smaller toe cap with reinforcement and a one-piece rubber bottom sole (versus the modern three-piece sole of modern styles).
It also had a black heel patch instead of a white one.
Converse “Chuck Taylor All Star II”
Later on, in 2015 they released the Chuck Taylor All Star II. It had a thicker Tencel canvas, a higher rubber midsole made with lighter rubber.
It also featured two elastic bands at the base of the tongue and a heel patch with 3D letters versus the previous flat one. Nowadays they also work with different types of fabrics!
So…Which brand is best? Pros and Cons
Vans caters to a group of people that don’t really care to fit in. One could say they are a bit “off the wall” themselves (yes, pun intended!).
Converse is more about the fashion side of things and maintaining the status associated with the brand, while also prioritizing changes in looks rather than in functionality.
The whole mystique of a pair of white Vans is the fact that anyone can take a colored pen and make them their own. It is all about being a part of the wearer’s experience and celebrating their individuality. Converse on the other hand symbolizes being in with the crowd and being trendy.
Vans made its name in the skateboarding community because of its extra grip, its tough canvas, and its thick sole that could handle battering and did so in style.
Converse was also originally made taking extra care about its durability and the quality of the materials since it had to be comfortable and durable for basketball players. However, I believe it hasn’t stayed true to its roots as Vans has.
Quick Styling Tips
Vans skyrocketed to fame on a skateboard and it continued to gain popularity in the rock and roll community and its steady presence in action sports, so it is no wonder that wearing your Vans with a vintage rock tee and ripped or weathered jeans is a staple look.
One way to make the ensemble look smarter is to pair it up with a long cardigan and to keep the colors on a neutral palette. If you are going for something fresher, try a colorful sweater with your favorite pair of skinny jeans, or a pair of straight pants (which are super trendy right now).
For Converse, the style is very similar. They also look great with 90s flared skirts, printed sweatshirts, and sweaters, which is a look I absolutely adore!
Ripped boyfriend jeans can be upgraded from casual to smart by pairing them up with a white polished shirt and a leather jacket. Perfect off-duty model look if you ask me!
Drum roll… It’s Vans. The integrity that characterizes their history cannot be matched by a brand like Converse that is so much about selling and shows so little involvement with the people that they design for.
Vans also managed to stick to its roots and to keep its high quality and durable models intact while rolling with the times, expanding into apparel and other products. So, if I had to choose one, I would go with Vans because I like wearing brands that are inspiring!
However, when it comes to quality both are top of the line and the designs themselves are rather similar. I guess the decision would ultimately lie in what kind of activities you want to use them in.
If you are going for looks, either will work, but if you are an active person that participates in skateboarding, Vans is absolutely the right fit!