Vans shoes was a brand that really hit it big during the 1980s. These fashionable shoes became popular decades back with a skateboarding subculture on the west coast, and we’ve been rocking them ever since because of their comfort and style.
There were many shoe styles and brands that were popular in the 80s. These shoes included penny loafers, Sperry Top-siders, Huaraches, and shoe brands LA Gear, Nike, British Knights, Adidas and of course, Vans shoes.
While Adidas and Nike were popular among hip hop artists, athletes, and people on the East Side of the US, Vans shoes were the epitome of cool in the West.
Skateboarders, surfers, teenagers, school kids, and in the early 80s, anyone who followed pop culture had a pair of Vans shoes. But why were they so popular in the 80s, and who actually wore them?
History Of Vans Shoes
Before we talk about why Vans shoes served as an icon of cool in the 80s, let’s first discuss what the brand is, and how it came to be.
Vans was founded as The Van Doren Rubber Company in 1966, in Anaheim, California. It was established by brothers Jim and Paul Van Doren, with business partners Gordon Lee and Serge Delia.
Paul Van Doren worked at a shoe manufacturing company and discovered the factory was only making a dime per pair, and that retailers were making most of the money. Paul Van Doren had the idea of establishing a shoe manufacturing company that sold its own shoes for retail, and thus, the company was born.
On its opening day on March 16, 1966, the company sold 16 pairs, which were made that very day. The soles were made of vulcanized rubber and the upper was made of canvas, Duck Canvas #10, specifically, which was the toughest material for shoes at the time. Paul Van Doren wanted the soles to be twice as thick as most shoes at the time, as well as being durable enough to last for years.
In the beginning, the company was known for their custom shoes, where clients could bring in or choose fabrics and have custom shoes made and picked up the next day. These were popular with schools and organizations who wanted shoes that matched their uniforms or school colors.
The company enjoyed relative success until the 70s, having opened stores all around Southern California. But it wasn’t until the late 70s, with the onset of the popularity of skateboarding, that Vans was put on the map as one of the most sought-after shoes in the West coast, and one of the most popular shoes of the 80s.
Godfathers of skateboarding, Tony Alva, and Stacy Peralta, were paid by Paul Van Doren to wear the shoes during competitions, and pretty soon, Vans was dubbed as the shoe of choice for surfers and skateboarders.
Vans Shoes Popularity In The 80s
By the first two years of the 80s, Vans was enjoying relative success and recognition. In 1982, Universal Pictures approached the company to ask for shoes for an upcoming movie. They sent the film company a number of shoes, but it was the checkerboard slip-ons that was put front and center.
Sean Penn’s character, Jeff Spicoli, who was a “party animal surfer” in the movie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, was seen opening a box of Vans checkerboard slip-ons, and hitting himself on the head with it.
This scene was featured on the movie’s trailer, as well as on the album of the movie’s soundtrack, creating a smart product placement of Vans shoes, which caused the sales of thousands of Vans checkerboard slip-ons at the time. The shoes’ feature in the film cemented Vans as a pop culture icon in the 80s.
Comfortable, functional, durable, and affordable, boys and girls all over the US could afford to pay for the iconic shoe brand, wearing them with absolutely anything. Different styles, colors, and patterns were soon released by the company, making them one of the most sought-after shoes in the 80s.
Though they were popular back then, Vans still remains one of the most popular shoe brands out today. However we will always remember them as the underground skater brand that we loved from the 1980s.