In late July, Boston-based Converse made headlines with news that it was set to release an updated version of the beloved Chuck Taylor All Star sneaker. Since the design of the original All Star had changed very little over the course of its 98-year history, some saw this as the sneaker world equivalent of drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Others were quick to point out that, while certainly iconic, the original shoes didn’t offer much in the support department and that a redesign was long overdue.
The response at the cash register appeared unanimous: The two styles (low-top for $70 and high-top for $75) sold out in many sizes online and in stores in the first few days after the July 28 release date (the company said it expects new stock to land by mid-August) — despite a retail price that clocks in at $20 more than the original (which, for the record, is still being sold, too).
So what’s different? The exterior of the sneaker — which comes in black, white, red or blue — hasn’t changed much. The canvas in the upper is described in press materials as “premium,” though to the touch it’s indistinguishable from standard-issue canvas. Monochrome matte eyelets give the shoes a slightly less cluttered look. The foxing (the white rubber sidewall where the canvas upper meets the sole) is slightly thicker, and the All Star logo patch on the inside heel of the high-top is embroidered instead of printed.
The biggest difference with the Chuck Taylor All Star II is under the hood, with the addition of a cushiony, lime-green sock liner made from a proprietary Nike foam called Lunarlon. (Nike has owned the Converse brand since 2003.) There are a few other interior tweaks,, too — a perforated micro-suede lining to improve breathability and foam padding on the tongue and collar for comfort. But make no mistake, it’s that foot-shaped slab of foam, which the company says was added to improve cushioning and arch support, that’s the biggest change. And one that needed to be checked out.
So over the course of three days I tested a white Oxford-style low-top Chuck Taylor All Star II against a same-color original version of the low-top — side by side, with one on each foot. The biggest surprise — apart from the fact that not a soul seemed to notice — was how little difference there seemed to be in fit and feel. At first.
Sure, the footbed of the II was slightly less flexible, not unexpected given the thickness of the sock liner insert, and each step in the new shoe felt a little more cushioned than a step in the original. But the initial impression was not one that justified the $20 premium.
That changed by the end of Day 1 when the Lunarlon-swaddled left foot felt almost as good as it had when I slipped the shoes on that morning, while the right foot shod in the original was beginning to ache in the arch and toe joints. (In all fairness, this tester acknowledges he’s both overweight and severely flat-footed.)
The test was repeated a second day with the new style on the right foot and the original on the left, with similar results. On the third day — just in case wearing two different shoes was a factor — both feet were shod in new All Star IIs. The effect was the same as if I’d worn a pair of arch-supporting, foot-cushioning running shoes all day — a marked improvement over the way my feet feel after spending a day in a pair of original All Stars.
And that’s exactly the point. Long ago, the Chuck Taylor All Star sneaker transcended being simply a piece of athletic equipment to become a style statement. Worn in weddings, on stage during rock concerts, by the famous from all walks (including the Ramones, Kurt Cobain, Michelle Obama, Cate Blanchett), they were the first sneakers that were acceptable to wear beyond purely athletic endeavors. That’s easy to forget given the rise of sneaker culture in the early ’80s and, more recently, the surfeit of stylish sneakers that have crept in with the athleisure trend.
With the Chuck Taylor All Star II, Converse is simply offering a version of its beloved all-purpose shoe that looks just a little bit different on the outside but feels a whole lot different on the inside (which, by the way, probably also describes the target demographic).
Is the redesigned version of the All Star for everyone? Maybe not.
But for Chuck lovers who wake up one day to find themselves just a little bit older or a wee bit heavier than they were back when they tried on their first All Stars — or for anyone who plans on spending a ton of time on their feet — the Chuck II is worth checking out.
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