Bulky Skate Shoes: The OG "Dad" Sneaker
Bulky Skate Shoes: The OG "Dad" Sneaker
- Words Jeff Ihaza
- Date April 13, 2018
Nostalgia plays an outsized role in skate culture. Despite skating’s relatively short history, its collective tribe remains connected through an almost outsize admiration for those that rode before them. In 2018 skateboarding is more popular than ever, and a sense of history is now essentially mandatory—as much a requirement to participate as a sign of authenticity. Those same connections run rampant in skate style, with skaters often attempting to dress like their idols—whether they be Chad Muska, Eric Koston or Heath Kirchart. In line with the broader cultural fascination with the 1990s and early aughts, many fashion-conscious individuals have adopted wardrobes nearly indistinguishable from this emblematic era of skateboarding. Best characterized by wide, bordering on baggy pants, massive shoes, oversize white tees and tiny wheels, skate style at the turn of the century has clearly informed the pervasive “dad shoe” trend, with notable models such as the éS Scheme and Osiris D3 as influential as the Air Monarch. In the same way that legacy brands like Nike and adidas are finding success re-releasing dad shoe classics from the past, skate shoe companies like DC are finding a new, young audience for the sneakers of yesteryear—its recent “Golden Empire” collection, a set of shoes and apparel taken from the brand’s ‘90s archive, as well as its sneaker-centric "heritage" Lynx rollout of re-releases—serve as perfect examples.
While today skate style is near-synonymous with streetstyle and a covetable aesthetic in its own right, skaters during the ‘90s weren’t so much concerned with looking good as they were with being comfortable and riding hard. To that end, nearly all stylistic “don’ts” were thrown to the wayside. Chunky skate shoes of the ‘90s and ‘00s reflect that mindset, informed solely by technical and comfort needs with little regards to appearance. Skaters didn’t simply arrived at these gargantuan silhouettes. It was a slow evolution that began over thirty years prior.
Low profile sneakers like the Converse Chuck Taylor and the Vans Era set the foundation for skate shoes during most of the ‘70s and ‘80s. As skateboarding matured from casual “sidewalk surfing” into a sophisticated activity with increasingly complex tricks, skaters started looking for more functional sneakers. Nike became a hit among skaters with All-Courts, Bruins and Blazers all in regular rotation. None, however, we as successful as the Nike Air Jordan 1. Released in 1985, the shoe set a new standard for padding and materials—modern icons Lance Mountain, Mike McGill and Steve Caballero all wore the shoe in 1987’s The Search For Animal Chin. Young skate brands like Airwalk and Etnies, hoping to emulate the shoe’s success, introduced more padded sneakers with a look and feel akin to the Air Jordan. For instance, the Etnies Natas 1, one of the first pro-model skate shoes, took a number of design cues from Jordan, including the mid-top sihlouette and Bred colorway.
As street skating began to replace the controlled setting of half pipes and renegade missions into abandoned swimming pools, an entire ecosystem of skate footwear developed. Engineered specifically for skating in metropolitan cities like San Francisco and New York, the world of skate fashion moved away from the vulcanized soles of Vans and Converse to tech-infused cupsoles. Released in 1992, the Etnies Low-Cut Rap, bucked late-’80s trends with a low top, technical cupsole and puffed up tongue, all ideal for urban terrain. Drastically more accessible than vert, the advent of street skating drastically increased the sport’s popularity, paving the way for countless brands to take shape, including Ken Block and Damon Way’s DC in 1994, Sole Tech—then the parent company of Etnies who launched éS footwear and Emerica— in 1995 and Osiris in 1996.
The wide-array of sneakers that emerged from these new skate-specific footwear companies helped define skate style for much of the next decade. A cross between popular basketball shoes and tactical equipment, skate shoes created a defining niche for skaters. Guy Mariano’s pro shoe for Axion footwear appeared wholly different from anything else on the market, and was immediately identifiable as a “skate shoe.” Eric Koston’s pro shoes for éS acheieve similar effects. Philadelphia skaters Stevie Williams and Josh Kalis were perhaps most emblematic of this new trend. Kalis transformed DC’s Lynx sneaker into a must-have in 1998, the shoe barely peaking out of his massively baggy jeans as he skated Love Park. By sponsoring some of the most prolific street skaters, DC was briefly synonymous with street skating, with affiliated pro-models defining the fat tongue, bulky sneaker era.
As skating transitioned from counterculture to mainstream, the bulky shoes of the ‘90s and early 2000s fell out of favor. Suddenly widely accepted—as concerned with aesthetic as with technicality—the movement reverted to more traditionally good-looking sneakers in the mid 2000s, with vulcanized Vans, Nike, adidas and Converse suddenly at the center of skate culture. To be sure, the mass proliferation of chunky skate shoes, from Avril Lavigne album covers to Fred Durst performances to posers in those inverted E Etnies Cinch did not help, relegating what was once cool to a blip in skate history. Influenced by figures like the late Dylan Rieder and Jason Dill, skaters returned to low profile looks, introducing the wave of cropped Dickies and Chuck Taylor’s that have dominated skate fashion for the better part of the last decade.
Yet, over the last year the hypertechnical silhouettes reminiscent DC Shoes’ heyday are once again en vogue. The return of paneled chunky skate sneakers at a time when the fashion industry is inundated with late ‘90s trends is no coincidence. Skate history runs almost parallel to fashion, with occasional overlap inevitable. With bulky “dad” shoes at must for every luxury brand from Fendi to Valentino, there’s clearly more at play than simply an homage to New Balanace 998’s and Salomon hikers. When one looks at a Balenciaga Triple S or a Yeezy Boost 700, functionality, maybe even superfluous functionality, takes center stage. Sure, the connection to, say, Nike Air Monarchs is apparent, however with the renewed interest and newfound cultural relevance of skating and streetwear, there is no doubt that the Osiris D3 and éS are just as large an influence. This new wave of chunky sneaker—like their skate predecessors—feature big soles, fanciful stitching, and multiple mesh patterns, all suggesting purpose without any actual benefits.
While we are unlikely to see Kanye rock éS Muska’s or Demna skate a pair of Emerica’s, the reality that skating—as much a ‘90s staple as any—has had a formative effect on current dad sneakers cannot be questioned. While skaters are no longer rocking three-pound foam cushions on their feet, the fashion world (who lack the sort of athletic demands the sport requires) will no doubt continue to co-opt some of skate history’s questionable stylistic choices. As we continue to dive deeper into this ‘90s revival, no prevalent sub-culture is safe.
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