Amy Winehouse had her “fuck me” pumps, but I have my “court me” Comme des Garçons Chuck Taylors — you know, the ones with the little red heart face. Every night I wear these high tops, I know someone will flirt with me. Or, at least, that’s how it used to be — before they became a meme. The shoes are now ubiquitous among Brooklyn gays. And honey, if there’s one thing I refuse to be, it’s expected.
After all, I started wearing high-tops because I love attention. Brock McGoff, who blogs as the Modest Man, sums it up: “Everyone wears sneakers, but only some guys wear high tops.” The style is “a subtle way of saying, Hey, look at me,” McGoff says. “High-top dudes aren’t trying to fly under the radar.” Indeed, it takes a certain type of dude to say, No, Converse All-Stars that cut below the ankle aren’t doing it for me — I need more coverage!
But Chuck Taylors weren’t always the fuckboi shoe of the sneaker world. In fact, they once served a practical purpose. The first major adopters were basketball players battling the threat of a rolled ankle, and skaters looking to land a trick without getting cut up. Of course, it’s a law of style that anything that once served a pseudo-practical purpose will eventually be adopted by everyday dudes who just want to look like Tony Hawk or Kobe Bryant. Just because a guy dresses like a West Coast skater — with Dickies pants, white athletic socks and dirty Vans Sk8-Hi sneakers — doesn’t mean he can ollie.
Just ask their former romantic partners.
When MEL deputy editor Alana Levinson sees a pair of high-top Vans in the wild, she’s reminded of the Northern California cohort she grew up around — guys who “haven’t bothered to use a condom since the early aughts.” For L.A.-based writer Helen Donahue, who grew up in Pennsylvania and Texas, there’s no difference between low-top and high-top Vans boys: “Anyone wearing Vans who isn’t skateboarding is a nerd.” Besides, she says, “if he wears shoes, he’s a thot.”
For me, Vans carry a different connotation. My boys in suburban Illinois wore shoes molded to fit gas pedals in a Honda Odyssey minivan, not the deck of a skateboard.
Every man has the distinct honor of ruining a pair of high tops for someone in their life. Vans are just one of the many male shoe personalities. Air Force Ones, for example, say a guy is classic. He’s safe. You know what you’re gonna get with him. And you probably want more than he can offer.
Sometimes the wearer’s sexual orientation can change a shoe’s personality. For straight men, Allbirds’ Tree Toppers are a way to say, “Yes, I might have been in a frat, but now I work in tech. I can afford to keep up on trendy fashion brands.” For gay men, they’re less appealing for this exact reason: A gay guy in Allbirds is probably masc4masc. “They are the most likely to be ‘moderate’ politically on Hinge, they do not put face pics on Grindr, and they’re looking for other masc guys,” says marketing manager Alexander De Luca, adding, “They play golf. Possibly military.” Proving his point, a friend just texted me that his ex-boyfriend, a finance bro, wore Allbirds too.
But no high-tops elicit opinions as strong as my beloved CDG Chucks. I’m a proud member of the most ostentatious high-top crew, but I understand the blowback.
“It elevates my outfit whatever I’m wearing. Makes me feel trendy,” says Peter Skud, a barista and sculpture student at Virginia Commonwealth University, in defense of his multiple pairs of CDGs. As for the shoe’s fuckboi reputation? Skuds admits, “I may fit that bill a little.”
Where did that rap come from? Maybe the shoe’s price and easily mockable fashionista set. Regular Converse All-Star high-tops retail for $55.00, while Comme des Garçons’ line cost me $135. In SoHo in New York or Fairfax in Los Angeles, you’ll run into countless skinny-ass Timothée Chalamet wannabes wearing oversized, long-sleeve thrifted polos, white-wash flood-water jeans and CDGs. Or just go to any trendy gym in Southern California. “There was a guy lifting in my gym wearing his CDG chucks and I think about it at least once a week,” says Wirecutter editor Tim Barribeau.
To my horror, I got roasted by a college kid when I tweeted about them. Alison Allocoo, a journalism and media studies student at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, says the CDG wearer is “slightly pretentious, maybe interested in streetwear but not very committed to that image.” (Okay, Alison, I get it!!!) But she’s right: We can’t all afford regular Comme des Garçons, nor do we always have the energy to thrift for truly unique stuff, so we don the shoes and cosplay as artists at our 9-to-5 desk jobs, hoping to impress our colleagues by appearing much hipper than we are.
Well, at least I’m not this guy:
For the actually wealthy (or those willing to rack up credit card debt in the name of fashion), those Common Projects Achilles high-tops ($435) are a popular choice. But there’s nothing more coveted than the Balenciaga Black & White Speed Sneakers. They cost $680 and count Kylie Jenner, Blac Chyna and James Harden as fans. For us plebes not connected to the Kardashians, the shoes are a constant source of envy on college campuses. “Balenciaga socks [a nickname] are 100 percent a Chinese international kid who carries a Supreme backpack,” says Kitty Guo, a journalist and linguistics major at the University of Southern California.
If there’s a sentiment that ties all high-tops together, it’s the notion that no matter what we fuckbois think we’re saying with our shoes, we’re almost always sole-ly mistaken.
But know that there’s power in embracing that identity. Levinson, who created the selfie series “I Call This Look” in 2016, might not identify as a fuckboi, but she loves adopting the personas of fuckbois from her past — specifically by wearing high-top Vans.
“As humans, we love the idea that something outward can tell us everything we need to know about what’s inward, almost like a warning sign,” she says. “This is a lie. Looks can be deceiving. But at least when it comes to fashion, it’s fun.”