Finding the Right Canvas Sneakers for the Summer
Aug 05, 2014

As the mercury creeps up, and hemlines with it, I find myself baring a little extra sock more often than not.  

So it is no surprise that around this time of year, every year, I get the desire to put nothing on my feet save for white canvas sneakers. Nothing translates the ease of the season better. A literal blank canvas, these shoes take on the marks of a summer well-lived. When one pair is beaten beyond recognition with the stains of summers past, I begin the hunt anew, a ritual as important as a clean shave and some Old Spice.

When looking to buy anything today, the Internet is both boon and bane. Shoes never before seen are suddenly one click away, and the history of any product is laid before you in countless advertisements and editorials. My own proclivity for research, and a working understanding of some literary theory, only serves to extend the hunt.

Bill Brown, in his book Things, asserts that an object must have both a functional and a symbolic value. Like a window, it must be both translucent and opaque. A pane of glass, as well as an entity through which to look. Taking this theory grossly out of context, my quest for the perfect summer sneakers includes the history of each sneaker; what it is that they represent (beyond my feet) in the allegorical world. While to many people different canvas sneakers are variations on a theme, to me they all become entirely separate entities.

Any sneaker is judged by the equation of aesthetics plus pedigree.

Seen through Brown’s decontextualized lens, it is clear that my previous choice, a pair of Vans Authentics, no longer holds the same appeal. Rooted in California, Vans were always a stretch for me, a boy from the northeast who hasn’t skated for the better part of the new millennium. Vans makes no secret about their storied past and prominent position in the surf and skate culture, but through their ubiquity the shoes have been re-appropriated by all walks of life. As a functional object the waffle sole makes them perfect. Yet as a conscious projection of Cali cool, I can’t lace up a pair Authentics in good faith. 

Having ruled out Vans, I whittled it down to two choices: either a pair of Supergas or Tretorn Nylites. Dubbed “the people’s shoe of Italy”, Supergas portray a certain sprezzatura and unaffected Italian grace that is certainly appealing. Their gum sole is a classic piece of sneaker history and they have popped up on all sorts of feet over the years. 

For me, however, it was the Tretorn Nylite that ultimately won out. The first luxury tennis shoe, it was endorsed by Bjorn Borg in the 1960’s. A champion on the court and rockstar off it, Borg cemented the shoe’s legacy. Further adopted by the prep set, it is easy to spot Nylites in Teruyoshi Hayashida’s photographs in the iconic book on Ivy League style, Take Ivy.

Considering their history, I couldn’t help but slip into a pair of Tretorns. The desire to tap into Tretorn’s sixties cool proved too strong. The symbolic value, coupled with their pillow-like insole and sleek silhouette makes Nylites, in my opinion, the perfect summer sneaker. An opinion that will likely last until next summer rolls around. Despite Tretorn’s history, for me, they are currently a blank canvas.

  • ShoesSneakersSummer

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  • Aug 07, 2014

    The image is of Jack Purcell’s, sneakers I’ve worn for the past 60 years.

    — Allen Swerdlowe

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