A brief history of Vans’ iconic silhouettes

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Vans Anaheim Factory - 704 E. Broadway in Anaheim, California.
Vans Anaheim Factory – 704 E. Broadway in Anaheim, California.

Vans’ history within skateboarding stretches way back. The brands rise to the top began back in ’66 when brothers Paul and Jim Van Doren – plus their partners Gordon Lee and Serge Delia – opened their doors for the very first time at 704 E. Broadway in Anaheim, California. 

Vans Authentic – aka Style #44 – 1966

Vans Authentic - aka Style #44 - 1966

The first silhouette put into production were the Vans Style #44 Deck shoes, although you’ll probably be more familiar with their modern title, the Authentic. As the story goes, 12 customers showed up on the first morning to buy their very own made to order canvas shoes and were told to return in the afternoon to pay and collect their pairs. 

With production runs at the Van Doren Rubber Company – as it was then known – being so small in the beginning, customers were able to get their hands on bespoke, handmade shoes whereby they were able to choose what actually went into them. From the materials; colours; printed details on the midsole and lace choices – there were seemingly no limits.

The Authentic resonated with the burgeoning Californian skate scene throughout the ’70s, thanks to its seemingly lightweight yet durable canvas uppers and sticky rubber sole providing the perfect grip needed for the board. 

Vans Classic Slip-On – aka Style #48 – 1977

On to the 1970s now, and ’77 saw the introduction of one the brand’s signature silhouettes, the Classic Slip-On – aka Style #48. And with the birth of this new style, came the emergence of Vans’ iconic checkerboard print.

Vans Classic Slip-On - aka Style #48 - 1977

Paul’s son, Steve Van Doren, had noticed how the Californian skate scene had developed an affinity for colouring in their midsoles in a checked print; Vans took this another step further though, printing the famed design across the Slip-On’s canvas uppers.

The Slip-On rode a huge wave of popularity across the globe in 1982. Sean Penn’s character – Jeff Spicoli – donned the pair throughout the coming-of-age hit ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’, helping the silhouette become a worldwide icon in the process.

Vans Old Skool – aka Style #36 – 1977

Originally dubbed Style #36, the Old Skool launched in ’77 too and has been the medium for many of the brand’s quirky collaborations with artists, skaters and retailers over the years.

The model was the first skate-specific Vans’ model to feature split canvas and suede uppers, providing further reinforcement for the off the wall exploits of late ’70s skaters.

Vans Old Skool - aka Style #36 - 1977

The Old Skool was also the first pair of Vans to sport the brand’s signature leather ‘Jazz stripe’ across the sidewall. Paul Van Doren added this feature in response to the instantly recognisable Swoosh and stripes within the world of athletic footwear.

The ‘Jazz shoe’ – as it also came to be known – entered into a skate dominated realm in ’77. However, the introduction of the Sk8-Hi and its added protection around the ankle in ’78 left the pair somewhat overshadowed in the skateboarding realm.

But this didn’t stop the model from flourishing though, no; the Old Skool dominated within the burgeoning world of BMX. Its bi-tonal colourways served as the perfect canvas for many team’s flavours, and without as much need for high ankle support within BMXing, the Old Skool played a pivotal role.

Vans Sk8-Hi – Style #38 – 1978

Let’s look at the Sk8-Hi in a little more depth then. Originally dubbed the Style #38, the high-rising model is essentially just an Old Skool raised up a few extra inches.

It touched down in 1978, at a time when the rise in pool and vert skating necessitated extra cushioning and ankle support, which the Sk8-Hi served up perfectly.

Vans Sk8-Hi - Style #38 - 1978

Fast forward 10 years and the advent of street skating in the late ’80s and the ripple effect of ollie-based tricks dictated a new redesign for the pair. With frequent blowouts from ollies and other flip-based tricks, the Sk8-Hi underwent a few modifications: the suede heel counter was widened to protect and reinforce the ankle, while the suede eyestay was expanded to form an ‘ollie patch’ for greater durability and to increase the silhouette’s longevity.

Since its inception, the Sk8-Hi has been admired by many for its simplicity and has been donned by a whole range of sun-cultures. Its core will always remain deeply rooted in action sports, but the Sk8-Hi has since been embraced by communities within music, fashion and art, and has grown to represent the creative cultures and personalities of the past, present and future.

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