If you ask me, the apex of twentieth century comedy was reached during Cameron Crowe’s 1982 coming-of-age masterpiece, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Sitting in his room, smoking a bong, discussing brain damage with his shaggy haired compadre, Jeff Spicoli (played by Sean Penn) pulls out a brand new pair of Vans slip ons and begins to bash his head with the waffle sole to show off to his equally as blitzed out friend just how mentally numb he was. We could discuss the timeless humor of a stoned out kid bashing his own head in, or number of brain cells that Spicoli discarded that day, or the slapstick origins of his cranial abuse, but for today, I’m more concerned with Spicoli’s Vans.
Spicoli’s checkerboard slip ons have become the stuff of legend, and dare I say that never before has an actor’s footwear so completely captured the spirit of his character. Even the name “slip on” reflected Spicoli’s attitude, which was many steps beyond devil-may-care, in devil-may-get-high-off-brain-damaging-weed territory. Since ’82, slip ons fortunately have lost their THC-laced reputation as shoes for stoners, but it wasn’t until recently, that they registered on the menswear radar.
While you can certainly head to Vans’ website and pick up a pair of classics, I find two collaborations to contain the best iterations of the slip ons I’ve seen lately. First off, Engineered Garments take on the design is probably the closest thing to an original slip on that I’ve ever seen. The rubber sole is accentuated, rolling over the toe of the shoe, while the shape is a bit wider and less sleek than models seen today. Of course, the real kicker with this shoe is that it’s “mismatched” – one side is smoothed out leather while the other is made from unfinished hide.
The leather motif continues on my other favorite pair, which come from the Vans Vault x Diemme collaboration. This shoe is actually produced in Italy, at Diemme’s Montebelluna factory, which is quite rare for a pair of Vans, but even more unique is the high-quality leather construction, complete with a full leather lining.
If you ask me the slip on revival was sparked by a more general move amongst the menswear audience towards more casual styles, as the slip on, particularly the two aforementioned models, presents a way to tastefully lean toward a more relaxed look. Unlike more gaudy sneakers, the slip on is clean, almost loaferly (yes I’m making that a word) in many ways, but most of all, it has that classic air that instantly takes you back to more carefree days. I imagine that’s why Spicoli liked ‘em, and why I can’t stop wearing my pair these days. Always remember though, they’re for your feet, not for banging against your dome.