An ideal summer sneaker, tested

In the fictional sneaker pantheon, there would surely be at least one pair of Vans. Who one, however, is a hotly debated topic, at least for the brand’s mega-fans. Some pledge allegiance to the Era, a lace-up skateboard sneaker with a padded collar. Others are all-in on the Old Skool, another lace-up with more eyelets and the famous “jazz stripe” on its upper. Most people, superfans or not, own a pair of Classic Slip-Ons, probably in the classic checkerboard colorway.

But the most popular is the original – and no, that’s not its name.

The first five Vans sneakers: Authentic (1966), Era (1976), Old Skool (1977), Sk8-Hi (1978), Classic Slip-On (1982)

The Authentic, first called #44 Deck Shoe, was Vans’ first sneaker. On March 16, 1966, the company’s story goes, 12 people lined up outside their very first store, a modest brick-and-mortar store in Anaheim, California, to reserve their own pair. They placed their order in the morning and collected the shoes in the afternoon, as each was made to order in the back of the shop. They have obviously since discontinued that business model, but the Authentic remains.

It was the brand’s bestseller until 2005, but has since been surpassed. However, it remains high level. It has tough competition internally, sure, but it’s still revered for its simplicity and durability, the same characteristics that made it popular in the late 60s.

Vans Authentic

  • Come in many colors
  • Sustainable
  • Cheap
  • Lack of arch support
  • Tight for wide feet

What’s good about the Vans Authentic:

vans
Vans and the summer sun, a perfect marriage.

Evan Malachosky

They are trustworthy.

Former Gear Patrol Associate Director of Production Design Henry Phillips reflects on his favorite sneaker from a season.

“Every year in early May, I buy a pair of white Vans Authentics. With a discount code or two, they’re about $30, and the dirt, sand, and stains that eventually coat them by the time they’re trashed unceremoniously on Labor Day is how I measure the craziness of summer It started by accident a few years ago when I wore an immaculate pair to a music festival that would end up with enough mud to rival Woodstock ’94.

The humble Vans were off-white for the next few months, but they managed to hit a few continents, a few beaches and endless city blocks, just taking on a bit of character from each along the way. Summer has an ease that makes this possible – these beat-to-shit shoes weren’t made for button down fall or spring, but they felt right at home during the summer Fridays season, shorts and an acceptable bare chest.

I often prefer to buy things that are made to last, but there’s something rewarding about watching three months of your life condensed into a size 10 canvas and then doing it again next year. It’s indirect and inadvertent record keeping, but it still marks time through good use.”

vans
There’s no big checkmark or three solid stripes – just a little hangtag and this logo on the insole.

Evan Malachosky

They are ubiquitous, yet unique.

The Authentic is available in a million – unconfirmed – colorways. Moreover, it is often the canvas of choice for collaborators like Wacko Maria, Julian Klincewicz, MoMA, Anderson Paak and so many others. As such, it’s a classic sneaker that hasn’t overstayed its welcome, making it as ubiquitous as it is unique. People, as Phillips mentioned, wear them down too, turning every smudge and scuff into accent marks that separate your pair from your friend’s.

What is less ideal with the Vans Authentic:

They lack cushioning.

The Authentic is by no means an orthopedic shoe. It’s comfortable sufficient, but not if you are someone who suffers from foot pain. They lack arch support, which means they’re fine for people with flat feet (me), but someone with exaggerated (or even normal) arches will feel pretty stretched at the end of the day.

vans
Skaters still trust the tread, but the cushioning could use an upgrade—and it got one: ComfyCush.

Evan Malachosky

These are still $55 sneakers.

These are not boots. They’re not even Air Forces 1. The Vans Authentic has a limited lifespan because it’s just an unlined canvas attached to a midsole on a thin rubber sole.

However, there is an alternative: the ComfyCush. For $10 more you get an upgraded insole and outsole that knocks the OG Authentic out of the water. Worth it, but the original is not this wrong.

The Vans Authentic: The Verdict:

An enduring icon worth every dollar.

Most cheap sneakers suck. (Order a pair from ASOS, H&M or Zara and you’ll feel exactly what I mean.) For the price, there are few sneakers that rival the original Authentic. Plus, it’s a piece of history. Sure, it’s been modified a few times since 1966, but it’s still the very first Vans sneaker.

Vans Authentic

  • Come in many colors
  • Sustainable
  • Cheap
  • Lack of arch support
  • Tight for wide feet

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