In the fictional sneaker hall of fame, there would surely be at least one pair of Vans. Which one, though, is a hotly contested topic, at least for mega-fans of the brand. Some pledge allegiance to the Era, a lace-up skateboarding sneaker with a padded collar. Others are all-in on the Old Skool, another lace-up with more eyelets and the famous "jazz stripe" across its upper. Most folks, whether they're super-fans 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 Authentic, first called the #44 Deck Shoe, was the Vans brand's first sneaker. On March 16, 1966, company history recounts, 12 people lined up outside their first-ever store, a modest brick-and-mortar in Anaheim, California, to reserve a pair of their own. They put in their purchase order that morning and picked the shoes up that afternoon, because each one was made to order in the back of the shop. They've obviously since abandoned this business model, but the Authentic remains.
It was the brand's best-seller until 2005, but has since been surmounted. It remains high-ranking, though. It has tough competition internally, of course, but it's revered for its simplicity and durability still, the same hallmarks that made it popular in the late '60s.
What's Good About the Vans Authentic:
Former Gear Patrol Associate Director of Production Design Henry Phillips reflects on his favorite one-season sneaker.
"Every year in early May I buy a pair of white Vans Authentics. With a discount code or two, they cost about $30, and the dirt, sand and stains that end up covering them by the time they get unceremoniously trashed on Labor Day is how I measure the summer’s folly. It started by accident a few years ago when I wore a pristine 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 touch a few continents, a couple beaches and endless city blocks, picking up just a bit of character from each along the way. Summer’s got an easiness that makes this possible — these beat-to-shit shoes weren’t fit for buttoned-up fall or spring, but they felt right at home in the season of summer Fridays, shorts and and acceptable shirtlessness.
I often prefer to buy things made to last, but there’s something rewarding about looking back at three months of your life condensed into a size-10 canvas, then getting to start over again next year. It’s indirect and inadvertent record-keeping, but still, it’s marking the passing of time through good use."
They're ubiquitous, yet unique.
The Authentic comes in a million — unconfirmed — different colorways. Plus, it's often the canvas of choice for collaborators like Wacko Maria, Julian Klincewicz, MoMA, Anderson Paak and so many others. As such, they're a classic sneaker that hasn't overstayed its welcoming, making it as ubiquitous as it is unique. People, like Phillips mentioned, also wear them out, turning each of the stains and scuffs into accent marks that separate your pair from your friend's.
What's Less Ideal About the Vans Authentic:
They lack cushioning.
The Authentic is by no means an orthotic sneaker. It's comfortable enough, but not if you're someone who suffers from foot pain as is. They lack arch support, which means they're okay for folks with flat feet (me), but someone with exaggerated (or even normal) arches will feel pretty stretched out by day's end.
They're still $55 sneakers.
These are not boots. They aren't even Air Forces 1s. The Vans Authentic has a limited lifespan, because it's simply unlined canvas attached to a midsole atop a thin gum sole.
There is, however, an alternative: the ComfyCush. For $10 more, you get an upgraded insole and outsole that blows the O.G. Authentic out of the water. It's worth it, but the original isn't that bad.
The Vans Authentic: The Verdict:
An enduring icon worth every dollar.
Most cheap sneakers suck. (Order a pair from ASOS or H&M or Zara and you'll feel exactly what I mean.) For the price, there are few sneakers that compete with the original Authentic. Plus, it's a piece of history. Sure, it's been tweaked a few times since '66, but it's still the first-ever Vans sneaker.