I think this essay qualifies as an outright self-indulgent dive into personal nostalgia. Thankfully it’s ~pleasant~ nostalgia.
When I was a teenager in the 70’s, the brand of tennis shoe one wore was an overt display of how cool one was. The boys I associated with all seemed to have an understanding of how much certain models of certain brands cost, and the more expensive the model the better. I would imagine that process is still active today, but I can’t be sure. By the mid 70’s, Adidas seemed to be the dominant brand, much cooler than any sort of cheap Keds or even Converse Chuck Taylors. As I recall, there was an Adidas model with red stripes which was the cheapest, and to wear those was a bit un-cool. I think I had some, as my mother had grown up in the depression, and was VERY unwilling to spend money on ANYTHING that seemed extravagant. That said, I accept responsibility for my own poverty, as I really didn’t have the gumption to obtain any sort of part time job for myself while in high school. My friend Jeff had various jobs, and not surprisingly, he had more than one pair of clearly “cool” tennis shoes.
The weird and giant breakthrough for me came when my mother allowed me to buy a particular model of Adidas; the “Stockholm.” These had a blue suede upper, and a thin gum rubber sole. They were unbelievably supple, probably because the suede was so soft, and because the sole was so flexible. No one else had this model, and I don’t recall it gave me much social cache, but I didn’t care, as I believed I had found the ULTIMATE tennis shoe. They looked super cool to me, and more importantly they were the most comfortable footwear I’ve ever owned.
Being an impertinent youth, I didn’t treat them with the respect they deserved. I had always insisted on walking outside in the winter in tennis shoes. My father even commented on this, and I felt confused, as I didn’t have enough of my own spending money to go out and buy proper winter boots. I suppose I could have complained to my mother, but honestly I simply felt more comfortable in tennis shoes than boots. I think I rationalized that I was not harming the tennis shoes because “I was walking on top of the snow.” By now I think you see where this is going, as water and snow is death to suede. Indeed, the shoe’s flexion point beside my little toe on my left foot turned into a hole. I decided I liked my Stockholm shoes too much to just get a new pair. I used a product intended to waterproof heavy boots called Huberd’s Shoe Grease, which I see is still made. This was a product NOT intended for suede, but I used it anyway. Not surprisingly, it blackened the beautiful blue suede, and turned it weird and greasy.
I still had a problem, though, as there was still a big hole beside my little toe. Again, I tried my own “creative” solution, which was to sew a patch over the hole. Instead of using some sort of thread, I decided to use WIRE. To this day, I’m not sure what my thinking process was on that issue.
During this time in high school, we had a PE class that involved playing table tennis. This I quite enjoyed, then as now. One day in the class a ping pong ball rolled toward me, followed by a boy attempting to retrieve it. The ball came to rest against my greased and wired Stockholm shoe, and his hand touched my shoe as he grabbed the ball. I believe he noticed the weird greasy feel to my shoe, as he gave me a strange, silent, quizzical look as he stood up. At that point I realized how deeply weird it really was to grease my pair of blue suede shoes…
Not surprisingly, I had to abandon that pair, and move onto others. I wanted to get another pair of Stockholms, but they were not to be found! I was shocked, as I couldn’t imagine how something so cool could simply vanish! Didn’t other people venerate these shoes as much as I did? My frustration went on for years. In the early 80’s my brother visited France for a time. I asked him to buy a pair of Stockholm shoes if he saw them for sale, but he never did. Stockholm Adidas became one of those cool things from my childhood that went away forever, sort of like Quisp cereal and Space Food Sticks.
Many years later, I realized that shoes could be purchased over the internet. I never cared for shoe shopping; all the waiting around, being fitted by unctuous sales men and women, and pretending to know if they fit well by walking in them a few steps. On a lark, I searched Amazon for Stockholm Adidas, as I had “heard” that certain models were being re-introduced as a sort of retro style flashback. Amazingly, Stockholms were again available! And they were blue suede with a gum rubber sole, just like in the 70’s.
I ordered a pair in my size from Amazon. As I recall, they were ridiculously expensive, over a hundred dollars. I think they were shipped from Hong Kong. Alas, nostalgia has a way of exaggerating details in the mind, and when I wore these ULTIMATE shoes, I discovered they sole was actually ~too~ thin, and didn’t quite offer enough padding. The suede uppers were as supple as I remember them, but these days I simply need a thicker sole for more comfort. I’m also vain enough to worry about wearing expensive shoes, even tennis shoes, out into the real world, lest they get scuffed!
The most recent pair of shoes I bought were also Adidas, but from Costco, for only 30 dollars! Because the uppers are a synthetic mesh, they “breath” nicely, unlike even thin leather. They are running shoes, probably the cheap “trainers” but the soles are thick, especially in the heels, and provide a nice feeling of “rolling” forward when I walk.
I will always have fond memories of those Stockholm shoes, and will doubtless wear the pair that I now own, but I must concede that my nostalgic mental model is better than present reality.