Vans: A Brief History

Words: Emilie von Unwerth
Images: Courtesy of Vans

July 01 2016

Vault by Vans is an “eclectic collection of Vans styles inspired by contemporary street fashion, art and music,” states the iconic brand’s website. For years – 50, to be exact – Vans has been designing and creating shoes for those who do. Skaters and artists, punks and businesspeople (we see you rocking those Authentics with your Saint Laurent suit): the main thread connecting people from all walks of life can be seen on their feet.

Perhaps therein lies the reason we love the Vans brand so much: they’ve created a timeless, affordable cool accessible to pretty much anyone. It’s not about the brand itself, but rather what’s done while wearing them.

Brothers Paul and Jim Van Doren, along with partners Gordon Lee and Serge Delia, opened the doors to the “Van Doren Rubber Company” in Anaheim, CA on March 16, 1966. That day, twelve pairs of the #44 Deck Shoes – now known as the Authentic – were ordered in the morning, manufactured the same day on-site, and picked up in the evening.

“The House of Vans” quickly gained momentum among skaters in the early ‘70s. Understanding that the rugged construction and sticky waffle soles lent the shoes to skating, the owners of Vans collaborated with professional skaters Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta to create the #95, what’s now known as the Era.

The coming decade saw the addition of three more classics into the mix: the Old Skool, Classic Slip-Ons and the Sk8-Hi.

And although Vans has had a somewhat rocky history (the brand had to file for bankruptcy in the mid-80s when they tried to design shoes for too many other sports), the company completely thrives today. Vans owes its success for both remaining largely unchanged and, conversely, constantly offering new and customizable styles. In keeping the same few silhouettes and allowing customers to pick their color palate – while also offering different limited edition lines every season – Vans has hit the nail on the head for their clientele.

Launched in 2008, the Vault by Vans line is a sub line of limited edition, higher end Vans designed by guest artists and designers. The silhouettes are pulled from a proverbial vault of 50 years of Vans designs. With Vault by Vans, the company hopes to pay homage to the people – and eras – that made the shoes iconic.

The Era: Shoes for Sport


Boasting a similar silhouette as the Authentic with the crucial addition of a padded collar, the Era is the classic skate shoe.
Fans: Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta

The Classic Slip-On: All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.


Honestly, who didn’t own a pair of slip-ons Vans? Sean Penn’s Spicoli arguably made them famous in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and the shoes have been going strong ever since. They have a damn song written about them. From burn-outs on the beach to skanking ska punks (hey, a lot of us loved Op Ivy, it’s totally chill), the Classic Slip-On will forever hold a place in our hearts, with or without the checkers.

Fans:  Spicoli, Michelle Hill of the Slits, Lil B and The Pack.

The Sk8-Hi: Function meets (high) Fashion


The first high top skate shoe… ever. And while it was the go-to in the 80s by skaters, it’s now found its place in fashion. High-tops have been making a serious comeback the past few years, and the Sk8-Hi is at the top of the list of the most iconic brands.
Fans: Gigi Hadid, Kanye, Dakota Roche, Jason Fitzgerald

The Old Skool: Ask a Punk


The first pair of Vans to boast the archival Jazz stripe, the Old Skool is an too-oft overlooked style. Depending on who you talk to, the Old Skool are the punk and hardcore shoes of the nineties. Everyone from Ian McKaye and Henry Rollins to Milo Auckerman rocked them, making the Jazz stripe a symbol of youth culture, the nineties alt scene and, of course, lots of rebellion.
Fans: Fans, Ian McKaye, Henry Rollins, Milo Auckerman, Pretty much any Blackout Records band.

Shop Vans and Shop Vault by Vans