In the early days of this blog I mentioned the great trainer controversy. There seems to be a lingering contention among many Mods as to whether or not trainers belong in a stylish man’s wardrobe.
Clearly I’m of the opinion that they do! I have the greatest reverence for the underground clique of stylists of the early sixties and what they did to develop the ‘Look’ that we all admire so much. I have no doubt that most of these fellas would have viewed with disdain the egalitarian spread of the Look from the underground clubs of the West End to the streets of the suburbs, and the concurrent dilution of the ‘suit, tie and hand made shoes’ standard. Had I been a member of their clique I’d have probably felt likewise, but stylish, casual clothes were a rare sight in England at that time, and what is a purist to wear on a day trip to the beach or elsewhere, outdoors on a sunny day?
I give credit to the inventiveness of the street kids who appropriated certain items of sportswear for just those occasions, hence the popularity of tennis (polo) shirts, cycling tops, boxing boots, bowling shoes and tennis shoes / trainers. Among the most classic retro-styled trainers of today are adidas Gazelles and Stan Smiths, in turn the first suede trainer and the first leather tennis shoe. Both made their debut in the mid sixties but their availability in pre EU England was likely extremely scarce. I still maintain that had they been more readily available in the early sixties that they would have been completely at home within a casual interpretation of the Mod ensemble, and that’s why I wear both styles frequently these days, usually with Levi’s and polo or cycling shirts.
In Richard Barnes’ ‘Mods!’ we read the story of how Jonny Moke wore a pair of ratty shoes to go bowling and sneaked out of the bowling alley with a pair of bowling shoes which he wore that weekend as a paid dancer on the TV show ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’, kicking off a trend that quickly ran the length of the country.
I never wore bowling shoes during the revival period, but a few years ago went on a long crusade in search of a pair that looked right and fitted right. This was before I was aware of the availability of versions such as Ikon and Delicious Junction, but I did finally got a pair off ebay … and having finally found them they have sat unworn in my cupboard ever since!
It’s hard to explain why I’ve never worn them. Maybe the chase was greater than the prize? Maybe, having acquired several pairs of the aforementioned adidas trainers in various colours, I always reach for those first? Or maybe I acquired the bowling shoes at a time when I was gradually turning away from the ubiquity of black footwear and towards less ‘harsh’ and more varied choices for my skids? Either way, they remain unused, size 8, ready to go to a good home. (Accepting offers!)
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In the summer of 1977 I made my first ever trip abroad with the family – a long drive down south then by ferry (Dover to Ostende), for two weeks in Belgium. There were bikes everywhere, and loads of kids with cool cycling gear and a plethora of adidas shoes that had never seen the light of day in northern England. Similar discoveries were made by fans of more successful football teams than mine as they followed their heroes around Europe, eventually giving rise to the attraction of ‘Casuals’ to exotic European trainers. I always fancied a pair of cool exclusive adidas cycling shoes as an alternative to the narrow range of trainers on offer in my local shops, but had never even seen them up close.
Some years ago on a trip home to England. I visited Mike Ashley’s ‘Sport and Soccer’ emporium where they were knocking out adidas trainers at much-reduced prices. I was happy to see my holy grail cycling shoe from that childhood trip to Belgium – the rare adidas EM Champ in black with white heel stripes (named after Belgian cyclist Eddie Merckx) included in the sale, but on closer inspection I wasn’t sure about their durability, so I got a pair of Sambas in reggae stripes instead!
Over time I came to regret that decision. The Sambas were indeed a rarity but not nearly as quirky as the EM Champs, and anyway I later picked up some black suede adidas Campus with reggae stripes that were much more comfortable than the Sambas.
Since acquiring a drawer full of shirts inspired by cycling gear in recent years I’ve been on the lookout for some cycling shoes to complement them. And finally, from eBay in Germany …
These are the vaunted adidas EM Champ, in a much more striking cobalt blue, although this pair appears to be reissues and have been updated from how I remember them, now seemingly more robust. Currently, shoes made for actual cycling have become rigid and high tech with clip-ready soles. Instead of real perforations throughout the shoe on the original versions, these remakes are lined with an inner (presumably breathable?) fabric. Likewise the perforations on the sole are now faux, thus moving the shoe from its origins as a purpose-built bike shoe to a cycling-inspired trainer/leisure shoe. I love the blue colour, and while they may still not be the most durable shoe in my collection they will be fine for their intended purpose of strolling on the boardwalk picking out a bar or restaurant.
There’s a cycling theme to everything on show here:
Sunglasses – Roka Rio Ti. They look like normal aviator shades with blue mirror lenses but these are specially designed for sports – particularly triathlon – with non slip silicone nose pads and ear pieces and fog-resistant lenses.
Top – Madcap, a modern retro-influenced cycling style shirt in knitted cotton.
Strides – Levi’s 511 Commuters. These were made with cycling in mind, including a reflective strip on the outseam visible when the hems are rolled, and a strap on the waistband to keep a bike lock. They’re supposed to be stain and rain resistant too. I have a few pairs of these in various colours. Typical of Levi’s they keep tweaking the design. This pair doesn’t have the reinforced crotch that others have, and has a higher proportion of elastane giving them a stretchy component.
Shoes – adidas EM Champ