T he word “iconic” is largely overused in pop-culture vernacular these days, but when it comes to sneakers, there are few brands more deserving of the term than Vans and Converse.
I mean, who doesn’t remember their first pair of Chuck Taylors or Vans checkerboard slip-ons?
For Millennials, these brands were deeply ingrained in our zeitgeist, and most of us still rock them today—which is partly a credit to their comfort and versatility, and partly a sign of how desperate we are for our kids to think we’re cool.
Despite the passing of time and fashions, both brands have managed to stay relevant through innovative designs and social media campaigns that resonate with Gen Z.
And so, the decades-old debate rages on:
Which is the better brand?
Those of us who’ve been wearing these sneaks for decades know there’s no one true answer, but for argument’s sake (and to help you make an informed decision), I’m going to give it the ol’ college try.
Below, I’ve broken down the key features of each brand, explaining their differences, similarities, strengths, and weaknesses to help you choose the best pair of shoes your personal style and sneaker needs.
(Buckle up, because I’m about to use “iconic” at least four more times.)
But before we get to the pros and cons of each shoe brand, let’s take a closer look at their histories.
Converse vs Vans
Breaking down the key differences between two iconic footwear brands.
You may not know it, but Converse is one of the oldest sneaker companies around.
Its long history in the shoe industry started in 1908 when Marquis Mills Converse founded the Converse Rubber Shoe Company in Massachusetts, manufacturing rubber-soled shoes like galoshes.
(In 1915, they switched to mass producing athletic footwear, becoming one of the first companies to do so… how’s that for some trivia?)
But everything changed in 1921 when basketball player Chuck H. Taylor convinced Converse to make basketball shoes, and the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star was born.
Fast forward a few decades, and the once quintessential shoe of basketball players had been adopted by musicians, artists, and the counterculture of the 60s.
The company experienced another cultural heyday in the 80s and 90s (largely thanks to the grunge and rock music scenes), but filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and was eventually acquired by Nike in 2003.
Despite the acquisition, Converse maintained its unique style, continuing to innovate and stay relevant with limited edition collections dropping each month.
But Chuck Taylor All-Stars remain the most iconic (I warned you) and beloved style of Converse, transcending demographics and generations.
The story starts in 1966 in Southern California, where brothers Paul Van Doren and James Van Doren, along with two business partners, opened up the Van Doren Rubber company, selling high quality custom-made sneakers at affordable prices.
One of their models was the Vans Authentic, a canvas deck shoe with a particularly grippy sole, which became popular among skateboarders in the 1970s and inspired the founders to shift their focus to making footwear specifically for the skateboarding community.
In 1976 they released what is now known as the Vans Era, their first shoes to feature the signature padded collar, made famous by the legendary Z-Boys skateboarding crew.
Over the years, Vans would introduce new styles and materials to meet the changing needs of skaters and sneaker enthusiasts alike, becoming a cultural touchstone among skaters, BMX riders, and the punk rock scene.
Today, the brand is still known for its classic silhouettes like Vans Old Skool, the Authentic, and the Sk8-Hi, as well as collaborations with high-end designers and artists.
And now, without further ado, let’s dive into the Vans vs Converse debate.
Vans vs Converse Sizing
A great thing about Vans shoes is that they fit true to size, which is a huge bonus when you’re shopping online.
Their shoes are regular width with a somewhat shallow toe box that can be a little bit snug if you have wide feet, but luckily, many styles are available in “wide sizing”.
Vans also offers half sizes (with the exception of UK 11 and above), so finding the perfect fit shouldn’t be a problem.
Converse, on the other hand, are notorious for their narrow fit.
Their sizes are bigger than the average shoe in general and the website recommends going down a half size, but this is only good advice if you have pretty narrow feet.
For a comfier fit (and to avoid blisters during the breaking-in period) just go with your regular size or if needed, take advantage of the wide options.
If you’re not sure, you can always consult their sizing guide.
Vans vs Converse Comfort
Generally speaking, Vans are pretty comfortable shoes due to their flexible vulcanized soles and lightweight canvas uppers.
But since they’re designed specifically for skateboarding, the soles are firm and have a 0 mm heel-to-toe drop — also called “zero drop” (i.e. flat AF) — so you’re not getting much in terms of arch support or cushioning.
Luckily, Vans recently launched their ComfyCush line, which features their signature styles but with additional arch support and a softer, more cushioned midsole (at a slightly higher price point, of course).
Like most new shoes they require a break-in period, for which they kindly provide this handy guide.
Converse and Vans have similar structure (i.e. flat soles and breathable canvas uppers), so they’re closely tied when it comes to comfort.
(Although any sneakerhead will tell you that Vans wins this one.)
Like Vans, you can’t wear Converse out of the box and expect to walk 10k in them — they require a break-in period.
And while Converse sneakers offer a bit more arch and ankle support than their counterparts, they’re still very flat, which is great for deadlifting in the gym, but not ideal for most other types of athletic performance.
For those who are loyal to the brand but require more comfort, Converse launched CX, a comfort line that features foam midsoles and built-in sock liners.
Vans vs Converse Style
One of the main reasons Vans and Converse are still so popular is because they’re both effortlessly stylish, versatile, and perfect for everyday wear.
Both brands offer a number of colorways and patterns that let you express your personal style, as well as cool customization options so you can design your dream sneaker (and no one will show up to school in the same pair).
Many people prefer Vans for their variety of different styles, whereas all Converse are basically variations of the original All Star.
But Converse shoes tend to be more versatile, and can be styled with almost any outfit, from skinny jeans and jogging pants to even skirts and suits.
Since the two brands are neck-in-neck style-wise, let’s compare a few of their most popular color options and styles to see how they measure up.
White Converse vs White Vans
The “Optical White” colorway is one of Converse best sellers, especially the low tops.
They’re so fresh and versatile you can pair them with any fit, whether you’re going to a music festival, or a chic garden party.
Converse also offers a monochrome option that’s completely white with the exception of the outsole, which is super flattering for the five minutes it takes to get them dirty.
Speaking of which, Converse’s white canvas is famously tricky to clean, but with a little dish soap and some elbow grease, you can keep them looking crisp.
Vans True White Classic Slip-On style is another versatile design and one of their most popular shoes.
They’re laceless and sleek giving them the deck-shoe look that can be dressed up or down (hello, perfect summer shoe).
One major difference compared to Converse is the outsole is also white, so if you favor the truly monochrome look, these are for you.
Black Converse vs Black Vans
One could argue that black Converse Chuck Taylors are one of the most instantly recognizable sneakers of all time.
Whether you prefer high tops or low, the black canvas uppers accented with white laces and white toe caps creates a timeless look that works for almost any occasion.
In fact, it’s so
iconic beloved that Converse made a custom leather version grooms on their wedding day.
But personally, I’m partial to the black monochrome Chuck Taylor high-tops, every inch of which is black, including the outsole.
(OK, maybe they’re not as versatile but, they’re badass.)
What the black Chuck Taylor is to Converse, the black Sk8-Hi is to Vans.
Originally released in 1978 with the now hallmark white stripe and stitching, the Sk8-Hi high top became an instant classic style and remains one of Vans best sellers.
(The black Old Skools are a close second, and my personal favorite style of Vans.)
While they still look like the OGs, the latest version of the Sk8-Hi has some performance upgrades to make them more durable and supportive (more on that shortly).
Plus, the suede and canvas upper and padded collar not only give them their sturdy construction, but make them one of the most comfortable options as well.
Vans High Tops vs Converse High Tops
When it comes to sneaker icons, this is like comparing apples to apples.
At the end of the day it comes down to personal preference and what you’re using them for, but let’s break it down anyway…
Vans High Tops
Hands down, these are going to be better for skating and performance, since that’s literally what they’re made for.
Thanks to recent design upgrades that include reinforced toe caps, stickier gum rubber soles, and energy-return cushioning, they’re going to be more durable, supportive, and protective than their All Star Counterparts.
While they perform like champs, they lose points for style and versatility:
They’re bulkier than Converse Chucks and don’t pair as easily with a wide range of different outfits.
Converse All Star High Tops
We already know that Converse, with their sleek fit and enormous range of various colors and patterns, are incredibly versatile.
But just for good measure, we’ll mention it again:
You can wear them with almost anything.
Additionally, Converse Chucks have become a favorite among powerlifters and amateur gym bros who love the zero-drop sole and ankle support.
(Sidebar: Whether they’re technically more supportive is debatable since, while you can tighten them around the ankle, the canvas will soften over time and generally lacks structure.)
But we also know they’re less comfortable than Vans Sk8-His, so again, it all comes down to personal preference.
Vans vs Converse for Lifting
While you wouldn’t run a marathon in them, both brands are great shoes for the weight room, particularly for deadlifting.
Flat, thin soles are ideal for lifting for several reasons, but mainly because they help maintain the natural positioning of the foot and provide better contact with the ground.
And the closer to the ground your feet are, the more balance and momentum you’ll have.
While Vans and Converse both have zero-drop soles, Vans have slightly more cushioning that can hinder that foot-to-floor feeling, which is why you see more lifters opting for Chucks.
Vans vs Converse for Durability
As previously mentioned, Vans are first and foremost designed for skateboarding, so they’re constructed to take a beating.
However, the vulcanization process where shoe components are welded together using heat means the soles can start to split away from the canvas with extended use.
But if worn casually and well-cared for, Vans can last anywhere from 2-5 years.
If you’re using them for skateboarding or other outdoor activities, you may only get 2-12 months, depending on the frequency.
Canvas is a great material for shoes because it’s rugged and durable.
But while they were originally built for basketball courts, Converse soles are more lightweight today than they were in the 70s, so they may stand up to a lot of wear and tear.
If used mostly for casual wear, they should last 12-24 months.
However, with heavy use the soles may start to wear down and lose their pattern, giving you less traction.
So a good rule of thumb: If you walk 10,000 steps or more a day, you’ll likely want to replace them after a year.
An easier solution? Take good care of them by following these tips:
- Waterproof your shoes before wearing them.
- Avoid everyday wear by rotating in other shoes.
- Use shoe trees when not wearing them to help keep their shape and structure.
Vans vs Converse for Price
As if this race wasn’t close enough, the two brands offer similar price points as well.
For instance, a pair of Converse high-top sneakers start at $60, whereas a pair of Vans Sk8-His go for $80.
Keep in mind you’ll potentially get more wear out of Vans sneakers because they’re more durable.
Plus, Converse becomes pricier as you get into customization and limited edition designs.
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