Rubber toe caps became the must-have feature of shoes throughout the course of 2014-2015. A precise timeframe of the recent up-rise entered muddy waters once HUF put out this ad (above). Regardless of which company you think brought back the rubber toe, HUF’s ad calls back to the times of the 90’s: a seemingly legitimate whistle-blower of an ad that turns out to be humorous. But, here’s a question worth asking: does HUF really have the right to claim the toecap as their own?
Here at RL, we feel the need to throw our hat into the ring and figure this out. The list of rubber toe caps in skateboarding goes back a little further than one would think, and there are a few unreleased gems we discovered in our search of skate shoe history. The rubber toe remains distinguished as a shoe trend because it comes up a few times and dies back down, as trends do, but every time it resurges, it’s seen as an original design. But, such is the irony of fashion. What really needs to be further inquired is whether or not this is just companies trying to make a quick cash-grab, or are we seeing stronger competition in the footwear industry?
Aside from the two big leads (Cory Kennedy’s pro model from Nike and our subject, the HUF Classic) for rubber toes this season, we have a slew of other models that feature toe caps in ways that distinguish companies’ models from other companies. Take the Evan Smith pro model from DC for instance: there’s the convenient pull-tab on the heel, with a padded collar to provide a little more protection overall for your foot. Then, there’s the Adidas’ Matchcourt mid-top, one of the few rubber toe models to offer protection above the ankle. For the first time in a long time, the current state of skating has developed a calling for a trend like the rubber toe that companies are taking and forming into their own style. Just about all of these upcoming models feature a distinct attribute that isn’t found on other shoes. A lot of skaters, myself included, want to label this as a case of lazy design, but it is actually indicative of competition.
Bearing all of this in mind, let’s look at the offending shoe in HUF’s eyes, the Sumner. The Sumner has a slimmer toecap than a lot of other shoes similar to this. When you observe the All Court’s toe, it has a much more rounded shape than the Sumner. But, not many people remember the Nike 6.0 line, never mind the fact that this line also provided an All-Court that time forgot. Nike pulled the plug on the 6.0 branch a number of years ago, but it just proves that the Swoosh has a deep, deep bag of deceased models to pull from on a whim. Although these are the most popular contemporary shoes with rubber toes, there are some deep cuts from companies you know and love.
While éS entertains us with the highly tech “Swift” model, we all know what really needs to happen: release the Kellen James model that never was officially into their catalog. The Kellen James pro model that never saw public release has a rubber toe like the rest of the shoes on this list, but has a distinct design that separates them from the rest. This model’s stitching is reminiscent of an Adidas shoe, which makes it surprising that Adidas hasn’t looked at this shoe as inspiration for their newer ADV models, such as the Boost and the Adorado. James was just a few years too early with his model – yes, the toe cap increases the shoe’s durability, but in this case, it throws a spin on the shoe that makes it stand out, in a good way. This shoe may be one of the most popular unreleased shoes to lie under the microscope of skateboarding, and we can thank it’s toe cap for possibly initiating the discussion for reviving toe caps in our industry.
What few know is the actual shoe that started off the rubber toe trend that is today. While these shoes were released, unlike the Kellen James model, they weren’t received nearly as well as those models that followed. The shoe we’re referring to is the Chad Tim Tim pro model from Dekline. Back in 2012, when we first witnessed the #ReturnOfTheRubberToe in its infancy, Dekline debuted his model at Agenda. During the end of 2012, companies like Etnies and Dekline were brave enough to change the stride of a one piece toe cap industry with these retro’d designs but, sadly, they aren’t necessarily the brands you’d think of today when noting who really brought back this now mandatory feature. Even more unfortunate, with Dekline closing its doors, it shows what can happen to a company that releases product and campaigns just a tad too far ahead of their time.
What we’ve come to learn when thinking of the rubber toe, or any trend for that matter, is timing is everything.
For example, Emerica released the “Indicator Lo” in fall of 2011, but it never reached the production stage. As a way of reinforcing how timing matters, consider how similar this model is to the HUF Classic. The toe doesn’t creep too far up near the laces and the toe panel near the end of the laces remains open for both models. There have been more than a few of these Chuck Taylor rip-offs in skateboarding, but Emerica had a good thing going here. The low profile of the shoe parallels Chucks, but the toe makes it look like the shoe was previously sold by Keds for 40 years. Going even further back in time, Zero made a few pairs of shoes which were basically Chuck Taylor’s with a skull on the tongue. Droors even made a shoe, for Christ’s sake, that had a rubber toe. Then, of course, there is Salman Agah’s Vans shoe from 1994. But, the first shoe with a rubber toe you ask? It wasn’t Agah’s shoe, or Jack Purcell’s shoe, but it was the Chuck Taylor. Marty McFly rode them in 1955 when he skitched away from Biff and his crew and Rodney was wearing them when he skated free-styling competitions. But in all seriousness, the Chuck came first. That’s why Chuck Taylor’s design remains such a classic, considering people will continue to wear them even when rubber toes are not popular.
When you think about it, the rubber toe increases the durability of the shoe, but it also protects your toes. The one piece toe take-over of late sacrifices protecting your foot and the toecap salvages toes without having to sacrifice the overall function of the shoe. However, the more rubber on the shoe, the heaver it becomes. Consider the Chuck Taylor: a typical Chuck has the most breathable material, canvas, as the dominant material on the shoe. The Chuck also has a substantial amount of more rubber than most shoes, which explains why its weight is unusually heavy. Maybe we’re seeing this #ReturnOfTheRubberToe trend so heavily because the last MAJOR trend in skating were the lightest shoes a company could create. Now, the rubber toe is on the trajectory to become the biggest thing in skating if more than a few of these models take off. So, what do you think? Are you on board with the rubber toe?
Written by: Jeffrey Adams Martin
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