At the dawn of the sports shoe phenomenon, there was one shoe: The Adidas Superstar. In the mid-seventies, there was no glut of athletic footwear. I wore Keds to play in, and Buster Browns to school and church. Come home from school, take off school shoes and lace up the knockabouts. Which was fine for elementary school, but the advent of junior high school suggested that I would need to have a pair of shoes to wear for PE. Daily. The advent of junior high also meant that I was suddenly thrust into a pool of peer pressure that I had not anticipated. Carrying an extra pair of shoes around all day was not something that was done. Kids were now buying those expensive brand name athletic shoes and wearing them all day long.
All day long.
I took this matter to my mother, who was my chaperone in matters of sartorial splendor. Every autumn we would go shopping for school clothes, with a stop at Thornton's Shoes to pick up my Buster Browns and Keds. Which is where the plaintive whine began to emit from her middle son. "Mom, all the kids have Adidas. Why can't I have Adidias?" And so, in good faith, we went down the block to check out the sporting goods store to see just what we were getting into. When it became obvious that the price point of Adidas Superstars would buy three or four pair of Keds, I began to back down. I had grown up accompanying my mother to the grocery store, pushing the cart and acting as coupon caddy, and I understood value. And economy. These "tennis shoes" were not necessities, they were luxury items. I got that.
But my mother was listening. A week later, she returned from a trip to the mall with a pair of tennis shoes with green stripes. It turns out that Penny's was selling their own version of the Superstar. I now owned a pair. I wore them to school the very next day.
The snickers that accompanied my entrance into Centennial Junior High washed over me like a wave. How could this be? At last I fit in.
A "friend" of mine took me aside and pointed out the obvious: Adidas had three strips. My Penny's tennies had four. Anyone could see the difference. I pulled out a few valiant defenses of the value of my shoes, and how I could afford to buy two or three pair of my discount brand while they would have to save up for months to buy just one of the "real thing."
What I didn't reckon on was the strength of status symbols. I was not going to buy anything to elevate my status from Penny's. Which is probably why I ended up buying my first home stereo components from them. And I wore those shoes out. And bought another pair.