A passion for food + fashion

Friday Follies in Film: A Checkered Past

In Fashion, Film on March 6, 2009 at 7:53 am

Friday Follies [n., pl.] postings on Fridays about fashion and food in film from guest bloggers with impeccable taste.


When Sean Penn took the stage to accept the Academy Award for his performance in Milk, it made me flash back nearly 30 years to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the 1982 movie that burns brightly in my memory not just for the slow-mo, topless Phoebe Cates sequence, but for Penn’s pot-smoking, wave-riding Jeff Spicoli character—and his particular choice in footwear: the iconic black-and-white checkerboard slip-on skate shoes known as Vans.

The first time Spicoli wandered onto the screen sporting the canvas kicks I knew I had to score me a pair. To a rural Vermonter, they seemed to represent the exotic world of cool California, the skate rats, the surfer dudes – the assorted sun sponges, free spirits and law-benders that enjoyed a hedonistic Eden that was 3,000 miles and three time zones away.

I bought my first pair that year on a class shopping trip from boarding school to Holyoke Mall in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

When I broke my left leg in three places that summer, friends used a black Magic Marker to give the foot of the cast a checkerboard pattern to match the right. By the time the cast was off, I’d worn out the right shoe. It wasn’t until a quarter-century later, when I actually moved to Los Angeles, that I owned anything other than those first black-and-white checkerboards; I now own some 30 pair, including beige/espresso checkerboards, custom-designed pink and black checkerboards, (in honor of the Bride), tweeds, palm-trees prints, Galinsky prints, Marc Jacobs crossword-puzzle designs, green aloha prints, the limited-edition Simpsons chukkas (black lace-ups emblazoned with Kwik-E Mart shopkeeper Apu) and even the 40th-anniversary re-issued original maroon-colored lace-ups in the original blue-and-white “Van Doren” shoe box.

Curiously, I no longer own a pair of the black-and-whites that started my collection, but something about watching Penn win the Oscar – maybe it’s because I happened to be back in the frozen hinterlands of my home state – made me want to put on a pair, pop in a copy of Fast Times and as Spicoli himself might put it: “catch a tasty wave.”—Adam Tschorn, Los Angeles Times



  1. Love it! I must of had the same feeling as I just ordered myself a custom pair — though I opted for the lace-up version!

  2. I used to have those orange palm tree Vans. And I worn them out. I have since misplaced one of them. Sometimes, I still wear the torn up one with a not-as-torn-up plain white one that also lost its other. A really good friend of mine painted a pair of the blue palm trees for me. Anyway, can you find them anymore. I would do anything to get a couple of pairs. Thanks.

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