As you may remember from our previous articles that almost every menswear piece has its origins in military uniforms. So why would sneakers be the exception? One of the most iconic sneakers ever made is the GAT, or German Army trainer. The must have, in every vintage aficionado’s wardrobe. Made famous by the Margiela’s adaption in 1999, but their story starts way before that. We don’t know the exact date when these bad boys were designed or released, but we do know that in the late 1970’s the West German Military, The Bundeswehr got issued new trainers. There were two rivals that competed on getting this lucrative military contract. Those two now rivals were Adidas and Puma.
The gold, silver and bronze medal winners in the long jump competition salute from the victory stand at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. From left, Japan's Naoto Tajima, American Jesse Owens who set an Olympic record in the event and Germany's Luz Long giving a Nazi salute, 1936.
Let’s take one small trip back in time to the 1930’s, 1936 Berlin to be exact. Germany hosted the summer Olympics and American track star Jesse Owens won four gold medals. That may not have been totally thanks to Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, but they did play some role in Owens’s triumph. Adi short from Adolf, reportedly gave Jesse a pair of track shoes made by their company ‘Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik´ (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory). Thanks to Jesse’s success, the Dassler brothers became THE track shoe manufacturer for many national teams around the world.
The 'Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory' near Herzogenaurach train station in 1928
Although they made hundreds of thousands of annual sales the bros went separate ways after the second World War, in 1948. They both established companies of their own, that would later become sportswear giants synonymous with German sport. Adidas by Adi and Puma by Rudolf ‘Ruda’ Dassler.
Adidas vs. Puma
So back to the contract rivalry. Eventually both sportswear giants got to produce trainers for the troops in the 70’s. With a rubber gum sole for traction and a leather body for comfort, the standard issue shoe was made by these two companies, for the German soldiers to wear during indoor training. The trainers were originally referred as the Bundeswehr Sportschuhe (Federal Defence Sports Shoe).
Official documents states that Puma created the original prototypes that would become the GATs, but they deny ever having made shoes for the military. At the same time Adidas states that they manufactured trainers from the 80’s onwards. This makes the history of these iconic shoes a bit confusing, and the lack of branding and quite minimal aesthetic doesn’t help at all, but those factors have also made GATs ever so popular.
As some of us may remember from the history lessons, the Berlin Wall fell in the 1989, which meant that The Bundeswehr was significantly downsized. Before the wall had fell down some 500 00 soldiers had been issued GATs, and now when the Cold War ended, hundreds of thousands of pairs of GATs hit the Army Surplus stores.
There it was the short history of the German Army Trainers, but how did they become the wardrobe staple for the modern man in the 2020’s? First of all, it’s a well-designed and simple white sneaker which makes them unbelievably versatile. They go with everything. And they’re obviously durable because the standard issue pairs are still wearable and available at Black Spot Merch.
Another thing that may have contributed to GAT’s success beyond the military, is that mister Margiela ‘made’ his version of the trainers for his SS 1999 show. Margiela actually bought dozens of GATs from the Army Surplus stores and cleaned them and put his logo on them. Then he later on in the early 2000’s began producing his own version of the GAT and named it ‘Replica’. Margiela isn’t the only one who has made his own version of the iconic shoe, another mentionable reproduction is the B01 by Dior in 2005.
GATs in action
To end this lecture, we can conclude that we may never know the true origins of the GATs, but one thing we can say for certain is that these are the shoes that you can rock from the gym to the runways of Paris. It’s a menswear icon just like the M65 field jacket, it’s a blank canvas that you can make your own. It’s a brick n’ mortar for your everyday fits. It’s reinterpreted by brands worldwide. Thanks to its simple silhouette and quality it remains timeless. And as I said before you can pair GATs with everything from tailored pants to Levi’s 501’s, you can’t go wrong.