Athletic shoes frequently pop up in photos of the training centers, and were worn not only for physical training (which constituted 17-30 hours of Basic Training), but also for fatigue duty and in off-duty hours. We will wear ours at events centered around WAAC/WAC Training centers.
“Originally, according to the Table of Basic Allowances, each Waac was issued one pair of athletic shoes. With the urgent need to conserve rubber this allowance was soon questioned. Headquarters, SOS, recommended the elimination of this item as part of the general Army program of rubber conservation…Neither the service shoe nor the field shoe was considered adequate for the physical training program. The heel of the service shoe was too high for an exercise shoe. The field shoe was too heavy and was unsuitable because perspiration would warp and glaze the inner sole, making traction difficult. The question was submitted to higher authority for decision, and the athletic shoe was eliminated from the Table of Basic Allowances in 1943. Later in the fall of 1944 a request for athletic shoes was made by the Service Command Director of the WAC after observing WAC detachments stationed in the Fourth Service Command. It was found that the original issue of this shoe was still being worn in preference to less appropriate types of footgear. The advanced state of disrepair of these shoes presented a “shabby and unsightly” appearance. Wacs were found wearing a wide variety of authorized alternative types of shoes, including bedroom slippers, moccasins, field shoes, and sport shoes of commercial design. No suitable substitute for the athletic shoe had been found to serve the purposes of the physical training program or recreation activities of the WAC.” -Erna Risch, 1945
In an effort to offer a comprehensive tutorial, we tried 2 methods for converting canvas tennis shoes to WAAC Athletic Shoes. Both had their benefits, and produced similar results. We will do a follow-up post as to how they wear. For now, we’re comfortable saying that it is personal preference as to which method to use!
- White canvas tennis shoes (Ours are from Walmart)
- Painter’s Tape
- Paint brush (if using brush-on paint)
- Protective Gloves
- Flexible rubber paint of your choice, we used the following:
- Replacement shoelaces
Method #1: Spray Paint
- Cover the canvas on each shoe with painter’s tape. Take special care to keep a straight edge just above the rubber sole.
- Wear gloves, especially on the hand you’ll use to hold the shoe.
- Follow directions on Plasti Dip can in regards to shaking to prepare the spray.
- Spray in short strokes completely covering the sole edges and bottom. Take special care to get along the upper edge where the rubber meets the canvas. Apply several light coats, letting it dry just a few minutes in between, coat the sides and bottoms.
- Allow the paint to dry. After about an hour, they were dry enough that we could remove the tape. Do this part slowly so as not to pull off any of the rubber you want to remain. Use a knife to cut as you go if needed.
- Follow directions on can to let paint cure completely before use.
Method #2: Brush-on Paint
- Edge shoe with painter’s tape. Take special care to keep a straight edge just above the rubber sole.
- Stir paint according to directions on can.
- Paint on Flex-seal on sides and sole, being careful to not drip paint on to the canvas upper.
- Allow to dry until just tacky to the touch, then carefully remove tape*
- Follow directions on can to cure completely
*NOTE: If you make a mistake, accidentally peel paint with the tape–it’s fixable. Simply use a cheap foam brush and carefully go over the area. This can also be done to clean up the edges.
Swap out your shoelaces, kit up in your exercise suit and you are all set for calisthenics…or laundry day!
- Risch, Erna. Q.M.C. Historical Studies No. 12: No. 12: A Wardrobe for the Women of the Army, 1945