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The Birth of a Boating Classic

Posted in Feature by Hannes Rebas

The Birth of a Boating Classic

Considered a boating classic, preppy wardrobe staple and an American icon, the boat shoe (or deck shoe) is a casual style with the original purpose of enabling safe treading on slippery boat decks.

Made to be worn sockless, the archetypal rendition is a unlined moc toe with a rugged water-repellent leather upper. It has a non-marking rubber sole, two eyelets and features rawhide laces with ornamental side-lacings.

It was originally invented by American sailor Paul A. Sperry in 1935, after the less than pleasant experience of slipping on the deck and falling overboard into the frigid waters of the Long Island Sound outside New York City. This led him to experiment with various possibilities for non-slip soles. Observing how the natural grooves of his dog’s paws provided traction on icy slopes, he tried cutting a herringbone pattern into a natural rubber sole. His idea proved effective, and the rubber sole with the siping pattern became part of the original Sperry Top-Sider boat shoe designed by Sperry in the late 1930’s.

Success came quickly, with his shoes being specified as one of the official shoes of the US Navy in 1939 and becoming the official footwear of the casual uniform of the US Naval Academy. Sperry soon sold his business and could see the design become a coveted casual footwear classic in coastal areas worldwide. The Kennedy family were photographed wearing the shoe on their summer getaways to New England in the 1960’s, further increasing the popularity of the Sperry Top-Sider.

Today there are countless makers and variations of boat shoes. Except for the original Top-Siders from Sperry, some of the best ones are made by the likes of Alden, Allen Edmonds, New England Outerwear, Oak Street Bootmakers, Quoddy, Rancourt & Co, Sebago and Yuketen. Despite the associations to boating and preppy style, they can be incorporated into many styles and be worn either with or without socks, however they are best reserved for warmer weather and casual settings.

All photos for this article © Salt Water New England

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