Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Boat Shoes

Whether they grace your closet or you've only seen them on some passerby's feet, these unique shoes have found their way into the hearts and minds of today's fashion folk. What's all the fuss about?


Also known as a deck shoe or top-sider, the shoe that was originally designed and introduced by Paul Sperry in 1935 for function on slippery boat decks - a shoe also picked up by U.S. Navy for its sailors in 1939 - has today become a wardrobe staple. Traditionally, the rubber herringbone-patterned underside, which makes them so good on slippery surfaces, is a non-marking white, combined with a brown 360-lacing leather upper that's treated to repel water and stains. Of course, today's extensive choices include a wide variety of materials, colours and patterns.How did these neat little shoes get a place in popular fashion? In the second half of the 20th century, their big cinematic debut was the Jaws trilogy. Later they were named in the 1980s The Official Preppy Handbook as the 'Official Shoe of Preppy Style', and finally made their European debut in the 1990s.


Originally made primarily for wear on wet surfaces, today boat shoes are replacing sneakers and loafers in everyday life. Obviously boat shoes pair well with shorts or cropped pants and are better left to a casual look. When it comes to long pants, they're best matched with clean, slim jeans or slacks (especially coloured ones), either at full length or rolled up. If you really want to push it, the highest level they can really be taken is smart casual, paired with casual blazer or a nice sweater.Many with a more purist mindset will stick with a classic brown leather upper and white sole. But for those interested in personalising more to their own style or wardrobe, there are a wide array of choices available.And the big debate on with or without socks? Really, it boils down to personal preference. No-show cotton liners, cotton inserts, or a little foot powder are fantastic options for those who detest sweaty feet but don't enjoy the look of socks.


These are shoes that should fit like slippers, meaning tight enough to stay on but loose enough to keep flexibility and movement unrestricted. After some time your boat shoes will come to fit like a second skin, moulding to your foot and becoming a favourite shoe. However, more than likely they will also need to be properly broken in (the general exception being those shoes made from Chromexcel leather). Once you're sure your shoes are the ideal fit, a couple of easy methods can speed up that break-in period and get those boat shoes ready to roll.

    • Water - Get them WET. With a leather shoe, this may seem counter intuitive, but remember this is what they're made for! You can do this in a casual fashion by heading to the beach or docks, or in your bathtub if you don't feel like leaving the comfort of your home.

    • Oil - Condition your new shoes by applying oil to them (for leather, not canvas or suede) until they're saturated, then wrap them in butchers paper and let them dry in a cool, shady place.

Even as you may desire your boat shoes to have that broken in look and feel right away, you also want them to last as long as possible. There are some simple care guidelines that will ensure an extended, healthy life.

    • If shoes are canvas, stick to hand washing them, even if the tag says you may do otherwise.

    • If shoes are suede, sprinkle cornmeal onto the surface and gently massage it into the grain. Let them sit overnight then dust them off the next day, using a suede brush to smooth out the grain if necessary.

    • If shoes are leather, shine them with a water-based (not alcohol) cream or paste shoe polish on a regular basis.

    • Condition leather shoes with oil or conditioner after every other polish (less in humid climates).

    • Keep shoes free of dust, dirt, and salt by brushing them after each wear.

    • Allow shoes to dry at room temperature and out of direct heat or sunlight.

    • A pencil eraser can be used to remove spots, along with a water and vinegar solution. For oil spots, a rubber cement treatment can be just the trick.

From its humble beginnings, the boat shoe has become a classic fashion accessory that anyone can try - whether you're setting sail or not.


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