Boat shoes, however, are not just restricted to preppies but have been adopted by a large number of people and are a staple in many wardrobes. Due to their unique design and construction they are not just great for boat decks but the perfect footwear for summer months.
Before the advent of the modern boat shoe, sailors and boatmen alike struggled to maintain a firm foothold on the slippery decks of their boats. The shoes available to them were just not up to the task and as one can imagine this lead to frequent accidents, not to mention hilarious and embarrassing situations.
In the early 1930s, Paul Sperry, an ardent sailor, and boater, was struggling with this problem in his everyday life. One winter day in Connecticut he took his dog, a cocker spaniel named Prince, out for a romp and was amazed by Prince’s grip while running across ice. The traction he managed to generate on the slippery surfaced intrigued him. Paul figured that it had something to do with the pads of Prince’s feet. Upon closer examination he realized the cracks and grooves on Prince’s feet formed a herringbone-like pattern that gave him grip. Sperry then hit upon the idea of cutting similar patterns on the soles of the shoes he used while boating.
Siping, the U.S. Navy & U.S. Rubber Company
Sperry’s discovery already had a name, however, as the concept of splitting or siping the sole of a shoe had already been invented and patented in 1923 by John F. Sipe. Paul Sperry used the same process, and his design was successful in increasing the traction of shoes on a boat’s surface. Unfortunately, his black-soled boat shoes left unsightly marks on boats’ deck, a major flaw. However, Paul quickly realized that white shoe soles don’t leave any visible marks. So in 1935, he introduced the Sperry Top-Sider shoe with mid- to dark-brown leather uppers and a white rubber sole, still cut in a herringbone pattern. After this final modification, his shoes became quite popular among sailors and boaters but remained a niche product — they wouldn’t catch on with the general public until much later. In 1939, the U.S. Navy recognized the benefit of the new shoes and negotiated a deal to manufacture Top-Siders for its sailors. Eventually, Paul Sperry sold his business to the U.S. Rubber Company, which started to market Sperry Top-Siders throughout the U.S.
Characteristics of Boat Shoes
- Traditionally have mid- to dark-brown leather uppers. Today, uppers are available in both canvas and leather in various colors and patterns.
- Uppers are treated to repel water and to be stainproof.
- Hand-sewn and Top-stitched.
- Moc-toe construction.
- Traditionally feature a 360-degree lacing system but are also available in other styles.
- Usually have three or two eyelets.
- Laces are traditionally made of the same materials as the uppers. Now available with conventional laces.
- Traditionally have white, non-marking rubber soles; however they are now available in a variety of colors.
- Soles have a herringbone pattern carved into them.
- Shock-absorbing heel cup.