Last Updated on September 23, 2022 by Brian Drew

A staple for any men’s closet is a great pair of shoes. All types of footwear have their own charm and elegance. Among the different types of shoes that are present, there is one style that has the advantage of looking stylish and comfortable at the same time. And these are the boat shoes.

Boat shoes give you the best comfort and that youthful vibe and hence it is often difficult to stay away from these shoes.

What are boat shoes?

Typically, boat shoes are made of canvas or leather and have non-marking rubber soles. Designed basically for the fisherman on the boat, these shoes gained popularity for their utilitarian aspects. The specialized pattern that the boat shoes have helps in providing a good grip on wet slippery surfaces like the decks of the boats.

The leather construction of a boat shoe and the stitching are highly durable and are designed to be used in water. Traditionally these are the best boat shoes for sailing and are worn without socks, as they are meant to be used on water. Slipping off and slipping on these shoes is very easy, and hence are rated very high for ease of use.

The boat shoes have a low profile, generally below the ankle, and hence very suitable for warmer summer months. The boat shoes also have typical laces on the top and on the sides. This is a distinctive feature of the boat shoes.

The other names of these shoes are topsider shoes or deck shoes.

How were the boat shoes invented? History of the boat shoes

Before the deck shoes were invented sailors and fishermen found it a daunting task to get a proper foothold on the wet and slippery surfaces of the boat decks. There were frequent accidents that were caused because of the non-availability of specialized shoes.

It was in the early 1930s, more precisely in the year 1935, that Paul Sperry chanced upon the idea of a boat shoe. Paul Sperry, an ardent sailor had the same problem as all sailors and fishermen – the problem of lack of a firm grip or foothold on the wet decks of the boat.

On a regular winter day, when Paul took his dog out for a walk, he noticed that the dog was able to run across the ice, without slipping. Amazed at seeing this spectacle unfold in front of his eyes, Paul examined the underside of his dog’s paws. He had noticed a herringbone-like pattern that gave his dog a firm grip on the wet and slippery surface.

Sperry then made a similar pattern on his shoes that he used for boating. This pattern is nothing but the siping pattern, with its characteristic thin slits or patterns on the sole which improved traction and gave a firm grip on wet surfaces.

Initially, Sperry used this process and made boat shoes with black soles. Unfortunately, these shoes started leaving marks on the boat decks. It was then that Sperry made the boat shoes with white soles with a siping/herringbone pattern. These shoes were very good without leaving any marks on the decks. They had good traction and could be used well on wet and slippery surfaces.

What do the boat shoes look like? Characteristic features of boat shoes

Top sider shoes have many features that differentiate them from the other kinds of shoes. Some of the characteristic features of the boat shoes are as follows:

  • The uppers are leather, with a dark to mid-brown color tone. This is the characteristic feature of a traditional boat shoe.
  • However, modern ones are available in leather and canvas material. The leather is treated to make it repel water.
  • The uppers of the boat shoes are treated so as to make them stain-proof.
  • The soles are white rubber soles with a herringbone or wave pattern.
  • The toe construction is similar to a moc-toe construction.
  • The deck shoes are usually hand-sewn and topstitched.
  • The laces run through the shoes, with a 360-degree lacing system.
  • The laces are usually made of leather with two or three eyelets.
  • The modern versions of the boat shoes not only have a different colored sole but also laces that are made with different materials, apart from leather.

How and when to wear the boat shoes? Style guide

  • Boat shoes have a typical characteristic feature. With their low, ankle cut style; they are best suited for warmer weather. The boat shoes are avoided in the winter months.
  • They are not formal shoes. Hence the idea of matching shoes and belts does not arise when wearing boat shoes.
  • They carry a very semi-formal look with them. They can be worn for such occasions with slim-fitting denim and an Oxford shirt.
  • For a very leisurely casual look, pairing the topsider footwear with a polo shirt with shorts is a great idea.
  • Pairing them with jeans, shorts, khakis, or slacks is the best way to go with the right look.
  • Generally, as a thumb rule, the deck shoes are a darker shade than the jeans or shorts that are worn.
  • They are never to be worn for black ties and formal occasions.
  • Traditionally, on boat shoes, socks are not worn. But then again, it is a matter of personal choice. There are many men, who wear boat shoes with socks and carry them off very well. Here again, a golden rule to be followed is that while wearing shorts and boat shoes, long socks have to be avoided. Socks in bold colors and eccentric patterns look great with boat shoes.

How to buy good boat shoes?

While buying this kind of footwear, the first thing to consider is its usage. Will they be used for semi-formal occasions or travel purposes or even to go on the beach? Depending upon this usage, one should opt for the right kind of footwear.

Unlike traditional boat shoes, modern ones are now available in many types of materials and soles, with different lace patterns too.

The leather uppers of this kind of footwear are also specially treated with oil, to make them more comfortable. However, the boat shoes do take some time to break in. Ensure that the boat shoes have been worn for a small amount of time, giving sufficient time to break in.

How to care for your boat shoes? Tips to protect them

  • The smooth leather of the deck shoes needs sufficient protection from the elements of nature. And hence shining them with water-based cream shoe polish is essential. This should be done at regular intervals.
  • Quick drying and liquid polishes should be avoided.
  • Frequently brush off any dirt particles, salt, or dust particles that might be found on the boat shoes.
  • Drying the shoes at room temperature without exposing them to direct sunlight is the correct way to dry them.
  • Do not machine wash boat shoes, even if they are made of canvas material. The best way is to hand wash them.
  • Vinegar and water solution can be used to remove any spots. An eraser also sometimes does the trick.

Finally, create your own personal style statement with your deck shoes. Giving you the utmost comfort and practicality, these shoes are must-haves.

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