I never got to meet Paul Sperry, the founder and mastermind behind today’s most popular boat shoe brand, but I know that he was a man worthy of many prestigious adjectives. Innovative, creative, stylish, not to mention the fact that the dude was a sailor, which is certainly one of the manliest things you can ever do at sea (along with hunting giant squid in a submersible or riding a on the back of a whale shark western-style). Along with being a sailor though, he was a problem solver and worked from personal experience to find a solution to a dangerous issue found at sea, while simultaneously starting a Men’s style revolution. But first eager readers, everyone back into the DeLorean, we must return to a hauntingly white place and time: Connecticut, 1935.
After taking his newly refinished Nova Scotia schooner out on the water for the first time, Paul Sperry realized that the deck of his boat became very slippery and quite hazardous for anyone who thought wearing tennis shoes while on board was a good decision. Of course, once Paul realized he had a serious problem, he knew he needed a serious solution. BOOM, enter Prince: Sperry’s prized cocker spaniel. On a frigid winter day, Paul watched his beloved Prince run across an iced over pond with no problem at all and he soon saw after turning over Prince’s paw that the solution was the vast number of cracks and cuts that went in all directions to create a series of grooves. This observation became Sperry’s inspiration for his patented Razor-Siping that became the key feature of the original Top-Sider.
Now, fast-forward 70+ years and Sperry Top-Siders are more popular than ever. Is it because sailing has become the most popular past-time in America? Of course not, it’s still a leisure time activity enjoyed primarily by wealthy white people residing in New England.
To start with, it’s because the boat shoe is one of the most versatile shoe styles that a modern man (or woman, but in all seriousness, mostly dudes) could ask for. Although boat shoes are popular with men of all ages, the primary age range of boat shoers is between 16 and 30. Now, why is this not surprising? Simple, because of the versatility (and the fact that they hold up relatively well for a shoe (usually) priced under $80).
You can wear boat shoes in almost any situation and for nearly any occasion:
Work? Boat shoes.
Going on a date? Boat shoes.
Raging with the boys? Boat shoes.
Going on a nice bike ride? Boat shoes.
Dinner with (possible) future in-laws? (Hopefully) Boat shoes.
And for those of you who spend a great amount of time around the water, whether you’re kayaking, at the beach, fishing, or participating in a for-adults-only Sharks & Minnows league (this sh*t is genius), you can rock a pair of boat shoes and look/feel/project the vibe of awesome.
To go to a whole other level, they can be worn with shorts, jeans, khakis, slacks, board shorts, or if you get stuck in a tight spot when your neighbor/teacher/tutor/boss’s husband/boyfriend/dad comes home early and you’re butt-ass naked spread eagle on his prized Panda bear rug, BOOM, you’ll still look and feel great hopping out of a second story window of a house in a cul-de-sac in some suburb you never imagined you’d end up in. If THAT isn’t versatility, I don’t know what is.
On the other hand, there might be a more logical answer based on recent trends as to why so many dudes have decided to lace up boat shoes for shenanigans and serious endeavors alike (personally, I prefer them for the former). Sperry (the most popular boat shoe brand on the market) is very much a heritage brand, much like Levis, Red Wing, and Ray Ban, all of which have experienced resurgences in recent years. These are American companies with storied histories and, even though most of them aren’t made in America anymore or are owned my much larger corporations now, as young people we want to buy into something that is integral to our nation’s commercial bloodline and proud style history.
Additionally, Sperry falls into a group of brands that I like to call, “For Urban Adventurists.” Some others that would fit in here would be: The North Face, Patagonia, Marmot, Mountain Hardware, and Columbia. Obviously all of those are companies that make products for individuals who climb, camp, trek, and hike their way through uncharted territories while cartographing their own maps and using a compass made out of a turtle’s shell, moose dung, and pine needles, but let me ask you this: how many sorority girls do/did you know that think about hiking the Appalachian Trail more than their last trip to Panama (Note: I’m currently on Patagonia jacket number three so I’m really just as guilty as any XO or ∆∆∆ between here and Athens, OH)?
I apologize, I have digressed into a tangent of stereotypes and assumptions, however, the point I’m trying to make is that (on a certain level) we all like to wear things that we know are designed for activities we’ll never participate in. Sure, you can buy a sick pair of hiking boots or stretch pants designed for climbing, but that doesn’t mean you’ll ever use them for their intended purpose. When I bought my first pair of Sperry Top-Siders, a girl walked up to me and after complimenting me on my new shoes (which I of course loved), she asked “Do you sail?” Well, let’s just say I replied with a sarcastic retort to a question she was asking sincerely. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be Katie Turner, it just wasn’t meant to be.
So go forth, pass out in a baby pool, wear a captain’s hat, rent a paddleboat and know that that pair of boat shoes on your feet won’t let you down (unless you’re participating in activities with particularly challenging terrains, then I’d suggest otherwise (this is from personal experience (French Alps + Sperry’s + lack of trail guidelines/essentially an entire face of a mountain being fair game = ouch.)))