There is no shoe that is more quintessentially New England, more American, than the boat shoe, also known as the “topsider.”
The following guide will cover everything that you need to know about Boat Shoes including:
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Sperry Gold A/O
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What Are Boat Shoes?
Much of the world’s contribution to men’s footwear comes from the eastern shores of the Atlantic Ocean, specifically England and Italy. The plethora of styles and brands these two countries have produced leave no question as to their expertise in the world of men’s shoes.
The United States, while perhaps less prolific all around, is no slouch when it comes to footwear inventions. The preppy tradition from the Northeast has spurred many a permanent style item, and the boat shoe is one of those items.
There is no shoe more quintessentially New England, more American, than the boat shoe, also known as the topsider.
What Makes A Boat Shoe Unique?
Boat shoes are typically medium-vamped, two-eyelet bluchers that have a “non-marking” rubber “deck” sole. This is for both traction on a ship’s fiberglass deck and avoiding scratches on that deck (apparently boats are expensive. Who knew?!).
They are similar to camp moccasins in terms of construction.
The laces wrap all the way around the shoe’s collar, are often white leather, and can sometimes be cumbersome to tie. Brown was the default color for years, but nowadays they’re available in just about any color you can imagine.
Available on mostly leather or canvas uppers, boat shoes look very similar to camp moccasins with off-white rubber soles at first glance.
Top 10 Best Boat Shoes To Buy Online
With so many options out there it can be difficult to find the right pair of boat shoes for your needs. We’ve researched and reviewed dozens of boat shoes to help you find the best boat shoes for this summer.
When it comes to boat shoes the Sperry Authentic Original is widely considered to be the iconic boat shoe. This classic 2-eye boat shoe makes for the perfect casual summer footwear and is available in a wide variety of colorways as well as materials to choose from.
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The Maritime by Allen Edmonds is a 2-eye slip-on boat shoe featuring Horween’s famous Chromoexcel leather. This is the perfect boat shoe for those in need of a very functional boat shoe that is also stylish.
The Sebago Schooner is a simple yet elegant boat shoe featuring genuine canoe moccasin construction. This popular boat shoe is available in a light-brown “Cognac” leather, as well as a darker brown “Oiled Wax” leather which lends the shoe a bit of added formality.
The Vionic brand is known for making footwear that is particularly comfortable and supportive. The Lloyd boat shoe is no different and happens to be one of Vionic’s best-selling shoes. These are ideal for those in need of an extra comfortable boat shoe that can provide added support without compromising on style.
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The Gold Cup Authentic Original is another timeless boat shoe by Sperry. These deck shoes are similar to the Sperry Authentic Originals mentioned above, but they are part of Sperry’s Top-Sider Gold Cup line which is a line of select Sperry shoes crafted from the finest leathers and materials.
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The Hurrikan is a premium lace-up deck shoe by Mephisto featuring hand-stitched moccasin detailing. The dark brown leather, which is described as “Rust Smooth,” gives these boat shoes a decidedly more formal appearance. Great for those times when you want to bring a bit of formality without forgetting it’s summer.
The Briggs by Frye is a slip-on deck shoe featuring 3 eyelets and a full leather upper. These efficiently designed boat shoes have a laid-back yet refined look that can fit in just as well on the boardwalk as they do at the yacht club.
The Ports of Call Perth boat shoe is nautical-inspired shoe from Rockport. This nautical-inspired shoe features an upper that combines taupe nubuck suede with beeswax leather creating a nice contrast that is perfect for casual summer settings. These shoes are also available with full leather uppers in various colorways.
The Dunham Captain is a boat shoe that is designed to be versatile. These boat shoes will perform just as well on the streets as they will on the deck of a sailboat. The waterproof leather upper protects from light water while the side mesh vents allow for aeration in the event that your feet end up getting wet.
How Boat Shoes Were Invented
Back in 1935, a Connecticuter named Paul Sperry noticed that his dog could easily run over ice without slipping. Fan of all things nautical that he was, he was inspired to cut siping into his shoes’ insoles for added traction on the deck of a boat.
In so doing the modern boat shoe was born, and the foundation was laid for a successful company known as Sperry. Its boat shoe was referred to as a “topsider.”
Boat shoes of any brand are often referred to as “topsiders” because the brand recognition is so strong. This is similar to copy machines being referred to as “Xerox” machines or bandages being referred to as “Band-Aids.”
Wearing Topsiders, Or “How Do You Tie Boat Shoes?”
Let’s be clear about something right off the bat: you don’t need to own a boat, or even be on a boat, to wear boat shoes. More versatile than you might think, a pair of boat shoes will be a great addition to your casual wardrobe.
Boat Shoes & Socks: A No-No
Boat shoes tend to look kind of weird with visible socks and it’s an unspoken stylistic guideline that they’re worn with bare ankles. However, we would refrain from wearing them without any socks at all. Indeed, it’s unhealthy for your feet to do so due to sweat and bacteria. Furthermore, foregoing socks cans also produce an unpleasantly distinctive odour.
Therefore, we recommend that you wear no-show socks with these so you can get the sockless look without the sockless funk. We’ve tried a number of brands and they have a tendency to be loose, which causes them to fall off the ankle and slide down the feet. It’s not very pleasant when they bunch around your toes.
Yet, we recently discovered Boardroom’s no-show socks that were introduced in 2021 after several years of research and development. Made in the USA at the family’s mill, they’re crafted with a clever blend of merino wool, spandex, and nylon.
The merino wool offers comfort and breathability of which the latter is essential during summer. Meanwhile, the spandex and nylon provide a perfect fit so they don’t come off. They are also produced with a silicone patch at the heel, which provides additional grip.
Boat shoes are inherently casual. They’re great on weekends, at the beach, and yes, on a boat. They look best with:
- Shorts (any coordinating color, no socks)
- Chinos (any coordinating color)
- Jeans (the classic brown works best)
Don’t wear boat shoes with tailored clothes like suits or odd jackets and trousers. Exceptions can be made for those of us who are members of beach wedding parties and have no control over these things, but if you have the choice, avoid this combination.
Despite their nautical heritage, boat shoes are actually three-season shoes. They of course work wonderfully in warm weather, but in the autumn they can be worn casually, too. Just be judicious with your color selection.
We offer a few suggestions below:
- Spring: Any color that coordinates with your outfit. Common colors are tan, cream, blue/white and red/white
- Summer: Bright, lively colors and patterns
- Autumn: Brown leather or suede boat shoe (not really intended for wear on a boat)
- Winter: N/A
If You Actually Own A Boat
A word to the wise: if you find yourself on a boat with any regularity, you should own at least two pairs of boat shoes. This will allow you to rotate between shoes and allow them to rest a bit.
If you’re not so nautical, one pair will do you just fine. Feel free to branch out if you’re into collecting different colors.
Should You Buy Boat Shoes?
We definitely think so, especially as a summer option. They can add color and vibrance to your warm-weather wardrobe, and they’re relatively inexpensive to boot.
Make this one of the first casual shoes you purchase when building your shoe wardrobe.
Cleaning Boat Shoe Soles
Being white or cream-colored, boat shoe soles can get dirty in a hurry. While a bit of wear adds character to a shoe like this, sometimes dirty is just dirty.
Thankfully, cleaning these is quite easy: just take a toothbrush and some warm soapy water and have at it. A little elbow grease will take you a long way in this regard.
*Editor’s Note* Do not use your toothbrush for actual brushing of teeth after using to clean shoes. We are not responsible for any medical bills you may incur from doing so.
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"A great introduction to Birkenstocks. A great variety of recommendations and helpful advice for wearing boat shoes!"Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★