The Best Boat Shoes for Men

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PHOTO CREDIT: Cool Hunting

Struggling to update your wardrobe and scrap the formal shoes? Boat shoes are a great switch. Here’s the complete guide to boat shoes so you can mix up your shoe collection. 

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Originally used by boaters and sailors, the boat shoe has come a long way from its ocean days. You can wear them for anything. Any event, any reason, any formality. Even if you want to just nip to the shop.

And with such a range of options and brands, you’ll have a collection in no time. You can mix up the colour, the sole colour, the fabric, the laces. The possibilities are endless. And thanks to their neutral colour palette, it’s incredibly easy to style and adapt them to your wardrobe.

The Best Boat Shoes for Men

The best thing about boat shoes is that they are available in a range of colours, most abiding by the neutral rule, meaning it matches more clothes and can be worn with a variety of outfits. You probably won’t be wearing them on a boat so can mix up the sole colour with tan or even black. You can even decide on the number of lace holes, changing the whole appearance of the shoe.

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How to Wear Boat Shoes

How to Wear Boat Shoes Formally

Boat shoes can easily be teamed with a suit and are a great alternative to the classic brogue or loafer. Just stick to a darker colour such as navy or black and you’re good to go. You can match them to any colour suit and still look formal ready.

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First Date

You’ll be looking to impress on your first date but won’t want to look like you tried too hard. Pair your boat shoes with turned up jeans, a white tee, a shirt and top off with a leather bomber for a chilled out vibe. Your shoes will dress the outfit right up, bringing it back to date sophisticated.

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How to Wear Boat Shoes Casually

You’ll most probably be wearing your boat shoes in warmer weather, so sticking to that theme, why not team yours with some stone shorts and a plain white tee for the ultimate chilled vibe. You can mix up both the short and t-shirt colours and won’t have to worry about a thing as your shoes will always match them. You can even swap the tee for a shirt if you want something a bit less casual.

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Boat Shoes with Socks

You’ve probably seen it on a hot Summer’s day, when there’s that one person who insists on wearing boat shoes with socks. This, gentlemen, is something that you should never do. Socks with boat shoes just looks wrong and that you don’t know what you’re doing. However, there are a few loopholes to this – by wearing a pair of invisible socks i.e. the ones that are cut lower so they can’t be seen once a shoe is slipped on they cant be seen.

Boat shoe socks are easy to get hold of as you can pick them up in most high street shops. If you really want to make sure that they aren’t seen, then take extra care in making sure the the top part is cut particularly low on the foot.

invisible socks for men
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The History of Boat Shoes

In the early 1930s, Paul Sperry, a passionate sailor and boater, was struggling to maintain a firm foothold on the slippery decks of his boat. An issue all sailors were dealing with. One winter day in Connecticut he took his dog out, a cocker spaniel named Prince, and was amazed by Prince’s grip when running across ice.

The traction he managed to generate on the slippery surfaced intrigued him and figured that it had something to do with the pads of Prince’s feet. Upon closer examination he realised the cracks and grooves on Prince’s feet formed a herringbone-like pattern that gave him grip. Sperry then came up with the idea of cutting similar patterns on the soles of the shoes he used while boating.

jfk boat shoes mens street style
PHOTO CREDIT: BAMF Style

However, Sperry’s discover already had a name, 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 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 marks on the boats’ deck.

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.

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PHOTO CREDIT: The Gentlemen’s Gazette

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After this adjustment, 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 recognised 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.

the history of boat shoes for men
PHOTO CREDIT: Glenn Wolk

How to Wear Boat Shoes

  • Boats shoes work perfectly with a formal look with a classic shirt and trousers.
  • Pair with a simple raw or selvedge denim jean and a plain T-shirt for the ultimate summer casual look.
  • For those warmer months, team a pair of boat shoes with some shorts and a plain T-shirt or button down for the ultimate in casual.
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On That Note

It’s crazy to think that this shoe was solely used for nautical purposes and now we can find it in almost every guys wardrobe (maybe even your Dad’s). They’re a simple shoe, in the sense that you can just easily slip them on, and they literally suit everything because of their simple design. They’re now even seen as formal attire, which is always a plus.

The variety of colours and styles will leave you with endless possibilities, with both styling and formality. Opt for more laces if you want more casual, or a brighter shade. Stick to basics and a white sole if you’re after formal. And there you have the ultimate guide on boat shoes.

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