All About Deck (Boat Shoes)

Invented in 1935 by Paul A Sperry of New Haven, Connecticut, who noticed that his dog could run over the New England ice easily without slipping, the deck shoe, A.K.A the boat shoe, is now not only worn by nautical types but has crossed into the mainstream and is popular among the populations of the USA, UK, Italy, Canada, China, France, Portugal, Spain and Argentina, especially in coastal areas. Mr Sperry, seeing his dog’s ability to grip, and being a keen sailor who often lost his footing while out at sea, observed that his dog’s feet had a pattern on them which aided grip. He wasted little time in cutting a similar pattern into his own shoes, and the deck shoe was born.

They soon caught on with sailors, who had, for centuries, had trouble keeping grip on decks while on the waves. This resulted in numerous injuries, as well as less serious falls and embarrassing incidents. In 1939, just before its involvement in World War 2, the US Navy recognised the usefulness of Sperry’s deck shoes and gave Sperry a contract to provide them for its sailors. In these early days deck shoes use was purely maritime and they made no real inroads with the general population. This did not really happen until around 1980, when the deck shoe became recognised as the central shoe style of the “preppy-look”, an American term associated the Northeastern States’ university-preparatory schools and which refers to middle-upper-class students and alumni from these schools.

It’s often considered a fashion faux-pas for deck shoes to be worn with socks, and it should be noted that their soft construction is designed to grip the decks of boats (hence the name, of course) rather than to be durable and long-lasting, but they’re quite versatile: you can wear them with chinos, jeans and even smart-casual trousers, depending on the occasion. But remember: the nautical origin of deck shoes keeps them firmly in the realm of the casual / smart-casual – they’ve no place with truly formal attire or in formal occasions.

Deck shoes have certain characteristics which we will summarise here:

  • They are usually hand-sewn and are top-stitched
  • They usually have what is known as a “moc-toe” construction. This is a toe shape somewhat similar to that of a moccasin
  • Uppers are usually waterproof and stainproof
  • Although nowadays available with conventional-type laces, traditionally deck shoes came with laces made from the same material as the upper, with the material cut into very thin, lace-size strips
  • Traditionally deck shoes had a white, non-marking rubber sole, although since they crossed into mainstream use the soles come in a variety of colours
  • Deck shoe soles have a “herringbone” pattern cut into them. This is actually what makes them deck shoes, as it is this pattern which Paul A Sperry of New Haven observed on his dog’s feet and which he subsequently cut into his own shoes’ soles

Boat shoes are so versatile and available in so many colours that it may be that you find it appropriate to have more than one pair in your wardrobe! Take a look at our collection, for that nautical and stylish look!