All aboard! Why boat shoes are being worn nowhere near the sea

Last Updated: June 9, 2024By

These Shoes Are Making a Comeback and They’re Everywhere

Hey there! Ever noticed those shoes that your friend’s fancy dad used to wear when he went grocery shopping? Well, guess what? They’re back in style! Yep, those classic boat shoes are now being spotted all over the place—on trains, buses, and sidewalks. Even Vogue declared 2024 as the year of the boat shoe! But no one thought they’d actually become popular outside of yacht clubs and Nantucket. Yet, here we are, seeing them on folks who probably can’t even tell the difference between port and starboard!

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Boat Shoes Hit the Runway

The whole boat shoe trend started making waves on the fashion runway. Miu Miu, the trendy label designed by Miuccia Prada, featured boat shoes in their spring/summer show. These fancy versions are selling for a whopping £660, but they’re so popular that apps like Depop have seen a spike in boat shoe searches—up 39% last month! Brands like Timberland and Sebago are in high demand, with prices ranging from £12 to £90.

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Everyone’s Jumping on the Boat Shoe Bandwagon

Other designers are hopping on the boat shoe trend too. Loewe showcased some chunky boat shoes for the autumn/winter season, and Arsenal player Declan Rice even rocked boat shoes with white socks in Aimé Leon Dore’s latest ad campaign.

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The Preppy Revival

According to a spokesperson for Depop, boat shoes are part of a broader trend of reviving preppy styles. It seems the fashion cycle is swinging back to classic, more conservative looks. Think of the original “Gossip Girl” series, JFK in Hyannis, or American influencer Emma Chamberlain.

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A Bit of Boat Shoe History

Boat shoes have been a staple of the preppy look in the US for ages. They were the go-to footwear for the yacht-owning elite in the Hamptons, often paired with polo shirts and chinos. In the 1980 bestseller “The Official Preppy Handbook,” Lisa Birnbach emphasized that the right shoes were crucial for being part of the preppy elite. The Sperry Top-Sider, a classic boat shoe, was the perfect fit.

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In the UK, boat shoes were popular among the well-off Sloane Rangers in the 1980s. Peter York, co-author of “The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook,” described them as shoes for guys who liked to mess around in boats. Wearing boat shoes was a way to show off an upper-class lifestyle, even if you lived in a posh urban area like Parsons Green.

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From Decks to the Streets

The boat shoe design has been around for almost a century. The story goes that sailor Paul Sperry slipped on his boat’s deck and fell overboard. He noticed his dog could walk on ice without slipping due to the texture of its paws, so he cut similar slits into his shoes, creating a better grip on wet surfaces. He launched the Sperry Top-Sider in 1935, and other brands like Sebago, GH Bass, and Timberland soon followed. Boat shoes became the footwear of choice for those who could afford boats.

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Boat Shoes in 2024

Today, most people wearing boat shoes probably don’t own a yacht. Jason Jules, author of “Black Ivy,” a book about the preppy Ivy Look popular among Black Americans in the 1950s and 60s, says the current interest in boat shoes fits into the “old money aesthetic” that’s trendy on TikTok. This aesthetic leans towards classic and understated designs favored by the wealthy.

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A Smart Fashion Choice

Jules, who has a large collection of boat shoes himself, believes that the current focus on this classic design isn’t just about looking rich. It’s also a reaction against fast fashion. “People are being smarter with their money,” he says. “A good pair of not-too-branded shoes can last you 20 years with minimal reinvestment or change. It’s a cost-effective way to dress.”

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A Change from Sneakers

After years of sneakers dominating the fashion scene, boat shoes offer a refreshing change. “When you think of sneakers, there are endless varieties—from Vans canvas shoes to Nike Air Jordans,” says Jules. “But a boat shoe is always, lovingly, a boat shoe.”

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So, next time you’re out and about, keep an eye on people’s feet. You’ll probably spot a pair of boat shoes walking by!

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