A Brief History of the Boat Shoe

When it comes to the story of shoes, we love nothing more than a soulful tale. None come more soleful (excuse the pun) than the Tale of the Iconic Boat Shoe.

Paul A. Sperry, and the authentic original 2-eye Boat Shoe

One day in the 1930’s, while sailing on the Long Island Sound, businessman, inventor and sailing enthusiast Paul A. Sperry slipped on the wet deck of his yacht and fell overboard, almost drowning. Luckily for us he managed to pull himself back on board, but this close encounter with death spurred him on to begin thinking about a non-slip soled Boat Shoe design.

Then in 1935, on a cold winter’s day while out walking his dog Prince, he noticed his dog’s ability to sprint down the icey Connecticut hills without slipping once.   Later he studied Prince’s paws and noticed there were grooves all over the pads, and then inspiration struck: he would create the same kind of grooves in the soles of his shoes. So he began experimenting with various patterns, cutting grooves (sipes) into rubber. He made his first prototype, stuck these rubber soles onto a pair of canvas sneakers and gave them to his deckhand, Leon Burkowski, to try out.

When Sperry returned to the boat later that day Leon threw a bucket of water on the deck and shouted ‘Watch!’, and then proceeded to try to run across the deck, before being stopped dead in his tracks. These bad boys had traction! And thus, the humble Boat Shoe was born.

Boat Shoe Icons

Since then the Boat Shoe has become something of an icon in footwear, becoming the preferred casual smart footwear of John F. Kennedy in the 1960’s, and continuing on into the 1980s through to the early 1990s, and returning in the late 2000s for the resurgence of the prep style. Boat Shoes continue today to be worn by both men and women, boys and girls, carrying on a legacy of good taste. When it comes to timeless style, few items of clothing carry off the ‘smart casual’ look better than the modest Boat Shoe.

The Boat Shoe comprises a soft rubber sole and an upper section usually made of a treated leather or canvas. With a low, below-the-ankle profile, boat shoes are a perfect for those summer BBQ’s on the terrace, or evening drives out to the coast for dinner.

Loake Boat Shoes

Bowhill & Elliott have several different styles to choose from. We have the Loake 521R Burgundy Boat Shoe, which comes in a waxy leather finish, with dual density EVA / rubber soles and brass eyelets. These are great with casual clothes.

The Loake Nicholson also cuts a dash as a moccasin construction offering a more relaxed addition to your shoe collection. It comes finished in navy suede with blue stitch detail and offers flexibility and comfort with flexible leather sole, rubber forepart, leather heel with quarter rubber tip.

Finally if you’re looking for something for the evening why not try Loake Shoemakers Eton, a classic penny loafer made in a green suede, finished with a leather goodyear welted sole.

So if you’re heading off to the coast this bank holiday weekend, or if you’re just sitting in your garden sipping a glass of Château Souverain Chardonnay, make sure to relax in a pair of our stylish Loake Boat Shoes.  Go on – be an icon.