Initially designed quite literally as shoes for boats, boat shoes were first introduced in the 1930’s by a seaman in the US Navy going by the name of Paul Sperry (More about him later). Fast forward to the 1970’s, when people began to look beyond the practicality of boat shoes and found them to be a popular addition to the world of fashion thanks to world renowned brands like Sebago and Timberland. Since then, their adoration has soared, and their latest resurgence has led to a great diversity in colours and styles. Here (in no particular order) we take a look at some (four, not three) of the top producers of the boat shoe.
Sailor Paul Sperry was left contemplating the soundness of his shoes when he suffered a life threatening fall whilst on-board a boat, he spent a good while looking for a solution to such accidents. Eventually he made an incredible breakthrough after watching his dog playing on ice, he noticed how effortlessly it could glide across the slippery surface.
Taking inspiration from his hound, he took a pair of his shoes and slit grooves into their rubber soles. Much like his dog’s foot, the slits added improved traction, perfect for preventing sailors from slipping about on deck. And so, the Sperry Top-Siders were born, the very first boat shoe as we know them today, every seafarers must have and official shoes of the US Navy.
Originally going by the name of the Abington shoe company, Timberland has been consistently acclaimed in the world of hard graft for their practical innovations as well as boasting a high demand aesthetically, they are perhaps one of the most recognisable names in footwear. Developed in 1952 by a boot maker called Nathan Swartz in Abington, Massachusetts, Timberland initially only designed work shoes, it wasn’t until 1978 that they created their first casual shoe and a year later their very first boat shoe.
Timberland has gone from strength to strength since then, expanding into other clothes lines, introducing watches, gloves and travel wear amongst other things to their collection. In 2003 Timberland were ranked fifth in the apparel category of Fortune Magazine’s list of ‘Most Admired Companies’ and even launched their own campaign against racism ‘Give Racism the Boot’ see what they did there, boot, good one.
Most notably recognised for their Docksides; a line that hasn’t seen much change structurally thanks to their almost perfect design, Sebago has evolved well in the fashion industry.
Initially founded as the Sebago-Moc Company in the 1940’s, their first creation was a hand-sewn penny loafer. Rising sales and a huge surge in demand warranted the building of a new plant in Maine in the 50’s. Sebago designed their first pair of docksides in 1970 and they have been their exemplar product ever since. Sebago went on to supply footwear to the US sailing team and sponsor a number of sailing teams and races. Things are looking rosy and their future appears bright as they collaborate with other highly regarded manufacturers around the world.
Fighting a deadly case of Polio, way back in 1909 a certain Harry Smith Shorey admirably founded his own business producing hand-sewn moccasins. The design for these particular shoes date all the way back to the times of the Native Americans that populated Maine. Their craft was used by Harry to supply such shoes to hunting and fishing guides, perfect for their trade.
Quoddy take pride in the immense quality and durability of their footwear, embodied by their guarantee to repair any shoes that might be faulty; though there is slim chance of that. They now produce a wide range of shoes that could be used in many occupations, from their boat shoes to grizzly boots.
Today their workshop has been moved elsewhere but sentiment can be found in the fact that their headquarters remain on the Passamaquoddy Bay, where it all began.