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July 23, 2010

An Ode to Boat Shoes

Clipping from the original 1968 ad for the PF Flyers Windjammer boat shoe.

Maybe it’s rote to say preppy culture is coming back into vogue in America. Maybe I’m way behind my Big Apple peers in pointing out the influence of Vampire Weekend and its Cape & Islands blueblood rock. Maybe I just spent too much time in Colorado, where the term “boat shoes” refers to Crocs and/or kayaking booties. But it seems to me that the tried-and-true boat shoe is experiencing a renaissance like never before.

As a newly re-transplanted East Coaster, I’ve taken to spending my summer lounging around on docks or sitting cross-legged on benches overlooking the Atlantic. And though I’m not much of a sailor, a scuffed, dirty pair of boat shoes have become as integral a piece of summer for me as sunsets, wheat ales with lemon, and informing my co-workers that I’m heading to "the shore” this weekend. Never mind which shore.

Last June, I went with my father to a gathering of summer homeowners near Niantic, Connecticut. My parents had just bought a modest place down the beach from Rocky Neck State Park, where we’d camped during the month of August as kids. This crowd is a little more buttoned up than the campers at the state park, and there was a definite dress code: pastel-colored polo tucked in to Dockers, belt, and leather or canvas boat shoes. The only deviation was the occasional brave soul who had bought (or, more likely, whose wife had bought him) some madras shorts.

But boat shoes need not be as stodgy as the yacht club set. New interpretations of old styles are all over the place this summer. Here are a few examples:

Sperry Sperry Top Siders
The All-American shoe, found on the porch of every summer house from here to Kennebunkport, celebrates its 75th-anniversary this July. To honor its history, the brand launched a series of anniversary shoes in, you guessed it, canvas pastels. They also re-created the 1935 Authentic Original, a TruMoc leather beauty that would make The Great Gatsby himself cringe with envy.

 PF Flyer Windjammer Pfflyerwindjammer
Another cult classic shoe company, PF Flyers are making a huge comeback after years of being a sort of rich man’s Converse. (Indeed, the company, started by BF Goodrich in 1937, was owned by Converse through the 1970s. It was purchased by New Balance in 2001.) The Windjammer was re-released in 2008 with the same colors and materials it had in 1968 when it was first produced. We wouldn’t call the rubber soles “no slip” by today’s standards, but let’s be honest: You’re not exactly an America's Cup deckhand. 

Timberland Water Shoes by Opening Ceremony & Timberland
Profiled in the New York Times fashion section in June, this collaboration project between old-school outdoors company Timberland and trendy boutique retail house Opening Ceremony breathes new life into a Timberland product that had accrued a small bit of ire in fashion circles: the water shoe. A breathable mesh shoe with neoprene and suede, it hardly conjures images of fanny-packed fathers on tubing adventures. At $95, it shouldn’t.

Photos courtesy of the companies.

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Related Topics: Sailing · Travel Gear


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I really enjoyed this post, and learning a bit about the behind-the-scenes production! Looking forward to more :)

Boat shoes are virtually indestructible.

Very happy to see your article, I very much to like and agree with your point of view. Thank you for sharing. At the same time,i love Slippers and Sandals very much .Welcome to look at my website and blog articles.Hope we can become good friends, and exchange and to help each other! Thanks!!

I think your opinions are reasonable.But I don't agree with you to some extent.

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