When we talk about boat shoes, the first thing that comes to mind is Sperry. The Top-Sider company has been around for the past 80 years and pioneered the design of the non-slip sole that would be used as the foundation for the boat shoe, a timeless classic that we still see today in everyday fashion. In this feature, we take a closer look at the design of the first-ever boat shoe and learn a little more about Paul Sperry and the brand’s history.

The Basics



The first model produced by Sperry Top-Sider was the Canvas Circular Vamp Oxford or CVO. The shoe features a breathable and lightweight canvas upper from heel to toe with stitching along its side panels. A blue strip on its rubber midsole goes around the shoe for added contrast and design, while the outsole uses vulcanized construction for stability and overall comfort. The top-sider branding is seen on the tongue, insole and heel area and Sperry’s patented non-slip sole and herringbone pattern lines the whole outsole for ultimate wet/dry traction. Its versatile laceless design also allows it to be worn as a slip on or with the traditional lace up look.


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The Accident

Paul Sperry’s motivation to create the perfect boat shoe came late one night when he slipped and fell of the deck of his boat while everyone was fast asleep. He managed to climb back up on board by holding on to some rigging and this started his idea to create the non-slip boat shoe. Boat shoes at that time were made up of canvas uppers but their soles got too slippery when the deck was all wet. When sailing season was done in 1935, Paul Sperry spent hours and hours in his workshop at home to come up with the best rubber combination to create the non-slip sole.

Another ‘accident’ happened when, in the middle of work, he stepped out into the snow with his Cocker Spaniel and watched his dog run around the ice with ease. This gave him the idea to study his dog’s paw and translate it to a boat shoe’s sole. He proceeded to make parallel cuts on the rubber material and found out that if he pressed against the wet surface at a right angle, the traction would increase. Paul Sperry soon increased that overall traction by cutting the rubber in a zigzag pattern or herringbone as we more commonly know it today. Sperry had just found the perfect solution to his slipping problems and the first Sperry Top-Sider was born.

Performance and Style

The design of the CVO was an early success for Sperry and he continued to develop the brand with new models and incorporated leather on to his next designs, which gave birth to the Boat Shoe we’re all familiar with today.

Early on, the use of the boat shoe was purely for performance and in 1939, the US War Department contracted Sperry as the official shoe of the Navy. World War II was in full effect, and everyone was decked out in Sperrys.

In the 1960s, the Sperry Top-Sider would slowly make its way beyond the sailing market and introduce itself into the sporting and fashion world. The Canvas CVO would soon be seen on the foot of tennis players and some surfers too. The leather versions of the Top-Sider would eventually make its way into the fashion world and would go on to be the go-to shoe for that ‘preppy’ style.

It’s been more that 80 years since the first boat shoe was made and Sperry’s designs have become a timeless classic. To this day, we see boat shoes worn everyday and is easily part of everyone’s style. The ‘preppy’ look continues to march on with Sperry Top-Sider still known as the go-to boat shoe.

Check out more of our detailed pictures below and make sure you check out Sperry stores around the metro. The Canvas CVO is available in several colorways and retails at P2,795.

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