Everything You Need To Know About Boat Shoes

Everything You Need To Know About Boat Shoes


Boat shoes are an awesome piece of footwear because they can be worn with almost anything and add class to any outfit. Especially for men, when summer footwear options are limited, the open-top design is perfect for keeping feet cooler in hot temperatures.

Why Are They Called Boat Shoes?

Boat shoes were invented in 1935 by Paul A. Sperry of New Haven, CT. An avid sailor, Sperry cut sipes into the rubber soles of his shoes to provide extra traction on wet boat decks. When the original black rubber sole started to leave black marks all over the boat, he switched to white rubber soles.

Boat Shoe Design & Construction

The siped rubber soles are just one of the features that make boat shoes unique. Modern boat shoe designs haven’t strayed far from the original design, where every part of the shoe is designed with sailing functionality in mind.


Traditional boat shoes use leather uppers for a few different reasons. For one, leather is usually treated with a wax or oil that repels water and keeps feet drier than other materials. The top of the shoe is open so that if water does get into the shoe, it can escape instead of being trapped against the feet. This is the same reason that boat shoes are never worn with socks out on the water - socks will trap moisture against the feet and defeat the purpose of the open-top design. 


Traditional boat shoes are known for a unique lacing system that extends up the sides and wraps around the heel of the shoe. Sailing requires a lot of agility and moving around, so boat shoes need to be held securely to the feet. This lacing system ensures that the wearer’s heel doesn’t pull out of the shoe when moving about the boat. Laces themselves are typically also leather for durability and waterproofing.


The toe box of a boat shoe will use moccasin-style stitching where the tongue of the shoe is joined with the upper via stitching around the front of the shoe. This makes the toe box more comfortable when wearing the shoes barefoot (as originally intended) by reducing rubbing and chafing against the toes.

Are Boat Shoes Comfortable?

Because boat shoes are designed to be worn without socks, they’re some of the most comfortable shoes out there. On most leather boat shoes, the leather will require a break-in period where it is more pliable and starts to mold to the wearer’s feet. 

Leather contains natural oils that make it soft and pliable. Over time, it’s important to clean and condition the leather to ensure that it doesn’t dry out. Cleaning and conditioning boat shoes will ensure that they stay comfortable for years to come.

Are Boat Shoes Dress Shoes?

Boat shoes are known for adding a little extra class to an outfit, but they’re not dress shoes and shouldn’t be substituted for them. Boat shoes are more elegant than sneakers or sandals and can instantly take an outfit up a notch just by slipping them on. A pair of boat shoes, chinos, button down shirt and a blazer will take boat shoes to the upper limit of business casual. Read more about how to wear boat shoes, or shop our collection of super comfortable men’s dress shoes.

Boat Shoes vs. Loafers

Boat shoes and loafers have some similarities in materials and construction but are designed for different purposes. Both are typically made of leather and will have an open top. Loafers differ in several ways:

  • Can be more upscale
  • Don’t have laces
  • Use a more pronounced heel than boat shoes
  • Have a polished finish

Loafers have a wider range of uses, depending on the style. A casual loafer can be worn in situations where a boat shoe would be equally appropriate. An upscale loafer can be worn with a suit or in formal situations (where a boat shoe would not be acceptable).

Are Boat Shoes Still In Style?

Yes, boat shoes have become a classic staple for spring, summer and fall footwear. The boat shoe revival started in the 80s and 90s and has continued into the 2000s as more people realize their benefits (namely comfort and style versatility).

Shop Boat Shoes From Samuel Hubbard

Thinking about a new pair of boat shoes? Check out our collection! Samuel Hubbard boat shoes are designed to go anywhere and everywhere that you do. We believe that empowering others for their journey starts from the ground up. Handcrafted construction from the finest materials means all-day comfort wherever you go.