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Boat Shoes Are Back On Deck

By Rupert Truscott-Hughes on October 21, 2010 in People

“You walked into the party
like you were walking onto a yacht ?
Your hat strategically dipped below one eye ?
Your scarf it was apricot ?
You had one eye in the mirror
as you watched yourself gavotte
?And all the girls dreamed
that they’d be your partner.”
– Carly Simon

When Carly Simon wrote ‘Your So Vain’ she failed to pen the real reason Warren Beattie looked as though he was “walking on to a yacht.” Of course, she was referring to his boat shoes. And it would seem from her lyrics that Warren and I have more than a thing or two in common when it comes to fashion sense.

I couldn’t help but notice recently that boat shoes have made a return to fashion. Quite frankly, I never thought they went out of fashion, but then again I do spend a lot of my time on boats.

Boat shoes, for those of you who were not raised in the Eastern Suburbs, educated at private school or who have never been part of the rugby, rowing or sailing scenes, are also known as deck shoes or topsiders. They are typically canvas or leather with rubber soles designed for use on a boat. A siping pattern is cut into the soles to provide grip on a wet deck; the leather construction, along with application of oil, is designed to repel water.

Modern boat shoes were invented in 1935 by Paul Sperry after noticing his dog’s ability to run easily over ice or snow. Using a knife, he cut siping into his shoes’ soles, inspiring a shoe perfect for boating.

These days, however, boat shoes are the domain of land-loving hipsters who want to look as though they live the yachtsman’s life but in reality have boarded few more vessels than the Manly ferry or the Spirit of Tasmania at best. They certainly haven’t sailed the seven seas, sipping champagne and chowing down caviar like good old Rupert here.

I think I read somewhere in The Beast that these hipster types are referred to locally as ‘squirrels’, sporting tailored pants rolled up at the bottoms, accompanied by a plaid shirt and Buddy Holly style glasses. It all sounds pretty smart, but if you were to wear such an outfit on my boat you’d be overboard quicker than a kid on the Tampa.

With that in mind, I’ve always found it interesting that boat people are rarely seen wearing boat shoes. Come to think of it, they’re rarely seen wearing any shoes at all, but I digress.

Unfortunately, most people that get around in boat shoes these days couldn’t even tie a half hitch let alone a sheepshank. In fact, the majority probably wouldn’t even know what a half hitch or a sheepshank is. Still, I’d rather see people rocking about in a pair of Sperrys or Sebagos than those silly Crocs.

So while the boat shoes are in fashion I’m just going to enjoy it. After all, people may just mistake me for being trendy rather than just another rich tosser who spends too much time buggering about on boats!