The Easy (Sort of Elegant) Summer Foul Weather Shoe


If you think of its pedigree, I’m sure you’ll agree, the classic Sperry Topsider Deck Shoe, while not offering much in the way of arch support, may be the perfect summer foul weather shoe.

Which is funny since the shoe, or — I should say — the sole, was inspired by a winter’s day walk in Connecticut in 1935. That day, Paul Sperry, took his dog Prince, a cocker spaniel, for a walk. It was an icy morning and he noticed that his dog had no problem negotiating the slippery grounds.

Mr. Sperry had been trying to find a good pair of shoes to use whilst sailing his Nova Scotia Schooner. The gum soled shoes popular at the time were slippery on wet painted decks. Rope soled British sailing shoes skated across dry decks.

Curious, he flipped his dog over to examine his paws and noticed the rough pads traversed by small cracks or cuts. So he took a razor to a pair of gum soles, eventually deciding on a herringbone pattern and cemented them to a pair of tennis shoes. He enlisted a deck hand to help test them out and prove that he was on the right track. He was.

The only drawback was that the shoe would cost $4.50. The best sneaker on the market at the time cost $3.75 and wasn’t selling too well. Mr. Sperry convinced Converse to make the shoe for him and an advertising and marketing man (and friend) who worked for McGraw-Hill convinced him (as he had L.L. Bean) to sell by direct mail. Among Mr. Sperry’s first customers was a man named Vanderbilt. Abecrombie and Fitch were the first to buy wholesale and sell to the retail market. The shoe became an American classic.

What makes the Topsider a good shoe for those brief downpours is the water resistant leather upper. Yes, they will eventually soak through and stain your bare feet. But feet dry and they shoe looks better for the weathering. What makes them a good summer shoe is the unlined interior, which I find most comfortable and to which I do not stick even in hot weather. For use with tailored shorts, your non-elastic waist, shorter swim suit or a pair of rolled up khakis, reds or jeans they are hard to beat. Easy? Yes. Elegant? For casual wear, yes. But save them for casual wear.

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