Boat shoes, also known as deck shoes or top siders, have been popular casual footwear for men for decades. The original design inspiration for these shoes is believed to have been the American Indian moccasin, with its water-resistant hide, low profile and side lacing. Originally, boat shoes were meant to be worn while walking on the slippery deck of a boat. The leather uppers are treated with a water-repellent oil, and special non-skid rubber soles give the shoes adequate traction. The low profile, similar to that of a slipper or loafer, makes it easier to get in and out of the shoes quickly.
These shoes have become fashionable footwear and are considered to be less formal than dress shoes but more formal than loafers. Boat shoes suggest a casual athleticism and an eye toward style. This style of shoes can be worn with or without socks, although many traditionalists prefer a sockless appearance, perhaps stemming from the likelihood that the wearer might want to take off the shoes and go barefoot while on a boat or on the beach. Manufacturers often include removable sock pads for additional cushioning.
Some men find it difficult to decide between boat shoes and loafers for casual wear. Style experts suggest that loafers should be worn with "office casual" attire such as jeans and button-down shirts, and boat shoes should be worn with sportier ensembles that might include clothing such as khaki shorts and golf shirts or polo shirts. These shoes are considered to be a three-season item, so they should not be worn during the winter except in tropical areas that are warm even in the winter months.
Care and Cleaning
Although boat shoes are designed to withstand the rough conditions aboard a boat, they still require maintenance between wearings. A quality oil for leather should be applied regularly to the uppers to maintain their water resistance and suppleness. The insoles should be removed, sprayed with an approved shoe cleaner and allowed to air dry to prevent bacterial and fungal growth. Rubber soles that have begun to become worn away should be repaired or replaced to prevent slips on a wet deck.
Quality boat shoes are not going to be cheap, but they should last for several seasons without deterioration. Many shoe manufacturers and retailers use the terms "boat shoes" and "top siders" interchangeably, so someone who is looking to purchase a pair of these shoes should look for either description while shopping.