Boat shoes usually have a treated leather upper, a soft rubber sole, decorative laces around the sides and a low vamp and top. A sailor originally designed the iconic model – which had two eyelets and short leather laces – in 1935 as a better way to get around slippery boat decks.
Decades later, boat shoes took hold as a preppy style item. But don’t go overboard! A GQ article called “The Rules of Wearing Boat Shoes” had this advice: “The boat shoe is a preppy staple, so it’ll feel at home with chinos and polo shirts. Perfectly fine. The objective is to look like JFK and not your average American frat guy, so pump the breaks on pastel colors, embroidered belts and Croakies.”
But boat shoes can now go far beyond the country club too.
Following the men’s nautical trend a few years ago, new life has been breathed into boat shoes. The shoe is a sort of chameleon that can be dressed up or down while making you look sophisticated but comfortable.
Once you understand boat shoes, you’ll find them an ingenious way to tweak and modernize your look. If you are wearing semi-formal attire, for example, boat shoes will make you seem nonetheless approachable. Likewise, if you opt for shorts, boat shoes will make sure you still look like a grown-up.
Going to a smart casual do? Wear these shoes with chinos, but roll up the cuffs to make it look effortless. Or, for a strong summer vibe, pair navy, tan, white or pale blue boat shoes with well-cut shorts and shirt.
Another dress code boat shoes were made for is business casual. Just be conservative with your colors and styles, and keep your cuffs rolled down. Boat shoes in dark tan or brown will complement typical business colors – deep navy, gray and black – quite nicely. Steer away from bright colors and chunky soles.
Want to wear boat shoes with your jeans? Look for a similar tone to your jeans and contrasting lace colors.
So what are the no-nos? Generally, boat shoes are reserved for warm weather and worn with no-show socks.
But if you’re feeling adventurous, you can get around those rules. The right socks will let you wear boat shoes even in winter. Color is the key. Pair navy blue boat shoes and an otherwise conservative color scheme with yellow socks. Brown leather goes well with woven wool socks, and lighter tones go with pastels.
Okay, true – boat shoes really won’t work with a tuxedo or tie. But with all this versatility, they should have a place in every man’s summer wardrobe. You’ll look fantastic at a backyard wedding, a pool party, and even at the office.
Check out some stunning Bata boat shoes below.