Sperry Top-Sider is the original brand of boat shoe designed in 1935 by Paul Sperry. The Top-Siders were the first boat shoes introduced into the boating market. Born in Connecticut in 1895 into a family with a long sea-faring tradition, Sperry grew up listening to his great-grandfather, Captain Sereno Armstrong, tell of wild adventures in the South Sea islands. His college years at Dartmouth were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I, when he enlisted as a Seaman in the US Navy.
Birth Of the Top Sider
After the war Sperry, by then an avid sailor and amateur inventor, nearly lost his life on a slippery deck. Following this experience, he spent years working on dozens of experiments with the aim of perfecting a non-slip boat shoe. His successful design was inspired by his cocker spaniel, Prince. While watching Prince run across the ice on a winter's day, he noticed his dog's ability to maintain traction on the slippery surface. Intrigued, Sperry took a closer look at Prince's paws and noticed a subtle texture that gave the pooch his traction. Using a penknife and a sneaker, Sperry carved the sole that would become the basis for Sperry Top-Siders in a pattern of way cuts called siping that open and close when the foot flexes, squeezing out water to grip on the slipperiest of surfaces. In that moment of inspiration, the world's first boat shoe was born.
The original Sperry Top-Sider was sold for $4.50. Sperry then offered a peg leg discount, after a man who had lost his leg in the war contacted him and told him how he hated buying pairs of shoes only to throw one of them away. Sperry was so moved that from then on he would sell one shoe at half the price of a pair to anyone affected.
After establishing his direct mail business, Sperry Top-Siders were distributed by Abercrombie & Fitch, then known as The Greatest Sporting Goods Store in the World. Sperry's shoe became popular with boaters for its non-slip sole and white colour, which prevented the shoe from leaving marks on a boat's deck. The shoe remained a niche product until 1939, when the U.S. Navy negotiated a contract for the manufacture of the shoes for its sailors. During World War II, the US War Department named Sperry Top-Siders an official shoe of the US Navy. They have continued to hold this prominent position to this day.
Sperry’s popularity as a casual street shoe soared during the 1950s. Photographs of the Kennedy family vacationing in Hyannis Port wearing Sperrys triggered an affair with active nautical life and classic American style. Sperry Top-Sider boat shoes became an established, integral element of this iconic nautical look.
Sperry's popularity continued to grow as a result of the Sail magazine, the film Jaws, the star power of sailors such as Dennis Conner who lead the America's Cup Team (and won back the trophy for the United States in 1987), as well as high fashion’s admiration for nautical style - that continues today!
The Official Preppy Handbook, the tongue-in cheek satire that gained beloved cult status, notes that Sperry Top-Siders are the official footwear of the preppy style commonly referred to as "the Ivy Look". Tommy Hilfiger and J. Crew among others feature Sperrys in their clothing lines.
Sperry recently opened a store on New York’s Fifth Avenue and announced that they will start selling a range accessories such as luggage and watches in spring 2013.
75 years on, Sperry remains the vanguard of the nautical lifestyle, sporting the latest performance technologies and featuring a myriad of iconic design details. Sperry Top-Siders embody a passion for the sea and the good life, and continue to offer a truly classic look with enduring style.