Sperry Top-Sider

by Karmaloop Rep Codes

They’re back! The original boat shoe popularly known as Sperry Top-Sider is making a splash in the fashion world after two decades out of the limelight.

An American favorite since 1935, Sperry Top-Sider is both a brand and a way of life. It’s for people who are drawn to the surf, sun, and soul of the ocean. It represents the good life in, on, and around the ocean in any weather and every season.

Brand history

One winter day in Connecticut in 1935, avid boater Paul Sperry took notice of how effortlessly his cocker spaniel, Prince, ran over ice and snow and maintained traction on the slippery surface. Turning over Prince’s paw, he observed hundreds of tiny cracks and cuts going in all directions. These wave-like grooves inspired Sperry to create the slip-resistant Wave-Siping™ outsole that has become the signature of authentic original Sperry Top-Siders – the world’s first boat shoe.

The Sperry Top-Sider quickly became popular with boaters not only for its nonslip sole but also for its white color, 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 the right to manufacture the shoe for its sailors. As a result of the Navy contract, Sperry’s business was purchased by the U.S. Rubber Co., which then marketed the shoe across the country.

In 1979, Sperry Top-Sider was acquired by footwear maker Stride Rite. Along with Payless ShoeSource, Saucony, Keds, Robeez, and Airwalk, Stride Rite and Sperry Top-Sider have been part of the Collective Brands family since 2007.

A pop culture icon

In the ’80s, Sperry Top-Siders became part of the preppy look. The iconic boat shoe blazed to the fashion forefront after gaining fame and acclaim in “The Official Preppy Handbook” and countless John Hughes films.

Along with Levi’s 501 jeans, Polo shirts (worn collar up), and Rayban Wayfarers, Sperry Top-Siders defined the style of the decade. Even though the nearest beach is a five-hour drive away, young men and women would get into their Top-Siders, conveying a confident, upscale, and leisurely lifestyle.

By the early ’90s, however, the popular sailing loafer became decidedly uncool with the kids. The preppy staple eventually became a symbol for the fashion victim that was worn only by old men who sipped cocktails on their yachts.

‘Top-Sider’ was dropped from the Sperry company name in hopes of distancing the brand from the past and finding a new consumer audience.

From fashion faux pas to fashion statement

Sperry’s comeback was sparked by two trends in the new millennium: preppy style was hot again and the market began focusing on “heritage brands” that had fallen out of favor but were being rediscovered by a new generation.

In 2001, Sperry designers began playing with the look of the shoe, introducing new silhouettes and materials. The brand was rebuilt by transforming the stodgy and dated weekend product into a bonafide fashion statement that could be worn year-round.

Sperry completed its renaissance in 2008, when Band of Outsiders designer Scott Sternberg asked the company for shoes for his male models at New York Fashion Week. Band of Outsiders is well known for its finely tailored clothes with a street edge, modeled by young celebs like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Marsden, Zooey Deschanel, and Elle Fanning. Sternberg saw the shoe as a blank canvas, and he promptly started experimenting with new fabrics and silhouettes.

In an instant, Sperry went from discount shoe stores to the pages of GQ. Footwear News even named Sperry Top-Sider as Brand of the Year in 2009.

Fashion designer Karen Walker featured Sperry Top-Siders in her spring 2010 collection. Last summer, Japanese streetwear company A Bathing Ape partnered with Sperry on a limited edition shoe that now sells for $400 on eBay.

Specialty retailer J. Crew, which counts US First Lady Michelle Obama among its high-profile customers, has recently added Sperry to its stores. Sperry also teamed up with local outerwear company Penfield.

Further solidifying its high-fashion status, Sperry recently opened a store on New York’s Fifth Avenue and announced that they will start selling accessories such as luggage and watches in spring 2013.

Collective Brands continues to grow Sperry Top-Sider from a heritage boat shoe into a global four-season lifestyle brand that draws inspiration from its all-American, nautical roots. The Sperry Top-Sider product line now includes outdoor apparel, accessories, shoe lace kits, and shoe care products.

Today, more women are buying Top-Siders than men, and the average age of the Sperry customer has dropped 20 years. Celebrities and tastemakers who have been seen kicking around them include Blake Lively, Pharrell Williams, Ellen DeGeneres, Chace Crawford, Ed Westwick, and Kayne West.

Continuing its tradition of making high performance shoes for water sports, Sperry Top-Sider is the official footwear sponsor of the US Sailing Team, the US Junior Olympic Sailing Team, and the US Paralympics Sailing Team.

Sperry Top-Sider at Karmaloop.com

Sperry Top-Sider isn’t simply bringing back the preppy look of the ’80s. This is the 2010’s preppy with a hipster vibe and a witty edge. Sperry boat shoes, rigger boots, Oxfords, and sneakers are now available at Karmaloop. Enjoy discounts of up to 50 percent! Browse through our Karmaloop blog to find more interesting stories like this.

Previous post:

Next post: