According to brand legend, Paul Sperry was sailing on the Long Island Sound in 1935 when he slipped on the deck of his boat and fell overboard. Though he was able to avoid injury, he began to experiment with ways to create a non-slip sailing shoe. Drawing inspiration from the way that his cocker spaniel was able to run across the ice without slipping, Sperry decided to add grooves (like those found on the bottom of a dog's paws) to the rubber sole of a shoe. With this experiment, he invented the first boat shoe.
The new shoes were manufactured under the brand name Sperry Top-Sider, and the brand's slogan in its early days was "sticks like a barnacle." At first, the shoes were a niche product, mostly sold among Sperry's friends, but in the late 1930s, the U.S. Navy bought the rights to make the shoes for its sailors. The brand was acquired by the U.S. Rubber Co. in 1940 and remained under that parent until 1979, when it was sold to Stride Rite. Payless ShoeSource briefly owned the label beginning in 2007, but it was bought by Wolverine World Wide and Blum Capital Partners in 2012. Though "Top-Sider" was officially dropped from the brand moniker in 2015, Sperry continues to specialize in the shoes today.
Babies & Kids Merchandise
Boat shoes continue to be Sperry's most popular products for men, women, and children. These shoes are available in several colors and patterns on the lower portion, and they feature different types of suede or leather on the upper portions. You can even customize the shoes to your exact specifications online. The rubber outsoles still sport a textured pattern to provide excellent traction in both wet and dry conditions. Other popular footwear options from the brand include duck boots, rain boots, sneakers, ballet flats, sandals, water shoes, and slip-ons. Shoes start in baby sizes (0-24 months) and are also available for preschool (2-5 years) and kid (5+ years).
In the women's collection, Sperry offers apparel in addition to shoes. Tops include graphic tees, tanks, camis, hoodies, and casual button-downs. You can also find bottoms built for relaxing, such as running shorts, loungewear, and maxi skirts. Swimwear options include bikinis, bandeaus, and more. In women's accessories, the brand has replacement laces for its shoes, as well as socks, liners, and novelty insoles. Other accessories like beanies, sunglasses, watches, wallets, and handbags are also available.
Like so many of the best inventions, the original Sperry Top-Sider boat shoes were born out of necessity, and they were created with a clear function in mind. Boat shoes have proliferated many other brands through the decades, but the original brand is still one of the best known. In spite of changing hands many times, Sperry has always been able to maintain its own brand identity, and its shoes are known for their commitment to quality. Apparel is still very much a secondary category when compared to shoes, but the casualwear options for adults match up well with the company's niche. We give Sperry Top-Sider 4.5 stars out of 5.
- Established 1935
- Boat shoes and other footwear
- Sold at:
- Department stores, shoe stores, online
- Types of items:
- Boat shoes, duck boots, rain boots, sneakers, slip-on shoes, ballet flats, water shoes, booties, swimwear, graphic tees, tanks, camis, sweatshirts, loungewear, socks, insoles, bags, wallets
- Related brands:
- Stride Rite, Keds, Merrell, Saucony, Sebago, Chaco