Sperry Top-Sider

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Sperry Top-Sider
Industry Sportswear
Sports equipment
Founded 1935
Founder Paul Sperry
Headquarters Flag of the United States.svg Lexington, Massachusetts, United States
Area served
Products Boating shoes
Parent Wolverine World Wide
Slogan "Because the Earth is two-thirds water, there is Sperry Top-Sider."
"A passion for the sea."
Website SperryTopSider.com

Sperry Top-Sider is the original brand of boat shoe designed in 1935 by Paul A. Sperry, older brother of writer and illustrator Armstrong Sperry, whose books often featured a sailing theme. The Top-Siders were the first boat shoes introduced into the boating market.


Sperry Top-Sider Store

Sperry was an avid boater who, like most boaters, risked injury while walking on the slippery deck of his boat. His design was inspired by his cocker spaniel, Prince. While watching Prince run across the ice on a winter's day in Connecticut, he noticed his dog's ability to maintain traction on the slippery surface. The pattern of grooves or cracks on his dog's feet gave him the idea for a leather upper-shoe with a herringbone pattern of grooves on the sole. The cutting of grooves in the sole of the Top-Sider was an implementation of a process of splitting or siping a shoe sole invented and patented in the 1920s by John Sipe. This process was instrumental in maximizing the traction and performance of the Authentic Original Sperry Top-Sider first introduced in 1935. Sperry's shoe quickly became popular with boaters not only for its non-slip 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.

Present day[edit]

Woman wearing Sperry Top-Siders

In 2012, Sperry, along with Keds, Stride Rite and Saucony, became part of Wolverine World Wide after a joint agreement with Blum Capital Partners and Golden Gate Capital acquired the Performance Lifestyle Group of Collective Brands for US$1.23 billion. This effectively makes Sperry a sister company of Sebago, their main rival.[1]

Fraternity culture[edit]

There has long been a close association of boat shoes, specifically Sperrys, and other prep-inspired casual footwear with fraternities in North America. This association stems from fashion trends which started at universities in the North Eastern United States in the 1950s and early 1960s, commonly referred to as "the Ivy Look". At the time, still bastions of WASP culture, fraternity men at prestigious schools in the Northeast were familiarized with boat shoes due to their practical use in sailing and yachting. During the summer months, boat shoes were worn, both on and off the water, for their comfort and durability. Penny loafers were also worn without socks in warmer weather, but for more formal occasions.

After the cultural shift of the late 1960s, boat shoes were considered niche footwear, often associated with the prep-style wardrobes of wealthy families, whose children attended college at schools along the Eastern Seaboard. Due to the counter-culture of the era, boat shoes, along with other prep-style fashion staples, were seen as footwear that denoted a privileged, Eastern upbringing due to their yachting heritage, and were shunned by most mainstream college students and young adults. However, due to the cultural insulation of fraternities, many conservative Greek college students continued to wear Sperrys as part of a traditional prep-style wardrobe. Top-Siders were also a must-have staple of the prep resurgence of the 1980s.

The prominence of Sperry Top-Siders in modern fraternities is due in part to their continued use as Prep-Style footwear worn by conservative college students throughout the 20th century, as well as their adoption as mainstream footwear, which occurred in the mid 2000s and coincided with the "Geek Chic" trend in fashion. Sperrys have become stereotyped as footwear commonly worn by members of fraternities and sororities due to their prominence as a modern fashion trend, however, the noted use of boat shoes by Greek college students as far back as the 1940s is indicative of a far more storied and substantive connection. As with most articles of clothing worn by Greek students, Sperry Top-Siders are but one example of Prep-style staples which are conservative and understated, yet are a stylish constant which defy trends.


Footwear News named Sperry Top-Sider the 2009 Brand of the Year.[2] In the same year, Sperry opened its first five retail stores with locations in Tampa, Florida, Orlando, Florida, Boca Raton, Florida, Kansas City, Missouri and Dallas, Texas; in November 2010, the brand opened stores in Burlington, Massachusetts, Houston, Durham, North Carolina and Westchester, New York.[citation needed]

Team Sperry[edit]

The athletes of Team Sperry travel around the globe and compete in prestigious competitive events in their sport. They also assist the Sperry product team to design and test performance footwear.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Saucony, Keds and Sperry Acquired by Wolverine Worldwide". Inside Insight. 2012-05-01. Retrieved 2012-12-14. 
  2. ^ Ernst Beaudry, Jennifer (November 30, 2009). "Brand of the Year: Sperry Top-Sider". Retrieved February 12, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • R. Steele (April 2007). Boating Magazine.

External links[edit]