Top-Siders, also known as boat shoes or deck shoes, are casual low-heeled shoes made out of leather or canvas with a special skid-resistant sole, usually made out of white rubber. The shoes became popular in the late 1940s, following the end of restrictions on the use of leather and rubber that were associated with World War II (1939–45). They were first popular with the "boating set," upper-class easterners who spent their leisure time sailing yachts that often had slippery decks and who needed the shoes' nonskid soles. The shoes were later associated with the preppy look of the 1950s, which was revived by designer Ralph Lauren (1939–) in the 1980s.
The upscale image associated with the Top-Sider was not what was intended by their inventor, Paul Sperry (1894–1982). A devoted sailor, Sperry one day noticed that his cocker spaniel, Prince, had much better traction on a slippery boat deck than he did. Examining the dog's paws, Sperry observed a crisscrossing web of cracks and splits. Sperry began experimenting by making razor cuts in the surface of a slab of gum rubber that he used as a shoe sole. By 1935 he had created a herringbone (a weave that creates rows of parallel lines sloping in opposite directions) pattern of cuts that reduced slipping dramatically. He worked with the Converse Rubber Company, a tennis shoe manufacturer, to produce the soles and then mount them to a leather moccasin-style top to create the Sperry Top-Sider.
Sperry Top-Siders were soon widely imitated, with many manufacturers producing a variant boat shoe. In 2003 the original Sperry Top-Sider, called the Authentic Original, continued to be made exactly as the first version.
"Top-Sider Creation." Sperry Top-Sider: Where Performance Counts. http://www.sperrytopsider.com/creation.asp (accessed on August 27, 2003).