Water-soluble boat shoes

28 May 2019

Bought a pair of leather boat shoes from a company that’s made them for generations. Spent two weeks breaking them in and wore them four times to the beach, carefully rinsing and drying them after each trip.

And they disintegrated.

The leather upper is fine but the inner part where your foot rests was made of this weird foam rubber instead of actual leather. So contact with salt water and sand and walking just destroyed it. And I can’t remove that foam because it’s sewn into the shoe.

Anything that’s a good value—higher quality or lower price—will be normalized until it’s no longer a good value.

I’ve patronized this company for over thirty years and never had one of its products fail its mission this badly. Its catalog from the 1980s had a photo of the company shoemakers: gray-haired WASPs who practiced their craft for decades. I guess those guys were too expensive to keep around because now its boat shoes are flimsy things built for LARPers1 instead of boaters.

Preppy = Minimalist

Boat shoes have this weird frat boy vibe I find puzzling. I grew up in Central Florida, not Nantucket, and personally knew more rednecks who wore boat shoes than cowboy boots. They went fishing on their bass boats and boat shoes were less likely to make you trip than flip flops, and more durable than canvas sneakers.

Plain goods well made are becoming luxury-class items.

The original preppy style was understated2, simple, rugged, and versatile, kind of like a beachside Yankee Amish aesthetic. Tools and clothes had to be practical and durable. Boat shoes were practical as they could be worn with swim trunks to the beach in the morning, cleaned off and worn with jeans, an Oxford shirt, and sport coat in the evening. A polo shirt could be worn untucked with chino shorts or tucked into chino trousers for a dressier look. No need for a closet full of single-use items. Preppy was a minimalist look.

Sailors don’t wear leather boat shoes

Maybe I just need to change brands. What do actual sailors wear? According to a yachting forum some prefer modern water shoes with a nylon upper so they breathe and dry quickly. Others wear plain old canvas tennis shoes. No sailer wears traditional leather boat shoes anymore because no company makes leather boat shoes that can withstand repeated immersion in water. One commenter wrote:

[They haven’t] made boat shoes in decades, near as I can tell. They make “lifestyle” shoes to go with your popped-collar pink polo shirt.

So…lesson learned. Any product designed to evoke a bygone past is probably more decorative than functional. And companies, even those with an excellent reputation, will happily sell you outdoor gear that cannot be used in the outdoors. It seems like every institution in this country can’t perform its basic function and is coasting on power generated ages ago.

  1. LARP: Live Action Role Play. 

  2. Yes today’s preppy LARPers wear pink polo shirts and skin-tight, green, high-water trousers, but their activewear is impractical for any activity more strenuous than sipping espresso and typing on a laptop.