There’s More Ways To Wear Boat Shoes Than You Might Think

How the preppy staple works in any wardrobe.

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miu miu spring 2023 boat shoes
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The boat shoe, created for walking on slippery decks while out at sea, could be called the nautical cousin of moccasins and loafers. But while its original design details were informed by functionality — long laces used to tighten the fit, puckered stitching, rubbery soles — the style has evolved into a preppy staple that can be worn regardless of your proximity to a sea vessel. It’s a footwear icon, for sure, and one that’s showing signs of a high fashion renaissance at that.

Miu Miu brought the boat shoe back with a runway style that’s streamlined, with a soft malleable sole,” Nordstrom Associate Fashion Director Linda Cui Zhang tells TZR. She also notes the crew team-cool looks the shoe was shown with on the house’s Spring 2024 runway. “I’m certainly taking cus from the use of cord details, layered sport stripes, and polo necks.”

Of course, one need not go high-end — or super sporty — to enjoy all the benefits of the humble boat shoe. “Sperry and Sebago have been crafting boat shoes since the 1940s, and I appreciate their classic style and craftsmanship,” continues Zhang, who grew up in North Carolina where the casual slipper is a regional must-have. “It embodies the coastal lifestyle, so I like playing up the shoe with classic seaside-inspired pieces.” Her go-tos? “A sporty stripe top and sweater over the shoulders, a white wide-leg pant — I’m eyeing the Eglitta jean from The Row — and a bold jewelry piece like the Cast lapis-turquoise flip ring to reinforce sea blues.”

Miu Miu Spring/Summer 2024

Meanwhile, wardrobe stylist Danielle Cafiero points to another legendary label that’s mastered the iconic shoe. “I will forever hold a special place in my heart for the original Hampton Boat Shoe from G.H. Bass,” she says. Her approach to wearing a natty pair from the Maine-based heritage brand is to approach them as you would loafers. “Add in pieces like loose denim, boxer style shorts, mini pleated skirts, Bermuda knit shorts, light oversized crop knits, polos, and even slip dresses,” she suggests, adding that you can accessorize with a thin or sheer crew sock for an added layer of interest. “An easy breezy outfit formula will always win.”

Ahead, discover and shop five boat shoe-centric outfits — and the pieces you need to re-create each — worth trying right now.

Opposing Forces

Although blazer and boat shoe may not seem destined to go together, the contrast between polished tailoring and casual footwear makes for a dynamic look. Complete the outfit with a crisp poplin shirt and a statement skirt.

Retro Perfect

Boat shoes innately feel a bit vintage thanks to their close ties to old Americana imagery. So why not lean into that aesthetic by wearing yours with ‘70s-inspired layers like a lightweight striped knit and flare pants? On cooler days, you can toss a fringe jacket on top.

Slouchy Suiting

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One of the trickiest aspects of styling menswear pieces is settling on the right accessories to go with them — even the smallest detail has the power to transform the vibe of your look. For an unexpected spin on spring tailoring, team a blazer and matching trousers with boat shoes for a laidback feel.

Prep In Your Step

Ever since their inclusion in Lisa Birnbach’s The Official Preppy Handbook, boat shoes have been a staple for achieving the aesthetic. Put your own stamp on the the look by incorporating other Ivy Leaguer classics like an argyle sweater, pleated tennis skirt, and scrunched-down crew socks.

Take It Easy

Epitomize off-duty breeziness by combining your boat shoes with lounge-y separates like a baseball cap, simple top, and roomy slacks, all in black. Then spice things up with a printed scarf.