I remember my first pair of boat shoes like it was yesterday. Right after Dad discovered I signed up for fraternity recruitment at a college in the southeast, he looked at my beat up Asics, shook his head, ushered my negligent ass into the car and took me to the mall.
Pops always rocked a pair of topsiders, even when he mowed the lawn. But the beauty of the shoes had never been imparted to me ’til now. Perhaps he felt I wasn’t ready. Now, a high school senior on the cusp of manhood, the time had finally come.
I recall, in vivid detail, opening that very first box of Sperrys and seeing those two brown beauties nestled snugly in a sheet of paper. The charming smell of fresh oxhide wafted from the cardboard container. I slid my foot into the first shoe. My father stopped me.
“What are you doing?”
I was startled. Confused. I looked at him like an untrained puppy unsure of why he was being punished for shitting on the carpet.
“Socks off,” he said.
I tore off the lily-white abominations and reinserted my foot. In that instant, something magical happened. The comfort. Oh, sweet Jesus Mother of Mary — the comfort! The feeling of freedom exhibited by my naked toes wiggling unrestricted in their new home, liberated from the tyranny of the sock, was indescribable.
I felt the smooth touch of leather running through my fingers as I laced them up. My father beamed with pride.
“That’s the last time you’ll ever need to tie ‘em,” he said.
How was such a thing possible? I didn’t believe it back then, but it’s true. The first time you knot your boat shoe’s laces will also be the last time. The bow will hold firm until the end of your natural life. No need to ever untie them. The boat shoe slides on and off with ease, and still fits snugly when in use. It doesn’t flop around like a flip-flop.
I looked down at the two miracles hugging my feet, then stood up and took my first few steps. I walked past the skate shoes, the dress shoes, and the athletic shoes on display before stepping over the threshold between boyhood and manhood.
Like any transition from one phase of life to another, the addition of the boat shoe comes with its growing pains. The unworked leather will be rough on your feet at first. Painful blisters are inevitable. But don’t you dare wear socks. Don’t drench them in baseball glove oil to speed up the process, either. The boat shoe blister is a necessary evil. Refusing to endure the pain taints the rite of passage.
The look of the boat shoe is unlike any other piece of footwear. Unlike a slutty sandal, the boat shoe shows only a tasteful amount of ankle, leaving most of the foot up to a lady’s imagination. It’s relaxed, yet dressy. Your feet are prepared to blow away an employer at a job interview, then fuck shit up at a house party afterwards. You can even pick them up in a multitude of colors. I got some Garnett and Black kicks to rep my Gamecocks.
In fact, the boat shoe is perfect for anything — except boating. Get those bad boys real wet, and you’ll be picking black guck from between your toes for weeks. They also have zero traction whatsoever. Anyone who has walked on campus in the rain and narrowly avoided busting their ass on a slippery brick sidewalk can attest to this. Hardly ideal for a boat deck.
Be sure to avoid getting sand in your boat shoes, too. The grains of sand rubbing against your feet is wildly uncomfortable, and once it gets in, it’s never getting back out. Simply take them off before you stroll to the beach.
Then there’s the issue of boat shoe rot. The rugged, durable leather of the boat shoe traps in the foot juices, marinating your puppies in a smelly stew of your body’s excess. You’ll undoubtedly get a complaint from a girl when you flip off your topsiders in the heat of passion. To you, it smells like nothing. To her, a wedge of rotten cheese is being grated over her face. This is more of a “her” problem, but if she refuses to proceed, just keep them on.
I don’t own a boat. Some hipsters may say that makes me a poser. Well, I ask you, hipsters, if you have perfect vision, why do you wear non-prescription glasses? If you’re not a politician, why do lay out your policies on Facebook every day? Why don’t you just shut the fuck up, take a seat in the corner, and knit something? Smell my foot, bitch.
Brethren, hold your feet up high. The boat shoe may have its problems, but that’s what makes it so special. It has a niche market. It’s not something one can simply wear with ease. It must be molded, shaped, and formed over the course of many adventures and acts of debauchery to achieve an ideal level of comfort. Just like you, it is perfectly imperfect.
So burn your socks, tell a hipster to smell your foot, and lace up a pair of boat shoes for the first — and the last — time..
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