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It’s Finally Time to Redeem the Boat Shoe Highsnobiety

Trusted by sailors, busted by frat dudes, and singularly indicative of WASPs, the humble boat shoe fell out fashion’s favor a long time ago. But, finally, the time is right to redeem the loafer of the sea.

The charge begins, as it often does, with the always-avant Miu Miu. Prada’s painfully potent sibling sent out flattened boat shoes as part of its Spring/Summer 2024 collection, granting its models the disinterested, lived-in loucheness of Saltburn‘s preppy failkids.

Miu Miu is a solid weathervane for the way that fashion’s winds are blowing, so it’s a big deal that these pre-squashed boat shoes are a core element of Miu Miu SS24, even anchoring the brand’s cutely-named and marine-tinged "Miu Crew" Tokyo pop-up.

Though Miu Miu’s ivy-indebted beach bags and Breton-striped tops were the clearest ode to trad influences on the Spring/Summer 2024 runways, its boat shoes a natural evolution of contemporary shoe stylings.

First fashion zuzhed up the Mary Jane; next it came for the loafer and ballet flat. Boat shoes were the next logical progression, in terms of reclaiming prep school footwear.

You can sniff out similar ivy-ish themes at other SS24 shows — Marni’s trippy plaids were a psychedelic evolution of the madras check; Bally’s sophisticated officewear was an urbane evolution of Wharton grad’s uniform — but Miu Miu is specifically giving the boat shoe its best foot forward.

It isn’t necessarily alone, though.

Every season, designers as disparate as Off-White™, Dries Van Noten, Loro Piana, and Tod’s iterate on the boat shoe. It’s a consistent staple of Aimé Leon Dore and J.Crew lookbooks, where prep is always in style. Miu Miu isn’t the first to tackle the silhouette, not by a long shot.

But that the boat shoe is getting such a purposeful push from the foremost brand in fashion? There’s something there.

Miu Miu alone does not a trend make — well, sometimes it actually does — but add J.W. Anderson into the mix and the boat shoe plot thickens, literally.

The bulbous boat shoes that the LOEWE creative director debuted for Fall/Winter 2024 are a heavyweight remix of the typically low-profile lace-up, taking things in an entirely different direction than Miu Miu’s flat-bottomed girls.

They are weird, to be sure, but they are also great. And they are indicative of how designers can actually redeem the boat shoe through adventurous redesign.

Growing up in Florida, I saw boat shoes on the daily, typically worn sockless and to shreds by pick-up truck-drivin’ dudes to whom fashion peaked with Vineyard Vines (no diss — they’re almost certainly more content than I).

But the end result of seeing all these beat-up boat shoes was they gained an inextricable mental associated with a sense of unfashion. They are the shoe version of cargo shorts.

I think society at large has a similar standing when it comes to boat shoes. Across America, they’re widely regarded as a frattire staple.

That’s a shame because they’re one of the great quintessentially American shoes and many makers, including OG boat shoe brand Sperry, produce quality iterations domestically.

As such, there’s a perpetual place for boat shoes within the prep inclinations of the post-#menswear landscape, especially the chunky numbers made famous by Timberland and Mark McNairy’s G.H. Bass collabs.

But, perhaps because they come with more cultural baggage than school shoe peers like loafers and Mary Janes, boat shoes have yet to escape their comfortable but cramped menswear niche.

As such, it’s up to womenswear designers to finally redeem boat shoes.

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