Frigidaire is to refrigerator as Sperry Top-Sider is to deck shoes: It is the definitive brand. It is said that the prominence of the Sperry brand began with a simple observation: the effortlessness with which Prince, Paul Sperry’s cocker spaniel, would traverse slippery, icy surfaces on account of the nature-endowed traction on a dog’s paws. So Sperry, an avid boater and well aware of the hazards of slippery decks, set out to create a slip-resistant shoe. Drawing upon John Sipe’s 1920s’-patented process of “siping” or cutting grooves into the soles of shoes for the purpose of creating traction, Sperry combined a moccasin-inspired leather upper with a white rubber sole “siped” in a herringbone pattern. The result was the Sperry Top-Sider.
By the 1950s, deck shoes had become a part of collegiate wear—for men and women. Brought to exclusive schools along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States by wealthy students who would yacht by summer and study by fall, Sperry Top-Siders quickly rose to rival Bass weejuns as the shoe of choice on American college campuses. Many students settled the rivalry by simply owning one pair of each.
The counterculture of the late 1960s took its toll on all things conservative, deck shoes included. But by the early 1980s, thanks to the “preppy look,” the shoe had taken its place amongst the ranks of American classics.