When you think of a deck shoe the first thing that comes to mind may be a canvas shoe with four eyelets like a Sperry ‘topsider’ or maybe even a classic Vans skate sneaker with the rubber soles. Well, as history goes, the Sperry sneakers are essentially the originals. Let’s dive into a quick history of the deck shoe, how one of the coolest shoes made by the US military for their Navy seamen came to be, and while I’m at it, I’ll tell you why I love my replicas of the same shoe I bought from The Real McCoy’s.
So this interesting fellow named Paul Sperry, born 1895, had an affinity for the outdoors including the beautiful waters where he spent a lot of his time. Not too long after the age of 23 he enlisted in the US Navy – after many years in the military he then started a company making decoys for duck hunting. Later in life after marrying and spending a lot of his time on the water the man fell overboard off his boats’ slippery deck. This is apparently what sparked the idea to make a non-slip boating shoe! Eventually, not too long after his fall, sitting for hours in his garage, he started mixing different rubber solutions together as a start – to no avail, as they didn’t hold a grip on a wet surface. Eventually on an icy winter day, after watching his dog run around and not slip he inspected his pups paws to see small grooves on them and it struck him to somehow try and replicate this on the sole of the shoe. So eventually after many trials, he used a small knife and carved lined patterns on a rubber sole and found it dramatically increased the traction. This was the first deck shoe prototype completed!
Not too long after the genius idea made it’s way to it’s final form and production, Sperry patented the sole and the Canvas Circular Vamp Oxford, or CVO shoe, was born. After a long trial of getting them onto the market, Sperry met major success with boaters all over the nation with the help of an old friend at Abercrombie & Fitch. This eventually caught the eye of the US War Department in 1939 as WW2 took hold of the world and they contracted Sperry’s idea to make his ‘deck shoe’ sole a part of the official US Navy Academy military uniform. Not too long after this Sperry sold his company to the United States Rubber Company, which then successfully marketed the shoe across the United States. US Navy men were wearing these deck shoes while men of leisure on their yachts were sporting them at the same time.
USN wardrobe presentation for proper storage – 1940s / Uniform Regulations for USN sailors – 1941
credits to @ShadesofIndig0 and @thenavy_ism on Instagram
While the USN shoe itself is shrouded in a bit of mystery (as it’s extremely hard to find vintage samples or photos of them being worn), the design lives on in many ways. Through the echo-chambers of the fashion world the ‘deck shoe’ became the blueprint for many other brands shoes as well. Vans made their first shoe design, known as the ‘Authentic’ modeled after the deck shoe and even using rubber to make the soles. The brands Seavees, who was owned by Converse originally, even modeled their first designs after the Sperry creation nearly 10 years before Vans in the 1960’s. As you can see the influence is everywhere nowadays even though Sperry might not be the leading brand anymore, the design is timeless. I, like many others in this community, enjoy reproductions of those timeless products – which bring me to my Real McCoy’s USN deck shoe.
For a long time I was looking for a great, simple summer shoe. Two summers ago I bought some low top white shoes from Shoes Like Pottery for a good simple lace up low-top I could throw on and beat up. I wore them to death pretty thoroughly over the two years. As I wanted something with a little more ‘historical’ detail to them, I was scrolling ‘the gram’, and came across an interesting photo that piqued my interest.
I thought ‘holy crap – what a cool photo. Look at those shoes!’ I have seen them before in passing as the replicas aren’t exactly uncommon. Anatomica has made some, as well as Butcher Products and a few other repro brands. I think this image really pulled me into the historical aspect of the shoe itself, though, which got me intrigued and made them just that much cooler. After some research, I knew I needed some. The McCoy’s Instagram page also reminded me that their repro of the USN Deck shoes existed. This, being a McCoy’s fanboy, I knew I needed some of their accurate repro’s and expected them to be well-made. I reached out to the folks at Standard & Strange and they were able to order me some of the McCoy’s deck shoes & for cheaper than most places offered too! I was stoked. The sizing was somewhat interesting. I am normally a 10 – 11 in most shoes and it seems in most boots I am a size 11, so when I was purchasing these I was unsure as to what size to go for. Mari, from S&S, recommended I should go with a 10.5 based on my previous shoe sizing. This middle ground ended up being perfect. The 10.5 is just what I needed. I wear them sockless because I’m a weirdo, but throwing a sock on with these are just as comfortable.
I’ll start with the positives –
The shoes themselves are extremely comfortable. My feet are narrow and I feel they fit extremely well without any slippage with the sizing I went with. The first couple of times I wore them without socks they destroyed my heels and gave me blisters, which is expected, but after a few more wears they easily broke in and are now my third most comfortable shoe. I haven’t ran into any wet conditions with these yet, but as far as I can tell the grip on the sole is pretty solid. I’ll have to try them with the winter weather and see if they still hold up. This is more of a personal note, but I think they also look good with almost everything in my wardrobe. They are essentially the reverse color code of a traditional Chuck Taylor Converse shoe (the black & ecru) so they are versatile in this sense. I can throw them on with mostly everything and they fit well as a default ecru and black as they don’t clash with colors. The construction of the shoe itself is really great, too. I’m biased when it comes to Real McCoy’s as I’ve never had issues with anything I’ve bought made by them, even second-hand. The soles are constructed well and there are no ‘sloppy’ areas with the glue they used for the soles. The stitching is also pristine. Apparently they were completely custom made for the Real McCoy’s and in true McCoy’s fashion they did not specify who made them, although they are made in Japan. I won’t go into detail with the eyelets and the shoe laces but they are great as well. The ecru canvas they used to make the shoe itself seems very sturdy and haven’t creased much at all in the two months of wear – they obviously dirty easy, but they’ll be easy to clean. McCoy’s even went as far to include the deck shoes in a small denim canvas bag as they were issues to sailors in the 1940’s when they were originally made. These details make the shoes even more special to me and is a huge reason why I wanted these specific repros in the first place.
Now with the negatives –
The inside of the shoes dirty very easily. This is obviously a personal thing as I wear them without socks, but in the past when I’ve worn sneakers with white insoles they also get incredibly dirty really quickly. If I had it my way, the inside would be black but this was probably intentional as the original USN shoe had white insides as well.
The shoes are also not incredibly breathable. I find even on hot days, sockless, they are still incredibly warm. Again, this could be a personal problem, but I’m noting it as it has bugged me. One other thing that I can say is that these are not very affordable for what is offered. Yes they are hand made and well made, but the retail price still seems a bit high to me sitting at $220 on the McCoy’s website. Unfortunately these also seem to sell out quickly so you’ll be searching at different retail stores all over the world and they can run you $250 or more after shipping. Normally I would never pay this much for an entirely canvas and rubber shoe, but alas I am a huge fan of RMC and actually got them for around $200 from Standard & Strange. I would say there are other affordable options out there from other repro brands if you want to spend less than $150. The price was an initial issue as I personally don’t think that these will last much more than three years with constant wear. You can’t remove the insoles to clean them so I can see them getting pretty worn and dirty and after washing I am curious as to how they will hold up. The soles are only rubber so they will wear quickly and cannot be resoled. Again, I’m just nitpicking as they are an amazing pair of shoes, but they are not perfect.
Overall I seriously consider these a great pair and super interesting. I’m glad I paid the price I did for them and the historical value alone is really rad to me and I find wearing them with my other USN repro stuff a lot of fun. It really adds to the flair and they can also come across as a casual ‘Vans-like’ deck shoe to everyone if you want to dress them down a bit or care what others think. I’ve found these insanely comfortable so far and I think the more I wear them and beat them up, the more character they’ll have and the stains to prove it! Go get yourself a pair. If you’d like a brown with black soles instead of the white, that is also a semi-popular color way I can recommend as well. Thanks for reading!!
5 thoughts on “The USN Deck Shoe – A Blueprint and a Review”
Been wearing the old Vans authentics most my life and never knew the design was originally from deck shoes!
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Pretty cool right? That in it’s own deserves a blog piece!
Wow great to know what led to the invention of the non boat slip shoe the man from the US Navy came up with here. The ideas of making shoes come from the silliest ways which are effective in the end because a shoe that slips is not at all good for the rainy weather thus the need of a shoe that has a sole traction which won’t slip but stick on the ground.
Wild, isn’t it? Funny to think such a timeless design was right in front of our faces this whole time. “Man’s best friend”
Thanks for reading!
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