May 5, 2013

Reader Question: Boat Shoes and Socks


With spring (finally) in full swing and summer just around the corner, it seems that everyone is breaking out their warm weather style. With that in mind, I received a simple question with a potentially controversial answer.

James asks:
"I have been slowly upgrading my style over the last year and I find myself liking the preppy look. I really want to buy boat shoes but everyone says you have to wear them without socks. Is it ever okay to wear them with socks?" 
This will probably get me in some trouble, but the short answer is absolutely! There are plenty of places, including some major men’s publications that will take the hard line and tell you that never, under no circumstances, should socks and boat shoes ever even share the same grammatical space. They will make this statement unequivocally, with ‘because I said so’ being to only real justification.

Jacket by Nautica; Shirt by Uniqlol; Denim by AllSaints Spitalfields;
Boat shoes by Sebago; Socks by Corgi; Scarf by Z Zegna;
Sunglasses by Marc by Marc Jacobs

This is something that I struggled with for a while. I am not a sandal/flip flop person and the thought of wearing any shoes (boat or otherwise) without socks was not something that even remotely appealed to me. Two years ago I jumped on the no-show Peds bandwagon and while they definitely serve their purpose, it still doesn’t solve the problem all of the time.

Sometime fashion and practicality find themselves at odds. I personally find it silly that people chain themselves to the idea that it is only acceptable to wear boat shoes without socks. Maybe that was once the case when boat shoes were worn solely on boats, but since most of us don’t own a boat (and many will never set foot on one) it seems incredibly inconvenient to restrict their use as though we were always about to step onto a yacht. Incidentally, many of these sticklers for the rules of wearing a boat shoe are all about the ‘winter white’ trend with no concern for the outdated Labor Day deadline. Plus, if a bastion of prep style like JFK was down to wear socks on a boat, then I think the rest of us are okay to wear them on dry land.

JFK on the USCG yacht Manitou 12 Aug 1962. Photo from the JFK
Presidential Library.

If the weather is chilly, especially in the late fall and early spring, it looks a little ridiculous (not to mention impractical) to be flashing your bare ankles. Tradition is important, but you should feel comfortable in your clothes and if going barefoot makes you feel uncomfortable, by all means throw on a pair of socks. Since you are presumably wearing boat shoes for their style instead of their function, I would recommend that your socks be fun, colorful, and interesting. If you are going to make a statement and wear your boat shoes with socks, them go all the way and really make a statement.

In the spring, pick lighter colors and more whimsical patterns. For fall, a heavier sock suits the bill better. Try something ribbed, a more muted color palette, or perhaps a nice Fair Isle pattern to get into the season. However you choose to wear your boat shoes, be confident in your choices and own it. Some of the best style decisions are the ones that are uniquely personal.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

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