Keeping it casual shouldn’t be complicated. This is especially important when it comes to shoe choice. Boat shoes may be the crown prince of chill footwear but there are other options.
Let’s compare them – boat shoes, moccasins, sneakers, and drivers.
Is there a “best” option for you? Probably not. It’s good to have a set of each of them as they’ve all got their benefits and downsides.
But are there certain scenarios where one of them would be more appropriate than the others? Almost definitely.
That’s what we’re going to do. Using boat shoes as the focus, I’ll compare them to the other three to help you choose the perfect shoe for each and every occasion.
Let’s get to it.
Boat Shoes Vs Moccasins
The main difference between boat shoes and moccasins is the fact that moccasins do not have a heel while boat shoes do. Additionally, boat shoes have strong, siped rubber outsoles while moccasins usually have soft, flexible leather soles which haven’t been worked.
Here are the differences explained in more detail.
1. Heels And Soles
Boat shoes are known for their razor-cut, siped rubber or synthetic soles that help with traction and grip. As the name suggests, they were originally used to help prevent slipping on the deck of a boat.
Hence their other name – “deck shoes”.
Although boat shoes don’t have a separate heel, a short heel is fashioned out of the sole to make it appear as though it does have a separate heel.
Here’s a Sperry on
Unlike boat shoes, moccasins do not have any heel whatsoever. Traditionally, moccasins didn’t have a sole either. These days, for the sake of comfort they often do and are so-called “soft sole” moccasins.
Here’s a pair of moccasins on
The sole is simply a piece of soft, flexible leather that has not been “worked” and instead simply wraps around the bottom of the shoe.
Another difference between boat shoes and moccasins is the lacing.
Boat shoes will have lacing – specifically 360-degree laces that go around the back of the shoe before coming round and exiting through two pairs of eyelets at the front.
These laces are functional and do tighten up the shoe.
Moccasins, on the other hand, may or may not have lacing. If they do have lacing, they usually serve no purpose and are decorative only.
They still fall into the category of “slip-on shoes”.
While boat shoes really only come with lacing, moccasins can have other decorative features on the vamp instead. These include penny and horse-bit attachments, and (rarely) tassels.
So, the key differences between boat shoes and moccasins are the heel, sole, and lacing.
When sat side by side, boat shoes and moccasins do still give off a very similar vibe. But why is that?
Here are some of the main similarities between the two.
Both moccasins and boat shoes are often made out of suede or leather. With moccasins, deerskin, or another soft type of leather is often used – comfort is prioritized.
Boat shoes made from fabric (like sneakers) can sometimes be found as well.
2. Stitched Upper Seam
Not much more to say about this. As you can see, there’s a line of stitching along the perimeter of the upper in both moccasins and boat shoes.
It’s one of the key reasons why they look so similar.
This is what’s known as the “moc-toe”. An extra leather piece stretches along the upper of the shoe and extends to the toes.
The stitching is what keeps it in place.
This is compared with the “apron toe” which is more commonly found in shoes like loafers. Here, the leather that stretches across the vamp of the shoe stops short before it reaches the toes.
How To Choose
When choosing between boat shoes and moccasins, consider the formality and the activity. Moccasins are more casual than boat shoes and are also less suitable for walking long distances or situations where grip is important.
Due to the relaxed structure, lack of heel, and slip-on design, moccasins will always look more casual than boat shoes.
Certain features of moccasins may make them look even more casual. For example, moccasins that don’t even have the decorative lacing will look more casual than those that do.
While boat shoes should still be considered a “casual” shoe, the strong and distinct outsole, heel, and lacing does make it look less casual than your average pair of moccasins.
Remember, with both boat shoes and moccasins, suede and canvas will always look more casual than leather.
Moccasins are great for comfortable indoor and outdoor wear that doesn’t require long periods of walking. They work great with no-show socks, chinos, chino shorts, jeans, and casual shirts.
The relaxed structure and soft, flexible sole are great for comfort but definitely not great for providing support to the heel and toes.
Because of this, if you’re planning on doing even moderate amounts of walking, a pair of boat shoes would be more comfortable than a pair of moccasins.
In addition, the soft, wrapped-around sole of moccasins doesn’t provide a very good grip. Wet weather will be trouble.
If you’re planning on doing walking or anything where you want at least a bit of grip, boat shoes would be more suitable than moccasins.
Boat Shoes Vs Sneakers
Boat shoes have sturdy, razor-cut rubber soles while sneakers have soft, flexible rubber soles. Boat shoes also have a 360-degree lacing pattern and short tongues, while sneakers have no such lacing pattern and have longer tongues that cover the upper foot.
Here are the key differences between boat shoes and sneakers explained in more detail.
Boat shoes are known for providing good grip due to the siped rubber soles. This refers to the razor-cut patterns edged into them to allow for traction. It’s often in a “herringbone” pattern.
A Sperry boat shoe on
Although sneakers can also have siped soles, it isn’t given as much importance.
In addition, the soles of sneakers are also thinner, softer, and more flexible than those of boat shoes.
Here’s a typical pair of sneakers on
Remember, “sneakers” are different from “running shoes”. Although both have a typically athletic appearance, sneakers are designed for comfort and running shoes are designed for athletic performance.
In fact, the term “sneaker” actually comes from the quiet nature of the soft soles. People were able to “sneak” around unheard while wearing them.
Sneakers have a long tongue that covers most of the upper foot. This is what makes them suitable to wear with socks.
Most choose to wear either ankle socks or preferably mid-calf socks.
Boat shoes, on the other hand, have shortened tongues that expose most of the upper foot. This makes wearing socks especially difficult considering how awkward they can look.
As the socks would be visible over the upper foot while wearing boat shoes, they tend to have an overpowering effect on the appearance.
This is why most men either choose not to wear any socks with boat shoes, or choose “no-show” (invisible) socks for the sake of hygiene.
Boat shoes are famous for their 360-degree lacing pattern, with a single lace tunneled around the entire back of the shoe before slipping through two or three pairs of eyelets at the front.
Although this feature is decorative, it does set the boat shoe apart from the sneaker quite definitively, to the point where you’d never confuse the two.
The lacing will also usually be made from the material used to build the boat shoe itself.
Sneakers will never have the tunneled 360-degree lacing boat shoes are so well-known for.
Finally, boat shoes have a moccasin-style stitched upper seam. That’s the raised stitching you’ll see around the perimeter of the upper at the front.
It’s yet another hallmark of the boat shoe and something a traditional sneaker won’t have.
There are very few similarities between boat shoes and sneakers – hence why they’re so easy to distinguish from each other.
One similarity is that you can find both sneakers and both shoes with canvas uppers. Plus, both sneakers and boat shoes have rubber or synthetic outsoles.
Having said that, sneakers come in a huge variety of materials including leathers, synthetics, and fabrics.
Boat shoes, on the other hand, were traditionally made with leather uppers. Now, you can find canvas, suede, and leather uppers.
How To Choose
While both sneakers and boat shoes make for perfectly appropriate casual attire, it’s no secret that there are situations and occasions when one of them would be more appropriate than the other.
Consider the following points when choosing between them.
The athletic aesthetic of sneakers does lend itself very well to urban streetwear. But it’s tough to pull off sneakers in formal or even smart-casual contexts.
However, when it comes to purely casual occasions, sneakers work extremely well.
Boat shoes, on the other hand, work very well in smart-casual settings. This is especially true when worn with other smart-casual staples such as chinos and oxford shirts.
So, if you’re going for a more modern and athletic vibe, sneakers may be more suitable. Boat shoes have a typically “preppy” aesthetic which does work very well in smart-casual settings.
Funnily enough, boat shoes are often better for walking long distances than sneakers are.
Remember, sneakers are different from running shoes due to the relaxed structure and soft, flexible soles.
It means they’re ideal for relaxed settings or lounging around, but not great for walking long distances or doing anything where you want some grip or traction.
Boat shoes are a little better for walking long distances due to the tough, rubber, siped soles with their strong grip.
Boat shoes are classic summer wear and can look awkward when worn in colder weather. This is mainly because of the exposed upper foot.
When it comes to the weather, boat shoes aren’t very versatile.
Sneakers, on the other hand, can be worn all year round.
The long tongue provides some warmth to the upper foot during the colder months. Unlike boat shoes, sneakers don’t look awkward when worn with socks either.
But sneakers are also breathable enough to be comfortable during the warmer months as well.
Boat Shoes Vs Drivers
The main difference between drivers (a.k.a driving moccasins) and boat shoes is that drivers have small panels or studs of rubber on the sole to aid with grip. Boat shoes simply have a sturdy, razor-cut rubber outsole with no pebbles or panels.
Here are the main differences between boat shoes and drivers explained in more detail.
Traditional moccasins are known for either having no sole at all, or a very soft and flexible leather sole that hasn’t been “worked”.
This is fine for lounging around the house or for walking short distances. But it isn’t ideal for driving because you don’t get enough grip on the pedals.
This is where driving moccasins (i.e drivers) come in.
They’ve got the benefits of traditional moccasins such as a relaxed structure, comfortable insoles, and a casual slip-on design.
But driving mocs have the additional benefit of those little rubber nubs on the sole that allow for increased traction and grip on the car pedals.
Here’s a pair of typical drivers on
These rubber attachments can be in the shape of nubs, panels, or studs. Either way, they provide a lot more grip than traditional moccasins do.
Boat shoes don’t have additional attachments on the sole. They simply have rubber soles but with the additional benefit of a razor-cut pattern (usually herringbone) to provide the necessary grip.
The grip on boat shoes is usually just as good, if not better, than that of a pair of drivers.
It’s just important to know how they’re different.
Drivers may or may not have lacing.
Much like traditional moccasins, any lacing that drivers do have will be for decorative purposes only and won’t be able to actually tighten the shoes up.
That’s why getting a good fit on a pair of drivers is even more important than it would be for boat shoes.
But drivers may not have any lacing at all. They may have a different decorative attachment on the vamp such as a penny or horse-bit attachment – just like you may find on a pair of regular moccasins.
Boat shoes, on the other hand, will almost always come with laces. These laces would normally be functional, capable of fastening the shoe and made from the same material as the uppers.
The 360-degree lacing also sets the boat shoe apart from driving mocs – you won’t find a pair of drivers with a lace tunneled around the back like you would on a regular pair of boat shoes.
Driving mocs and boat shoes can be tough to tell apart at first, especially when the driving moc has decorative lacing.
Here’s one key similarity between the two:
The Upper Seam
Both boat shoes and drivers have a stitched upper seam – just like a pair of regular moccasins would.
It’s one of the main reasons both of them have such a casual aesthetic.
Just like a pair of regular moccasins, both drivers and boat shoes have that famous “moc-toe”.
A piece of leather that stretches across the vamp with the stitching to keep it in place. Although it’s a great touch, it’s important to note that it’s present in boat shoes, driving mocs, and regular mocs.
Because of this, it can’t be used to distinguish between them.
How To Choose
So, how do you choose between drivers and boat shoes? Consider the following two points.
Both boat shoes and drivers are very comfortable and make for perfectly appropriate comfortable, casual attire.
When it comes to comfort, the drivers do just about take the winning medal.
Yes – they’re practical and do provide a good grip while driving.
But they do still retain the most comfortable aspects of the traditional moccasin, including comfortable insoles and a relaxed structure.
In addition, the outsole has rubber nubs to add to the grip of the soft leather sole, while the boat shoe simply has a separate, firm, and sturdy rubber outsole.
Overall, you’ll find that a pair of drivers is just a little more comfortable to wear than a pair of boat shoes.
This is one of the reasons why they’re so great for driving, particularly long distances. Comfort and grip – what more could you want?
It goes without saying, mainly because I’ve already said it so many times. But drivers are great for driving.
Don’t get me wrong – the solid grip you’ll get on a pair of boat shoes also makes them perfectly fine for driving too.
But the additional comfort you get with drivers does make them even better.
But when it comes to making shoe-choice decisions outside of a car, you do need to think about how formal the setting is.
Driving mocs are very casual and great for indoor wear, lounging around, or relaxing with friends.
They wouldn’t usually be appropriate in smart-casual settings.
Boat shoes, on the other hand, could be worn in summer smart-casual settings with a smart pair of chinos or seersucker pants, for instance.
This does make boat shoes a more versatile pair of shoes than drivers, often being worn in casual and smart-casual settings with no trouble at all.
However, it’s usually a good idea for a man to own a pair of each to allow for variety and added versatility.
All of these shoes have their place.
You can’t go too far wrong with any of them. However, knowing the differences between them is the key to understanding when and where each of them would be best.
Hopefully, you’ve now got a much better understanding of exactly that.
Ready Sleek founder. Obsessed with casual style and the minimalist approach to building a highly functional wardrobe. Also a fan of classic, vintage hairstyles.