Saturday 17 March 2018

How deck shoes became trendy

Alexa Chung.

Lisa Armstrong

Lisa Armstrong: 'Oft have I regarded wearers of deck shoes with a mixture of wonderment and suppressed desire.'

Apparently the world's oldest leather shoe, dating back some 3,000 years and made from a single piece of cowhide, with a leather cord slotted through the seams at the front and the back, was discovered in a cave in Armenia four years ago.

I think I am wearing that shoe. Look closely - actually you don't have to look that closely - and you will see that today's footwear is on the primitive side. Wide, roomy, listing a little bit towards the instep… there's a reason these are called boat shoes.

They're also known as deck shoes. But heck, it amounts to the same thing: and that thing is the good life. Oft have I regarded wearers of deck shoes with a mixture of wonderment and suppressed desire. Wonderment because deck shoe wearers always look unaccountably cheerful and tanned, even when they claim to have been sailing in a gale-force eight all week and are walking with a visible tilt. Suppressed because deck shoes aren't exactly elegant. Or flattering. Or elevating. Or cutting-edge.

What they are is precisely the sort of shoe with which a genuine front row-er (as opposed to dinghy rower) should not have any truck. Which probably means that Christopher Kane is about to do with them what he did to those squishy-soled, wide-strapped sandals that you usually see in operating theatres or morgues (anywhere that regularly gets sluiced down).

Transforming deck shoes into a catwalk statement would be quite a challenge, though, even for Kane, because deck shoes are quite possibly the most middle-class shoes in the annals of foot coverings. They owe their very existence to the practical requirements of boating, as opposed to caravanning or playing darts. Their middle-classness is non-negotiable.

Tattoos, tiaras and trainers have all gone walkabout up and down the great savannah of the social landscape. Deck shoes have not, I regret to say, ventured very far from base camp.

Or do I regret? On reflection I don't. How deliciously subversive it feels to wear a shoe that is unreconstructedly unfashionable and unashamed of its yachty origins.

Except - stop press, hold the front page - it turns out it isn't unreconstructedly unfashionable. In the interval between shooting this picture about two months ago and now, something most untoward has happened. The deck shoe has gone and got trendy.

The finger of suspicion alights on Alexa Chung, because if we look at her penchant for loafers, Mulberry bags and bits of Boden, we see that deck shoes are precisely the kind of so-middle-class-it's-almost-ironic item she would pounce on.

But it's not just Chung. Slowly but surely, Shoreditch is getting its head around deck shoes and wearing them with hot pants, vintage dresses and calf-length pleated skirts in a look best described as neo-dowdy. Naturally, this means it's only a matter of time before Christian Louboutin designs a Swarovski-encrusted version and someone on the high street produces a neon one, and before you know it, we'll all be sick of the sight of them.

So, I say, let's enjoy them while we can. They are, after all, incredibly comfortable and only list if your feet pronate. You don't even have to wear them with hot pants.

A few style pointers to get you started: roll up trews a little way above the ankle. This is the length not just du jour, but seemingly du decade. The idea is to flash a glimpse of gorgeous, tanned ankle. And if the ankle is neither gorgeous nor tanned - well, extemporise. Next, upgrade the cardie. This one's a feisty blue with some contrasty bits. Nothing too fashionable, though. We're playing the trad card here, although at this rate, by mid-July the trad card will be trendier than a Hoxton rave.

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