Converse’s cap-toe All-Stars. Nike’s chunky Air Force Ones. Adidas’s streamlined Stan Smiths. Most entrants in the pantheon of sneaker G.O.A.T.s can trace their roots back to one sport or another. Endorsed by megawatt athletes and seen on courts, fields and tracks around the globe, these athletically inclined styles often get all the attention. But there’s one equally iconic design that makes up for what it lacks in sportsman swagger with menswear pedigree: the CVO sneaker.
The name (short for the decidedly unsexy circular vamp oxford) refers to the shoe’s distinguishing feature. A riff on traditional oxford shoes, the CVO is defined by a single piece of material sweeping along the vamp (the front part where your toes are), stitched to quarter panels on either side and set atop a slim rubber sole. It is to sneakers, one could argue, what Levi’s 501s are to denim: the purest, simplest classic.
The design was created by Paul Sperry in 1935, before he gave the world Top-Sider boat shoes. CVOs were similarly designed with sailing in mind, combining a quick-drying cotton canvas upper with a white rubber sole to avoid scuffing the deck and plenty of traction to avoid falling overboard. After the shoe proved a hit with the guys at Sperry’s yacht club, Abercrombie & Fitch came calling and Sperry sneakers’ popularity grew. In addition to becoming the official footwear for the U.S. Navy, CVOs were adopted by everyone from college prepsters in Sperry’s hometown of New Haven, Connecticut to surfers in Venice Beach, California. In the late 1960s, Vans introduced its CVO deck shoe, now known as the “Authentic,” which quickly became the West Coast favorite.
It is the rare sneaker that appeals to such disparate tastes as SoCal skaters and Ivy Leaguers. That range is largely the CVO’s appeal: They’re irreverent with a tweed suit, or any tailoring for that matter, and unassumingly cool when worn casually with jeans. It’s a design template that is continually revisited and rendered in all manner of luxe materials. From the timeless original to a few highbrow descendants, here are nine of the best CVO sneakers to buy now.