An overview of the many types of men's loafers.
Written by: John Boncaldo
Loafers are such an iconic and versatile shoe and there’s much to love about them. Let’s explore a little deeper into the loafer, it's origins and composition, and the many types out there today.
Table of Contents
- The Origin of Loafers
- What is a loafer?
- Tassel Loafers
- Penny Loafers
- Gucci Loafers
- How to Choose a Loafer
- Affordable Loafers
- Luxury Loafers
The origin of loafers
Native American and Norwegian roots
If you’ve ever looked at a pair of loafers and thought “Hey, those remind me of moccasins”, then you’re onto something. There are a few different theories about where the loafer originated, but the most popular is that the loafer originated when a Norwegian man took a trip to America and was inspired by the Native American Moccasin, taking elements of the Moccasin and combining it with the Norwegian Teser. The result? A classic design we now call a loafer. No wonder it’s such a staple of American footwear.
Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
What makes something a loafer?
Slip on shoe
Open ankle design
With so many different kinds of shoes, and so many different kinds of loafers, you might be asking yourself “What makes a loafer...a loafer?”. Well, a loafer is going to be a casual slip-on shoe (meaning no laces), with a short heel, an often slim sole (forget those Goodyear welts for the most part), and an open ankle. They also feature a separate piece of leather around the top of the upper – a defining characteristic taken from the Moccasin.
Source: The Jacket Maker Blog
Now, there are many different kinds of loafers, and the thing that differentiates them most is the design across the vamp. No, a vamp is not just a classic supernatural monster found in our favorite horror media: it’s a fancy name for the “upper”, part of a shoe (also often just referred to as the “upper”). Although, we think referring to it as a vamp sounds much cooler, and gets us excited for autumn.
Source: Musculoskeletal Key
There are three common kinds of vamp designs, each corresponding to a different kind of loafer. Let's get into the details of each!
Two tassels on the top
If you know a gentleman in his 50’s, odds are he has at least one pair of loafers with two leather tassels swaying around on top. These are unimaginatively referred to as tassel loafers. They are often considered a bit more formal and are less popular with younger men (unless worn in an almost ironic way). They also sometimes come with a leather “kilt” underneath them, adding yet another layer to the design.
Source: Alden Madison
Source: The Noble Shoe
Have a slit in the vamp that can fit a penny
As much as we wish we could tell you Penny loafer referred to their cost, it doesn’t. What it does refer to is the slit in the vamp that is just the right size to fit a penny into. And no, it wasn’t because it was fashionable to wear literal money on one's person. It just so happened that a penny used to be the cost of a phone call, so, keeping a penny in each shoe meant you could always make a call.
Source: Freda Salvador
Gucci (horsebit) loafers
Have a metal bit across the vamp
Higher fashion, meant for accessorizing
We bet we don’t have to tell you who made the Gucci loafer popular. But thankfully many brands with less expensive names now make this fashionable loafer, featuring a metal bit across the vamp – somewhat reminiscent of a horse tackle bit. The design is fashionable and really lends well to accessorizing, meaning you can match the bit with other accessories like watches, bracelets, tie pins, sunglasses, belt buckles, etc.
Source: Escape Authority
How to choose a loafer
Penny and Gucci loafers tend to me most popular
Darker colors are seen as more formal
Casual loafers are very easy to find and great for summer
Now comes the fun part, finding a loafer for you. Like most footwear it depends a lot on when you plan to wear your loafers. loafers by tradition are a casual shoe, however in our modern sneaker obsessed world, they have moved upstream and can be dressed up or down.
Unless you really like the look of tassel loafers, (there’s nothing wrong if you do – keep on doing what works best for you), most people will go for a Penny or Gucci loafer. These have been more fashionable in recent years and bring with them a connotation of youth.
Source: Mr. Porter
I often wear loafers to the office, as they tend to be a very comfortable and convenient shoe to slip on. If you are planning to wear your loafers in an office setting, it’s usually best to go with a dark color like black or deep maroon. These are generally seen as more formal colors. They work great with a simpler suit, or even with a pair of dress pants and a Polo shirt.
But for someone who wants to wear loafers in a more casual setting, then brace yourself, because that’s where these shoes really shine. loafers were designed to be casual. And they come in a wide variety of colors. You can even find different two-toned varieties. Lighter colors on loafers work well with Chinos and other more casual pants.
Not only do loafers come in cheap plastics and leathers, you can also find them in luxurious suede. A pair of light brown suede loafers matched with a fun pair of beige and brown diamond pattern socks could win anyone over. Because loafers are made to wear with socks, and with most footwear your socks are hidden mostly away by the shoe and pant cuff. However, socks are like the secret weapon when styling with loafers. The low or open ankle on a loafer means you for once can show off those amazing socks!
Source: Man of Many
Wolf & Shepherd
Out of all 4 pairs of loafers I wear, my Weejuns are probably my second most worn loafer. If you are looking for a loafer to start with, then it’s not easy to find a better shoe for the money, that can also be found widely available in retail stores for you to try on.
Weejuns - Source: Pinterest
Being able to try on your loafer can be really important because you almost always want to go a half size smaller when picking out loafers. Loafers that are too loose end up with too much space on the sides of the feet and have a floppy heel effect when you walk. This doesn’t feel comfortable, and it makes it look like you are trying to wear shoes that are far too big on you. So being able to try on shows from different brands before making a sizing decision can be really important.
That being said, criticisms of Weejuns are also very valid. The leather on Weejuns really isn’t very impressive. It works, but there’s just a lot better leather out there. They certainly aren’t a loafer I would ever consider getting resoled – I’d just go buy a new pair.
My most worn loafers however, which beat out the Weejuns in my opinion, might be a bit controversial: they are my Cole Haan Black Penny loafers. Cole Haan is one of those brands that bridges a wide gap in quality. Some of their products I’ve found to be lacking. While others feel like home runs. Their more modern expedition into sneakers, personally, leaves much to be desired. However, they do still make some fantastic footwear. Besides my Chelsea boots which I’m absolutely in love with, I love how comfortable their classic pinch penny loafers are. They don’t break the bank at $160 and the leather to me feels much softer, more comfortable and in my experience, ages better than the Weejuns.
Source: Cole Haan
Now we want to throw in a curve ball. Remember when we mentioned suede a little earlier? Well even though lots of brands produce suede shoes, it can be very costly to find quality suede. What if we told you there was a suede loafer available for just under $200? What if we mentioned it wasn’t just suede, but Italian suede? Well that’s when I bring in a brand I’ve only more recently discovered but which has thoroughly impressed me: Wolf & Shepherd.
Source: Wolf & Shepherd
Wolf & Shepherd is a newer brand on the footwear scene, but if nothing else, they get one thing absolutely right: materials. When they say Italian leather or suede, they don’t mean the cheapest of materials that just so happen to be made in Italy. You can tell right away the materials are high quality. Their products aren’t cheap, but they also aren’t crazy expensive either for what you get – their Monaco loafer made from Italian suede will cost $195. We wish it came in more colors, but if you want a quality suede loafer, there aren’t many options in the price range that truly compete with it.
Source: Wolf & Shepherd
Gucci & other designer brands
I own a pair of well aged 1950’s Gucci Leather loafers, and to be honest, they are a bit underwhelming. The leather is super soft and the horsebit isn’t too loud with its Gucci logo. But the heel is a bit too high, making them uncomfortable to walk in.
The other issue is the lack of grip these have when it’s icy out. We imagine more modern Gucci loafers have hopefully addressed these issues. But, at the end of the day, shoes are made for walking, and there are just too many great options that don’t break the bank. So unless you have money to burn, you’re probably better off sticking with quality that remains unattached to luxury brand names.
Loafers are a classic and sleek footwear option
Loafers are comfortable and designed with inspiration from Native American moccasins
Men's loafers can be easily dressed up or down
Source: Wolf & Shepherd
Overall, loafers are a classic shoe which provides much more versatility than you might expect. If you want a comfortable sleek shoe that you can dress up or down, that you can also slip on out the door in, we highly recommend grabbing yourself at least one pair of loafers.
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