Loafer

AKA: penny loafer, tassel loafer, GUCCI Loafer, Weejuns, chain loafer

How to say it:  loh-fer

Traditional Features: 

Loafer

  • flat sole
  • no laces
  • slip-on style
  • may have tassels, metal bar detailing or embroidery
  • slipper or moccasin construction
  • may have side gussets at the front

21st Century Loafers

While loafers may have started out looking like moccasins, the 21st century styles have evolved to include a simpler, slipper like style. From the traditionally tasseled leather versions, to more modern designs with lace, fringing or studs, the range of loafers for women on the modern marketplace is large and varied, ensuring that there is a loafer option for personality and style.

Christian Louboutin H&M

Christian Louboutin, H&M

JCrew TODS

J.Crew, TOD’S

Origins…

…of the style: There are a couple of different stories surrounding the origins of the loafer. The first one is London-based and focuses around the Wildsmith Shoe company.

Wildsmith shoes was owned by Rebecca and Matthew Wildsmith and made its money by making and repairing the boots for the Household Cavalry. In 1926 Raymond Lewis Wildsmith (grandson of Rebecca and Matthew) was commissioned by King George VI to make a country house shoe designed to be worn indoors. The final design was very similar to the moccasin, although there is some argument as to whether Wildsmith was inspired by the moccasin itself or came up with the design based on instruction from the King. Either way the style was a success and soon appeared in the Wildsmith Ready-to-Wear collection as the 582 and then the Model 98. Nowadays it is known as the Wildsmith Loafer, and despite being designed as an indoor shoe, it soon became popular as a casual outdoor shoe and remains as such to this day.

The next tale begins in 1930 in Norway. Norwegian shoemaker Nils Gregoriussen Tveranger, who had spent several years in the United States as a teenager, created the ‘Aurland Moccasin’ based on the moccasins worn by the Iroquois Tribe and the moccasins traditionally worn by the fisherman of Tveranger’s native Aurland. The Aurland Moccasin was marketed throughout Europe, where it was picked up by visiting Americans and taken back to the States. In the early 30s the Spaulding family of New Hampshire saw an opportunity and began manufacturing a shoe based on the Aurland Moccasin in the US – they called it the loafer.

In 1936 the G.H.Bass company introduced their own version of the loafer with a distinctive strip of leather with a cut-out diamond across the saddle of the shoe. This version of the loafer became known as Weejuns and became popular with American prep school students in the 1950s. It was these students in the 50s that coined the term ‘Penny Loafer’.

The tassel loafer appeared in the USA after WWII and was produced by the Alden Shoe Company after they were asked by a customer to create a style copied from a tassel laced Oxford. In 1957 Brook’s Brothers approached the Alden Shoe Co. and asked them to make a line of tassel loafers which are still exclusive to Brooks Brothers to this day.

Until the late 60s, outside of America and Italy, the loafer was considered a country shoe with no place on city streets. However in 1968 GUCCI introduced a loafer with a metal piece in the shape of a horse’s snaffle bit across the front. The resulting style was made in black, making it dressy enough to be worn with suits, and was named the GUCCI Loafer. The style was a huge hit in America and was adopted by men of Wall Street almost as a type of uniform.

A few years later GUCCI developed a loafer for women, who had started buying the shoe in boys sizes and since then it has been firmly embedded on the female footwear landscape. In the 21st century, the loafer has evolved from the traditional moccasin construction and the term now encompasses a variety of flat, closed toe shoes the range in style from leather 1950’s Weejuns, to colourful tasselled styles, to designs that are reminiscent of men’s slippers, adorned with everything from lace, to sequins to studs.

While the modern loafer seems to have deviated quite a way from the original design, these changes have allowed the style to remain fresh in the new millennium and kept the style relevant and popular throughout the decades.

…of the name: Apparently the name ‘loafer’ was coined by the Spaulding Family who named their version of the Aurland moccasin after the area on a dairy farm where the cows ‘loaf’ prior to milking.

The term ‘Penny Loafer’ apparently came from prep school and Ivy league types who took to placing a penny in the leather cut-out of their Weejuns.

Random Facts

  • the iconic cut-out in the Bass Weejuns was inspired by Mr. Bass’s wife, who sent her husband off each morning with a kiss on the cheek; it is supposedly shaped like a pair of lips or the perfect lipstick stain.

For more info on Loafers try Wikipedia, Gentleman’s Gazette, Rogues and Gentlemen or the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

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