The 7 Different Loafer Styles, Explained
The season's best slip-on kicks, from pennies to tassels to swaggy slippers
Nota bene: If you buy through the links in this article, we may earn a small share of the profits.
With all due respect to every kid out there beaming with pride at having mastered the loop swoop and pull, your correspondent would like to go on record as stating that shoelaces are not where it’s at. At least not when the weather is warm and options abound for comfortable and stylish footwear that you can just slip on and go. That’s right, it’s loafer season, baby. Time to loaf it up.
Originally developed in mid-1800s Britain as a casual country house shoe for the Royal Family, the slip-on shoe didn’t actually acquire the moniker we know today until the 1930s, when a photo depicting Norwegian dairy farmers sporting the style in the “loafing” area (where cows wait to be milked) caught the eye of New Hampshire’s Spaulding Leather company — who co-opted those dairy farmer kicks and marketed them as “loafers.”
Over the years, the shoe has seen a wide variety of iterations, each stylish in its own way and usually boasting a fun big of backstory to boot. Er, shoe.
Below, a few of our favorites to slide into your footwear rotation this summer, laces be damned.
Perhaps closest to the original incarnation of the loafer, the slipper is today widely regarded as the genus’s most formal species — sporting no toe-stitch and often seen paired with tuxedos and the like. Your correspondent got married in a wildly embroidered pair from Floridian outfit Stubbs & Wootton, to-date the one item of clothing he would run back into a burning building for.
Stubbs & Wootton
Duke & Dexter
Twas Maine shoemaker G.H. Bass who introduced the distinctive, lip-like detail that came to house copper Abes the world over — allegedly as a nod to founder John Bass’s wife Alice, who kissed every pair on their way out the door. Being that the name loafer was already taken at the time by Spaulding, Bass dubbed his style “Weejuns,” after the Norwegians who inspired it. Teens started putting in pennies for luck or an emergency phone call, and the “penny loafer” was born.
G.H. Bass & Co.
In 1957, Brooks Brothers and Alden partnered on the first loafer sporting a leather tassel, a bespoke commission for actor Paul Lukas (of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea fame), who liked the way tied laces on a pair of oxfords looked (but presumably didn’t feel like actually tying them).
1818 Footwear Leather Tassel
Those cheeky Scots had been throwing leather “kilts” on brogues and oxfords for ages, and when kilted golf shoes and penny loafers enjoyed a simultaneous fashion moment in the 1950s, the two styles were finally combined.
Brogue-Detailed Leather Kiltie
G.H. Bass & Co.
The Belgian Loafer
Created by the aptly-if-not-particularly-creatively-named company Belgian Shoes, the shoe with a lil’ bow first appeared in the states in the 1920s, when Henri Bendel began importing them for his eponymous department store. Posh vibes make them an especially unexpected move with a more relaxed kit. Try not to hold it against the style that Bernie Madoff allegedly owned over 300 pairs.
The Van Damme
The Horsebit Loafer
In 1953, Aldo Gucci refined the loafer’s lines, added a gold bar in the shape of a horse’s snaffle bit across the vamp, and began making the shoe in black — a move many regard as the moment that the slip-on “went formal.” And while many brands have mimicked the style, the true gent knows to accept no substitutes — lord knows Gucci has options for every position on the sartorial spectrum these days.
Horsebit Leather Loafer
GG Velvet Horsebit Loafer
The Basket Loafer
Extensive research turned up a surprising dearth of information regarding exactly which enterprising soul elected to apply elements of the traditional Mexican huarache to a loafer silhouette, but god bless them — because their efforts yielded a supremely chill, breathable, beachy option that is about as close to a sandal as your sandal-hatin’ correspondent is willing to get.
Woven Leather Loafers
Saks Fifth Avenue
Ipanema Weave Woven Slip-On
We've put in the work researching, reviewing and rounding up all the shirts, jackets, shoes and accessories you'll need this season, whether it's for yourself of for gifting purposes. Sign up here for weekly style inspo direct to your inbox.
Suggested for you