The 7 Different Loafer Styles, Explained

The season's best slip-on kicks, from pennies to tassels to swaggy slippers

Updated December 17, 2020 9:35 am
Best Summer Loafers 2019

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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.

The Slipper

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 Dragon Slipper

Dragon Slipper
Stubbs & Wootton

Duke & Dexter Duke Pyramid Loafer

Duke Pyramid
Duke & Dexter

The Penny

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.

Larson Weejun G.H. Bass & Co. Loafer

Larson Weejun
G.H. Bass & Co.

Moral Code Brayson Loafer

Moral Code

The Tassel

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).

Brooks Brothers 818 Footwear Leather Tassel Loafer

1818 Footwear Leather Tassel
Brooks Brothers

Billy Reid Soft Tassel Loafer

Soft Tassel
Billy Reid

The Kiltie

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.

Brunello Cucinelli Brogue-Detailed Leather Kiltie Loafer

Brogue-Detailed Leather Kiltie
Brunello Cucinelli

G.H. Bass & Co. Langley Weejun Loafer

Langley Weejuns
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.

Belgian Shoes Mr. Casual Loafer

Mr. Casual
Belgian Shoes

Paul Evans The Van Damme Loafer

The Van Damme
Paul Evans

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.

Gucci Horsebit Leather Loafer

Horsebit Leather Loafer

Gucci GG Velvet Horsebit 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.

Saks Fifth Avenue Woven Leather Loafers

Woven Leather Loafers
Saks Fifth Avenue

Hudson Ipanema Weave Woven Slip-On

Ipanema Weave Woven Slip-On

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