Comfortable, elegant and practical – The unique blend of comfort and flair provided by loafers has made them a go-to shoe for men of all ages. Since they entered the public consciousness in the mid-19th century, loafers have become a mainstay in both casual and formal menswear.
With the many styles, colours and materials available, it is easy to get overwhelmed when selecting your first pair of loafers. Whether you need some help deciphering the difference between loafers and moccasins (boat shoes) or just style tips for your loafers, our guide will be sure to help!
Formality: Casual/ Semi-Formal (Most versatile, any outfit except black tie)
Style: Strap running horizontally across the top of the loafer.
Everyday wear: Yes
Season: Autumn, Spring, Summer
The iconic style of the penny loafer is what most people picture when they think of loafers. A century after its introduction, the penny loafer still remains one of the most commonly worn forms of men's footwear.
A penny loafer can be easily recognised through its characteristic feature: A strip of leather across the vamp of the shoe (thesaddle) containing a diamond-shaped cutout. The saddle is what gave the penny loafer its name, as the cutout served as the perfect place for storing a dime. Some claim that American students in the 1950s inserted a penny into the diamond-shaped slit to make a fashion statement. Others believe that the habit came about more generally as two pennies was the amount needed for emergency phone calls in the 1930s.
Tassel loafers have the same silhouette as penny loafers, sharing the same low-cut slip-on pattern and slim-profile heel seen across all loafers. However, instead of the saddle, tassel loafers include a small leather tassel as decoration, dangling over the front of the shoe. The tassel provides a stylish accent that adds a little personality to your outfit.
Though the true origin of tassel loafers remains unclear, many believe that it was created in the 1950s when actor Paul Lukas brought a pair of Oxfords with tassels to the Alden Shoe Company, requesting for something similar. The Alden tassel loafer was an instant success as people embraced the new take on the timeless penny loafer. Fashionably decorated with more flair compared to the traditional style of the penny, tassel loafers satisfied the demand for an elegant dressier shoe with the comfort of a slip-on.
Style: Small, decorative bow affixed to the top of the loafer.
Everyday wear: Yes
Season: Autumn, Summer
The Belgian loafer features a distinctive small, decorative bow laying across the front of the shoe. Unlike most other loafers, the Belgian loafer usually has a soft construction (meaning that the shoe is unlined), making it more comfortable.
Belgian loafers were Invented in the 1950s by Henri Bendel. The shoe became such a huge success that Bendel has been credited with single-handedly rescuing the Belgium shoe industry of the 1960s.
Similarly in the 1950s, Italian designer Guccio Gucci introduced another variation of the classic penny loafer design that took the popularity of the loafer to new heights. The explosion in popularity was due to Gucci’s 3 main modifications:
Adding a golden brass strap shaped like a horse’s snaffle to the front of the shoe (a reference to the company’s saddle-making heritage);
Changing the primary colour to black instead of brown (the standard colour of loafers at the time, a mark of their casual footwear status); and
Using soft construction (unlined) to make the shoe more comfortable.
The result was the Horsebit (Gucci) loafer, a shoe that was refined enough for more formal occasions. Unlike the other loafer designs, the horsebit style elevated loafers to the realm of smart dressing. In doing so, Gucci led the resurgence of the loafer across the world. Today, the cultural significance of the original Gucci loafer is remembered as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s collection.
Style: No finishings on top, one-piece material with minimal stitching.
Everyday wear: No
Slipper loafers share the same low-cut slip-on design and a slight heel that create the sharp yet comfortable look unique to loafers. Yet, what makes slipper loafers stand out is the use of velvet or suede.
When slipper loafers are devoid of saddles, tassels and other decorations, they are formal enough for black-tie events, presenting a sleek alternative to the standard dress shoe. At the same time, they can be used as an everyday slip-on to elevate slightly casual outfits.
Your trouser’s hem should end above the loafer. Let the loafer’s decorations be visible!
Dressing for the Occasion. Loafers, with their many different variations, have different levels of formality. Still, a loafer will never be considered formal shoe because of its casual heritage.
Not suited for black or white tie ensembles.
Not recommended with a three-piece suit
Still, Loafers can work with casual suits (Eg. linen suits).
Socks or No Socks? There is no right or wrong answer to this, but what is more important is how your choice will fit with the rest of the outfit
Even if you want the sockless look, you should still wear a pair of no-show socks! Hot, sweaty leather is uncomfortable and might even cause blisters. Also, your loafers will also get damaged in the long run.
When wearing loafers with shorts, it is definitely recommended to go with a sockless look.
If you choose to wear visible socks accompanying dress pants, ensure that the sock patterns and colours match your outfit.
Besides the penny loafer’s design, a big part of the loafer’s timeless appeal is its versatility – The shoe can be dressed up or down easily and works with most outfits.
Regarding the formality of penny loafers, they rank right below tassel loafers. This means that they are best suited for Casual and Smart casual outfits, including more casual suits (two-piece). A great way to ensure you are not overdressed when wearing penny loafers is to use coordinated separates: Wearing a tailored jacket and pants of different colours but are still complimentary.
Penny loafers are also a great match for chinos, jeans or any other casual trousers (go for straight cut or slim leg).
When it comes to tassel loafers, have fun experimenting with the colours and materials to find the specific shoe for you!
An oxblood or sky blue tassel loafer could add a much-needed dash of colour to the otherwise neutral semi-formal ensemble. You can also introduce some variation to your outfit by trying out tassel loafers of different materials (Eg. suede or velvet) or even hand-woven ones.
Belgian loafers can be styled quite similarly to tassel loafers due to their similar level of formality. Both do not suit overly formal black/white tie events or overly casual attire like shorts but pair well with smart casual outfits as well as casual wear. Still, there are some differences between the two, such as Belgian loafers being suitable for jeans.
The horsebit (Gucci) loafer is typically considered one of the more refined loafer designs. This means that the horsebit loafer will be suitable for casual (two-piece) and formal (three-piece) suiting. The horsebit loafer will also go well with coordinated separates.
At the same time, it is still versatile enough to be worn with simple shirt and trousers. Still, avoid overly casual attire like jeans and shorts – Remember that horsebit loafers are more smart than casual!
The slipper loafer comes in manner forms: From the classic velvet slipper to brightly embroidered ones.
When styling for a more casual occasion, switch things up by going with a light-coloured suede slipper loafer. As for more formal occasions, stick with the smooth black velvet or leather slipper loafer.
Loafers at a Glance
The loafer is a timeless style that has been a mainstay in men’s closets since its introduction. With their unique blend of comfort, practicality and versatility, they are a great choice for just about every occasion.
Now that you know more about the characteristics, history and ways to style loafers, find out how you can take proper care of your leather or suede loafers to ensure that they last!
Moccasins are an underrated and valuable add to any man's shoes collection. This article presents an overview of what they are, why you should get them, how you can style them and when you should wear them.