Moccasins can be many things for lots of different people. Soft sole moccasins are considered house shoes or slippers. Hard sole moccasins allow being worn outdoors on a daily basis.
The Moccasin: A basic definition
Although they come in many different forms these days (more about that in a minute) there is one basic definition of a moccasin that most shoemakers and fashion experts agree upon. In a nutshell, a moccasin is a heelless shoe completely made of soft leather with the sole brought up and attached to a piece of U-shaped leather on top of the foot. But it’s also so much more than that.
The history of the Moccasin
Most people are aware of the fact that Native Americans have a lot to do with the moccasin. The word moccasin itself is from the Algonquian language Powhatan. Over the years, however, the term has become generalized to refer to mean any kind of footwear that has a resemblance to any kind of Native Indian sewn footwear. The word stuck because the Algonquian tribe was the first to have contact with white settlers and that was the first time that these people had ever seen such a piece of footwear.
The fact was however that every tribe has their own take on the shoe and in fact, many used it to identify themselves as a member of a certain tribe. No doubt at school you learned a little something about the Blackfoot Nation. They weren’t called that because of the color of their feet though, it was because of the distinctive style of moccasin they wore that separated and identified them from other tribes they might encounter.
If you are lucky enough to be able to visit a museum exhibit that features some of the original examples of these shoes from that time you can see just how intricate and beautiful these shoes were. Often beaded and fringed each tribe was more than adept at creating distinctive footwear that was both practical and decorative.
It was not too long before the European settlers began to appreciate moccasins for their very practical appeal and begin to wear them themselves. And why not? These ‘new’ shoes offered protective footwear that was comfortable and warm, could be crafted from all-natural materials and, if the soles were hardened, could be worn when walking or traveling long distances. Their fashion appeal was somewhat lost in those days, but it was not forgotten by any means, but this is a great example of just how versatile the moccasin can be.
Types of modern Moccasin
Going back to the original question, are moccasins slippers or shoes, the very simple answer is both. These days, as the moccasin regains its place in the fashion world, there are three basic types you will find in shoe stores on the high streets and online:
Hard sole Moccasins
Hard sole moccasins get their name, as you might have guessed, from the fact that the traditional soft sole is replaced by a harder sole. Not a new idea by any means, but one that is very practical.
The addition of crepe, or more commonly rubber, or even TPU, to the outer sole of a moccasin allows them to be worn outdoors on a daily basis. They are suitable for wear in all kinds of circumstances by both sexes.
‘Fashion’ leather versions have become a popular alternative to the standard loafer for both office and casual wear. You can find hard soled moccasins for both men and women and companies like Lands End and REI have even begun offering ‘all weather moccasins’, shoes designed to be tough enough to stand up to walking on more rugged terrain that offer many of the foot health and comfort features that more traditional walking shoes do while still retaining the basic moccasin styling.
Whatever style one chooses, the great appeal of a moccasin shoe is its ease of wear. Easy to slip on, and easy to slip off they provide a comfort that a more structured shoe does not. And the modern hard sole moccasin can often transition fairly seamlessly from the office to evening, making them a very versatile, as well as practical, choice indeed.
Having first appeared in the 1940s and 1950s driving moccasins are currently enjoying a new surge in popularity.
These shoes were originally created by several major Italian fashion houses to be marketed to the owners – and drivers – of expensive Italian roadsters like Ferraris and Porsches. while styled like traditional moccasins, and originally crafted from the finest Italian leather the difference was in the soles.
The soft soles of a ‘real’ driving moccasin feature an insole with small knobs or differently sized nubs which peek through holes in the soft leather sole. The idea behind this is that this gives a driver a better grip and ‘feel’ for the pedals, allowing them not only to drive more safely but also to get a better ‘feel’ for the car (which, we’ll admit, is rather important if you have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for it)
After falling out of style a little during the Seventies and Eighties driving moccasins are now back, and in a big way. They are being marketed and created for both men and women and it’s no longer a must that you drive a high powered sports car to wear them. A standard Civic will do just fine.
Because of their origins as luxury footwear driving moccasins do tend to be rather stylish and sometimes even quite ostentatious. It’s not unusual to find them (for both men and women) in very strong jewel tones with tassels and subtle, but traditional stitching along the sides.
One thing that some people are often confused about is whether they should be wearing driving moccasins outside their vehicles. The answer there is sparingly in the right situations. Worn outside too often and the nubs on the soles will wear down quickly and you’ll lose that extra grip and ‘feel’. However, if you happen to be driving to a casual lunch with friends, or even to a nice summer picnic there is no harm in wearing them outside for a while and, for gents, if you choose the right outfit you may even be able to pull off a Sean Connery or Steve McQueen vibe, the Hollywood stars whose fondness for them made them incredibly fashionable in the Swinging Sixties.
Soft sole Moccasin slippers
Often termed a house shoe, rather than a slipper the soft soled moccasin slipper is a popular choice for men women and children. And for lots of good reasons. They are soft, easy and comfortable to slip in and out of and have the kind of smooth soles that won’t damage flooring but just enough traction, thanks to their leather (or sometimes faux leather) soles that you should not slip and fall either.
The soft-soled moccasin slipper is also where this centuries-old shoe option can really come into its own style wise. The beading and patterning that harks back to the early styles can be replicated because these are not shoes designed to be worn outside. Liberties can also be taken with the kind of uppers the moccasin slipper can boast. Instead of standard leather, some shoe designers and manufacturers are choosing to make use of sheepskin or heavy knit and lining their comfy take on a moccasin with fur for even more cozy comfort.
The one thing you really should not do is try to wear soft sole moccasin slippers outside though. They are just not made for that. They offer very little protection from moisture (and in some cases you will ruin them if they get wet) and they don’t protect very well against sharp objects you might encounter. and the last thing anyone wants is a sharp stone cutting their foot!
In conclusion, and in answer to the question are moccasins slippers or shoes the fact is that moccasins are whatever you want them to be and more. They are some of the most versatile shoe choices you make – whether you are male or female (or even a kid) for both indoor and outdoor wear and for all kinds of occasions, from a quiet day at home in front of the fire with Netflix to a casual lunch date with friends or even a boardroom meeting!