What Are Loafers?

What are loafers - 1

Now and then, a style of footwear comes along and somehow manages to stand the test of time even as the fashion world undergoes numerous changes and overhauls. One of the classics that were worn in the past and are still being worn today are loafers- the original design of the loafer has not seen much change, and yet it is still widely popular today. There are different styles of designs available to both men and women, and it is one of the most stylish yet comfortable types of footwear out there. Read on to find out all there is to know about this type of footwear.

What are loafers? Loafers are slip-on shoes that do not have a fastening or lacing system. When they are worn, the ankle is usually exposed, and the sole is typically separate from the upper. Loafers are a nice cross between casual and formal, although it is important to note that they are more on the casual side.

There are several styles of loafers that are available today, including penny loafers, tassel loafers, horse-bit loafers, and Gucci loafers, to name a few. Most loafer types are usually made of either suede or leather, although velvet is also common. They also come in a variety of colors, and what you go for will depend on your preferences. Loafers can be worn by men and women in both casual and formal settings.

Loafers have been around for quite a while, and it doesn’t seem like they are going to go out of style any time. Here is a look at the various aspects of this time-defying shoes.

Defining traits of loafer

There are several distinct traits that set loafers apart from other shoe types:

  • They lack laces – Loafers are convenient thanks to their slip-on design, which means that they don’t feature any lacing or fastening system.
  • Ankle exposure – Loafers are often categorized as a low shoe since it does not wrap around the ankle.
  • The sole – The sole featured in a loafer is usually separate from a loafer. This is one of the biggest differences between a loafer and a moccasin.
  • The heel – Loafers tend to feature heels with a reasonably low profile.
  • The vamp – The construction of the vamp (upper part of the shoe) of a loafer is reminiscent of that of a moccasin.
  • The saddle – Loafers often come with a saddle, which is basically a piece of leather that may be incorporated across the vamp.

History of loafers

There are two stories that are commonly used as a reference when it comes to explaining the origin of the loafer:

  • The English origin – Back in 1847, husband and wife Matthew and Rebecca Wildsmith founded a footwear manufacturing business known as Wildsmith Shoes in Piccadilly, London. They made and repaired shoes for the Household Cavalry and then the Royal Household. In 1926, Raymond Wildsmith, the grandson of Matthew and Rebecca, was commissioned to make a house shoe for King George VI. He created a low-heeled shoe design that did not feature laces and could be easily slipped on and off. The construction of this shoe design was quite similar to that of the moccasin, although it is not known if it served as an inspiration to Raymond. Today, this style of shoe is known as the Wildsmith Loafer, and while they were initially intended to be casual house shoes, they became immensely popular as casual outdoor wear.
  • The Norwegian origin – As the 20th century kicked off, shoemaker Nils Gregoriusson Tveranger (1874-1953) developed the concept and introduced the loafer in Aurland, a small town in Norway. Nils had spent about seven years in America to gain knowledge in the art of shoemaking. In 1930, Nils came up with a new design that featured heels that came to be referred to as the “Aurland moccasin”. There were two main influences of this shoe design: the moccasins that were worn by the Iroquois tribe which hailed from North America, and the customary, moccasin-like shoes which were worn by fishermen in Aurland. Gradually, he introduced his shoe design to Europe where they became widely popular. At the same time, Americans who frequented Europe also brought the shoes home with them. As a result, they caught the attention of an editor of Esquire Magazine, and soon enough, they were featured in the publication. Around 1932-1933, the Spaulding family which hailed from New Hampshire began producing shoes that were heavily influenced by the Aurland Moccasin. Their product was known as the “Loafer”, which was at the time a generic name for slip-on footwear in America.

Types of loafers

Some of the most popular types of loafers include:

1. Penny loafers

Penny loafer

Penny loafers first made an appearance in America in the 1930s when they were introduced by the G.H Bass shoe company. Their take on the loafer included a unique strip of leather, otherwise known as the saddle, which was cut out in the shape of a diamond. Bass referred to their loafers as “Weejuns” which was a nod to the Norwegian influence of the design as well as a way of setting them apart from the Spaulding design of loafers. Weejuns quickly became profoundly popular in America, particularly among Prep School goers in the 1950s who came up with the term “penny loafer”. According to legend, in an effort to make a fashion statement, the students took to putting a penny into the cutout feature that was shaped like a diamond. Another popular story claims that two pennies were enough to allow you to make an emergency call. Whatever the source of the name was, the name “penny loafer” caught on, and the G.H Bass design cemented its status as a classic.

2. Horsebit or Gucci loafers

Gucci loafer

As the loafer became more popular in America, it was yet to catch on in Europe. In Italy, the loafer style was a bit more prevalent, but in other European countries, it was still regarded to be a casual shoe. However, things took a turn in 1968 when Gucci, the renowned Italian designer, came up with his own version of the loafer by incorporating a gold brass strap that was shaped like a horse snaffle, hence the term horsebit loafers. Gucci opened his New York store in 1953, and he quickly picked up on the prevalence of the loafer in the city. He made some modifications to the basic design and made this version of loafers black (loafers were typically brown in color at the time). The result of Gucci’s design was shoes that incorporated just the right amount of formality to make them popular as office wear. They went on to be known as the “Gucci loafer’ and they helped to popularize loafers in Europe and the rest of the world.

3. Tassel loafers

Tassel loafer

The origin of the tassel loafers is relatively unclear. Evidence shows that after the Second World War ended, the American actor Paul Lukas purchased oxford shoes which featured tassels at the end of their laces on a trip abroad. When he returned to the United States, he requested Farkas & Kovacs, renowned New York shoemakers, to replicate the design. However, Lukas was not impressed by the result, taking the shoes to Lefcourt of New York as well as Morris Bookmakers of Beverly Hills, both of which turned over his demand the Alden Shoe Company. Alden kept the tassel and leather lace design and incorporated a slip-on pattern. They continued to tweak the design for about a year before introducing it to the masses in 1950 through Morris and Lefcourt stores. This shoe design was a hit to the point that Brooks Brothers requested Alden to come up with a line especially for them in 1957. The ensuing design was a tassel loafer which featured a decorative seam found at the back part, which is still exclusive to Brooks Brothers today.

4. Belgian loafers

Belgian loafers

The Belgian loafer is a style that was conceptualized in the 1950s by Henri Bendel. The main distinctive features of the Belgian loafer were:

  • Unusual materials and colors
  • Soft soles- the loafer was sewn inside out
  • A small recognizable bow

In 1954, the Bendel family sold their store and made the move to buy two shoe factories in Belgium in 1956 and stared making unisex loafers. These shoes quickly became a hit, with the bow was the most distinct feature. As a result, Bendel rescued the Belgian shoe industry, a feat that earned him the Knightship of the Order of Leopold in 1964.

Although Belgian loafers are sold all over the globe, the only retailer that carries them is found on 110 East 55th Street in New York City. Of course, you also have the option to purchase them online.

How to choose loafers

Other than the type, there are several other aspects to take into consideration when choosing loafers.

  • Material – Choosing the right material is paramount as it will determine the durability as well as the level of cleanliness and maintenance that will be required.

Leather loafers

Loafers that come in leather are the most common. For more formal occasions, you will want to go for patent leather styles. This is because the sheen of genuine patent leather instantly adds elegance and dresses up your outfit. When choosing leather loafers, be prepared to shell out a little more money in order to get durable and high-quality loafers.

Tips on how you can clean and maintain your leather loafers

  • Remove debris or dirt with a brush – Use an old toothbrush or a soft shoe brush to get rid of the dirt and debris on your loafers. Try to be as gentle as possible so as to avoid damaging the leather. Don’t forget to brush the soles and along the seams of the shoe.
  • Wipe using a damp cloth and leather cleaner – With a damp soft cloth and a bit of leather cleaner, wipe the loafers gently. Wipe them again with a damp cloth until you get rid of all the soap. Always allow your loafers to air dry so as to preserve the quality of leather.
  • Apply leather shoe polish – Applying moisture helps to maintain the shine of the loafers and protect them from harsh elements. Apply a few drops of polish that contains moisturizer regularly after cleaning your shoes.
  • Ventilation – Leather loafers, just like any other leather shoes, require adequate ventilation so as to prevent mildew from developing.

Suede loafers

Suede loafers generally have a unique texture to them, which makes them great for semi-formal looks. A suede loafer is soft and comfortable to wear, and it can also be easily accessorized.

Tips on cleaning and maintenance of suede loafers:

  • Use a special suede brush – Use a brush that is specifically made to clean and maintain suede shoes. You can find one online or at your local shoe store. Brush the entire surface of your loafers gently to get rid of stains and scuffs.
  • Use an eraser to remove smudges and scuffs – Rub a pencil eraser on the areas where there are smudges or scuff marks. Gently brush away any resulting residue using your suede brush.
  • Use a bit of corn starch on grease stains – For grease stains, apply corn starch directly and allow it to sit for 2-3 hours before removing it with a suede brush.
  • Apply shoe protectant spray immediately after purchase – To maintain your suede loafers, use a silicone-based spray immediately after you buy them to weatherproof them. Apply the spray again every time that you clean them.


For a luxurious look, go for a pair of velvet loafers. Although they are relatively limited in terms of versatility, they do wonders for a dressier outfit.

Tips on how to clean and maintain Velvet loafers.

  • For dirt and mud stains – If your loafers have mud stains, let the material completely dry first before you start cleaning it. After they are completely dry, use a soft brush to gently scrub the dirt.
  • For other marks – Start by blotting the excess moisture with a soft cloth, and then use a clean soft cloth to apply a velvet-friendly cleaning solution.
  • Invest in a protective spray – To prevent future scuff marks and stains, use a protective spray that is safe to use on velvet.


Color is another important factor to keep in mind when buying loafers.

  • Black – Other than being a classic, black is versatile, allowing you to pair your loafer with a variety of outfits without feeling out of place.
  • Brown – This is another classic color that goes well with a variety of palettes. Additionally, brown loafers suit both casual and more formal looks.
  • Navy – This is a color that works well with beiges, emerald greens, and whites. Furthermore, it looks great in suede as well as leather.

Final Thoughts

If you are contemplating purchasing a pair of loafers, there is never a wrong time especially since they are unlikely to go out of trend any time soon. As long as you take the time to figure out the type, color, and material of loafer you want, you are good to go.

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