What Are Moccasins?

There are several styles of footwear available today, some of them featuring new and inventive designs, and others heavily drawing from the past and changing very little in terms of design. Moccasins fall in the latter category- these shoes have managed to remain relevant and popular, but despite this, many people have difficulty telling them apart from loafers and other similar shoe designs. Read on for more information about this type of footwear, including the history of this shoe, its features, and considerations to keep in mind when buying them.

What are moccasins? The moccasin is a type of heelless footwear made of soft leather that has a sole which may be soft and flexible or hard. They are comfortable thanks to their slightly loose-fitting and have a similar design to loafers, but unlike the latter, they have no separate hard sole.

The upper of a moccasin often features beading, embroidery, or other similar ornaments. In the past, moccasin leathers used to make the hard-soled variety were sourced from soft tanned hides of buffalo, bison, or deer rawhide. Today, moccasins that are made of moose hide or deerskin are also quite common. Perhaps the most popular style of moccasin today is the driving moccasin, otherwise referred to as the driving moc. Moccasins come in a wide variety of colors, with some of the most common being brown and black.

As you might know, moccasins have been around for quite some time, and despite this, they are still as popular as ever. Here are the different aspects of this type of shoe.

Features of moccasins

There are a number of unique features that are helpful in distinguishing moccasins from other similar shoe types.

  • The heel (or lack thereof) – Moccasins were originally designed to be heelless, which basically means that they were made using a single material with no distinction between the upper and the sole. Today, however, many moccasins have a separate leather or rubber sole so as to provide more protection to the foot when worn.
  • The seam – Moccasins typically feature a distinct U-shaped stitch seam that is found on the shoe upper, and some designs also feature decorative laces, embroidery, or beading.
  • The sole – The sole of the moccasin can be hard or soft. Soft-soled moccasins are best suited for use indoors since they don’t provide much protection outdoors.
  • The fitting – Moccasins generally have a loose-fitting thanks to their construction. This makes them one of the more comfortable types of footwear.

History of moccasins

According to some accounts, moccasins arrive in the U.S nearly 30,000 years ago via the Bering Sea from the Asian continent. Later on, the shoe style was adapted by the Indian tribes that were settled in the area. Due to the varying terrain and climatic conditions across North America, different versions of the moccasin were developed based on the origin of the tribes.

The word moccasin is originally derived from the Algonquian language Powhatan where the term” makasin” refers to a shoe. Although a number of other indigenous tribes native to North America have similar words that refer to shoe, the Algonquians were the first tribe that the Europeans arrived in North America in 1615.

Although a variety of moccasin styles evolved due to the differences in climate and habitat, there are two main categories that they can be categorized into:

  • Hard sole moccasins – These moccasins are generally associated with the desert areas and western plains of Northern America. The construction of the hard sole often featured tough bison leather which was meant to protect the feet from prairie grass and harsh cactus which was prevalent in the terrain of the area. Additionally, these shoes also protected the wearer from sharp rocks. This style of moccasin was typically made from more than one piece of hide. The hard sole moccasin usually has a toe that is turned up which was mean to prevent sharp objects from piercing through the seams and consequently injuring the foot.
  • Soft sole moccasins – Soft sole moccasins are linked to the Eastern forests of North America primarily made up of woodlands with pine-needle and leaf-covered ground surfaces and as a result, the feet did not need the level of protection that a hard sole provided. The soft-soled moccasins often featured only one piece of leather. The sole came up around the foot of the area and was then patched or puckered around the instep; some varieties were sown along one side of the moccasin instead of in the center. Nevertheless, the most basic design was the simple center seam. The two-piece varieties had a U-shaped stitched piece which served as a vamp. Other varieties had an extra piece which served as a cuff.

While the hard sole and soft sole moccasins are the two main types, moccasins came in a variety of styles which were distinctive to the different tribes that sported them. As a matter of fact, these shoe styles were so unique that it was possible to tell one tribe apart from the other just by looking at the moccasins.

Moccasins were constructed using the soft tanned hides of buffalo, deer, or bison rawhide for the hard-soled kind. Today. Moccasins that are made using deerskin or moose hide are also quite prevalent. They were assembled from the inside out so as to hide the stitching. Tendon or sinew was used for stitching purposes, and holes would be punctured through the material to facilitate it. The knot would be on the outside so as to allow for comfort. The running stitch and whip stitch were frequently used in the design. Although there were no major variations when it came to moccasin construction, each tribe had unique decorative methods, including quillwork, beadwork, and painted designs, to mention a few.

The moccasin was made with both comfort and practicality in mind, and one of the distinct features of this footwear was that the wearer was able to feel the ground as they walked but still enjoy protection. Since moccasins were designed for use in specific terrain and habitats, they quickly became the choice shoe for European settlers.

The moccasin started to lose its popularity as North America became more industrialized and settled. It was only after the Second World War came to an end that they were rediscovered by a new generation. During this time, moccasins were being constructed using different types of leather, and they also came in various colors. This resurgence in popularity led to the founding of the Minnetonka Moccasins in 1946.

Today, most moccasins have a double sole which allows for more durability. Moccasins that are considered to be original are hardly worn outdoors due to the flimsy protection they provide from concrete, pavement, and other hard surfaces. Therefore, in some cases, you will find that rubber or leather soles are added so as to make the moccasins more wearable. Otherwise, many styles of moccasins are worn around the house.

Driving Moccasins

The Driving Moccasin, popularly referred to as the Driving Moc, is one of the most popular styles of moccasins. Driving mocs are a version of moccasins that have an insole which features little knobs that peak through the holes found in the sole. These unique soles are meant to make the shoes more durable and versatile. In general, there are two types of driving mocs: the first one is rubber dotted and has small round rubber pads that cover the surface of the sole uniformly, and the second type has separated pads which have are flat, made of rubber and separated by small areas.

Driving mocs are hard to repair, and once the knobs become worn out, most wearers opt to discard them. In some cases, the cobbler might succeed in attaching a new and durable sole, which ends up changing the appearance of the shoe. However, newer versions of the driving moc have incorporated rubber elements in the sole to increase the durability.

Factors to consider when choosing moccasins

If you intend to purchase moccasins, here are some tips you can use to help you select the most suitable type.

  • Outsole – Not all mocs are intended for the same purpose, which means that the soles will, therefore, be designed according to their use.

For instance, driving mocs are vastly different from standard moccasins. The patterns found on the sole of a driving moccasin are meant to provide a steady grasp of the pedals when driving. A good pair of driving soles should have patterns that are dense enough to provide a grasp on the pedals but shouldn’t stand out too much.

An indoor moccasin, on the other hand, has a completely different outsole. When you are within your home, you want a sole that is soft but still dense. The main quality to look for in a moccasin that is meant for use indoors is comfort purposes. Therefore, you will want a pair that is light but still dense enough to allow you to walk around comfortably around your house. Soles that have a double bottom are ideal for use indoors especially if you have hardwood floors.

Moccasins that are worn to formal occasions typically don’t have patterns on the outsoles. This is because they are meant to look as elegant as possible. In most cases, the sole is usually made of leather and rubber.


– The material used in the construction of your moccasins is a major determinant of the quality. Full-grain leather is considered to be the best quality cut used in the construction of moccasins. However, this doesn’t mean that other materials such as suede are of low quality. In fact, suede can be worn for formal occasions, although they are more commonly worn in casual settings. Here are the most common types of leather used for moccasins.

  • Cowhide – Cowhide is the most common material for moccasins. Multiple treatments such as stain resistance and waterproofing are typically incorporated in most moccasin types.
  • Deerskin – Deerskin is perhaps the most comfortable material used in the construction of moccasins. In most cases, it is used in the inner part of the moccasin.
  • Moosehide – This material is popularly used for moc uppers thanks to its soft texture and flexibility. Another reason why they are favored is its natural look and feel.
  • Sheepskin – Sheepskin is seldom used as the construction material for moccasins, but there are a few cases. The main benefit of sheepskin is the comfort that wool fur allows. However, wool is not sturdy enough on its own, which is why it is combined with leather to provide structure. Wool is more commonly incorporated as the fur on the inner side of the moccasin and around the moccasin’s collar.


Depending on the occasion, moccasins are worn for different purposes.

  • Formal moccasins – For formal occasions, leather moccasins that have a bit of a heel are considered to be the ideal. Suede moccasins can also be worn, but you have to be careful with the color of the shoe so that it doesn’t clash with your outfit.
  • Casual moccasins – Casual moccasins generally expose more of the foot. They also feature decorative elements such as beads and laces on the upper.
  • Comfort – Regardless of the type of moccasin you go for, you will want shoes that allow you to walk without having to worry about sustaining an injury. Therefore, the sole of the moccasin you intend to buy should provide adequate support. Hard soles are generally more comfortable to walk in than soft soles. Having said that, the hardness of the sole will ultimately be determined by the type of moccasin as well as the surface that you will be walking on. In general, moccasin soles are usually made of leather, rubber, or a combination of both.

Final Thoughts

There are many styles of moccasins available, and you will likely find suitable ones for every occasion, from dressing ones for formal settings to casual ones for at-home wear or a night out in town. It is worth noting that if the moccasins you buy are not weatherproofed and waterproofed, you may end up with ruined shoes and wet feet. Additionally, wearing moccasins for extended periods of time might bring about discomfort due to the lack of adequate support.

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