Your dad’s favorite work shoe is steeped in myth. The story goes that in 1926, England’s King George VI commissioned the royal shoemakers to design a pair of slip-on shoes that would be comfortable enough to wear indoors at his summer retreat at his countryside estate, yet stylish enough to befit his royal status. Thus, the loafer was created.
While its mythos implies that the loafer is a traditionally laid-back shoe, the truth is over the years designers have crafted this casual slipper to another level of formality; so much so that the right loafers can be paired with a city suit—especially in warmer weather. This versatile and comfortable shoe combines the convenience and comfort of slip-ons while retaining the formality of business wear.
Four Defining Characteristics of a Dress Loafer:
Just like Oxfords, the details of a loafer can affect its position on the casual to formal spectrum. Some of the defining characteristics of the dress loafer are:
- The ability to slip on and off
- No buckles or laces
- In essence, a casual look
- The use of a wide variety of materials
Three Classic Styles of Loafers:
The Penny Loafer
In 1936, Bass Shoe Company took the design of a Norwegian fisherman moccasin style shoe, elevated the construction and materials, added a signature toe strap, and called it the Weejun. The distinctive strip of leather across the saddle carried a diamond cut-out that prep-school boys stuck pennies in, thus gaining them the moniker “Penny Loafers.”
Penny loafers are versatile and complement outfits featuring chinos, flannel pants, or corduroys.
The Belgian Loafer
Soft-soled yet elegant, the Belgian loafer features a small tassel and knot on the front. A unique aspect of Belgian loafers is in their construction. Via the meticulous turned method, the shoes are sewn inside out and flipped back once they are completed, ensuring that each stitch on the shoe is flawless.
With their soft-soled, slipper heritage, Belgian loafers fall under the same level of casual formality as the Penny Loafer. They look great when paired with chinos and a blazer.
The Bit Loafer
When the Italian design powerhouse Gucci placed a metal bit on the front of his loafer design, the accepted formality of the slip on shoe changed internationally. Today, brands have adapted the metal bit to reflect their own brands—The Paul Evans Caine Bit Loafer features the brand’s signature fleur-de-lis, for instance.
The gleaming metal bar in the center of the vamp elevates the appearance, making it suitable for casual suits, but still doesn’t make them appropriate for black or white tie affairs.