Loafers are smarter than your average slip on. Incredibly versatile, they look good with everything from a sharp suit to a pair of casual shorts. The trick is to know which loafer to choose, and when.
Horse bit or tassels? Leather or suede? Should you go sockless? Our ultimate guide to loafers will help you answer these common questions and more.
What is a loafer?
The loafer is a hybrid of a moccasin and a traditional Norwegian shoe. Designed to slip on and off easily, the laces are replaced by a saddle, tassels, metal bar or bow.
Loafers have two very distinct characteristics: a low profile, and a seam that curves around the apron of the shoe’s upper. Unlike a traditional moccasin, the loafer is constructed with a separate sole and has a low heel.
How to wear loafers
Traditionally loafers were a casual shoe. Today there’s a wide choice of styles, colors and materials, so you can find the perfect match for almost every outfit. Here are some quick tips:
- Loafers are not suitable for formal black tie events, but they can be worn with a suit.
- As a rule, black loafers are more formal than brown, and leather is more formal than suede.
- For the most versatile style, go for a penny loafer.
- Wear black leather loafers with a dark suit for a distinguished look.
- Tasselled loafers are the perfect companion to chinos.
- Tan loafers look great with shorts.
- Gentlemen always wear socks with their loafers. If you’re wearing shorts, go for the invisible ‘low profile’ kind.
The Wildsmith Loafer
In 1926, British monarch King George VI asked Raymond Wildsmith to design a comfortable shoe for indoor country house wear. The result was a leather, slipper-like design with a topline saddle and distinctive seam. Known as the Wildsmith, this shoe of kings has been popular ever since.
Wear yours with pants or a suit for a distinguished European feel. Gentlemen always wear socks – match them to the color of your pants to show off the elegant low profile of the shoe.
The Aurland Loafer
Constructed in a similar way to the Wildsmith, the Aurland’s history can be traced back to the footwear of Norwegian fishermen. Featured in a 1930s edition of Esquire magazine, a pair of simple Scandinavian moccasins inspired the Spaulding family of New Hampshire to come up with their own version – and the legend of the Aurland loafer was born.
Traditional and stylish, the Aurland features raised stitching on the apron. This textured seam gives the shoe an approachable feel, ideal for smart casual leisure wear. Think dinners at the club and trips to the theatre.
The Penny Loafer
This classic American penny loafer became a hit in the late 1930s when prep school students used the cut-out detail in the saddle to store pennies for phone calls.
Younger people sometimes wear them without socks, but the more mature gentleman should opt for penny loafers with dark socks and a favorite pair of chinos or jeans. Throw on a striped blazer for the full preppy look or choose a dignified tweed jacket for effortless charm.
The Kiltie Loafer
Resembling the kilt, a traditional form of dress worn by men in Scotland, the fringed leather flap on the top of kiltie loafers is secured with a bow or tassels.
Your kilties look great in the summer and are ideal for bbqs and meals out. They look best with a good quality pair of cotton chinos or tailored chino shorts.
The Gucci Loafer
In 1953, designer Gucci’s black loafers took the fashion world by storm. Inspired by horse tack, the iconic metal ‘bit’ across the top of the shoe makes Gucci loafers instantly recognizable.
One of the most formal styles of loafer, the Gucci or ‘horsebit’ is ideal with a suit. Wear yours with smart office attire or to weddings, baptisms and graduation ceremonies.
The Belgian Loafer
Belgium is famous for beer and chocolate, but in 1954, while Elvis was busy recording his first 10-minute demo, the Belgians were also busy making a small and valuable addition to the loafer – a bow.
It’s a distinctly elegant look and brings European flair to any outfit. Wear your Belgian loafers whenever you want something sturdier than a boat shoe but without the hassle of laces.
The Tassled Loafer
Adding a tassel to the loafer was the idea of actor Paul Lukas, who starred in films like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and Tender is the Night (1962).
The tassled loafer is great for drinks at the bar, meals out with friends, or nights at the theatre. And don’t forget the origin of this stylish shoe – tassled loafers were born of the silver screen and look great with a pair of smart jeans or moleskins for a trip to the movies!
Armed with our guide to some of the finest footwear you can buy, your loafers will earn you effortless style points at formal and social occasions. Check out the full infographic below for a quick recap: