It might seem like a simple enough question, but there is much controversy around what counts as Loafer style shoes, and today they're quite often generically used to describe no lace shoes that are slip-on and low heeled. Loafer shoes are, in fact, the most common design of all the slip-on style shoes and are also sometimes referred to as a slipper in American culture.
Loafer dress shoes are distinct from traditional lace-up shoes, popularized by the Brogue and the Oxford, which have more formal origins and are usually worn as dress shoes. So let’s try and get to grips with today’s topic of discussion: What are loafers?
Origins of Today’s Loafer Shoes
It’s a little-known fact, but the humble Loafer originated in Scandinavia and is derived from footwear worn by local fishermen. Taking two pieces of leather, they worked these into a comfortable and practical, hardy piece of functional footwear that was fashioned together and held in place with another strip of leather.
This developed into the slip-on style Penny Loafer so popular today with both men and women. Still, it went through various iterations along the way, including at the hands of the high-end fashion house, Gucci.
Today the Loafer certainly isn’t the footwear of choice for fisherman, but they're much loved by fashionistas the whole world over for being comfortable ladies shoes, somewhat sensible, but always an elegant piece of modern footwear. It lends itself to quite a preppy look, and it works great with a tailored suit, a pair of chinos or smart jeans, but also with a pencil skirt for a thoroughly modern work outfit.
The slip-on dress shoe was also incredibly popular with the British and European aristocracy, who used it as a sophisticated and elegant lounge shoe. They had versions with decorative hardware detailing, like gold buckles and all kinds of ornamental and flamboyant attachments or embellishments.
Different Types of Loafers Available
There are many different types of slip-on shoes, the Loafer or Penny Loafer being just one of them. The other trendy style, often for women, is the Moccasin. They're derived from North American culture, rather than Scandinavia, and was historically used as a practical hunting shoe.
The Moccasin shoe is distinguished from the Loafer in that it typically features only decorative lacing. Traditionally, a Loafer would have been constructed from leather, whereas a Moccasin would have been made from softer suede.
There is much crossover today in the slip-on shoe category, and the term Loafer is often used to describe pure style Loafers, and Moccasins, or “driving shoes” which are another modern interpretation of the original classic style Penny Loafer from the 1900s.
Why are loafers so popular?
Slip-on style shoes continue to be a popular choice for both men and women, and a wide range of professionals wear them because they provide a comfortable and practical everyday piece of formal footwear, especially for anyone on their feet for large parts of the day.
Leather continues to be a favorite fabric, of which the majority of Loafers are constructed, but with the rise in popularity of the Loafer and the introduction of this shoe to the modern catwalk, you will also find velvet, exotic animal leathers, and canvas styled Loafers.
Who doesn’t wish they had the budget to invest in the iconic Gucci Loafer? These days many of the high-end fashion labels are introducing their own take on the Loafer, ensuring that this form of footwear is a popular off-duty choice for many a supermodel.
The introduction of the Gucci Loafer propelled this slip-on to another level in the style stakes, and the Loafer became synonymous with privilege, power, and prestige. It’s the dress shoe of choice for many a high-powered boardroom executive as well as an off-duty, casual staple for pop stars and supermodels, as well as college students.
From the boardroom to the bar
It’s easy to see why the Loafer has garnered so much positive acclaim and is such a well-loved shoe. It combines versatility with comfort in what is a very practical but at the same time a timeless looking shoe. It can look just as elegant worn with a suit as it can with a dress and has been a wardrobe staple since the 1930s when it firmly established itself as a quintessential shoe for both genders.
If you want to look smart in the boardroom but also be comfortable when you hot foot it to the bar later for drinks, then the Loafer is undoubtedly an intelligent choice. A well-chosen Loafer can instantly pull together and complete many a fashionable ensemble.
You're no longer limited to a black or burnished brown leather Loafer. Thanks to the rise in popularity and the high-end designer fashion houses picking up on this classic style, you can now get Loafers in all kinds of bright colors and textures. You can purchase a Loafer that will see you through all the various trends and seasons.
Everything from a hardy leather pair perfect for the winter months, to lightweight, canvas constructed casual Loafers that will help you transition into spring. The Loafer really can be worn with everything from a suit to a sundress and is an incredibly versatile and popular choice of slip-on shoes for both sexes.
Men in the workplace are more likely to stick with the traditional brown and black leather styles. In contrast, women are more daring with everything from velvet to suede, rubber, canvas, and even exotic animal prints and leathers being available.
For the well-heeled woman of today
Nothing is more elegant or sophisticated than a woman in a pair of slip-on Loafers. Forget about your stilettos, those high heeled pumps, or chunky wedges. If you want to look contemporary, sophisticated, but of course be comfortable too, then a pair of Loafers should be one of the staple footwear pieces in both your daily work and your off-duty, casual wardrobe.