Ultimate Guide To The Formal Loafer
King George VI is planning his annual summer retreat in his English country-side estate.
There’s one snag in the plan.
His shoe collection is void of footwear that is suitable for wearing indoors.
He commissions the royal shoe makers to design a pair of slip-on shoes that are comfortable and yet stylish.
The result? The loafer.
This fictitious story created the mantra that loafers are traditionally a laid-back shoe.
Over the years designers have modernized this casual slipper to achieve a higher level of formality.
These VERSATILE and COMFORTABLE shoes combine the convenience of slip-on shoes with the formality of business clothes.
Four Defining Characteristics of a Dress Loafer
If the slipper is the father, the moccasin is the mother of the loafer.
Loafers now have a wide range of formality from casual to dapper. Each of the different styles are discussed in more detail below. Some of the defining characteristics of loafers are:
- Ability to Slip On and Off
- No Buckles or Laces
- A Casual Shoe by Nature
- The Use of a Wide Variety of Materials
And the best part? You can wear them with or without socks.
Four Classic Styles Of Dress Loafers
Combing through the various styles available, loafers are right for you if you need shoes that are formal, comfortable, fashion-forward, classic and versatile.
1. The Penny Loafer
In 1876, George Henry Bass introduced the Mocc, a soft leather moccasin. In 1936 the Bass Shoe Co adapted the design of a Norwegian fishermen moccasin style shoe and called it Weejun combining the words Norwegian and Injun.
Weejuns are also referred to as penny loafers.
The distinctive addition was a strip of leather across the saddle with a diamond cut-out.
The shoes feature a distinctive semi-pocket on the vamp, a strip of leather across the saddle. The diamond cut-out was perfectly suited to store a penny to be used in case of an emergency, hence the namepenny loafer.
Penny loafers are the most versatile loafers and are complementary to your outfit when combined with chinos, flannel pants, or corduroys.
2. The Belgian Loafer
Belgian loafers are soft-soled slip on, elegant loafers with a small bow on the front.
Originally produced as a slipper for indoor use, these soft-soled shoes are made using the meticulous turned method. The shoes are sewn inside-out and flipped once they are completed.
This process ensures that each stitch on the shoe is flawless.
The Belgian style has more of a slipper heritage rather than a moccasin heritage.
3. The Tassel Loafer
Tassel loafers will be the most casual of loafers.
Dating back to around the 1950’s tassle loafers fall just below the Belgian loafer on the formality scale but are close cousins in design.
Tassel loafers feature dangling leather tassels which decorate the top vamp of the shoe.
Black or oxblood tassel loafers present the same level of formality as a navy-blue blazer and gray trouser combination.
Originally designed as a wholecut style, the tassel loafer has a rounded toe outlined by a reverse seam. These loafers are often made of cordovan leather and have been known for their classic and timeless style, durability and versatility.
4. The Horsebit Or Gucci Loafer
As the formality grew for loafers in the US, internationally they were still viewed as casual. It was uncommon to see loafers and suits worn together throughout the rest of the world.
It wasn’t until the gucci (or bit) loafer was designed by the Italian powerhouse designer Gucci himself that it began to be accepted as a formal piece worldwide.
Although many brands now make bit loafers, Gucci remains the originator of this design.
The defining piece on the loafers is the gleaming snaffle or metal bar that looks like a horse’s bit, in the centre of the vamp.
The bit loafer in black leather presents a fine option for suits, however it doesn’t climb all the way to a black or white tie affair.
Loafer Materials – Suede or Leather?
Most types of loafers are made of either leather or suede.
Leather loafers are suitable for smarter looks, either with a full suit or a tailored outfit.
Suede loafers present a more casual approach. It is best to reserve suede loafers for the spring and summer months. They should be protected from moisture at all times.
Leather loafers are sturdier than suede loafers and will also wear well over the years.
How Should Loafers Fit?
The comfort of your shoes is determined largely by how your feet fit in them.
Since loafers can be worn without socks, avoid wearing thick socks when trying them on at the shop. It is generally advised to buy one size down when the intention is to go sockless in a pair of quality leather loafers.
Measure your foot from the back of the heel to the tip of the big toes.
Different manufacturers have different sizing standards – having your actual measurement handy is helpful in comparing sizes from various brands.
Pairing Dress Loafers With Clothes
Although the rules for pairing shoes with suits have relaxed in the past decade, it is best to choose slip-on shoes with an appropriate level of formality. Ensure the loafers have a high vamp and a heel.
- A laid-back evening – Jeans in a medium to dark wash and a button-down shirt . Undo a button or two and roll up the sleeves. Penny loafers would work best with this attire.
- A date night – Dress up a polo shirt by pairing it with a navy blazer and a brown suede Belgian loafers.
- Avoid gaudy – Be careful not to allow gold or silver decorations on the upper to become so gaudy that they distract attention from your outfit by drawing the eyes to your shoes.
- With suits – Most Italian style loafers are too sleek and lightweight for American-style suits. Ensure the dress loafer you pair with suits has a thick sole and a heel. The horsebit loafers are perfect for this.
- Loafers and shorts – Avoid pairing loafers with shorts.
- Socks or no socks – This is a matter of personal preference. Socks with loafers can add visual appeal, but they are not necessary. Allow the weather and occasion to make the choice for you.
Loafer Color Choices
The wide variety of loafer styles and range of colors can make the process of choosing a pair slightly tricky.
Unless you are trying to make a fashion statement, stay with conservative colors – brown, black, navy and gray. These are the most versatile colors and will match most outfit combinations.
The traditional color for dress loafers is black. Brown and oxblood are however, more versatile than black.
What About the Monk Strap?
You may be asking about another common slip-on shoe, the Monk Strap.
Does it fall into the loafer family?
The lack of laces resembles the common characteristic of the loafer, however it falls on a totally different part of the casual to formal scale.
Well we wrote a great article that talks about this shoe.
Read all about the history and more in The Ultimate Guide to Double Monk Strap Dress Shoes.
Loafers straddle up and down the casual to formal scale, making this a staple for every man’s wardrobe.
There are some who believe that wearing a loafer increases the leg line. The shoes make a man taller as a result of the legs appearing longer.
If you are on your feet a lot during the day, a combination of quality and comfort is essential for your footwear. Shoes are no place to skimp on quality.
Loafers have practically taken the shoe industry by storm in recent times because men all over the world appreciate the convenience and comfort they offer.