The loafer is a type of shoe that is easily slipped on and off the foot without any laces to worry about. It is often mentioned in the same breath as the moccasin, as some historical sources say both types of footwear have similar origins. Originally designed as an indoor shoe only, the loafer has since matured to the point that it can be worn both indoors and out for a wide range of occasions. It’s perfectly designed as a shoe to relax and loaf around in.
In terms of style variations, the loafer it is very flexible. As such, it is very difficult to pin loafers down as easily as other styles like brogues and derbies. You can find loafers made with a variety of materials, in different colours, and with or without embellishments.
Some modern shoe styles are easy to document in terms of their origins, at least at the point in which they became mainstream footwear. Such is not the case with the loafer. There are so many different stories that it is difficult to know how much truth is contained in each one. The two most trusted origin stories involve an English King and a Norwegian shoemaker.
The first story involves King George VI and his desire for a casual, indoor shoe that he could wear every day. He allegedly commissioned London's Matthew and Rebecca Wildsmith to create the shoes for him. The Wildsmiths were chosen because they had already built a business making and repairing shoes for the King's Household Cavalry. Their design eventually went on to be known as the Wildsmith Loafer.
The other story suggests that loafers came from Norway and a shoemaker by the name of Nils Gregoriusson Tveranger. It is said that he originally created a pair of moccasins that were similar to what the Iroquois wore but more accommodating to Norway's colder weather.
As the story goes, Tveranger eventually combined the moccasin style with a more traditional outdoor shoe to create what were known as Aurland Shoes. It is said that these evolved into the modern loafer after he began exporting them across Europe and to the Americas.
The defining feature of the loafer is its lack of laces. This makes it easy to slip the shoe on and off even in a standing position. Along with its no-lace construction, the loafer also shows the following characteristics:
The Wildsmith is considered the most common style of loafer in the UK. It normally features vertical stitching on the toe along with a serrated seam and reinforced toe. Polished to a nice shine, the serrated seam and toe stitching stand out to give this shoe clear definition.
Originally developed in Aurland, Norway, this variation of the loafer features a raised seam on the upper similar to that of a moccasin. A narrow-cut saddle adds definition to the top of the shoe and makes it less subject to expansion.
The penny loafer is an American take on this footwear design. It is easily recognisable thanks to a saddle sewn across the upper. The saddle itself has a cut-out large enough to hold a penny, thus its name. Incidentally, the inventor of the penny loafer was fond of keeping pennies in his shoes so that he always had money to make a phone call.
The kilted loafer is easily recognised by a flap that is secured over the top of vamp using leather strings or tassels. Some of them sport a bit of broguing as well.
The Italian 'sprezzatura' look is heavily dependent upon the loafer to finish off the casual but intricate styling. Perhaps the best example of an Italian style loafer was originally designed by Aldo Gucci in the 1950s as a means of making this particular style more acceptable in formal occasions. His shoe ended up being a lot like a tassel loafer except that he replaced the tasselled saddle with a gold horse bit.
This particular style is rather new by comparison. It features a small bow on the top for decorative purposes. The shoes are sewn inside out in the factory in order to present a finer looking seam on the finished product.
There are numerous other styles of loafers that can range from the uber-fancy to the simply plain. Because loafers are intended to be casual, everyday footwear, there isn't necessarily one particular variation that stands out above all others as the defining one.
Even though some people wear loafers in formal settings, the shoe is not considered formal due to its origin and lack of laces. Your best bet is to consider your loafers casual footwear that, on some extreme occasions, can be paired with a suit for a formal event.
Perhaps the best suited for formal wear is a simple loafer, black and well-polished to fit with formal suits. One should never wear loafers with a tuxedo or white tie ensemble. Loafers are also generally off limits when wearing three-piece suits.
In less formal settings, loafers work well with different kinds of trousers. When paired with dress trousers, be sure that the colours match. If you are wearing loafers with khakis or denim jeans, colour contrast is not a problem.
If you are looking for casual footwear that works well with just about any kind of outfit, the loafer might be just what you're looking for. Loafers come in a variety of styles and colours and can be constructed with both leather and synthetic materials. They are very comfortable shoes that easily flex, breathe well, and can be slipped on and off with very little effort.