Written by Phillip D. Johnson
Shoe Images provided by Maguire Steele
In recent seasons, high-end shoe designers has taken the men’s loafer shoe into new heights of fashion, making what has long been a men’s staple shoe into a coveted high fashion must-have for women everywhere. Women’s high fashion loafers have appeared in so many collections (and permutations) over the past few seasons, that this usually understated shoe has become truly beyond fabulously trendy. It has become epic. Formerly seen only at preppy brands, the loafer has been taken up by such unlikely champions as Nicholas Kirkwood, the London-based footwear designer whose designs are not generally described as understated, in a pilgrim-inspired, rhinestone buckle version from Marc Jacobs; a suede platform loafer from Saint Laurent Paris and a gold-tipped kiltie-style from Chloé. The trend has even drifted downwards to H&M, Payless, Zara, and other “fast fashion” and mid-priced merchandisers. The loafer rules.
Few men’s shoes today are more flexible and diverse than loafers. Chances are that you have at least one pair of loafers
somewhere in your closet. The penny loafer is a classic. It’s every boy’s first dress shoe (no laces), looks perfect when beaten-up and broken down through your college days, and later is spiffy enough for the office. It’s a lifelong wardrobe staple and just about the most versatile shoe a man will ever own. The history of the loafer is really a simple one. The first loafer, as known and beloved by men today, was reportedly inspired by a 1930s photo in “Esquire” magazine, which captured a group of Norwegian dairy farmers wearing slip-on shoes. The farmers were standing around the “loafing” area where cows were waiting to be milked, which is why in 1933 the Spaulding Leather Company of New Hampshire
Eastland Topsham Tassel Loafer, $95
trademarked its new line of men’s footwear as Loafers.
A Maine shoemaker named John Bass had seen the same article, but was slower to act on it than his neighbor. So when Bass introduced his version of the loafer in 1936, he called them Weejuns, which was slang for Norwegians. One of the characteristics of the Bass shoe was a diamond or lip-shaped notch in the decorative, supportive leather band than ran across the instep. Some say the design was supposed to represent the lips of John’s wife, Alice, kissing each pair on their way out the door. But teenagers who wore the shoes started putting a penny in the slot for good luck, and the penny loafer was born. Manufacturers known for their men’s loafers include Florsheim, Johnston Murphy, Bally, Clarks, Kenneth Cole, Gucci, Eastland and Cole Haan, among others. The Italian fashion house of Ferragamo also makes loafers, as does Red Wing, although Red Wing is more commonly associated with work boots than casual shoes. Because the shoes were made of leather and often had simple, understated embellishments on the vamp, loafers could also be worn to work. In particular, the tassel loafer, some with wing-tip designs over the toe, became popular with attorneys and white-collar professionals. And they still are.
Because they could be slipped on, loafers were equally as popular with students in casual, social settings. Considered the official footwear of the preppy lifestyle, the penny loafer has earned its place in history, along with the cotton chino, the oxford shirt (preferably white with button-down collar) and the navy blazer, as an American wardrobe essential that’s timeless, stylish and appropriate for any occasion. The penny loafer had its heyday in the late nineteen fifties and early sixties when the shoe became a pervasive trend on Ivy League campuses. With socks, without socks, sometimes even with white tube socks and shorts, the penny loafer became a centerpiece of the newly solidifying post-war “Ivy League Look”. And although they lost some of their popularity during the youthquake turbulent years of the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s, the penny loafer managed to stage resurgence during the go-go, Wall Street Boom years of the 1980s. I remember having to wear penny loafers as part of my uniform throughout my entire pre-college school years (in the 1980’s0 and I loved them. Even today, GQ, Details, and Esquire prominently features loafer styles throughout a majority of their photo-editorials in each month issue of their magazines. It’s just the perfect shoe.
That’s why loafers—with or without the penny—have become an indispensable part of any stylish warm-weather wardrobe. They are just as appropriate for a summer wedding (when worn with khaki pants and a navy blazer). They are for a weekend spent running errands, without socks, in a pair of cargo shorts. And they are ideal for the office. This versatility, coupled with time-honored craftsmanship, ensures that loafers–penny or not–will remain an icon of style for decades to come.
Since 1955, three generations of the Maine-based Eastland family have been crafting timelessly classic, casual leather footwear of the finest workmanship, comfort and quality standards. Full-grain leathers, handcrafted detail, durable soles and exceptional comfort are built into every pair. Drawing from the state’s long-standing tradition of handsewn footwear, the Eastland brand is known for its Americana heritage-inspired style that reflects their Maine roots and long-standing traditional shoemaking principles. Their various footwear collections–including the premium Made in Maine USA and Eastland 1955 Edition Collections–offer styles for modern women and men who appreciate New England classic attitude, long-lasting quality and great value in their casual (and dress) footwear. Continue reading