Built for the English countryside, reinvented by rugged Norwegian pragmatism, scaled through American consumerism and dressed up in the high fashion houses of Italy.
The loafer, the mainstay of a boating lifestyle to the highest ranks of the business world is a true mosaic of Western culture. Whether paired with casual jeans, khaki shorts or a high-end suit, the right pair of loafers can add an effortless sophistication to any look!
In 1847 a small, London-based shoe making company--by the name of Wildsmith Shoes--originated the concept of the loafer! Yet, it wasn't until 1926 that Wildsmith embarked on creating a specific line of loafers fit for King George VI. This shoe was built to be worn at the king's country estate and therefore, Wildsmith’s new design would combine high-quality leather construction with hard, outdoor-friendly, soles.
It became clear that King George VI wasn't the only member of the aristocracy who enjoyed Wildsmith's creation. Very quickly, assemblages of the British nobility fell in love with the new style and it soon became known as the first modern slip-on shoe! The style continues to be sold made-to-order at Wildsmith locations to this very day!
Around 1930 Nils Gregoriusson Tveranger (1874-1953)--a shoemaker from Aurland, Norway--introduced the "Aurland Moccasin", later renamed the "Aurland shoe."
Combining his background in hardy Norwegian design and formal shoe-making education in North America, the Aurland shoe represented a truly cross-Atlantic hybrid of styles. The design resembles moccasins worn by the Iroquois while concurrently favoring the likeness of shoes traditionally worn by locals in Aurland. The Norwegians promptly began exporting them to the rest of Europe, where they were especially taken up by American tourists and featured extensively in Esquire magazine.
The term "loafer" has been attributed to the Spaulding family of New Hampshire, who in the 1930s were inspired by photos showcasing the new shoes worn in Norwegian cattle loafing areas. Americans--noted for an interest in hardier interpretations of classic styles (ah hem Levi’s Jeans)--were intrigued and looking for similar shoes but in much closer proximity. Let's not forget, they didn't have Threadest, so procuring these shoes would require a trip to Europe!
In the same decade (1943) a boot maker in Wilton, Maine by the name of G.H. Bass--you might've heard of him--started making loafers under the name "Weejuns"--a light play on words likely to lend recognition to the Norweigan shoemakers who inspired him. The distinctive addition was a strip of leather across the saddle with a diamond-shaped slit. Initially only worn in the summer or around the house, the shoe rapidly grew in popularity in North America becoming an integral part of a man's, and eventually a woman's, casual shoe wardrobe!
The term 'penny' loafer has uncertain beginnings. One explanation is that 1950s American prep school students, wishing to make a fashion statement, began inserting a penny into the diamond-shaped slits of their Weejuns. Another theory is that two pennies could be placed into the slit, which would provide the wearer with enough money to make an emergency phone call in the 1930s. Regardless, the term "penny loafer" became the colloquialism used to describe this style of slip-on and has stuck ever since. Believe it or not, the "penny inserting" practice continues, especially among those who remain committed to a classic and refined but distinctively scholarly appearance.
Gucci, the world-renowned fashion house, a true pioneer in the leather field and a leader in design, construction and sale of iconic pieces requires no introduction.
Their 1960s breed of loafers were an international sensation worn en masse by some of the most powerful, influential and wealthy people on the planet counted as loyal customers. Gucci combined extremely high-quality leather and impeccable construction with a polished metal buckle at the front of the shoe.
With a seemingly simple addition, Gucci was able to create a new look for the loafer, one that could be paired with high fashion ensembles and more conservative business attire by virtue of its subtle, yet, dressier flair. The buckle opened the door for additional fashion statements and further experimentation with the loafer, including using different fabrics and accessories such as the tassel among other things!
At the start of the twenty-first century, a revival of penny loafers, whose popularity had peaked during the mid to late 1960s and again during the early 1980s to early 1990s, occurred, with the shoe resurfacing in their originally more rugged styles, as either moccasins, or espadrilles, both with very low or flat heels.
This resurgence was most noticeable on college campuses across America, notably with the Sperry Topsider loafer.
To say that this style of shoe has created 'A' culture would be undeniably false, the loafer has created several cultures! This is due, in part, by the many different renditions of the loafer. There is the rugged Topsider, the hippie burlap espadrilles and even the high-end Horse-bit Gucci loafers all of which inspire and invigorate their respective cultures. As children, many of us remember our father's "penny loafers" and vowed to never wear anything as dull as the shoes we perceived with our unsophisticated and rudimentary minds. The same individuals who made this pact as kids then went off to college as young adults and found ourselves, and many of our colleagues, wearing the same shoes that were built on the exact principles in which the Penny loafer was founded on. Yet, we view these cultures very differently and in essence, this is what makes the loafer such an exciting piece of apparel! An individual would be remiss in thinking that one can genuinely appreciate the greatness of the loafer without going out, grabbing a pair and putting them on! There is literally a style of loafer for everyone in any situation! This fact begs the question, why don't all people have at least a single pair loafers?!
We'll leave that to the imagination!
Looking to the future, the loafer appears to become an even more integral part of Western style with the further advent of driving loafers and other models that are dressier while still providing the comfort that Wildsmith, Bass and others devised! From Gucci to Bass to Sperry to the Aurland Shoe, there are loafers for every look and to enhance any style! So don't fall behind! Get on Threadest and buy yourself a pair of this classic shoe! Don't forget to post them for more Threadsetter points!!