Many fashions have come and gone over the last 70 years old but the loafer shoe has proved to be an appealing stalwart; a relevant, vibrant inclusion of men and women’s footwear collections – the world over.
Soft, lightweight, pliable yet surprisingly hardy and practical. Dressed up or down, they say easy-going, sporty, sexy.
Weejuns: The loafer is said to originate from the footwear of Norwegian fishermen and Norwegian dairy farmers who wore moccasin type leather shoes with a strap across the front. American travellers took them back to the US and named them ‘loafer’ after the cows who loafed around the milking area (reportedly). They were also known as ‘weejuns’ (Norwegians).
Penny-loafers: In 1936 the Bass Shoe Company became the first US company to mass market the shoe. They added a decorative strap running horizontally across the vamp of the loafer. This strap provided a convenient slot – perfect for pennies – for that just-in-case emergency call home.
Rebellious: Loafers arrived at a time when American and Italian style were challenging traditional notions of British formality. And so in the 1940s they found fans amongst the young, especially college students, for their non-conformist, casual look; an integral part of the adolescent rebel’s look.
Tasseled: Paul Lukas, a post-war debonair actor, is credited with bringing a shoe with little tassel laces from Europe to America. And so the tasselled loafer became an instant success with ‘sophisticated’ men in New York and Los Angeles and a ‘status symbol’ in country clubs and boardrooms. So much so that by the 1990s “tassled loafer” had become a pejorative term for “lawyer” (a man who wears little useless ornaments has effete feet). One of Mr. Reagan’s aides reportedly retorted, “Those tasseled-loafer guys always cry foul when they lose,” in a widely disseminated remark that those with Mr. Bush’s private-school pedigree were generic sore losers.
Iconic: In recent times it’s the Gucci loafer that has come to represent luxury and status. The creation of Aldo Gucci, he chose a metal snaffle bit, a two-piece ring-and-bar mouthpiece for horses, as a nod to Gucci’s earliest days as a saddlery firm and launched the Gucci loafer in 1953. It soon became synonymous with the ‘Jet Set’ (the Kennedys), privileged and wealthy Europeans, and with Hollywood celebrities (Alain Delon, Audrey Hepburn). On the year of its 60th anniversary it remains the only shoe in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, an honour that it’s held since 1985.
And then there were the Florsheim loafers, all part of the iconic image of a moon-walking Michael Jackson
Lady loafers: For women, the loafer is much more than another flat shoe. It can come heeled, backless or brazen;
and straight from the catwalk, Vogue style;
Featured image: Giacomerelli