With their timeless shape and plethora of styles, loafers know how to stand out—and fit in—for nearly any occasion. You might already know the answer to the question “what are loafers?”, yet given the sheer number of loafer types, how can you know which ones work best in any given situation?
If you’re wondering how to style loafers, you’re not alone. Some styles pair perfectly with roomy jeans and simple tees while others look more natural next to a cocktail dress. Others will make you look promotion-ready in the office yet won’t complement a ball gown.
Knowing how to mix and match is the hardest thing to learn about loafers. And while there are plenty of resources out there for how to style loafers for men, ladies may have a harder time given the vast array of dress codes and attire options to heed.
Below is our guide to the loafer styles that are best for both casual and formal occasions.
Loafer-Forward Looks for Casual to Formal Occasions
When it comes to loafers, you may have heard the common fashion advice: No matter the place or festivity, any loafer goes. With sharp-looking penny loafers on your feet, you’ll never find yourself out of place—hence the reason behind the loafers’ infamous versatility. Explore our range of Vionic best seller shoes to find your perfect match.
Below, we’ll take a look at which styles work well in situations ranging from casual to formal. Then, we’ll offer suggestions on outfit directions that will help you take your look to the next level.
#1 Casual Events Call for Classic Penny Loafers
Legend has it that the penny loafer style has a little slot in that saddle upfront because they came of age in the same era as the payphone.1 Wearers slipped a couple pennies into their shoes in case they needed to give someone a ring, and with that, a fashion fad was born.
So, if you’re wondering what type of loafers can complete your sophisticated, yet effortlessly chic outfit, penny loafers are the answer. With their academic aesthetic and timeless shape, the penny loafer really has earned their place in almost any social gathering or occasion. That said, many agree they shine their brightest in casual settings like:
- Backyard BBQs
- Bar crawls
- Outdoor festivals
- Open mic night
When it comes to how to style penny loafers such as the Sellah Loafer, pairs in shades of sand, navy, or black always play nice with jeans and can be worn with socks or without. For a throwback outfit that’s both comfortable and classic, try your pennies with white socks, cropped or rolled jeans of any wash, a leather belt and a slouchy sweater. Or dress down a feminine vibe by pairing with a knee-length print dress and cardigan.
#2 Make Dressy Casual Moments Magical with Mules
Mules are a substyle of loafers that don’t include the heel. They’re easy to slip in and out of, but just because they’re convenient doesn’t mean they’re exclusively for laid-back events. Despite their eclectic look, mules can actually lean on the dressy side, thanks to the open back and accents like links, bars, or saddles in the front.
The right moment for your mules is dressy casual occasions, like:
- Dinner parties
- Concerts or recitals
- Bridal or baby showers
- Church or religious events
But wait—what does “dressy casual” even mean? All dress-code jargon aside, it’s simply code for “wear something other than jeans.”
Here, you’ll want to wear something a step up from casual; longer dresses and jumpsuits, for example, are a great bet. Put on a pair of brown suede mules when wearing a brightly-colored maxi dress. Styles, like the Georgie Mule, also look great peeping out from beneath a wide-legged jumpsuit, and can really turn an eye-catching pair of trousers into a statement piece.
#3 When You Mean Business, Try a Loafer with Metal Accents
Nothing says “let’s make a deal” like two links of a metal chain conjoined at the clasp on your shoe. How symbolic, right? In all seriousness, loafers with metal accents add a touch of elegance to a typically nonchalant style. This is what makes them a great fit for business casual settings.
When it comes to looking professional, sneakers and sandals are generally out, while structured slip-ons make the grade. Starting from the ground up, find a pair of leather loafers in black, brown, or a neutral tone that has a sophisticated metal chain, link, or clasp up top, similar to the Elodie Loafer or Mizelle Loafer.
Then add a pair of trousers—extra points for pleats—a short-sleeved white or ivory top and throw on a blazer or cardigan. A necklace and earrings can provide a dash of personality, as well as class things up a bit. And voila! Getting ready for the office really is that easy.
#4 Rock the Cocktail Party with a Fun Print
Cocktail parties are the perfect mix of formal dress and let-your-hair-down fun, and your outfit should convey that vibe as well. Move to the groove with lightweight shoes, such as the Sellah Loafer in Tan Leopard, that will allow you to strut your stuff and support your arches all night long.
Here, we recommend stepping off the beaten fashion path and mixing things up with an eye-catching pattern or print. We’re talking:
- Polka dots
While cocktail attire can mean many things, the spirit is elevated pieces that make a statement. Now’s the time to pair your zebra print loafers with a black and white midi or mini skirt. Or try a muted button-down paired with tailored dress pants and loafers in polka dot or plaid. And don’t forget to bring out your best blouse.
#5 Get Semi-Formal with a Lug Sole Loafer
If you’ve received instruction or an invitation to stick to “semi-formal wear,” you know the head-scratching feeling of being unsure of what exactly that means. Here’s a hint: According to The Spruce, semi-formal attire is typically worn to:2
- Holiday parties
- Nice restaurants
For women, the attire is a step up from semi-casual, which means dresses, dress shoes, and nice suits. Explore our Vionic essential shoes for women, perfect for these occasions. Depending on how fancy your event is, you may be able to get more creative, but the key is to stay on the more conservative side—so save the mini skirt for another day.
While heels are certainly the go-to choice for semi-formal events, they’re also considered “safe.” When you want to spice things up, lug sole loafer style shoes have you covered. The chunky sole will add the height you were looking for, while saving your arches. Additionally, accents like a penny pouch, chain, or special material will elevate your look.
#6 Try a Slipper Loafer for Effortless Formal Flair
Generally speaking, formal occasions call for special footwear. There’s just no point dressing to the nines if you can’t finish the look with the right shoes.
Formal occasions include events such as:
- Award presentations
For women, formal events often mean full-length gowns and posh suits. And when it comes to dressing formal, there is one shoe that may fit the mold.
Enter the slipper loafer. This is one style shoe that can look totally luxe, if it’s slim-fitting and made of a high-quality material like velvet or silk. With an almond-shaped toe and streamlined heel, slipper loafers, like the Willa Slip on Flat, look chic peeking out from beneath a long dress.
Get the Most out of Your Loafers with Proper Care
When it comes to long-lasting shoes that pack a presentation punch, loafers are your secret footwear weapon. Just as your toes appreciate a little pedicure love once in a while, so too do your shoes. Here our are top tips for keeping your footwear in tip top shape:
- Keep your shoes looking sharp by cleaning the leather uppers regularly. We recommend using a dry cotton cloth to wipe away dirt or dust. Suede can be cleaned with a stiff bristled brush.
- Extend the life of your leather shoes by keeping them away from direct heat. When it comes down to how to store shoes, make sure they are kept in a cool, indoor area to help prevent the material from warping or drying out. And if your shoes do get wet, please don’t dry them with a hair dryer.
- Waterproofing your shoes is always a good bet, but test all chemicals or solutions first by placing a dollop on a discreet area of the upper and allowing it to dry before coating the entire shoe. Similarly—do not use cleaners that contain acid or detergent as they may age or even damage the leather.
Find the Perfect Pair with Vionic
Understanding how to style loafers can be difficult. Especially when choosing the perfect pair means considering the endless styles and pairings possible with such versatile trending shoes.
Our tip for making things easy? Prioritize support and comfort.
Let’s face it: When you’re going to be on your feet, you want your feet to be on cloud nine. Our shoes are designed with your arches in mind and keep your foot stable while providing flexibility, cushioning, and pronation-correcting technology for that perfect ride.
View our lineup of fashionable loafers today at Vionic.
- Gatollari, Mustafa. “Did Penny Loafers Really Have Coin Slots so Folks Could Make Two-Cent Phone Calls?” Distractify. 3 August, 2021. https://www.distractify.com/p/why-do-penny-loafers-have-slots-for-a-coin
- Mayne, Debby. “Semiformal Attire Guidelines.” The Spruce. Updated 11 April, 2023. https://www.thespruce.com/semi-formal-attire-guidelines-1216504