What are loafers? Often described as a “know it when you see it” style, loafers seem to come in endless variations that bleed into other categories of footwear like heels, slippers, and mules. As such, incorporating this must-have style into your wardrobe can be a bit tricky—in other words, this isn’t just a “if the shoe fits, wear it” situation.
In their simplest form, loafers are slip-on dress shoes, usually made from leather or suede, that do not feature laces or fastenings. At their most complex, loafers are laden with tassels, rubber grip accents, and all kinds of bells and whistles.
This guide is here to help you understand everything there is to know about loafers: what they are, where they came from, tips for choosing the perfect pair, and 6 different types of loafers to boot.
Without further ado, let’s step to.
Loafers: A Brief History
The history of loafers is a story all too well-known in the world of fashion—that of a designer spotting a bit of working class garb or apparel and making a pricier version for the world to consume. The loafer was actually inspired by leather slip-ons worn by fishermen in Norway who needed a comfortable, functional staple that allowed them to scrabble across docks and boat decks in pursuit of salmon.1
The loafer was born when Norwegian shoemaker Nils Gregoriusson Tveranger took his cue from this humble style and combined it with the Iroquois moccasin designs he so admired from North America. By the 1920s, patents had been filed and the shoe was exploding in popularity.
Since then, the loafer has given birth to all kinds of unique styles, from the ultra sophisticated to the downright ruthlessly practical. The many subtypes are part of the reason why loafers are so well-loved by some crowds and never worn by others; one man’s bourgeois box-toed shoe is another man’s treasure, so to speak.
What is a Loafer Shoe?
Today, the loafer is defined as a slip-on shoe, typically made of leather or suede, that does not have laces, velcro, or fastenings necessary to hold the foot in place. While they typically have a low heel and a pared-down design, some loafers are defined by additional pieces of material, typically on the toe. Think: tassels, saddle straps, or upper details.
To counteract any confusion, and help you pick out a pair that will set you apart in a good way, we’ve put together a little guide to the most common types of loafers.
Loafers: The 6 Must-Know Styles
Despite the moniker, these dress shoes aren’t just for loafing around. While loafer style shoes allow you to simply slip into and go, they can be worn to all kinds of occasions, from fireside girl’s nights to formal events. Plus, they can dress almost any kind of outfit up or down.
Read on to find out more about the variety within this shoe type and help you achieve a better understanding of how to style loafers.
#1 The All-Purpose Penny Loafer
Let’s kick things off with a classic: the all-American penny loafer. What are penny loafers and how did they get their name?
Essentially, when young people began tucking a coin into the shoe’s saddle that hugs the top of the foot, a star was born.3 This shoe can be found in a vast range of colors, but is most commonly spotted in black and brown. Think, the Sellah Loafer. And while it can be worn in almost any situation, because it’s such a 90s staple, it plays especially nicely with vintage jeans, white socks, and oversized vests.
#2 The Tasteful Tassel Loafer
When it comes to rocking a fashionable shoe, there’s nothing wrong with a flourish or two. Enter the tassel loafer, a shoe distinguished by the leather tassel perched just above the toes. This different style of loafer is sophisticated and a little flashy and it suits outfits that demand to be noticed. Pull on your tassel loafers with dark wash skinny jeans and an eye-catching sweater, or use them to elevate a casual dress.
#3 The Classy Horsebit Loafer
For the women who found themselves fascinated with the equestrian lifestyle, the horsebit loafer is a no-nonsense shoe that celebrates you.4 This style is distinguished by the metal bar or link that sits on top of the shoe’s tongue, as demonstrated in the Mizelle Loafer. It looks fantastic when playing off basic clothing items like cropped pants, patterned skirts, or blazers.
#4 The Cozy Driving Loafer
With its rubber grommet sole running up the back of the heel, the driving loafer is a distinctive shoe said to have been invented for motorists looking for a little extra performance edge while ripping around in their jalopies.5 Think, the Elora Loafer.
These days, the shoe is more about fashion than function and can be an especially delightful addition to your outfit in unexpected colors like green, navy, or orange.
#5 High Heel Loafers
It’s a heel. It’s a loafer. No it’s… a heeled loafer.
While the combination may seem strange at first—a loafer sitting atop a few extra inches—the fashion gods decreed that two of the most powerful women’s shoe styles needed to merge. With the authority commanded by the classic style and the confidence stemming from a little additional height, these trending shoes such as the Elodie Loafer, should be worn on the finest of occasions.
#6 Velvet Loafers
There is something regal about loafers made entirely of velvet. The daintiness of a streamlined upper combined with the matte black, blue, or even red cushy fabric makes the bold statement you’ve been wanting to make. You’ll love how chic velvet loafers look with formal styles like long skirts and dresses.
3 Tips on Choosing the Right Pair of Loafers
With so many loafer styles, colors, and materials, it can be tricky to know which exact loafers are right for you. Before slipping into a new shoe commitment, check out our three indispensable tips for choosing the perfect pair, based on your body type and personal style.
Tip #1 Know Your Shape
You likely know how skirts and shirts can accentuate your body’s features. However, many people don’t realize that learning to dress for your unique shape is a head-to-toe endeavor—which means different types of shoes play a role too.
Emphasize your curves by choosing a shoe with a chunky profile. We’re talking loafers with platform soles, thick rubber lugs, tassels, and even wide shoelaces for a little extra oomph. Or, extend the lines of long, thin legs by stepping into shoes with streamlined profiles, like driving or slipper loafers.
Tip #2 Choose Shoes for Work, Play, or a Little of Both
If you know you need a reliable pair of loafers for the office and only for the office, keep things simple with a shoe that will match your formal or business casual attire. What exactly this looks like depends on your corporate culture, but likely means simple, low-heeled styles in black, brown, or navy blue.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for an on-trend style that turns heads as you strut down the sidewalk, why not be bold with a thicker sole, bright colors like yellow and blue, or an eye-catching material like patent leather? As always, if you’re looking for a versatile do-it-all shoe, find something that makes you feel cute while ensuring it still meets the tone of your workplace.
Tip #3 Reach for the Heights of Fashion—Even if it Means Breaking the Rules
Some tall loafer wearers may elect to stay away from platforms or heeled styles, in interest of not underscoring their height. On the other hand, petite wearers may look for a shoe with a little extra padding under the heel in order to add some extra inches.
While fashion norms have long mandated certain aspects of women’s dress codes (especially as it pertains to height), it’s important to note that these so-called rules aren’t rules at all. Don’t forget that style is a personal preference and that the best shoes for you are the ones that make you feel like yourself.
Enjoy Timeless Loafers in Many Styles from Vionic
A timeless form that changed footwear forever, the perfect loafer is an excellent addition to your closet for its versatility and classic origins. But loafers can also offer more support and protection than other slip-on shoes, making it a go-to option when you’re looking for extra comfort.
With its roots in functional Iroquois and Norwegian styles, loafers were built to be worn and worn out. And while they can be gussied up with tassels, metal accents, or fine fabrics, the soul of a loafer is its durable upper and thick sole, which can stand up to the demands of your day.
At Vionic, when it comes to comfort and style, we go a step further. Our loafers are constructed with built-in orthotics to provide effortless support. Our designers make these styles from high-quality leather and suede, for a lightweight fit that is easy on the eyes and easy to slip into.
Step into comfort; step into Vionic.
- “7 Style Tribes That Adopted the Penny Loafer.” Esquire. 5 October, 2016. https://www.esquire.com/style/g2967/penny-loafer-style-history/
- “A Brief History of the Loafer.” Port Magazine. https://www.port-magazine.com/fashion/an-brief-history-of-the-loafer/
- Dangremond, Sam. “The History of the Noble Penny Loafer.” Town & Country. 6 September, 2016. https://www.townandcountrymag.com/style/mens-fashion/news/a7704/loafer-shoe-history/
- Simon, Jade. “Gucci celebrates 60 years of its Horsebit loafer.” Vogue France. 26 February, 2013. https://www.vogue.fr/fashion/fashion-news/diaporama/gucci-horsebit-loafer-gucci-museo/12597
- GUstashaw, Megan. “The Rules of Wearing Driving Shoes (Because Summer Is Here).” GQ. 5 June, 2016. https://www.gq.com/story/the-rules-of-wearing-driving-shoes-summer-footwear