From Loafing Around to an Iconic style: A history of The Loafer

Written by Jason Disley
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According to The Rake ‘London shoemaker Wildsmith is credited with creating the first modern loafer in 1926 for client King George VI, in response to the stuttering regent’s request for a bespoke casual shoe he could ‘loaf’ around his country houses in. A beefier ready-to-wear rendition suitable for outdoor use was soon put into production, and the style was quickly emulated by many more of Britain’s gentlemen’s shoemakers.’

Meanwhile, over in Norway, there were other machinations afoot in the world of shoemaking. Nils Gregoriusson Tveranger had studied how to make shoes in the United States and took inspiration from the moccasins that many of the indigenous native tribes wore.

Loafers icon shoes moccasins 1

The origins of moccasins go back to the cold, harsh climates of man's past that made it necessary to make protective footwear. Wearing moccasins or boots would have been essential to keep feet from freezing. In warm weather and mild surroundings, protective footwear would be less important and people could easily go barefoot. The word moccasin, which has language origins with Eastern North American tribes, traditionally referred to a shoe with a puckered u-shaped 'vamp' over the instep. The name of the Great Lakes Ojibwe tribe means 'people of the puckered moccasin'. The southern New England Narragansett word for the shoe is 'Mocussinass' or 'Mockussinchass'. Today the word moccasin, still with innumerable spellings, generally refers to all types of hard and soft-soled shoes, with and without puckered toes.

 Worn by the hunters, fisherman and farmers of his fjord-side home in Aurland. The ‘Aurland Moccasin’ found favour throughout Europe in the 1930s, and visiting Americans brought the shoe home as souvenirs. Knowing a good thing when they saw it, Maine-based shoemaker GH Bass launched its version of Tveranger’s shoe, named the Weejun in homage to its Norwegian origins, in 1934.

The Weejun is perhaps the most well-known loafer on the market. Many other companies have produced their own versions, some with greater success than others. The GH Bass Weejun, however, has a history synonymous with style thanks to high profile style icons often wearing this stylish, comfortable shoe.

So, let’s take a look at this particular shoe and the different interpretations of it that have been produced.

The interesting thing about the Weejun was that when the American company developed its Moccasin style shoe in 1936, not only did they put a firmer more hard-wearing sole on it. They put a supportive strap of leather across the upper with a diamond cut out. As the shoe became popular on American college and university campuses, so the slot in the strap became useful. It served as a place where they could slide a coin, should they need to keep money back for making either an emergency telephone call or possibly to serve as a good luck charm. Hence we today will still call such a style of loafer a ‘Penny Loafer'.

A shiny penny made an attractive glint on the shoe, so when Italian designer brand Gucci made a foray into the loafer market producing their own versions of moccasins, so they added the decorative element of a snaffle. Which was inspired after a visit by Aldo Gucci to the United States. Mr Gucci upon returning to Gucci’s headquarters in Italy set out to add a leather loafer to the house’s list of products. The finishing touch? Affixed to each shoe’s upper was a gold-coloured horse bit, which was a staple Gucci symbol.

In the early 1950s shoemaker Alden, based in Massachusetts, created the tasselled loafer. This loafer style was perhaps considered slightly more elegant than the Penny Loafer as it was shaped with cleaner lines and a slightly higher and more sweeping profile on the foot, with the added decoration of the tassels. This embellishment has often been liked by dancers.

It is said to part of the design on some tasselled loafers is taken from that of boat shoes. The lace goes around the shoe, through eyelets or tunnels before being tied off at the front with the tasselled end of the laces stopping them from loosening.

Other embellishments and variations have been seen such as the Kiltie which was derived from Golfing shoes, a fringe of leather would hang over the laces say on a pair of Brogues, protecting them from mud on the golf course. Eventually, this practical element began to adorn some loafers as decoration, although not for covering laces, therefore creating the fringed embellishment. Kiltie simply taking its name from the traditional Scottish form of dress. The Kilt.

Another prevalent addition to loafers was added by Sebago. This is termed as the ‘Beef-Roll’ The name is as it suggests. When a joint of beef is cooked the twine used to tie the meat, so as it keeps it shape whilst cooking is tied in a similar style to the way the reinforced stitching and extra thickness of leather at the seam each side of the instep is sewn. This addition gives the shoe more stability and longevity, as well as giving a more attractive look to the seam. Other brands have since adopted this innovative addition, purely because it strengthened the shoe.

 Loafers, as I have alluded too, were extremely popular on Campuses, and this is not particularly surprising. After all, if you are in a rush to get to a class or lecture you didn’t want to be wasting time fastening or undoing laces. The fact that loafers were a shoe you can easily slip on, meant they were practical. They soon became an Ivy Style staple, and icons of the American Ivy League Style of dressing such as John F Kennedy would often be seen relaxing in such shoes. Likewise, another one of the style icons of the 20th century Cary Grant was a fan of the style. Other influencers include James Dean, Anthony Perkins etc. As well as musicians, such as Chet Baker, and later in the twentieth century a d into the 21st many of musicians that were part of the various Mod revivals. The most noted of course is Paul Weller. Especially when he formed The Style Council after he called time on The Jam when they were seemingly at the top of their game.

In fact, the style of loafers is such a classic style that it is often returned to by brands, and will be seen in all their various forms. Originally a male shoe, they have also been adopted by women, and have become a traditional style for everyone. In the mid 20th century as we saw the evolution of the teenager, and in particular the modernist subculture, so we saw the adoption of the loafer by youngsters across Europe. The style was no longer confined to American colleges. The popularity spread pretty much worldwide. They are of course more considered as a shoe for dryer weather, and when it’s warm, many people have been seen to wear them without socks. It may have originally been seen as a casual shoe, and indeed for very formal occasions a Gentleman is expected to wear a formal lace-up shoe such as a Derby or Oxford, but in much more recent years, the classic nature of a loafer has made the shoe more accepted and can be seen worn quite formally. A well-polished Penny Loafer can look exquisite with the right outfit, as I am sure many style-conscious Mods will attest to. With a nice flash of colour from a smart pair of socks, this style of shoe can really add character to an outfit. There are many brands who produce loafers, and the majority of high-end shoemakers will do these shoes as well.

Also, the quality of leather can have a huge bearing on the price and craftsmanship of such shoes. Loafers made using Shell Cordovan, (considered to be one of the best quality shoe leathers), are highly sort after, and are popular for those who can afford the best.

The G H Bass Weejun though is the original icon when it comes to this style. I swear by them. They’re comfortable, and always look cool. Especially when I am just ‘Loafing’ around.

 

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Read 525 times Last modified on Wednesday, 11 November 2020 13:08
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Jason Disley

Jason Disley

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