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A COMPLETE GUIDE TO MEN’S LOAFERS
05 - 11 Sept, 2015
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Whatever you consider to be the true origins of the contemporary loafer, what’s indisputable is this timeless silhouette’s skillful blend of comfort and flair. Loafers are often hugely underrated, written off as flamboyantly ‘dandy’ or too difficult to pull off with any real degree of success. In truth, these slip-ons are anything but; they are practical, and with plenty of options to offer – from traditional penny versions to luxuriously finished horsebit numbers – there is something to suit every taste.

Material Matters: Leather or Suede?
Before delving into the types of loafer you should be considering, it is worth heeding a few memos on the importance of material. Like other smart shoes, loafers are generally made using one of two fabrics: leather or suede, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. With their sleek and gleaming finish, leather loafers make for the perfect punctuation mark for smarter looks, whether a full suit or smart-casual tailored separates combination.
Suede, on the other hand, should – if you have any respect at all for your footwear – be exclusively reserved for the spring/summer months. Their luxurious but delicate finish means suede loafers should be protected from moisture at all costs. Suede designs also have a slightly more casual feel (though that’s not to say you can’t wear them with tailoring) so they complement a warm-weather wardrobe that is bound to be a little more relaxed compared to your autumn/winter equivalent.

The Penny Loafer
Irrepressibly smart, penny loafer is the preppy footwear classic that still takes pride of place on our shoe rack today, almost a century on from its invention.
Despite common suggestions otherwise, penny loafers were originally conceived in Norway. The beauty of this loafer is its versatility; the shoe can be dressed up or down easily and works with most outfits and has been adopted by many subcultures and trends throughout the years. While it is true that pennies will work for smarter attire like summer suiting, they are best used to add some polish to casual or smart-casual looks; think a varsity jacket, T-shirt and chinos, or an Oxford shirt, jumper and tailored shorts.

The Tassel Loafer
In 1950, one of America’s then leading shoemakers, the Alden Shoe Company, released the first tassel loafer. A few years later, high society outfitters started stocking their stores with an exclusive tassel style featuring distinctive foxing (i.e. raised stitching) at the back of the shoe.
Subtly decorated in comparison to the fairly sober and traditional penny, tassel loafers satisfied mid-century America’s demand for an elegant, dressy shoe design that did not sacrifice practicality. Today, arguably the best-known tassel model is the cordovan.
Unlike most formal leather shoes – which are made from calfskin – cordovan loafers are crafted using the subcutaneous layer of a horse’s rump. Durable and lustrous, cordovan is also the least porous of leathers, and so highly sought after – which goes some way in explaining why you will need to cough up a lot more for a pair.

The Horsebit Loafer
The horsebit loafer is the definitive dress loafer – and no brand does them better than luxury Italian label Gucci. Equipped with a brass strap in the shape of a horse’s snaffle, the horsebit takes its cues from equestrian wear – not surprising considering it was probably conversations about polo matches and horse racing that inspired its creation.
In the years following WWI, Gucci had worked as a lift boy at a hotel in London, serving the city’s elite and carefully noting the nuances of their distinctive style. Later, on returning to Italy, he combined his experiences of refined style with the company’s saddle-making history, fashioning the first horsebit loafer in 1953 – an iconic shoe that would soon after skyrocket the brand to stardom. The horsebit’s central appeal then, as now, is its refinement. Unlike older loafer styles, the horsebit does not look out of place with a formal suit but completes it instead.

How to wear
So, how can you start incorporating these hard-working, versatile styles into your daily rotation? When wearing a suit with your loafer, the most important factor is the length of your trouser leg; the break should be slight at the top of your loafer so that the silhouette appears clean and you can still see the detail of the shoe.

A mod-ern take
For a more mod-inspired take on loafers, look for a slim, tapered trouser or a cropped style for a contemporary edge.

The summer go-to
If you are looking for an understated but effortlessly cool summer look, team a linen shirt with a pair of light-coloured cotton chinos and a pair of suede tassel loafers.

Go sockless
During the summer you should embrace baring your ankles by going sockless. Another tip is to dust your feet with a little talcum powder so you do not end up perspiring excessively in your brand new loafers.

Whether gracing the feet of Ivy League prepsters, celebrated presidents or famed movie stars, the loafer has come a long way from its humble origins. Equal parts practical and scruffy, it is little wonder this shoe’s popularity continues to endure across the world.


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