For the last, I’d say 9 years or so, I can’t really remember a day that’s gone by where I haven’t worn a pair of these shoes. I’ve always been lucky enough to find vintage pairs along the way and step out in them until the soles either wear through or they end up looking too beaten before I buy a new set. Bass, Serbago, Dexters et al. are among the names that worked this shoe into an iconic mode of footwear. Commonly produced in stock colours of oxblood, chestnut brown and black. I find these colours can be paired with practically any outfit known to man. My personal preference; the Oxblood.
Most known to me, to have been worn by the Ivy’s around campus in the 50’s. These shoes strike the perfect balance between comfort and elegance and allow to be worn both dressed up or down.
The foundation of the shoe started out several decades earlier however, in the 1930s. America was in search of a style of shoes that they could call their own, aiming to create something that didn’t looks like an import from the leading manufactures at the time in Northampton, England. By 36′ Bass (East coast shoe makers) became aware of a Norwegian style of shoe, that had been brought back from a holiday by one of their employees at the time. This shoe was a tradition hand-sewn, moccasin-type article that was worn by Scandinavian fisherman when they weren’t aboard their ships. Bass took the shoe; made it with a thicker sole, dressed it up and ‘Americanised’ it for the market. Here they birthed the ‘Weejun’; the name a corruption of Norwegian. See what they did there…The slit in the saddle strap was purely decorative at first, but over time a penny was slid into this slot – done as a sort of good luck charm. Hence the name ‘penny loafer’. Quickly the company Kerrybroke took hold of this fad, producing a loafer complete with a ‘good luck coin‘ – which was described by them as being totally ‘with it’.
Inevitably as the years went on style icons such as James Dean made it part of their uniform, matched with denims and a white T, Elvis donned a pair in Jailhouse Rock in 57′. Finally, in the 60s J.F.K brought the trend in and out of the white house.
There is another loafer of a tasseled kind, that came about a couple of decades after the tradition streamlined vamp saddle was rolled out. This came supposedly after a request was made by the late actor Paul Lukas in 1952. The shoe known as the tasseled loafer and was produced by yet another US east-cost company going by the name of Alden. The reasoning for the tassel was not only a debonair touch but was to show that the shoe was so well fitting that it did not require a lace or strap for that matter.
As the 50s went on the loafer affirmed itself in the preppy/ivy wardrobe, helped by the choice of Brooks Brothers to carry the line from 1957 on wards.
Other styles popular were the beef-role introduced by Sebago, which involved stitching a thick role of leather over the end of the vamp saddle. Kiltie fringes, the Venetian style or the exchange of the tassel for a snaffle piece (Gucci), there were all other styles that came and have stayed.
So after this I challenge you to find me a shoe that is as versatile, rich in history and as comfy as a pair of slippers.