Loafer is an American term which refers to a broad category of slip on shoes – shoes with no laces.
Loafer is a slip-on shoe which usually comes with a thinner sole. It’s more of a city shoe which has gained popularity over last 90 years. There are lots of upper patterns – some come with tassels , some with saddles, while some are plain. Loafers have also evolved into driving shoes and boat shoes, which are essentially look like loafer on the outside but have distinct innovation on the inside.
Though Loafer is an American Term, most of versions of Loafers originated in Europe.
Starting Point: Raymond Lewis Wildsmith designed a slip-on shoe for King George VI which became quite popular in British elites. “Harrow” was a subsequent version of this done by a London based shoe company which was a variant of this royal pair; which soon became a hit. And this is when Loafers actually arrived on the scene.
Shoemaker Nils Gregoriusson Tveranger created a unique combination of Native American Moccasin and fisherman’ shoes in Norway. This was in 1908 and these became so popular that these were referred as Aurland moccasin (Aurland is a small coastal city in Norway where Nils introduced these shoes). Aurland became a hub of these shoes; variants of Nils Moccasins were being exported all over to America & Europe.
In 1934 Bass introduced a version of these Moccasins which were called Weejus (or Norwegian), Bass is the same company which used to supply shoes to Michael Jackson. Weejus was in a way tipping point in Loafer evolution, it became a must have and its variants became staple for university students while some variants became extremely popular even with Banking Community.
Some university students started keeping pennies under the saddle of these loafers, which is how the name “Penny Loafer” came to be.
In 1930’s, a significant version of Loafer was introduced by Paul Serry, specifically as an attempt to solve the slippery surface problem which sailors used to struggle with. This shoe had rubber sole with herringbone pattern, had moccasin construction with a larger shoe opening [which made it easy to get into these shoes]. The leathers of this shoe were often thick and somewhat water resistant. These shoes started to be known as Boat Shoe and are extremely popular even today. The tipping point of these shoes was 1935 when US NAVY started using these.
In 1963 Italian company adopted these Loafers in a distinct way into a shoe which was particularly known as driving shoe. Thin rubber sole curved backwards to smoothen the angular gear & braking position. This is how another distinct Loafer member came into existence – what is now called Driving Shoe. The company which pioneered this ‘Car Shoe’ still exists and still makes these.