Loafers are simply constructed shoes that base their style on the ancient moccasin worn by many Native American tribes. Though they are often credited as becoming fashionable in the 1930s, many early Americans styled their slippers after moccasins. Elaborate buttons were still considered fashionable and more European inspired than early loafers.
In the 1930s, loafers were re-introduced to the United States via pictures of Norwegian farmers wearing them to perform work. The shoes featured no buttons or shoestrings, had a low heel, and fit below the ankle. This style suddenly became quite popular, and were manufactured by both Spaulding and the Bass Company. Bass retained the Norwegian name for loafers, calling them Weejuns. One can still purchase Bass Weejuns today, though technically they only differ from other similar shoes in name.
Styles from the 1930s were designed mostly for men. However, in the 1950s, penny loafers became popular shoe choices for both men and women. The poodle skirt and sweater set was an incomplete outfit without these simple flat shoes, or saddle shoes. Interestingly, penny loafers seldom held pennies, but rather dimes, or nickels. A dime was enough for a phone call home if needed, or often a good place to store bus fare.
As these shoes remained popular, they also got fancier. Loafers with tassels soon appeared, and are considered standard footwear for male lawyers. Women’s styles have also seen many changes.
Though one can still find flat loafers, and often penny loafers, fancy tasseled versions with high chunky heels have become popular. These styles tend to fluctuate with the times, and sometimes sacrifice comfort for fashion. Other women’s styles by companies like Soft Spots® may have extra padding to make a higher shoe more comfortable.
Loafers may be worn with or without socks. Since they have no ties, they’re easy to slip on if one is in a hurry. More traditional styles are often made of heavy, stiff leather, which can be hard on the sockless foot and cause blisters. Most often, men wear socks, especially with dress shoes. Women may wear socks or nylons, but trends tend to discourage nylons. For extra comfort while still achieving the barelegged or bare-ankled look, women in loafers can wear little socks called peds, which can’t be seen.