Few items have a more prominent place, or a more fascinating history, in the menswear canon than loafers. These slip-on leather shoes have graced the feet of stylish guys for a century, and they’re some of the most versatile footwear you can own. Depending on the upper design, color, and what you pair them with, men’s loafers can help you nail a sharp, dressy look for a formal occasion, or they can be the perfect choice for lazing around the backyard on the weekend.
So where did it all start? The term loafer harkens back to 1926, when a London shoemaker created a slip-on shoe for King George VI to “loaf” around his estates in—the ultimate house shoe. Around this time, Norwegian shoemaker Nils Gregoriusson Tveranger developed a similar outdoor-friendly version. Inspired by Native American moccasins and a traditional laceless shoe worn by Norwegian farmers, he developed the “Aurland Moccasin,” which became popular in Europe in the 1930s. Inspired by the design, Maine shoe brand G.H. Bass developed the “Weejun” (a shortened version of “Norwegian”), and it became all the rage among dapper gents and college students in the U.S. Undergrads devised some new innovations, including wearing loafers without socks and placing pennies in the instep—that’s where penny loafers come from. The loafer continued to develop in the ensuing decades: A version with tassels on the upper appeared in the ‘50s, and Gucci’s sleek black leather loafer hit the market in the ‘70s, quickly becoming a favorite among suited power brokers on Wall Street and Washington, D.C.
Black loafers, brown loafers, platform loafers—these days, the loafer is still going strong, with lots of varieties to choose from. All of them have a few traits in common. Generally speaking, loafers are slip-ons, although some loafer-like shoes have laces, and they’re usually made with leather uppers. The leather will mold to your foot over time, so these shoes get even more comfortable the more you wear them. And in terms of style, they can do it all: Polished leather loafers can work with everything from chinos to a suit, while more laid-back styles in suede look great under a pair of jeans or even shorts.
There’s a ton of variety within the loafer category. For a classic take on the genre, we love Vinny’s Townee Penny Loafer, which features a tough rubber outsole, a cushy footbed, and a sleek, polished leather upper available in black or dark brown; there’s also a snappy tri-tone version in brown, burgundy, and white (if you’re feeling sartorially adventurous). The Huckberry-exclusive Patnoflex Loafer from Astorflex serves up style and heritage in equal measure: The simple leather upper gives it a refined appearance, you can dress it up or down (no socks required), and each pair is handmade in Italy. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Scroll on to dive into the wide world of men’s loafers, and make some space in your closet—this is a footwear essential that every guy should have.