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If you want a men’s shoe that takes itself seriously but still can hang, look no further than the loafer. Like Goldilock’s choice porridge, loafers for men are a “just right” mix of high and low style, good for business-casual to plain lowkey looks.
Loafers for men as a casual-but-not-too-casual shoe can be traced back to the mid-1930s. In 1936, G.H. Bass & Co. introduced a shoe that was a spin on “a Norwegian farm shoe designed for ‘loafing in the field’.” The resulting penny loafer soon became so popular that it caught the eye of the Gucci family—yes, that Gucci family. In 1953, Gucci released its take on the shoe, creating an “elegant Italian spin on [the penny loafer] by refining the lines, adding a snaffle horsebit in deference to their saddle-making history, and, most importantly, making it in black,” according to a historical New York Times piece.
With the advent of these two styles, the loafer was on the map. By the late 1950s, loafers were everywhere—and countless brands began to innovate on these two main silhouettes. Soon, several different genres of loafers were introduced into the market, giving men a wide variety of footwear options.
When buying a pair of loafers, it’s helpful to have an idea of these different shoe styles, especially if you have something particular in mind. After all, the difference between a standard driving loafer and a kiltie loafer is pretty stark. To help you inform you, check out the nine main types of loafers for men below and find out what makes them so different.
1. Penny Loafers
It’s the loafer that started it all: Penny loafers are a timeless style marked by a slot-like detail on the shoe strap, like these Saint Laurent penny loafers. Why is it called a penny loafer? The shoe is named as such because university students often tucked a coin for the payphone in the front slot of their loafers. Penny loafers are known as a versatile style, lending itself to casual looks or semi-formal scenarios.
2. Bit Loafers
The bit loafer—also called the horsebit loafer or the Gucci loafer—is easily identified by the snaffle bit-like detail on the front, like on these Gucci loafers. First created by Gucci in 1953, the take on a loafer was inspired by Gucci’s equestrian history. You wouldn’t wear a bit loafer with jeans, so save this shoe style for more formal looks—but never wear loafers with a tux. Still reach for your dress shoes for that.
3. Tassel Loafers
A classic loafer style, tassel loafers feature—you guessed it—a pair of tassels at the front of the shoe. You’ll often find tassel loafers in leather, like these classic Allen Edmonds loafers. Tassel loafers are slightly more casual than the bit loafer, perfect for business-casual settings.
4. Kiltie Loafer
If you’ve got a thing for grandeur, the kiltie loafer is for you. This loafer style features a fringe leather detail at the top of the shoe, like these Johnston & Murphy loafers. Once at the pinnacle of loafer popularity, you may associate kiltie loafers with your grandpa’s generation. But the business-casual style can still hang, adding a certain vintage-like feel to your outfit.
5. Driving Loafer
The driving loafer has a grip-focused outsole that’s both functional and easily identifiable, like these Sperry loafers. Driving loafers are more on the casual side of things, leading style points to jeans and even shorts. If you are looking for an effortless shoe to slip on without socks, look no further.
6. Boat Loafer
Boat loafers—more commonly known as boat shoes—are nautical-inspired loafers with features inspired by sailing. They often have a 360-degree lacing detail, grip-focused soles made for slippery decks, and a lighter rubber sole created to not scuff on a boat’s white deck. Often, boat shoes have moccasin-like stitching, as seen on these Sperry loafers. Sperry is actually credited with creating the boat shoe in 1935 in New Haven, Conn.
7. Slipper Loafer
Slipper loafers look like, well, classic slippers—but don’t think of them as your house shoes of today. They’re more like those sleek house slippers you see rich men wear in classic movies. Slipper loafers are smooth and styled, often available in suede or leather, like these Christian Louboutin loafers. Style experts recommend wearing suede slipper loafers with more everyday outfits and leather slipper loafers for casual suiting.
8. Belgian Loafer
A somewhat rare but distinctive men’s loafer style is the Belgian loafer. Belgian loafers are a cousin to the slipper loafer, featuring a structured silhouette, a tapered toe box with a rounded toe, and substantial coverage at the top of the foot, like these Ermenegildo Zegna loafers. In a GQ article on the Belgian loafer’s growing popularity, one designer and Belgian loafer wearer described the shoe style as interchangeable with Converse Chuck Taylors or Vans.
9. Monk Strap Loafer
Monk strap loafers are perhaps the sleekest of all loafer styles, marked by a smooth upper panel secured with buckle straps. You can find monk strap loafers with a single strap or a double strap, like these Tom Ford double monk strap loafers. The modern monk strap loafer is rumored to be inspired by a similar shoe that was a favorite of monks around the years of 1000 to 1350.