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by Nathan James April 26, 2022
Since the loafer was first introduced in mid 19th century England, it has swept around the world to become a staple in both casual and formal menswear. This shoe has become so popular that a quick search online for “men’s loafers” yields over 116,000,000 results.
So if you’re looking for information on this classic footwear, where the heck do you start? Enter, this guide. Whether you need direction on which loafers to buy, style tips, care instructions or anything else related to men’s loafers, our experts have assembled the answers. Let’s dive in.
|Table of Contents|
|Types of Loafers|
|What Makes a Quality Loafer|
|Best Loafers for Men|
|Loafers Made in the USA|
|How to Style Men's Loafers|
|How to Care for Loafers|
The most common types of loafers for men - in a loose order of popularity - are: penny loafers, bit loafers and tassel loafers.
Wondering why they are called penny loafers? This casual shoe gets its name from the unique strap that adorns the vamp of the shoe’s upper, allowing a small coin to be placed in the top of the shoe. This feature was particularly handy in the 1930s when payphones required a mere two cents to make a call. As a result men would place a penny in each loafer in the event they needed to make an emergency call. Thus the “penny loafer” was born!
Now, you might also be wondering why penny loafers are referred to as “Weejuns.” This traces back to the 1930s when G.H. Bass developed a variation of slip-on shoes commonly worn by Norwegians. In deference to their source of inspiration, G.H. Bass called this new shoe the “Weejun.”
Penny loafers are generally appropriate for most occasions and can be worn with everything from a suit to jeans. Lighter colors, suede and nubuck are ideal penny loafers for spring and summer while darker colors and heavier leathers are better suited for fall and winter.
The bit loafer was first introduced by Gucci in 1953, when Aldo Gucci added a horse bit to the vamp of a loafer. Since its inception, the bit loafer has exploded in popularity and can be worn with virtually any outfit. Unlike the penny loafer, Gucci bit loafers can arguably be worn with a tuxedo. We’ll share some more style tips later.
Tassel loafers were developed by legendary American shoemaker Alden and first released in 1950. This totally unique style of loafer was quickly embraced as a new variation of the timeless penny loafer. Alden still makes a stunning tassel loafer and, if you’re partial to shoes made in the USA, be sure to check out our list of American made loafers.
The three types of loafers mentioned above barely begin to scratch the surface of the wide array of men’s loafers on the market. Other styles that we won’t dive as deep into include moccasins, drivers, venetian loafers, opera pumps and kiltie loafers.
When shopping for loafers, there are two key things to look for:
When shopping for men’s loafers, one of the first tell-tale signs of quality is to examine the outsole of the shoe for stitching. If there are no visible stitches on the bottom of the shoe, it was likely constructed using cement or an adhesive which will not allow the shoe to be resoled. Once the shoe wears out, it will have to be discarded.
Alternatively if you do see stitching on the bottom of the loafer, it is generally an indicator of quality and means the shoe was either Blake-stitched or Goodyear welted. This type of shoe can easily be resoled, allowing it to last for decades with the proper care and maintenance. Note that driving loafers and moccasins typically cannot be resoled.
Manufacturers of quality dress shoes will typically clearly notate the type of leather used in making their loafers. If it isn’t readily apparent, be sure to inquire with the retailer. Full-grain leather receives minimal processing and alteration from its natural state. This allows it to very effectively retain polish and shine, making it ideal for a nice pair of loafers.
Top-grain leather is considered the second best type of leather and may also be called “split leather.” This type of leather receives more processing and manipulation from its natural state than full-grain leather. Further down the line in terms of quality are corrected grain - which is subjected to much more processing - and “genuine” leather which tends to be a catch all term for lower qualities of leather.
Now that we’ve established what to look for in picking out quality men’s loafers, keep reading to take a look at some of our team’s recommendations.
With so many options on the market, what are the best loafers for men? Before answering that question, keep in mind that much of this is subjective. Quality leather dress shoes are typically crafted on a last, which determines the fit and sizing of the shoe. Some lasts will fit you comfortably while plenty of others won’t.
It can be difficult to nail down the sizing with loafers, so our recommendation is always to visit your local men’s store for a proper fitting. In the event you have to buy loafers online, be sure the retailer offers a flexible return policy. Without further ado:
Mallorca is a picturesque island off the Mediterranean coast of Spain and is home to several quality shoe manufacturers including Meermin. Meermin’s 101484 is our pick as the best penny loafer for men. This shoe offers incredible value as a sleek-looking, Goodyear welted shoe for under $200. As detailed above, a shoe that is easily resoleable is truly built to last and ends up being quite economical in the long run. The 101484 loafer is available in a variety of colors. $195 from Meermin.
Jay Butler is a smaller, less well known brand that we believe deserves greater attention for its stylish, affordable loafers. The company’s Millbank is our pick as the best men’s bit loafer. This shoe is a low profile, traditional looking men’s bit loafer that is available in a wide variety of colors and styles. Whether you prefer a silver or gold bit, they offer both. One thing to note is that this loafer has a very low vamp so you’ll have a hard time finding loafer socks that don’t show. $195 by Jay Butler.
Beckett Simonon offers solid value with their Blake-stitched, resoleable shoes. I’ve personally worn their Lambert and Roy penny loafers for over two years now and have gotten plenty of use out of both pairs.
The Bernard tassel loafer comes in a variety of colors, with the light tan being my favorite. The only downside is that Beckett Simonon’s shoes are made to order, meaning you’ll have to wait around two months for them to be delivered. $209 from Beckett Simonon.
If budget isn’t a priority and you’re truly looking for the best loafers, we highly recommend that you explore both Alden and Crockett & Jones. While certainly on the pricier end of the spectrum, these brands make fantastic men’s loafers.
The Boston loafer from Crockett & Jones in dark brown suede is hard to beat; a classic penny loafer with a sleek silhouette, this shoe is effortlessly stylish. $590 from Crockett & Jones.
If you are planning on standing all day in dress shoes, you should consider wearing a different style of dress shoe as loafers typically have a thin sole and don’t offer significant cushioning.
Now, as we all know, comfort shoes aren’t always the most attractive shoes… But the Randolph Sneaker is a fairly stylish hybrid dress shoe that combines a quality leather upper with a cushioned sneaker sole. If you’re looking for the most comfortable loafers for men, you’re going to need something like these that offer plenty of support. $295 from Allen Edmonds.
This navy suede penny loafer has contrasting light blue stitching for a very distinct look. We chose this loafer as our “unique” pick to add a little variety to the list. While not for everyone, it’s a unique shoe that will certainly help you stand out from the pack. $210 from Loake.
After you’ve picked out the best loafers, you’ll need to complete your outfit with the best dress socks. Boardroom Socks offers an extensive selection of dress socks in both merino wool and extra-long staple cotton.
If you prefer purchasing American made dress shoes, you’re in luck when it comes to loafers. There are several brands known for crafting stylish, comfortable loafers right here in the United States:
Massachusetts-based Alden is particularly renowned for its use of shell cordovan and other high end leathers. Expect to pay a premium for their American made loafers, but you won’t be disappointed with the quality and style.
For a men’s formal loafer, Alden’s dark brown or black shell cordovan styles are a great option. My personal favorite is their suede penny loafer, a casual loafer that exerts effortless style and will look sharp with everything from suits to jeans.
Allen Edmonds is entering into its hundredth year in business, with a long legacy of producing quality men’s dress shoes in its Port Washington, WI facility. The brand represents great value for the money with easily recraftable dress shoes that start around $250. With proper care and maintenance, you can expect them to last for several decades.
Allen Edmonds’ most popular loafer is their Randolph penny loafer, followed by the Grayson tassel loafer. Note that not all of the company’s loafers are made in the USA; they also have a line of loafers imported from Italy as well several styles that are produced in the Dominican Republic.
Rancourt & Co. is based in Lewiston, ME and primarily specializes in handsewn, relaxed footwear. If you are looking for American made driving shoes, moccasins or boat shoes, Rancourt is definitely the brand for you.
The casual nature of the brand’s footwear is reflected in its collection of loafers as well. The beefroll penny loafer is perfect for weekend wear with chinos, khakis or jeans while the bit loafer leans slightly more formal toward business casual.
After picking out some loafers made in the USA, why not complete the look with American made socks? Boardroom Socks is a small, family-owned manufacturer of premium men’s socks. We produce each pair locally in North Carolina and design them to be as comfortable as they are stylish.
If you’re in the market for other dress shoes beyond just men’s loafers, be sure to check out our guide to dress shoes made in the USA.
As we’ve highlighted above, the beauty of loafers is that they are such a versatile shoe; they’ll look sharp with a suit and even jeans - more on that in a moment. Stylistically, one of the most important things is to ensure that your shoes properly match the formality of the situation in which they will be worn.
We’ve written extensively about why you should wear socks with loafers; from health risks to extending the life of your loafers, there are many reasons why it’s a good idea. But how does one stylishly wear socks with loafers?
For more style tips on wearing socks with loafers, be sure to read the following articles:
|Other Helpful Articles on Sock Style:|
|How to match socks, shoes and pants.|
|Comfortable and stylish ways to wear socks with loafers.|
|What are business casual socks?|
Jeans and loafers are both inherently casual, so they naturally look stylish together. Below is a composite image showing several outfits that tastefully combine jeans, loafers and dress socks.
Just about anything goes when it comes to wearing jeans with loafers and while there aren’t any hard and fast rules, the suggestions below will ensure you look sharp:
For further details and style tips, be sure to read our in-depth article on wearing jeans with dress shoes.
Now that you have invested in a quality pair of men’s loafers, how do you take care of them? For starters, be sure to always follow these three rules:
Not wearing socks with loafers can lead to the accumulation of odor and moisture that causes premature wear and can degrade leather.
Even when wearing socks, moisture will still accumulate which is why you should always use cedar shoe trees when not wearing your loafers. These will pull moisture out of your loafers while also ensuring they retain their shape.
Finally, not wearing the same pair for multiple consecutive days is another tactic to allow them to fully dry out. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Now that you’re an expert on men’s loafers, be sure to check out some of the other helpful articles on our blog:
|Other Helpful Articles on Sock Style:|
|What color socks do you wear with khakis?|
|What socks can you wear with a navy suit?|
|How to wear colorful dress socks.|
CEO, Boardroom Socks
Nathan's favorite dress socks are our burgundy merino wool socks. You will also frequently find him wearing our no-show socks. Outside of the office he enjoys fishing, reading and exploring Charlotte with his wife, son and Golden Retriever.
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