Slippers… and a business suit?
Loafers are slippers.
If you imagine them in plaid being fetched by a dog, you’ll see what I mean.
But if a junior banker showed up on Wall Street wearing Gucci loafers…
he wouldn’t be underdressed—he’d be dressing above his station.
Only the top men at the bank wear those.
Dress loafers have exploded in popularity all over the world. If you’re looking for a shoe that’s comfortable, convenient, versatile, and stylish, dress loafers are for you.
(And as a bonus, you can wear them without socks.)
Some say loafers even make you look taller because their low-rise profile lengthens your legs.
A lot of guys are confused about where dress loafers fall on the formal-to-casual spectrum. The answer is—almost anywhere. This makes them a wardrobe staple for every man.
There are four types of dress loafers, each with a different level of formality. Today I’ll explain exactly when to wear each type, and what to wear with it.
What Are Dress Loafers? The Defining Traits
#1. Casual Shoes By Nature
Loafers started life as casual shoes. They’ve developed over the years into classic formal wear, but the style still reflects their casual origins.
#2. Slip On And Off
Loafers are convenient and quick to put on—perfect if you’re a busy man who cares about punctuality.
#3. No Buckles, No Laces
Instead, each type of dress loafer has its own characteristic adornment. We’ll get to that in a minute.
#4. Different Materials
Dress loafers come in suede as well as leather, and in a wide variety of colors.
The Four Types Of Dress Loafers
#1. Tassel Loafers
We’ll start at the casual end. These are the least formal dress loafers.
Tassel loafers are decorated with leather tassels on the top vamp, and have a rounded toe outlined by a reverse seam. They are often made of cordovan leather.
Originally designed as wholecut shoes in the 1950s, tasseled loafers are versatile, hardwearing and timeless classics.
Tassel loafers go perfectly with chinos and a blazer. In black or oxblood, they’re on the same level of formality as a navy blazer with gray trousers.
#2. Belgian Loafers
Belgian loafers are the slightly more formal relatives of tassel loafers. You can recognize them by the small bow on the front.
These elegant loafers were originally designed as indoor slippers and still have a soft sole.
The stitching on Belgian loafers looks flawless. This is because they’re made by the exacting ‘turned’ method—sewn inside-out and then turned right side out when finished.
Belgian loafers go well with chinos, flannel pants, and corduroys.
#3. Penny Loafers
The most versatile type, penny loafers are about as formal as Belgian loafers, but more closely related to moccasins than to slippers. They feature a strip of leather across the saddle with a diamond cut-out.
In 1936, the Bass Shoe Co-created a style fusion between Native American moccasins and the moccasin-type shoes worn by Norwegian fishermen and called it Weejun (tastefully combining ‘Norwegian’ with a word for Native Americans.)
Weejuns became known as ‘penny loafers’ after young men started keeping a penny in each cut-out in case of emergencies. Two pennies was the cost of a call from a payphone.
#4. Horsebit Or Gucci Loafers
Gucci loafers are the most formal. The snaffle, or metal bar, in the center of the vamp is what makes a Gucci loafer. It was actually designed to look like a horse’s bit by the great Italian designer Aldo Gucci in 1963.
The American trend for formal loafers with suits didn’t catch on in the rest of the world until Gucci loafers arrived. These days, many other brands make bit loafers, but you’re still likely to hear all of them called ‘Gucci’.
The best loafers to wear with a suit are black leather horsebit loafers. They go perfectly with a smart business suit, but are not formal enough for black or white tie.
The Style Pyramid Of Dress Loafers
The ‘style pyramid' of fit, fabric, and function is a concept you'll hear a lot about around here. These are the three elements that make any clothing item stylish – and they also apply to shoes.
Fit is what determines the comfort of your shoes. With loafers, it’s easy to mess this up for two reasons.
First, loafers can be worn without socks. If you want to do this, don’t wear thick socks when you go to try them on. It’s also recommended to buy one size down from your normal size.
Second, loafers from different manufacturers are sized differently. It helps to actually measure your foot—from the back of the heel to the tip of the big toe—and use that measurement to compare sizes from different brands.
With dress loafers, you usually have a choice of leather or suede.
Leather loafers are smarter. You can wear them with a full suit or a tailored outfit. They’re also sturdier and more hardwearing.
Suede loafers are more casual, and best worn only in spring and summer. Never let your suede loafers get wet.
Loafers come in so many colors it can be hard to choose. I recommend sticking to the most classic colors—black, brown, oxblood, navy and gray. These are versatile enough to complement most outfits.
The traditional color for dress loafers is black, but the most versatile is brown and oxblood.
When buying bit loafers especially, make sure the metal decorations aren’t so gaudy that they distract from your outfit.
How do you pair dress loafers with clothes? Which loafers should you wear…
With a suit? – Steer clear of Italian-style loafers with an American-style suit—they’ll make your feet look small. Choose dress loafers with a thick sole, a high vamp, and a heel. Horsebit loafers are perfect.
On a date? – Try brown suede Belgian loafers, a polo shirt, and a navy blazer to smarten up your outfit.
On a laid-back evening? – Penny loafers with jeans in a medium to dark wash and a button-down shirt. Add to the laid-back vibe by undoing a button or two on your shirt and rolling up the sleeves.
With shorts? – None. There are no dress loafers that go with shorts. Boat shoes or driving moccasins are more appropriate.
Socks or no socks? – Your choice. Socks can add visual appeal, but you don’t need to wear them with loafers. Let the weather and the occasion be your guide.
If you like the sockless look but are worried about hygiene, you can wear no-show socks. You could also invest in a cedar shoe tree, which naturally deodorizes your shoes between wears.
Are Monk Straps Loafers?
Monk strap dress shoes are incredibly popular at the moment, and you might think that they’re loafers. After all, they’re slip-on and have no laces.
Don’t make this mistake. It could lead to some very bad style choices.
Find out in our Ultimate Guide to Double Monk Strap Dress Shoes.