Origin of the Trend: Loafers

The snow has finally melted from the Common and the icicles have stopped dripping from scaffolding: spring is approaching. Finally, you can again wear shoes that aren’t made for trudging through dirty piles of ice and sludge. Although Boston winters continue to attack us with unpredictable bouts of precipitation, the revival of the loafer makes shopping for this transitional season’s  footwear bearable. Both practical and cute,the shoe is great for looking professional and being comfortably prepared for sudden climate change (because those canvas flats won’t live through downpours and snowstorms).

Typically made of leather and featuring a low, stacked heel, loafers were initially seen on men, like many trends of last fall, in the 1930s. The slip-on shoe was easy to wear and simple in design, featuring no adornments. The style, pioneered by the Spaulding Company in 1933, according toCigarAficionado.com, was based off the attire of “Norwegian dairy farmers that had appeared in an article inEsquire Magazine,” according to Zappos.com. Norway, dairy and farming don’t individually trigger “shoe fashion” in my mind, so I’m impressed by the designer’s ability to create a long-lasting trend from a combination of all three. The only older-than-vintage European shoes I can think of are those wooden Christmas clogs which aren’t practical or cute. The loafer accomplishes both. Thanks, Norway.

Following the creation of typical loafers, “G.H. Bass introduced weejuns, or ‘penny loafers,’ in 1936, and they became a casual shoe in the 1940s. They were worn with casual outfits and business suits. They continued to be popular through the end of the decade,” according to The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Clothing Through American History 1900 to the Present by Ann T. Kellogg and Amy T. Peterson. These shoes featured tassels, straps, buckles, laces, pennies or other fixtures to complement the leather body of the shoe. The addition of a makeshift change pocket in the style attracted younger customers looking to store their spending and phone-booth change in secure and mobile locations. Thus, weejuns became the shoe for everyone.

Movie stars, including Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, as well as schoolgirls donning high socks and skirts picked up the trend, CigarAficionado.com says, rendering it ultra-preppy.

Since then, the shoe has been paired with and without socks (typically without for men) and has been constructed out of a variety of material, like alligator. I like to imagine wearing flat alligators on my feet–useful, powerful, cute in a certain light. The loafer hasn’t evolved much, but its customers have become increasingly diversified.

You can still find the style, however, finishing a preppy outfit. Lauren by Ralph Lauren has a matte and a patent-leather loafer available this season; Arfango has velvet, tasseled loafers (worn by Kourtney Kardshian’s boyfriend Scott Disick); and Giacomorelli has a ponyskin leopard version. All are easily paired with socks, pleats, trousers or anything that looks sophisticated and professional.

Published at The Lion, The Stitch, and The Wardrobe on March 24, 2011.

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