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The brief history lesson on loafers

Find out how fashion’s favourite flats came to be.

Bourgeoisie, brown, boring. Traditionally, a pair of loafers doesn’t have the same appeal as stilettos, pumps, ballerinas or even booties. Loafers have been the informal shoe choice to wear in formal places for decades, and weren’t meant to be worn by women in the first place. They were the epitome of preppy, and a shoe that was considered immune to trends. Of course, over time, they found a much better purpose. 

The history of the loafer as we know it starts in 1936, when footwear dynasty G.H. Bass & Co launched the Weejun shoe, which was made for men, but became even more popular with women who bought them in boys' sizes. A few years after introducing the laceless slip-on leather shoes, Bass released them in a more feminine shape. To most people, the name Weejun isn’t familiar, but the words penny loafer definitely are, which is the popular name they go by. The name is believed to derive from the slot on the shoe saddle, which its wearer realized were perfect to fit a coin inside. At a time when a coin could get you far, the owners of penny loafers placed coins in their shoes to use in case of emergency – or in whatever sudden event they would need it for.

In the '30s, '40s and '50s, Bass' penny loafers' popularity in America seemed infinite, but when fashion power house Gucci tapped into the US market in the '50s, they saw an opportunity to add some Italian flair to the comfy and informal shoe. Gucci made loafers in a slicker shape with more refined lines than Bass, sold them in more colours, and made them a must-have shoe for jetsetters, business men and presidents.

Gucci’s loafer came at a much higher price point than the everyday penny loafer and were crafted in shiny calf leather. After their introduction, loafers ceased to be considered informal and were welcomed into any Wall Street meeting room. 

Today, more than 80 years after the loafer came to be, the shoe is just as significant, and it’s also one of fashion’s favourites. Celebrate the quintessential flat by browsing through our favourites in the listing below. 

Read about other iconic fashion items here.

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