We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: the single most valuable thing in menswear is versatility. Which is enough reason for us to justify why you need a pair of loafers in your wardrobe this season.
These instantly recognisable shoes are as versatile as footwear comes; slip-ons that slip into a wide range of dress codes with ease. They work with suits, cropped trousers, pinrolled jeans and even shorts if they’re the right kind (slim-cut, finishing just above the knee, thank you very much).
Going for a preppy Americana look? You’ll need some loafers. Mediterranean louche? Loafers. Tailoring? Even then, loafers can finish off a Savile Row look with a cool, modern edge.
“A good penny loafer or, if you are feeling fancy, tassel loafer, looks just as good with a casual unlined suit or sharp pair of trousers and Oxford shirt,” says Mr Porter shoe buyer David Morris. “But during the warmer months, don’t be scared to wear them with shorts and a short-sleeved camp collar shirt.”
Loafers are usually made from either suede or leather, so most pairs will need a little wearing in. “Width can also play a huge part in the overall fit,” says Morris, “and those with a high instep may need to go a size up.”
The Different Styles Of Loafers
Loafers have a long and storied heritage in menswear, and all the main styles have their own history.
First, there’s the classic penny loafer. Despite being a symbol of Ivy League fashion, it actually originated in Norway before later being reinvented by American firm G.H. Bass & Co. The style gets its name from the sit on the front of each shoe, which doubles up as a place to store a penny.
Then there’s the tassel loafer. The story goes that this silhouette was born in the 1950s, when Oscar-winning actor Paul Lukas asked American shoemakers Alden to recreate a pair of Oxfords he found in Europe that had little tassels at the ends of the laces. The result was an instant classic, and many competitors went on to release their own versions of this much-loved style soon after.
There’s no doubt that the horsebit loafer is the go-to dress shoe within the realm of loafers. As its name suggests, the horsebit takes its influence from equestrian style – and we have Gucci to thank for its existence.
And don’t forget the slipper. This style of loafer is characterised by its leather sole, slight heel and velvet or suede uppers. It works just as well as an alternative to the more traditional dress shoe as it does for smartening up a casual outfit.
When you’re ready to add a pair to your collection (now, man, now), these are the brands to slide into.
Gucci is a turn-to choice when you want to show off, but if we’re talking about loafers, it’s not just about stunting. The Italian label played an integral part in the enduring loafer styles we still wear today.
Gucci continues to refine the traditional silhouette even today, with styles like the fringed leather loafer, inspired by the punk movement of the 1970s and 1980s, and its distinctive horsebit design with an embroidered bee symbol.
Granted, they’re not the cheapest on the market, but for the extra investment, you can expect luxury touches like a lamb fur or quilted satin lining.
Brooks Brothers is America’s oldest clothing retailer, with a heritage dating back almost 200 years. The brand offers a discerning range of traditional loafers, and the quality is almost second to none.
Sitting at the slightly more accessible end of the luxury market, Brooks Brothers’ penny and tassel designs are crafted from premium materials like supple cordovan leather, pure French calfskin and kudu antelope suede. All of this makes Brooks an excellent choice if looking for a loafer to finish a suit.
G.H. Bass & Co.
This American heritage company goes back to the 19th century and balances its traditional roots with modern tastes. G.H. Bass is worth a browse if you’re looking for something preppy with the history to back it up.
Look out for the classic Weejun loafers, a silhouette that can be traced to the brand’s early years. You can find it in traditional colours and finishes, but you’ll also see it styled with more modern finishes.
Reiss has well and truly cornered the premium end of the British high street, and its choice of loafers match its wider smart-contemporary vibe.
The retailer stays true to tradition while injecting seasonal touches, and its collection offers an array of more casual options for when you want to dress down.
Keep an eye out for butter smooth suede styles that pair excellently with cropped trousers. It’s a summer uniform for smarter dress codes.
A traditional British brand brimming with charm and elegance, Charles Tyrwhitt’s loafers are, as you’d expect from a Jermyn Street powerhouse, built to last.
The retailer’s collection consists of both leather and suede loafers in a refined choice of brown and black shades that are perfect additions to your work-week wardrobe.
If tassel loafers are your thing – this brand is particularly gifted on this front. These debonair styles are ideal for the man who appreciates good quality, craftsmanship and a little extra attention.
One of Northampton’s finest, John Lobb offers a handsome collection of loafers, with shoemaking expertise that stretches back almost 170 years. As such, expect finer touches such as hand-stitching, lightweight finishes and expertly cut leather.
The collection is rooted in traditional styles from the 1950s, but styles are refined with a contemporary edge, fitting for any modern man’s wardrobe. Prices range from £900 to £1,200 – with the odd £7,000-odd anomaly for when you’re feeling extra spendy.
For the man who can’t make decisions, Canadian retailer Aldo offers a wide range of loafers at reasonable prices, meaning you can afford to get a few pairs.
With some Italian influence thrown in, effortless suede numbers sit alongside standout brights and classic staples, so your every possible need is catered for at a high street budget.
Joseph Cheaney and Sons
Another brand from the home of British shoemaking, Northamptonshire-based Cheaney and Sons is where to go if you’re in the market for some serious, go-the-distance loafers.
The award-winning, heritage firm offers a polished range of hand-crafted loafers that are made in England – and have been since 1886.
It’s the quality that puts Cheaney’s loafers head and foot above the competition. For our money, its penny loafers are near-perfect expressions of the style.
Marks & Spencer
Marks and Spencer’s is the old high street failsafe that never lets us down, especially when it comes to menswear staples that have been around for generations.
While the chain’s loafers are all as reasonably priced as you’d expect, bear in mind that most are also more on the casual side, with a wide offering of dressed-down suede options in particular.
Founded in 1884 by Charles H Alden, the eponymous firm is rumoured to be the inventor of the tassel loafer. Today, the New England shoemaker can be found in concessions around the world, although it stays close to its traditional preppy roots.
Each style is cut from the best quality leather, including a full leather lining, and is built for comfort and longevity. Check out its range for fellow all-American staple J. Crew for a more contemporary take on the classic loafer.
To give this traditional dressed-up style of shoe a bit of attitude, try a brand with some form when it comes to stylish sub-cultures.
Dr Martens’ take on loafers is as chunky as they come, but don’t go thinking that the dedication to quality is any less than a Northampton stalwart.
As well as that famed mirror-like finish, you get Goodyear welting – a guarantee of hard-wearing construction – as well as the all important air-cushioned sole.
As it does with all its menswear, Ted Baker’s loafers are about traditional shapes, fine materials and a few little touches that keep things contemporary.
We’re particularly fond of the British dandy brand’s sleek suede loafers, which are available in an array of neutral shades to bookend just about any look. And best of all, don’t expect to pay much more than £100.