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The History of Loafers: From Norwegian Fishing Villages to Luxury Fashion Brands

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Whether you’re looking for the perfect way to elevate a pair of jeans or need a comfortable shoe option with a dress or slacks, loafers are always a good choice.

Whether you’re a fan of the penny loafer, weejuns or feel the need to incorporate tassels into your daily outfits, a good pair of loafers are always good to have on hand. And while all of those styles feature slightly different details, they all help add an element of sophistication and polish to any look.

The Original Silhouette of Loafers

These shoes were popular in Norway in the 19th century among the fishermen. As fishing became more and more popular, the small Norwegian fishing villages started attracting English visitors and tourists who were immediately intrigued by the elevated slipper-style shoes the fisherman were wearing. The villagers and fishermen referred to them as “tesers,” and they would serve as the esteemed predecessor to what would become the penny loafer.

Loafers in different colorways.

While the tesers were still a few iterations away from what we think of as loafers today, it was a Norwegian man named Nils Gregoriusson Tveranger would popularize the more iconic styles we think of as proud members of the shoe canon. Tveranger traveled to North America, and noticed the moccasin styles worn by native American tribes. His first shoe was actually called the “Aurland moccasin,” however it became known as the Aurland shoe as it achieved more popularity. Tveranger patented these early designs in the 20s, which led to more widespread adoption of the style.

This is the point when journalism gets involved. Esquire magazine, which was still new at the time, wrote an article about the shoes and published it alongside photos of farmers wearing them to work. From here, G.H. Bass was contracted to produce a new version of the shoe that would be made and distributed in America.

Different Types of Loafers

To pay homage to its Norwegian roots, Bass called the shoe a “Weejun.” It featured a crescent moon design accented with a strip of leather across the midfoot of the shoe. College students gave the updated silhouette the name penny loafer, and it’s believed that this is where the trend of putting pennies in the leather strap originated.

Close-up female legs in black trousers and leather beige moccasins. New spring-summer collection of women's leather shoes 2022
Leather loafers.

Since penny loafers were the choice of college students, people who wanted to wear shoes with more sophisticated outfits decided to enhance their silhouettes with tassels. It was during this time in 1953 that Gucci opened its first store in New York City, and they decided to further elevate the shoe’s form by making them sleek and all-black. They also added their iconic horsebit charm to the saddle of the foot, which even further elevated the shoe’s appeal.

Loafers Today

Many of the brands that originally started or elevated the loafers trends are still making the shoes today. Gucci still sells their classic horsebit loafers, but they’ve also updated the silhouette with options like mules, platforms and even slingbacks.

Bata Shoe Museum, Gucci, loafers, horsebit loafers, 1980s
Gucci Horsebit loafers.

They have also stood the test of both time and trend on the runway and throughout pop culture. Hailey Bieber has been spotted in a few different styles of the shoe, and chunky loafers that feature lug soles are regularly spotted on streetwear trend-makers.

With constant updates to the shoe being integrated into the mainstream, it’s certainly likely that the popularity of loafers will extend for years to come.

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