NYT on the Penny Loafer

Just ordered a pair of Paraboot Harvard loafers, so it makes sense to link Nancy McDonell’s “Loafing Around” article from the New York Times on the history of the penny loafer:

Despite the Ivy League associations and moccasin construction, the loafer is neither American in origin nor named for a little known Native American tribe. Instead, Weejun is a corruption of “Norwegian.” What does that Scandinavian country have to do with the preppiest of American shoe styles? As it turns out, quite a bit: The loafer as we know it came about thanks to a combination of Lost Generation wanderlust and a growing and more general desire for comfort. Though Paris was the most famous destination for F. Scott Fitzgerald and his lesser-known cohorts, some of his peers journeyed further afield. Those who went to Norway noticed that Norwegian fisherman made themselves comfortable shoes that consisted of leather sides joined by a strip of leather across the instep like moccasins — still the way true loafers are made today. “When these young men started wearing these shoes back home,” explains G. Bruce Boyer, a fashion editor and author, “American and English shoemakers copied them and advertised them as being similar to the Norwegian fisherman’s shoe.” Foremost among the brands making this new shoe was G.H. Bass, which had been founded in 1876 by George Henry Bass.

In the United States, the supremacy of the Bass Weejun was unchallenged — from James Dean to J.F.K., everyone wore them. On college campuses, they were de rigueur, and, says Boyer, worn until they fell apart and had to be held together with duct tape (a prime example of the endurance contest that prepsters subject their clothes to). They were sometimes worn without socks, but while this is now a fashion statement, in the early 1960s, when Boyer was an undergraduate, it was more a question of convenience.“Guys who lived in the dorms wore them that way,” Boyer says. “If they were late for their first class they would put on their loafers without putting on their socks first. Other guys would show up in their pajamas.” Pennies were often inserted in the cutout on the instep; theories abound as to why this was done — so girls who were out on less-than inspiring dates could call for a lift home (not that phone calls were ever cost a cent); for good luck; to commemorate the wearer’s birth year — but if there ever was a reason, it’s been lost. Men of elegance wore tasseled loafers, which originated in England and were copied by American firms like Alden. Loafers were always brown, which is part of what made them a casual shoe — dress shoes of the era were black and were kept polished and in good repair. After graduation, loafers were worn only on informal occasions and black lace-ups (or, for coeds, pumps) became the norm.

For the rest of the article, click here.


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