Vintage Shoes – The Loafer

I read a recent study that found that the average American woman wears about 20% of the clothes in her closet, 80% of the time.  It got me to thinking about my own closet, and so I took a little tour, appraising each garment and the amount of time each had spent on my back in the past year.  Fully 50% of the clothing, and even an even higher percentage of the shoes have not been worn in in past two years.

This was eye-opening in a couple of ways.  First, I don’t consider myself to be a “shopoholic”.  I rarely ever shop retail, but I’ll admit that thrift store shopping has let to an over-inflated wardrobe.  Stuff is so inexpensive that I will buy if there is the slightest chance I’ll get it home and love it.   That goes a long way toward explaining how the closet got so full of things I never wear.

Also, I started thinking about why I don’t wear some of these incredible bargains.  I seem to be attracted to certain things that I never wear.   It appears that I have an image problem.  I must somehow *see* myself in flowy linen pants with drawstring waists and loose rayon tees from Eileen Fisher, but in reality, I’m just not that person.

So for the past few days I’ve been going through my clothes and shoes and being very honest with myself.  The donate pile has gotten quite large, but what I’m left with is a closet full (yes, still!) of things I love and know I’ll wear.  I’ve also been working on  a plan of replacing worn items in a more thoughtful way.  You’ve heard it a thousand times from styling experts – buy quality over quantity.

This is especially true when it comes to shoes.  I’ve said before that I’m a real sneaker person.  I have multiple pairs of Keds Champions,  Sperry Topsiders  and vintage Converse All Stars.  I tend to wear them all the time, even in the winter, but this spring I found a wonderful pair of Ralph Lauren oxfords, and found myself wearing them a lot.  So that has me thinking, what other great, comfortable shoes have I been missing out on?

That brings me to a shoe I’ve not worn since elementary school – the loafer.  According to shoe historian, Jonathan Walford, the loafer was developed from the moccasin.   In 1876, George Henry Bass started  GH Bass and Co. in Wilton, Maine.  His product was footwear for the outdoorsman, and included camp moccasins and hiking boots.

In 1936, the company came out with a new shoe – a hard-soled moccasin based on a traditional Norwegian shoe.  Bass called their new shoe the Weejun, and it was soon a favorite for casual wear.  In the late 1940s, and into the 1950s, teenage bobby-soxers  loved their Weejuns (along with saddle oxfords, which were also made by Bass).   By this time other companies were making similar shoes, which were called loafers, or penny loafers because of the slot on the instep which was perfect for inserting a penny.

I’m showing off my cute mother again so you can admire her bobby socks and loafers.  Circa 1945.

1951 Bass Weejuns ad, Holiday magazine

1961 Bass Weejuns ad, Glamour magazine

Penny loafers in a 1962 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog.

This is my cousin Nancy in 1960.  If you can take your eyes off that fantastic basket handbag, you’ll notice she is wearing penny loafers.  In the early 1960s loafers were wildly popular with teenagers and college students.  As a great admirer of Nancy’s style, I had to have a pair of them as well, and I wore loafers to school all through my elementary years.  But by the time I went to junior high in 1967, the loafer’s popularity had faded as Mod finally hit our 2-years-behind-the fashion little town.   I haven’t owned a pair of loafers since.

It seems that Bass is coming back on the fashion scene.  Designer Rachel Antonoff has done a line of loafers and saddle shoes that have received a lot of press, and the next collaboration is with Tommy Hilfiger.   I’m seriously thinking about revisiting this childhood favorite.   Any loafer wears out there?

Another 1940s loafer girl

This is a page from the 1977 L.L. Bean catalog.  As you can see, they used the term lounger instead of loafer.  I have seen this term used in other places as well.   By 1977, Bass Weejuns were no longer stylish, as the loafer of choice became a bit more pricy and was made by Gucci.

20 Comments

Filed under Shoes, Viewpoint

20 responses to “Vintage Shoes – The Loafer

  1. I’m a huge fan of penny loafers, own at least 4 pairs right now, and consider to buy another one or two. Especially I like classic weejuns by Bass! My last pair died last month after 5 years of service, it was indispensable, and I still grieving. Unfortunately, Bass doesn’t make a lot of color choice for that model.

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  2. i love loafers but i keep buying vintage ones online and finding them too narrow for my very wide feet, so i’ve been slapping them back in my etsy store for cheap.

    still sad, i want a pair of comfy loafers!

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  3. seaside

    I like black patent leather loafers but have a hard time finding one without buckles, white top stitching (ugh), clunky heels or shapes. Ann Klein used to make a smooth black patent loafer that had the same basic style as a Bass loafer. I’ve looked on Zappos and can’t find one I like. They either look like ballet slippers or clogs. I love the current Bass tassel loafer; maybe I’ll settle for burgundy.

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  4. I totally want the rachel antonoff saddle shoes… the loafers are cute too. I LOVE the pic of your cousin. AMAZING!

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  5. Em

    Your mother is quite a doll! I could also see why you admired your cousin’s style. I love loafers and have had quite good luck finding Bass ones in thrifts. Other than one pair where the sole became detached from the leather (possibly because I wore them so much–re-glued and continued wearing), the vintage versions seem very well made. I’ll have to check out the new versions you mentioned.

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  6. Inky

    Lovely post Lizzie!! Next to my saddle shoes I wear my Weejuns the most. I have a black pair and a burgundy pair. they wear like iron and last a very long time. I wore them for most of elementary/junior high (parochial) in the 60′s and early 70′s.

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  7. Okay, you all have talked me into trying a pair. Now for the color…

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  8. Penny loafers! Haven’t thought of them for a white. What a fun read, both your article and the comments.

    Yes, I had a pair in the early 60s. Doubt they were Weejuns, but the same look. (Any idea why Bass called them Weejuns? Odd name, just curious.)

    Then in sometime in the 80s I found a pair of small(ish) black 60s men’s penny loafers and wore them to death. Usually with faded Levis and some kind of casual vintage top. Had to wear thick white socks with them or they were seriously too big. Too big even with the socks, but I loved them so.

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  9. Very interesting article! I first heard about Bass Weejuns here in England around 1980 when there emerged a prescribed set of ‘design classics’ (and that term probably originates from the time too) which became de rigeur for trendies. These included Rayban Wayfarers, MA1 flight jackets and, of course, Levis 501s with the red selvedge. You’ll notice that all of these were American, and were pretty expensive imports only available in certain outlets, at least early on.

    If you look at the early promotional photos for bands such as Madness you’re bound to spot a few pairs of Bass Weejuns! I suppose it was an earlier manifestation of the veneration of ‘heritage’ brands and obsession with authenticity we’re seeing a lot of now, mixed with a vaguely 50s flavour nostalgia and trans-Atlantic admiration/envy!

    So not long after they fell out of favour in the US, we fell in love with them!

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  10. Pingback: Ad Campaign – Bass Ski Boots, 1948 | The Vintage Traveler

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  12. Sammi Mayne

    You just weren’t cool if you didn’t wear Weejuns in high school, but I can’t find the style that I bought. It was not the typical penny loafer or tie-up. It was a soft brown leather, the toe box was rounded over the front and I think there was a side band with buckle and/or fringe, Anyone remember these?

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    • Ruth Lutz Whitten

      I had a pair like that around 1968 or 69. It was soon after that the penny loafer went out of style in my school and we wore clunky, mod looking shoes instead. I insisted on buying one more pair of the penny loafer style Weejun though ( I remember it was a real bargain from one of the catalogs) and I still have them.

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  13. Jon Horan

    Love wearing my preppy sz.13 Weejuns with faded jeans to the bars.Love crushing down the backs so they slip easily.Looking for sz.13E Weejuns ,call XXX-XXX-XXXX,thanks Jon

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  14. Bears Jersey

    Everyone loves what you guys tend to be up too.
    This type of clever work and coverage! Keep up the awesome works guys I’ve included you guys to blogroll.

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  15. Linda Huff

    I have the Bass Weejuns.I bought them about twenty five years a go.Even though I love them I haven’t wore them a lot so they are like new. I would never part with them!

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  16. Robert

    Wish girls still wore penny loafers and white bobby socks. Couldn’t take my eyes off a girl who wore them!

    Bob

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