Tag Archives: loafer

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.


Filed under Shoes, Viewpoint