Today’s designers are taking the icon of tasteful style and warping them with bizarre colors, patterns, and materials.
Over the past couple years, I’ve spent more money than I care to admit putting together the perfect sneaker rotation: classic Vans, Chuck Taylors, and Adidas Stan Smiths, filled out with Air Maxes, much weirder Nikes, and even a couple of Yeezy-adjacent kicks. But fashion can be brutal, so it’s only right that none of that hard work matters anymore. Because these days, I can’t leave my house without noticing that the most stylish people in my office and out in the world aren’t wearing sneakers—they’re wearing loafers. And not just, like, brown loafers, or penny loafers, or even tasseled loafers. Loafers that have taken a page out of the sneaker’s playbook: the weirder the better. This feeling’s been gnawing at the back of my mind this summer, but the reality that my sneaker collecting was all for naught came crashing down on me just recently when I saw a pair of loafers in Palace’s newly unveiled fall collection. They’re printed with a snakeskin pattern and Baja Blasted™ a shade of aquamarine. They are grotesque, and they are perfect, and I want them very badly. Loafers!
Today’s loafers, unlike the ones favored by Ivy Leaguers and presidents, are like the trust fund kid that never got it together: they’re strange, mutated with gauche materials and zany colors, abominable to traditionalists. That these shoes are so inextricably tied with tasteful style is what makes corrupting them so much fun, like getting the Harvard students who love them to try acid for the first time.
Speaking of those Harvard kids: in America, the loafer has lived many lives but never really left the rarified air it was born into. After borrowing inspiration from a Norwegian shoe worn by fishermen, G.H. Bass brought the loafer to the states where it was taken in by Ivy League students and presidents. The shoe’s most at home clopping to class on campus outside Boston or on the fairway with John F. Kennedy. Gucci turned the loafer into a status symbol when it released its horsebit version in the ‘50s. And in the ‘90s, the Gucci version was so ubiquitous on Wall Street they earned the nickname “deal sleds.” Loafers are the leisure shoes of the exceptionally rich; thrown on by members of the Forbes 500 the way the rest of us slip into some Vans. And now they’ve gone insane.
This is in some ways natural selection. Sneakers have long been the item stylish men can’t live without, but sneakers can only be weird to a point. Strangeness is inherent to the genre: In 1989, Reebok gave us a pair of sneakers that could be inflated by pumping a button on the tongue. When that’s a jumping off point, there’s a ceiling to how ridiculous a pair of ugly, chunky, or “dad” sneakers can really be. And it’s easy to forgive designers who are tired of pushing that particular envelope. Gucci’s already wrapped a pair of sneakers in costume diamonds and flipped its logo to make it look more like Sega’s. There’s nothing a designer could do to a sneaker that would be shocking anymore.
The Legendary Loafer That Every Guy Should Own
So they’ve turned to loafers. It feels more punk to screw up a pair of loafers—the shoe of elegance—than is it to do the same with a sneaker. In the no-rules style era, the further apart the worlds you’re cobbling together, the better. And there are no ideas further apart than tasteful rich guy style and electric-blue Palace shoes. Think of them as the end result of the identity crisis shoes have gone through over the past few years.
What’s strange is that this movement hasn’t bubbled from the ground up. Brands like Palace are now in on the fun, but the British skate weirdos weren’t the first to wrest the loafer away from traditionalists. It’s Gucci turning out the widest variety of strange loafers in bizarre plaids or with logo straps attached to the back. Luxury brands are still pumping out class symbols just like they did back in the loafer’s heydey, except now the shoes derive status from little bits of rebellion: a trail of fur, dip-dyed in Gatorade Glacier Frost, or patterned with python. These are still shoes that only the C-Suite could afford. Just don’t call them deal sleds.
But even if the shift is politically inert, that Gucci and Dries and Burberry are doing this at all is deeply strange. For decades, loafers of the sleek black and brown variety have been part of the costume of the elite. And not just for the real-life icons who loved loafers, like JFK, James Dean, and director Francis Ford Coppola. A pair of A. Testoni alligator penny loafers is what Patrick Bateman looks down at to calm himself early in American Psycho, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Wolf of Wall Street wears a pair from Gucci, and a Brooks Brothers x The Great Gatsby collection included a two-tone version of the shoes. Today’s designers are getting the loafer as far away from that heritage as possible. Bateman would be repulsed by these loafers—and that’s the point.
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