Well, I found them interesting. Largely because no one had ever told me them before. You probably know them already. Here goes.
Loafers are for people who loaf. And you’ll never guess who people that loaf are. They’re Norwegian farmers off to see their cows. You see, the cattle loafing area is the place on a farm where the cows are taken to be milked. And Norwegian farmers used a certain, convenient slip-on shoe to get out to this loafing area. Hence it’s called a loafer.
The shoe was launched by the announcement of this discovery in a 1932 story in Esquire magazine. (Yes, Esquire used to be a superlative style magazine. Bible even. Then it was relaunched in the 1980s as an all-things-to-all-men magazine, also known as a no-things-to-all-men magazine. Oh well. Bring back Esquire/Apparel Arts, that’s what I say.)
That Norwegian shoe must have been different to the slip-ons we see today. Only the very rich or eccentric would go out to milk his cows in his Gucci loafers with classic riding bit. Think of the mud. But the idea was there – the design built of necessity, a simple shoe that could be popped on for a brief job outside, and removed with ease when you returned to the house.
Similar, in a way, to the reason so many more people wear loafers for flying these days. It’s much quicker to check you’re not a shoe bomber.
This brings us on to my second exciting fact. The loafer is often referred to in the US as a Weejun because it sounds like the last two syllables of Norwegian. Perhaps you knew that already, but I didn’t. Imagine how satisfying the mental connection was. So instant; so obvious.
It turns out that just two years after the Esquire story, in 1934, John R Bass, Maine shoemaker of repute, introduced a loafer with a bar bridge across it, and christened it the Weejun to sound like Norwegian. The bar bridge was supposedly shaped like Mr Bass’s wife’s lips. It was as if Mrs Alice Bass were kissing the feet of her husband as he left the house every day.
Last but certainly not least, when the Bass Weejun became popular on US campuses in the 1950s it was occasionally used by students to carry a penny or a dime, in the event of an emergency phone call. Hence the penny loafer. Any or all of these facts may be erroneous, mythical or just plain made up (would the penny fall out if you ran anywhere?). But they are satisfying – a stylistic, philological and cultural history rolled into one.
As mentioned in a previous debate on slip-on shoes (Reader’s question: The deck shoe) I prefer the more elegant, less chunky slip-on. This season, Paul Smith’s dark green or red “Marcello” loafers are worth a look. Let’s face it, you probably don’t have any red or green slip-ons already.