When I was first assembling my black-tie kit I was attracted to the distinguishing swank of formal pumps but ran into a few obstacles in my quest to obtain a pair. First and foremost, such footwear seems to be made only by high-end shoemakers which makes for a hefty price tag. On a lesser note, I was unsure if I had the temerity to pull off such delicate looking footwear as the demure low vamp and dainty bow that make formal pumps so distinctly unique also render them distinctly effete:
So it was that I stumbled upon a sound compromise: formal loafers. These slip-ons provide the distinctiveness of the pump but with a more masculine air. Their longer vamp also apparently makes for a more secure fit. Best of all, they can cost considerably less than their traditional counterparts. I ended up buying Sandro Moscoloni Royal patent loafers similar to the style seen at the top of the page for just $100 and have been very happy with them for the past ten years.
Generally speaking, formal loafers follow the basic rules of traditional formal footwear: thin soles and heels are more formal than thick ones and a wholecut construction is more formal than visible seams. Patent leather is also more formal than unvarnished although you’d be hard pressed to find formal loafers that aren’t patent because they would too closely resemble their informal everyday counterparts.
Like formal lace-ups, the shoe’s style also impacts formality. The following is a look at the three major variations of formal loafers. All prices are in US dollars although some models are no longer available for sale.
(Regarding terminology, there are a lot of conflicting interpretations of what constitutes a slip-on versus a loafer. For the sake of argument let’s just say that slip-ons are a broad category of shoe that doesn’t fasten with laces or straps while loafers are a specific type of slip-on typically made with stiff leather and hard soles.)
At the dressiest end of the spectrum are loafers with bows identical to those seen on formal pumps. The only difference between the two types of shoes is the former’s longer vamp and the bow’s corresponding position atop the foot’s instep.
Ribbon Strap Loafers
Slightly less dressy are loafers that substitute a flat decorative strap of ribbon in place of the traditional three-dimensional bow. The ribbon is typically grosgrain.
A relatively rare subset of this loafer style features a strap that extends down to the shoe’s sole:
Plain Patent Loafers
At the most casual end of the spectrum are loafers without any decoration at all. Only their patent finish and (virtually) seamless construction sets them apart from an ordinary dress loafer.
Thanks to reader Hans Servando for suggesting this post.