The language of loafers is definitely more exciting than for any other category of shoe. Oxfords rank themselves in mundane fractions: quarter brogues, half brogues, full brogues. Derbies permit more color with the prospect of agatine eyelets and storm welts. But loafers bristle with possibility, and for each variant there seems an exciting name: venetian, penny, full strap, tassel, beef-roll, moccasin, horse-bit, kiltie.
Perhaps casualness encourages experimentation by both the consumer and the producer—a sort of chicken-or-the-egg scenario where both parties are willing to indulge an urge to flout convention. Interesting origin stories exist for specific styles, and great energy has often gone to try and organize the menagerie into a formality matrix. But I wonder if the real joy in loafers has as much to do with perceived rankings and history, than it does with two other familiar principles of style: nonchalance and versatility.
If one were to blindly bang together a shoe for the very purpose of breaking dusty old rules, it might look something like a tasseled loafer. What are they other than ordinary loafers that have been adorned with a complex, non-functional lacing system finished in a square knot and fringed ends? And yet the result confers nonchalance to the wearer like few other articles in the male wardrobe. One of the principles of that masculine wardrobe is that the more decorated an item is, the less formal it tends to be; yet tassels, mysteriously, register as dressier loafers according to most authorities, perhaps seen with suits more than any other casual shoe. Executed in dark suede, the effect sends seriously mixed messages: dark but textured, fussily trimmed yet appropriate, rakish yet conservative. This beguiling mixture is perhaps what placed tassels in the wardrobes of style icons like Cary Grant, and still sees them worn by leaders of both fashion and classical style.
Versatility, by contrast, might not possess the same obvious allure as nonchalance, but I’ve always viewed it as a shortcut to personal style, enabling light packing and confident deployment. Color is perhaps the most important aspect to versatility, and in this regard the family of dark reds—from light burgundy to deep oxblood—are difficult to beat for their ability to adapt to whatever they accompany, whether charcoal worsted or faded denim. Any reasonable loafer in one of these shades is going to be versatile, but something with a little detail, like a full-strap penny, is bound to quickly become a favorite. The full-strap design, in particular, has something sporting about it—a whiff of functionality that, if the toe-box has remained slim, doesn’t sacrifice any elegance.
Exciting language aside, loafers do seem to inhabit a particularly sacred place in most men’s wardrobes. I can trace my admiration of the genre to battered Weejuns worn through grade school. I wouldn’t wear that particular style again, but the spirit perseveres through the above two styles, and about a dozen other, colorfully named loafers.