HISTORY OF THE PENNY LOAFER DESIGN
Did you know the style dates back to Norway in the early 1930s?
After learning his shoemaking skills in America, Norwegian Nils Gregoriusson Tveranger designed a new slip-on shoe. Called the Aurland moccasin is was also knows as the Aurland shoe.
Nils Gregoriussen Tveranger
Taking inspiration from the moccasin shoes worn by native Indians in North America, and the simple slip-ons on the feet of Norwegian fishermen, the first design was born.
Popularity grew and export orders were sent across Europe and America. Esquire magazine even featured an article with photographs of Norwegian farmers wearing the shoe in cattle loafing sheds.
Soon after, the Spaulding family of New Hampshire, USA, began manufacturing a similar shoe, called The Loafer. This name later became a generic term used to describe a slip-on, moccasin shoe.
In 1934, G. H. Bass made his first version of the loafer which he called Weejuns. This appears to be a play on words on the origin of the original designer - Norwegian. A distinctive feature of this new design was a strip of leather stitched across the saddle of the shoe, featuring a shaped cutout.
In 1950s America before trainers were invented, the Weejun became the shoe of choice for young men and students. It became fashionable to keep a dime in the half moon cut out slot of the leather strip. This eventually gave the shoes their colloquial name of Penny Loafer, which is still used today.
A bespoke shoe company based in London that was established in 1847 developed the first loafer as a country house shoe for the landed gentry and the royal family. The "Wildsmith Loafer" made by Raymond Lewis Wildsmith of Wildsmith Shoes, was designed for King George VI as a casual house shoe. The shoe has subsequently been marketed and sold by other London shoe firms and dubbed "the Harrow".
Shoemaker Nils Gregoriusson Tveranger (1874–1953) in Aurland, Norway, introduced his first design around 1908. Tveranger obtained protection for the design. N. Tveranger obtained a diploma at the Bergen exhibition in 1910 for his "Aurland shoe".The first Aurland shoes were also made with laces and a decorative upper side similar to the brogue shoe. Colors were initially natural until approximately 1960 when they were also painted black. At age 13 Tveranger went to North America where he learned the craft of shoemaking and returned to Norway age 20. Around 1930, Tveranger introduced a new design called the "Aurland moccasin", later renamed the "Aurland shoe". This design resembles the moccasins used by the Iroquois as well as the design of moccasin-like shoes traditionally worn by locals in Aurland. These traditional shoes resembled slippers and were useful outdoor in fine weather. In 1936 the local shoe handcraft in Aurland was described as a "very old industry" and shoes were sold in large numbers to foreign visitors.[A 1953 catalogue listed about 10 shoe factories in the small village of Aurland.When exported the USA the Aurland shoes were called "Norwegian Moccasins". The Norwegians began exporting them to the rest of Europe, where they were taken up by visiting Americans, and championed by the American Esquire magazine. Some photographs included with the Esquire feature were of Norwegian farmers in a cattle loafing area.The Spaulding family in New Hampshire started making shoes based on this design in the early 1930s, naming them loafers, a general term for slip-on shoes which is still in use in America. In 1934, G.H. Bass (a bootmaker in Wilton, Maine) started making loafers under the name Weejuns (sounding like Norwegians).The distinctive addition was a strip of leather across the saddle with a diamond cut-out. Initially only worn in the summer at home, the shoe grew in popularity in America to become a significant part of men's casual shoe wardrobe; in Europe the style has never reached the same degree of ubiquity.
The term penny loafer has uncertain beginnings. One explanation is when American prep school students in the 1950s, wishing to make a fashion statement, took to inserting a penny into the diamond-shaped slit on their Weejuns. Another theory is that two pennies could be slipped into the slit, enough money to make an emergency phone call in the 1930s. This, however, is an urban legend, as pay phone calls in the USA have never been less than five cents, nor have the pay phones ever accepted pennies. Either way, the name penny loafer came to be applied to this style of slip-on and has since stuck. The practice continues, especially among those who remain committed to a classic and refined but still scholarly appearance, such as lawyers.
In the mid-1950s, further continental influences brought a more elegant image to light, lower-cut slip-ons, which moved from purely casual use to being paired with suits in the 1960s (but still only in America). In 1966, Italian designer Gucci made the further step of adding a metal strap across the front in the shape of a horse's snaffle bit. These Gucci loafers (now a general term referring to shoes of this style by any manufacturer) also spread over the Atlantic and were worn by 1970s businessmen, becoming almost a Wall Street uniform, reaching widespread use by the 1980s.
At the start of the twenty-first century, a revival of penny loafers, whose popularity had peaked during the mid to late 1960s and again during the early 1980s to early 1990s, occurred, with the shoe appearing in a more rugged version, closer to the original concept, as either moccasins, or espadrilles, both of these styles being very low or flat without heels. This resurgence was most noticeable at college campuses across America.
Another variation on the basic style is the tassel loafer, which emerged in the 1950s. Again, though casual, their gradual acceptance among the American East Coast prep school culture as equivalent to brogues (wingtips), has led to them being worn there with suits, where they gained an association with business and legal classes.