When it comes to having a complete selection of shoe fashion to round out one’s wardrobe, the role of a versatile slip-on cannot be overstated. The epitome of comfort meeting practicality, a few dominant types of slip-on casual shoes are praised for their ability to be dressed up or down depending on what the occasion requires. Today we are going to focus on two of the most popular types, that—despite their many similarities—are also easily distinguished by some important differences. The subjects in question? The deceptively humble loafer and his trusty cousin the moccasin.
Same, same, but different
Originating on different continents and carrying unique identifying characteristics due to the traditions from which they hail, these two shoe styles are nevertheless united in the resurgence in popularity they are experiencing thanks to their ease of wear and adaptability. Now commonly worn by both men and women, there are many different ways to sport these outfit shoes fashionably.
So, in addition to covering the basic ways you can tell the two apart, we’ll dive a bit into the history that has shaped their trajectory, and offer some suggestions for how to make them shine as part of a well-assembled casual outfit.
Spotting key distinctions
Before we dig deeper into the origins of these two popular shoe styles, we’re going to run through the main things you need to keep in mind if you never want to mistake one for the other again. To the untrained eye, loafers and moccasins might look pretty much the same, but there are some consistent visual clues that define each one.
- Laces: To tell them apart right from the start, you can look at whether they have laces or not. Loafers don’t have any laces, while moccasins typically do. The laces you will find on moccasins are usually decorative and don’t have a tying function. Not all moccasins have laces, but if you’re looking at a flat slip-on shoe that does—you’re definitely dealing with a moccasin.
- Sole and heel: A second reliable difference between the two that is easy-to-spot is that moccasins tend to have a more prominent sole. On the other hand, Loafers can have a heel, while moccasins never do.
The leather factor
These days, you will find slip-on shoes available in a wide range of fabrics, including canvas, suede, leather, and synthetic leather. Traditionally speaking, though, the material of the shoe will give you a hint as to whether you’re dealing with a loafer or a moccasin.
Loafers are always supposed to be made from leather, while moccasins can be made out of suede or other materials as well. In addition, moccasins are usually fashioned from just one piece of material, while leather loafers can be made from multiple assembled pieces.
Of course, with the wide variety of shoes available today, you will indeed come across exceptions to these “rules,” such as suede shoes with no laces. Overall, though, these guidelines will give you a more informed perspective on the type of shoe you’re dealing with.
A tale of two continents
The origins of these two styles span both Scandinavia and North America.
The story of the loafer
Leather loafers are first known to be linked to Nowegian fishermen, who would wear two pieces of leather fastened with a strip across the bridge when they were working. These casual shoes were comfortable and robust and, after being noticed by European travellers in the 1930s, later became the casual shoe we know today.
As is often the case with innovative shoe designs, the first loafers caught the attention of visitors to Norway. Some claims suggest that the Norwegian locals noticed the keen interest of travellers’ in their fishermen’s footwear and began exporting them to the rest of Europe. Meanwhile, other accounts indicate that travellers were so eager to have a pair of their own that they actually purchased some of these shoes from the fishermen on their travels. After wearing them back in their home countries, the style caught on, and leather loafers quickly gained popularity.
The story of the moccasin
Moccasins, on the other hand, were first worn by Native American hunters and tradespeople. In fact, the word “moccasin” comes from the Algonquian language Powhatan words “makasin” and from the Proto-Algonquian word “maxkeseni,” which mean “shoe.” This shoe style plays an essential role in Native American culture, as it was vital to the tribes that, while hunting for food, killed animals were used for more than just meat. They believed that if you made the kill, no part of the animal would go to waste.
As the animal’s tough hide was not as easily fashioned into clothing, it was turned into a shoe. The sturdy material provided both comfort and warmth, and because foot protection was critical in the colder parts of the earth—the moccasin design soon spread quickly amongst Native American tribes.
How to wear the two shoe styles
Despite the difference in their origins and identifying characteristics, these two shoe designs serve a similar function from a stylistic perspective. As a result, they can often fulfil the same needs in a wardrobe. Now a staple in both menswear and womenswear, loafers and moccasins have become increasingly diverse and inventive, with designers pushing the boundaries of casual shoes and incorporating high-fashion flourishes with classic, comfortable style.
Offering a versatile look, casual loafers and moccasins can both be worn with denim and khakis and are perfect when sported sockless (or with invisible socks) and a pair of shorts during the warmer seasons. Our Bata shoes tip? Go for jeans and a t-shirt if you want to keep things casual. Alternatively, a shirt and chinos can add a touch of class if you’re looking for something a little more formal.
Loafers and moccasins have both retained many of their original characteristics over the years, but continue to evolve in fun and stylish ways. When made from quality material—luxury, style, and comfort mix beautifully in these simple slip-ons. So whether you want to complement a casual outfit or provide an interesting twist on a highly formal look—you almost can’t go wrong when it comes to adding a pair of moccasins or loafers to your wardrobe!