The History of the Penny Loafer
The penny loafer is an American classic born more than 70 years ago. The shoes have remained popular throughout the decades because their simple, uncluttered lines make them an ideal accessory for a variety of outfits, from business suits to shorts.
Today I have a brown pair made by Clarks (above) and they are really comfortable, bought in Piacenza for 115 euros last year – the classic Frank Wright cut, but slightly softer leather and not high, high gloss. My last pair were by ‘Bally’ bought in Heathrow airport terminal 4 lounge 1995 and lasted 15 years priced at £75.
Above: Note this French loafer’s chunky front end… very cool
My first pair were black, from Peckham Sarf London – Rye Lane arcade, Frank Wright £4.50, in 1973. My mum bought them for me and my brother a pair of Solatios – a chunckier squarer toe style.
The G.H. Bass shoe company introduced the original version of the shoe in 1936, calling it the Weejun. The name refers to the flat slip-on shoes worn by Norwegian farmers.
Loafers existed before the introduction of the Weejun. In 1933, the Spaulding Leather Company turned out its version of the loafer. Bass, however, was the first company to add the band with its signature opening. In the 1970s, the shoes became an essential part of the Preppy look. Bass introduced a slimmer version of the shoe called the Dover Weejun in 2009.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Weejun wearers started slipping dimes–the price of a pay telephone call–into the shoe pockets. Pennies, the shinier the better, came later as a matter of style.
Penny loafers have inspired numerous imitations in wide price ranges. A leather Prada version is priced at nearly $400, whereas the leather Bass Weejun sells for $125.