The Shoe Styles I've known of: Tassel Loafers
In his first outing as James Bond, Roger Moore wore a memorable outfit of Navy Chesterfield Coat, Royal Navy tie, flannel suit, and black leather gloves. Finishing off this classically British outfit was an unorthodox choice of footwear; the black tassel loafer.
Considered a bizarre hybrid shoe of US origin, the tassel loafer did not gain widespread acceptance in business wear until the heady eighties. Thus, the choice for Sir Roger to don these shoes in 1973 for his first on-screen portrayal as Bond was a bold stylistic choice. Moving away from the plain derbies and oxfords that had shod 007 to date was a prophetic move, as the tassel loafer has now truly established itself in the pantheon of classical styles.
The oft-told origin story of the tassel loafer involves the skilled and stylish actor Paul Lukas, who commissioned Alden of New England to reimagine a style of shoes from his home country of Hungary, which has its own rich shoe-making history. The resulting ‘tassel moccasins’ were a huge hit amongst both Hollywood actors and Ivy league students of the fifties, albeit only for informal settings.
In the eighties, the tassel loafer truly hit its stride in social acceptance, becoming the ubiquitous footwear of Armani-suited Wall Street traders and expensive city lawyers. This trope is evinced by the quip used by George Bush against his political rival Bill Clinton, who he claimed was supported by “every lawyer that ever wore a tasseled loafer”.
Political and moral associations aside, the tassels loafer is enjoying a quiet renaissance amongst style cognoscenti at present, who are embracing the slip-ons’ practicality, comfort, and slightly off-kilter visual appeal. Indeed, the ‘new normal’ of business casual dress embraces the elegant simplicity of styles such as this, and many shoemakers have seen an increase in demand for loafers and dress boots recently. Tassel loafers provide a unique and timeless silhouette that suits an individual looking to build a rounded wardrobe. In this article, as previously, we will investigate nine models in three price brackets that exemplify the style and quality that one should seek for versatility and longevity.
Being a slightly more unique style, the options for this shoe at any price level is somewhat limited. In saying this, several fantastic options can be found from both heritage and nascent brands at every level. In the attainable bracket of under $400 USD, expect good quality, if slightly imperfect leathers from established tanneries. One should aim for Goodyear welting, but loafers are one style of footwear that may be preferred in a Blake-stitched construction, leading to a slimmer, lower profile shoe.
All of the options presented here are Goodyear-welted, displaying the preferences of the author, but many other options (such as Blake stitching) are available. Full, partial, or no leather linings are all options, although fabric linings can present issues over long-term wear. Traditionally, loafers are made with leather soles, although several manufacturers are experimenting with Dainite and ‘city-rubber’ soles, which might provide trans-seasonal options for this shoe.
Option 1. Loake 1880 Russell Polo suede
Crafted on the aptly named College last, this beautiful soft round-toed loafer screams elegant summer wear and resort-style. The last itself has a slightly lower instep and shorter toe box as is typical for loafer-specific lasts. They should fit most medium-width feet quite well, although trying loafers on prior to purchase is always advised.
Although not explicitly specified, the authors’ experience of this suede would suggest that it hails from the famous C.F Stead tannery in England, which is responsible for providing most of the suede for high-end English dress shoes. This perfect shade of suede would suit being worn sockless with navy swim trunks, a one-piece collar denim shirt, a dive watch, and a great pair of sunglasses for a beach-ready look.
These shoes are made to look remarkably similar to a popular model of another lauded Northampton shoemaker, and thus, provide fantastic value for the resulting aesthetic. Although the linings and make may not be on the same level, this is one area where the diminishing returns of high-end footwear might be experienced.
Whilst the Loake 1880 range is fully made in England, readers should note that many of the lesser lines from Loake are either partially or fully made in their Indian facility. This may or may not matter to some, but the quality of the 1880 range is where the author would suggest starting for someone who truly cares about quality shoes.
Option 2. Löf & Tung Alvares Black Calf
Löf & Tung is a marque that is quickly becoming established in the minds of shoe lovers across the globe. Extremely high quality to price ratio, fine details of make, and classically-inclined styles are all present in Löf & Tung’s catalog.
These loafers might sound relatively uninteresting on paper, but the details like closed-channel stitching on the leather sole, braided leather laces, and finely stitched upper detailing add up to more than the sum of their parts in true gestalt fashion. The striking almond T loafer last and high-quality German Weinheimer leather uppers add to the composition.
In addition to their extensive and constantly evolving current catalog, Löf & Tung offers a made-to-order service with a large range of upper materials, house styles, lasts, and soles to choose from. Speaking of uniqueness, an interesting outfit combination for this loafer could be olive green chinos, a white shirt, a black knit tie, and a grey flannel sports coat for a preppy but relaxed look.
Option 3. Allen Edmonds Grayson in Coffee
Allen Edmonds is a veritable institution in the US quality shoe field and has been making variations of the tassel loafer style for over half a century. They have earned a reputation for making shoes of incomparable comfort, due to the 360-degree welt and deep cork midsole that – in conjunction with the full-length leather insole – moulds to an individual’s foot over time. This author can attest to the long-term comfort of this marque, even compared to shoes costing many times more.
These loafers are Goodyear welted on the 97 last, a soft round almond toe, entirely in the USA. This last has exceptional fitting qualities for normal feet and can often be purchased un-tried with great results for a loafer. They feature single oak-bark tanned leather soles and a very versatile mid-brown shade of calf-skin upper called ‘coffee’.
They would pair excellently with a pair of mid-grey fresco trousers, a navy hopsack blazer, and a regimental tie for a classically Ivy-league-inspired take on business casual, perfect for the modern workplace.
Here we move into the next price bracket, from $400 to $800 USD. We start to approach a degree of diminishing marginal returns. Perhaps only ten years ago, this price bracket (adjusted for inflation of course) was the starting point for a really good pair of shoes.
In today’s market of direct-to-consumer brands, efficient production models, and globalised manufacturing, many brands are able to offer a product hitherto unimaginable for the price. In saying that, this price bracket does still offer some really tangible benefits, such as established heritage make, exceptional finishing, enhanced quality control, and higher-end upper materials.
Option 1. Carmina 80367 in Brown Suede
Carmina is a brand that has become a byword for exceptional finishing and traditional styles on sleek Continental lasts. Based on the famous Spanish isle of Mallorca, the family-owned business continues to produce shoes at a quality level on par with the most famous British and American makers.
Prices have slowly been rising over the past decade as footwear devotees have discovered their true value, and as such, do not pose the bargain proposition they once did. The unimaginatively named 80367 model above, however, shows why they still provide a desirable option in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
This loafer is made with dark brown suede on the marque's famous Forest last, which has a classically round toe with a slightly higher toe box and roomy forefoot. Beautiful detailing like closed-channel sole stitching, fine welt-fudging and braided tassels all add drama to this elegant shoe. These could be worn all the way from smart linen trousers up to a light grey Glen Urquhart plaid suit in fine worsted.
Option 2. Crockett Jones Cavendish polo suede
Taking the first position on many most-popular lists of tassel loafers amongst the #menswear community is the Cavendish by renowned Northampton maker Crockett & Jones. Perfectly encapsulating the ‘International Italian Ivy’ aesthetic sensibilities commonly found amongst modern tastemakers, this model perfectly straddles the line between being intentional and relaxed all at once.
Built upon the immensely popular ‘modern round’ 325 last in a fetching polo suede, this model has seen many imitators. Crockett & Jones have gone from strength to strength in recent years, from being aligned with the Bond franchise (on Daniel Craig’s personal insistence) and developing a fervent community-based online presence. While many may decry the premium price for these shoes or the relatively unsophisticated bottom finishing, the very high-quality upper materials and meticulous quality control are undeniable.
Option 3. Alden tassel loafer Colour 8 Cordovan
Alden is undoubtedly the purist’s choice of tassel loafer. Being the original creator of the style, and having one of the most copied designs leads many to associate the brand with the style. In particular, the tassel loafer in Colour 8 Cordovan is one of the shoes most associated with the ‘Trad’ style. Paired with a scholarly Harris tweed jacket, rumpled blue OCBD, and corduroy trousers, it is the epitome of New England relaxed style. '
The quality and longevity of the Horween Shell Cordovan uppers are beyond reproach. With correct care, these uppers can undergo up to ten resoles, and even become an heirloom item. That such a premium material can be found on a heritage brand in this middle price tier actually presents an incredible value option.
From here, we progress into the upper stratosphere of footwear, with names that elicit hushed whispers of admiration amongst footwear cognoscenti. Svelte lasts, hand-stitching, the highest-quality upper materials, and near-perfect execution are some of the hallmarks of shoes in this category. While these improvements come at a significant cost increase, for truly committed shoe-lovers it may be well worth the price of admission.
Option 1. Edward Green Belgravia in Dark Oak
Edward Green has produced what will undoubtedly become a classic design in the Belgravia loafers. Utilising the 184 last originally optimised for penny loafers, this round-toed design benefits from additional refinements such as braided tassels, decorative rear stitching, and toe burnishing. This adds to a design that while still traditional, bespeaks sophisticated modernity that has come to define the name of Edward Green.
The uppers are cut of the highest-possible quality burnished leather in a shade called dark oak, which is supremely versatile and the perfect hue to develop a unique patina over time. All other materials, from the oak bark tanned soles to the incredibly soft lining leather are without peer. This shoe is a masterclass in subtle refinement.
Option 2. Stefano Bemer E1327 brown suede
Built in Florence upon the C last, which forms the basis for most of the bespoke offerings from Stefano Bemer, this loafer takes the traditional format in a striking and very Continental direction.
This is exemplified in the very high and tight apron stitching, which presents a slightly more formal toe shape. This is offset by the very casual material of dark brown suede, which could pair beautifully with a grey flannel chalk-stripe suit or dark wash denim jeans, and a green military field jacket.
Bemer’s Essenziale collection seeks to bring bespoke styles and details into a ready-to-wear format. They present a very unique proposition to access these styles without the investment of time and money in going fully bespoke.
Option 3. JM Weston Icon tassel loafer in black box-calf
For the SAPEURS - the self-styled ‘Dandies of the Congo’- buying a pair of JM Weston shoes is tantamount to the realization of a life-long dream. Such is the respect and admiration of the marque, that the equivalent of a house deposit is sacrificed for the pleasure of owning a pair. While this level of investment in footwear is perhaps not the wisest financial decision, it stands to reason that a pair of shoes from this storied French manufacturer should last a lifetime.
Compared to the hugely popular and influential ‘180’ penny loafer, this tasseled model is relatively unknown but utilizes many of the same design features, such as the ‘modern round toe’ last and sleek black box calf upper. The shoe is made in the Limoge factory using ‘extra-slow vegetable tanned’ leather and has a fully hand-stitched apron. In highly polished black box-calf, the quintessential Gallic chic of this shoe can be shown to full advantage.
While a slightly unusual choice of footwear, the wearing of a pair of tassel loafers will mark one as an individual to whom dressing well is a choice, not a necessity. Because of that stylistic intentionality, they present the perfect opportunity to explore different materials such as suede or cordovan. Being versatile pairs of shoes in an increasingly business-casual world themselves, the tassel absolutely deserves consideration in a rounded wardrobe, and the above models will provide years of service with the correct care and attention.
Disclaimer: Any views represented in this article belong solely to the author and may not represent those of the blog owner. This article is not sponsored by any brands.
Photography: as stated, otherwise own