< Back

SPARE PENNIES IN YOUR CLOSET

BY HAILEY GABRON

BY HAILEY GABRON

10. 21. 22

TheLittleBlackDress (1).PNG

I still remember the nose-tingling crispness of my first pair of penny loafers. As I lifted the lid to the box, the oaky aroma of the rich chestnut leather permeated the air. I examined the shoes in their hefty box, all the individual elements became a sum of their parts, and I admired the subtle complexities of this often overlooked closet staple. The cut out slot on the band, the laceless design, and the moccasin-like style exceeded my expectations. I proudly sported my new penny loafers around and quickly recognized the versatility of their use: whether it was strutting into my economics class, grabbing a coffee from M36, or picking up groceries at Trader Joes, they were perfect for any occasion where I wanted to look and feel good. Not only is the penny loafer a classic staple dating to 1936, it has been a gateway to accessible style for the masses – within fashion at schools and in corporate settings.

The birth of the loafer started with a Norwegian fisherman crafting leather shoes bound together by a wide band on the instep. Inspired by the Norwegian’s innovation, American and English shoemakers began to replicate this distinctive style. In 1936, George H. Bass, one of these American shoemakers, labeled the style of shoes “Weejuns,” after their Norwegian origin. The Weejuns grew in popularity and became widely known as “penny loafers” because girls would slip a penny into the iconic slots of the leather straps. It even became practice for young women to hide dimes in their penny loafers in order to make phone calls in emergency situations.

From the 1940s to the late 1960s, the popularity of the unisex shoe dominated American college campuses. The penny loafer attracted students with a low initial price of $6.50 and its international origin. The slip-on design of penny loafers made them perfect for students running late to class and could be paired with everything from uniform skirts to khaki shorts to denim. The penny loafer was consistently worn throughout the years because of the durability of the leather and adaptive nature able to withstand any season. The 1980s classic, The Official Preppy Handbook, a guide on how to act and dress in accordance with prep life, featured penny loafers on the cover and reminisced on their powerful influence on university style. At their peak, penny loafers were deemed “the thing on the feet of those who are with it” by the University of North Carolina student newspaper. The undergrads of the 1960’s passed down their love for loafers through generations of college students, all the way to the class of 2026.

Today there are many contemporary interpretations of the humble penny loafer now sold by countless mainstream brands ranging from luxury behemoth Hermes to fast fashion Zara. The penny loafer has been revitalized to match today's trends with higher platforms, oversized buckles, assorted fabrics, bright embroidery, and new striking colors. In particular, Gucci is known for their interpretation of the penny loafer which is garnished with the classic Gucci hardware spanning the instep. In 1974, a pair of Gucci loafers was approximately 59 USD and with inflation today, a women’s loafer starts at an upwards of 850 dollars. Due to the shoes’ function as a growing status symbol, the price is ever-increasing as the clothing item is expanding in popularity worldwide.

Sources:
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-best-in-fashion-history-penny-loafers-forgotten-suitcases-and-hermes-scarves-153872510/
https://americanaclassicvintage.wordpress.com/2010/05/11/penny-loafers/
https://www.nytimes.com/1974/12/21/archives/but-at-gucci-youd-think-people-had-money-to-burn.html