A bit loafer is a laceless shoe that traditionally has a piece of metal running horizontally across the vamp. Invented and popularized by Gucci in the 1960’s, it’s widely known as a “Gucci loafer” in the same way that tissues are often referred to as “Kleenex.”
The classic bit loafer as we know it has a separate sole and heel, but they can be made more casually with a driving shoe-style sole as well. Either way, the upper is constructed in a moccasin style.
Bit loafers are available ready-to-wear or custom-made in a wide variety of colors and materials. Leather, suede, nubuck, and exotic skins are all fair game. The bit itself often appears in metals that appear silver or gold, but theoretically it could be any material you might like.
Birth Of The Bit: Gucci
Let’s get something straight right off the bat: while Gucci did not invent the slip-on shoe (more colloquially known as a “loafer”), they did invent the bit loafer. You will see many imitations, some of which are quite good. Just keep in mind that Gucci did it first.
Anyway, back in 1953, Gucci released their bit loafer in an effort to combine the comfort of a casual moccasin with the elegance of a dressy lace-up. Gucci was an equestrian-focused leather company at the turn of the 20th century, and the firm had earned a reputation for making fine leather goods by this time. They were looking to diversify their product offering.
The original shoe was made of a heavy saddle leather instead of the lightweight calfskin that’s used today, which was a nod to their equestrian heritage.
Not only were they the pioneers of the style, Gucci’s prototype -slimmed down with soft leather and sleek proportions- became so popular in the 1960’s that it began to be worn with suits in the United States. They are still worn like this today.
Fun fact: George H.W. Bush used to take meetings in Washington while wearing his Gucci loafers.
How The Bit Loafer Got Its Name
At the time they invented the bit loafer, Gucci had a reputation for making leather horseback riding saddles. When they opened an office in the United States in the early 1950’s, the shoe was considered too casual for city wear by everyone except continental Italians (that is to say, not Italian-Americans). They added a piece of metal adornment across the vamp in the shape of a horse’s snaffle bit, which both cemented the shoe’s place as a dressy slip-on option and gave it its name.
The shoe is so iconic that it’s on permanent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and has been for over thirty years.
How To Wear Men’s Bit Loafers
Two Styles Of Loafer & Their Formality
The bit loafer covers a lot of ground. It combines elegance with ease in a way that no other shoe really does, and a big reason for that is that they’re available in two main construction styles:
- Moccasin construction: Similar to driving shoes or camp moccasins. Very casual, better for jeans and after-work / weekend trousers.
- Dress construction: Sole and heel reminiscent of traditional oxford shoes. Dressier, better with suits, dark denim, and odd jackets and trousers.
Those men with more traditional sensibilities will likely avoid wearing bit loafers with suits but enthusiastically embrace wearing them with odd jackets and trousers, which are a bit more casual.
You can wear bit loafers any time of year at nearly any time of day or night. They are not technically appropriate for black- or white-tie affairs. We offer some suggestions for color and material by season below:
- Spring: Lighter colors of suedes and leathers like tan and light brown (dress or moccasin style)
- Summer: Bright non-standard colors, beige nubuck or suede moccasin style
- Autumn: Medium brown and black pebbled leather (dress or moccasin style)
- Winter: Black or chocolate suede (dress style)
Socks Or Sockless?
In recent years, it’s become fashionable to wear nearly any shoe without socks. This practice has been applied to shoes traditionally considered to be appropriate for it (espadrilles, driving shoes) and shoes traditionally considered to be inappropriate for it (oxfords, double monkstraps).
A good rule of thumb is to allow yourself to go sockless in a bit loafer with moccasin-style sole, not a dress-style sole, because the more casual shoe syncs better with the casual exclusion of socks. With that said, truly stylish men will be able to pull off a sockless look with a dressy bit loafer, though we advise playing it safe and putting on proper socks if you plan to see client or have a big meeting with the boss. If it’s a mid-summer dinner date, though? Lose the socks if you want to, bro.
Either way, we recommend a no-show sock to avoid ruining the insides of your shoes. These will also avoid ruining the inside of your house, which will smell horrendous when you remove any shoe after a day of going sockless in them.
Who Makes The Best Bit Loafers?
Gucci is the obvious first choice here, but man cannot survive on one shoe brand alone. Who else makes bit loafers worth wearing?
Parting Thoughts & Wardrobe Advice
Where does the bit loafer belong in a man’s closet? Specifically, at what point in your shoe wardrobe development should you seriously consider buying a pair?
Compared to oxfords, penny loafers, and other classic models, it’s not a “crucial” shoe to own. You can get by without bit loafers, for sure.
However, because of the immense sartorial ground they can cover, you should consider them as a sixth or seventh shoe to round out a basic collection.