Boat shoes. Camp mocs. Gucci loafers. Driving shoes. Technically, these are all different styles of moccasins.
As you can see, moccasins are difficult to pin down.
Historically, they’re defined as a slip-on shoe made from one piece of leather: the sole and sides were stitched together at the top of the shoe. Often (and almost exclusively nowadays) there will be an additional panel of leather that constitutes the shoe’s vamp.
They have been around for ages and are one of the most classic shoes in the menswear canon. They work beautifully as a casual shoe, and they’re renowned for their exceptional comfort.
The term “moccasin” gets thrown around a lot, though. Sometimes it refers to a heel-less shoe, sometimes it refers to a particular construction of the upper, and it sometimes refers to slippers that are constructed in a moccasin style.
So, what exactly are they?
Moccasin History: The Native Americans
North America’s indigenous peoples are credited with the invention of a multitude of things, the moccasin being one of them. These are the archetypical one-piece shoes, and modern slippers beat a very close resemblance to them. As the soles were made from the same soft leather as the upper (often a deerskin), they were extremely flexible.
Structurally, mocs were made to protect the feet while allowing the wearer to feel the ground underneath. Aesthetically, there was often embroidery or beading on the upper. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this bears a resemblance to other shoes of the American Midwest and Southwest, specifically the cowboy boot.
An excellent early example of form meeting function, the word moccasin is a cognate of the Powhatan (Algonquian) word makasin, which simply meant “shoe.”
Common Types Of Moccasins
We’ll discuss three important moccasin styles below: the camp moc, the driving shoe, and the Norwegian.
Camp Moccasins: The Other L.L. Bean Classic
Leon Leonwood Bean is arguably most famous for inventing the duck boot, a waterproof boot made for hunters in the American Northeast. While this boot is still the company’s claim to fame, they’re also known for camp moccasins.
These were comfortable, casual shoes made to be worn around campfires, hence the name. L.L. Bean’s outdoorsy clientele loved them 75 or so years ago when they were first mass-produced, and they love them now.
Essentially a cool-weather boat shoe (another type of moccasin), the upper is constructed in a moccasin fashion, but it’s attached to a hard rubber sole and heel. It also uses a 360-degree lacing system like a boat shoe and is the only non-loafer style moccasin.
Driving Mocs: Italy’s Moccasin Contribution
Driving moccasins (which we’ve referred to as “driving shoes” and “drivers”) were invented in Italy in the mid-1950’s. Popularized by Tod’s, the name is not an accident; these are shoes made for driving.
They’re constructed like a moccasin, but have rubber nubs on the sole. This is to help the driver grip a car’s pedals more effectively.
Norwegians (or, Bass Weejuns)
A leather-soled penny loafer, this shoe is often referred to as a moccasin because the construction of the upper is similar to that of a classic moc. It gets its name from its country of origin, Norway (“weejun” is a corruption of the word “Norwegian”). This was, in fact, the first style of moccasin that used an additional piece of leather for the vamp.
The G.H. Bass company registered the name “weejun” in the 1930’s and makes the shoe to this day.
How To Wear Moccasins
No matter what style of moccasin you’re talking about, it’s casual. No suits or odd jackets and trousers, please.
The epitome of casual comfort, moccasins can be as dressed-down as slippers or dressed up with chinos or jeans, depending on the style.
- Jeans & Casual Trousers: Weejuns, driving mocs, camp mocs
- Shorts: drivers, camp mocs
- Bathrobe: Moccasin slippers
Mocs are available in a wide variety of colors, materials, and construction styles. Depending on the style, they can be worn any time of year! Here are some suggestions:
- Spring: Driver or Weejun in light colored leather
- Summer: Driver, Weejun, or boat shoe in non-standard colors, especially suede or nubuck
- Autumn: Camp moc in dark brown, Weejun or driver in dark brown or black leather
- Winter: Camp moc or Weejun in black or dark brown
Who Makes Great Moccasins?
As there are so many different styles, there are also many reputable manufacturers of moccasins. We’ve organized the list below by moccasin style, offering a couple of makers who do them well. Prices vary by company and style.
- Camp moccasin: L.L. Bean, Rancourt
- Driving shoe: Tod’s, Rancourt
- Weejun / Moccasin with dress sole & heel: Bass, Allen Edmonds
Final Thoughts – Should You Buy Mocs?
In a word, yes. There are so many different styles of moccasin that it’s nearly impossible to not own a pair.
With that said, you need to consider the type of wardrobe you have and buy moccasins that are in sync with that aesthetic. If you dress in a jacket and tie five days a week, you will want to focus on acquiring dressier styles, like Gucci loafers. If you’re a jeans and a button-down kind of guy, your world opens up a bit more as mocs are generally more casual.
Everyone has weekends and off-days though, so you should have at least one pair you like.