When we think about classic men’s shoes’ countries of origin, we tend to think about the heavy hitters: The United Kingdom, Italy, and the United States. Obviously, high-quality shoes are made in plenty of other countries, but we still tend to think of the aforementioned three as the big innovators of styles that have been imitated the world over.
One exception to this is Norway. How did Norway end up contributing not just one, but two of the most common pairs of shoes that men wear to the footwear canon?
Brief History Of Norwegian Shoemaking
Interestingly, we can attribute the creation of Norwegian-style shoes to what seems to be the countries’ residents talents with multi-tasking. During the off-season, Norwegian fisherman would sew together peasant shoes. These were exported to Great Britain, and American tourists in 1930’s London fell in love with the style.
As stated above, there are two styles of shoe that we can refer to as “Norwegian”:
Loafer: The Weejun
Though made popular in the United States by G.H. Bass, the Weejun gets its name as a corruption of the last part of the word “Norwegian.” A shoe whose construction is based on the Native American moccasin, it’s essentially a penny loafer made with a moccasin construction. Nowadays they’re available in versions with penny straps, tassels, and more.
Originally leisure slippers sold to Europeans to wear at resorts, American manufacturers such as Bass put a sole and heel on it.
Though it was originally a summer shoe, these became popular year round in men’s casual wardrobes and are still a go-to style today.
Lace-up: The Norwegian
Norway is also credited with the invention of a particular style of lace-up shoe. As you can see, the shoe is structurally a derby (or a blucher, whichever you prefer to call it). What makes it a “Norwegian” is that its upper resembles the construction of a moccasin: sides stitched to a separate piece of leather that covers the instep.
The original version was made of heavy-duty leather uppers and had thick country soles. Nowadays, the shoe is available as a dress blucher with a leather sole and heel. It’s quite common in the States to wear this shoe with suits and other tailored clothing.
The easiest way to tell that a lace-up shoe is a Norwegian is to look for a vertical seam that bisects the toe box. This is really the defining characteristic of the shoe.
How To Wear Norwegians
Both Norwegian styles are still incredibly popular today after having been around for decades. This is due to their versatility and stylishness. Below, we go over some of the best ways to wear Norwegians.
Formality: Lace-up Versus Loafer
The Weejun loafer is an inherently casual shoe. It’s made in a wide variety of colors and materials, though, so it’s quite versatile within the casual sphere. It’s not uncommon to see this shoe paired with business suits in the United States, but this is a sartorial oxymoron that you should avoid. Generally, Weejuns of any color or material are best worn with:
- Casual trousers
- Very casual suits in light colors. Think light grey or cream in cotton or linen.
Lace-up Norwegians, on the other hand, have a bit more of a formal vibe to them. While not appropriate for evening wear, this shoe can be dressed down or up pretty easily depending on color. Our primary suggestions are as follows:
- Light-colored suede Norwegian with rubber soles: jeans, casual trousers, odd jackets and trousers
- Brown or black Norwegians with leather soles: Business suits (navy and grey), dark “dress” denim, slacks
Norwegians of any style can work wonderfully any time of year. All you have to do is be selective regarding color, really. While this isn’t Norwegian-specific, the rule of thumb is to wear lighter colors in the warmer months and darker colors in the colder months.
Weejuns in particular look great with no-show socks when it’s warm outside. Try it with some tailored trousers and wait for the compliments.
Here are some suggestions by season, but know that you can branch out from here for sure:
- Spring: Tan suede or leather, bright colors
- Summer: White or bone suede or nubuck
- Autumn: Medium brown or burgundy leather or cordovan
- Winter: Black or chocolate suede or leather
The Best Makers
Who makes the best pair of Norwegians? If we’re talking about the loafer, here are our pics:
For lace-ups, here are some of our favorites:
As always, if you have a pair that you love, tell us about it in the comments!
Should I Buy Norwegian Shoes? Our Thought
We think so. In fact, if your typical day involves you dressing casually, it’s smart for you to buy them early in your wardrobe building, and it’s not a bad idea to invest in a pair of each style.
If you tend to dress in jackets and ties four or five days a week, buy lace-up Norwegians with leather soles so that you can flex them easily into your wardrobe. The penny loafer “Weejun” version can be worn after hours or on weekends, so get a pair in a versatile color like a medium brown.
Happy hunting, gentlemen!