Ah, tassel loafers. By definition, they’re just laceless shoes that have decorative tassels (which are simply the ends of leather laces) hanging from the vamp. They often have a 360-degree lacing system, but not always. They can be made in a true loafer construction (moccasin upper stitched to a separate sole and heel), a slip-on dress style (upper constructed more like a wholecut shoe) or in more of a moccasin construction, like driving shoes with tassels.
Available with kiltie flaps, broguing, and other types of ornamentation, tassel loafers are widely available at various price points and materials.
Interestingly, they’re a source of a bit of controversy. American men seem to have no qualms about wearing these with suits, whereas European men historically have looked down their noses at the practice. Some younger guys can wear them to great effect, whereas others come off as either whippersnappers or man-children who raided Dad’s closet.
This New York Times article from 1993 provides some fascinating insight into how tassel loafers were politicized. Apparently it was common at the time to insult political opponents by insinuating that they or their associates wore tassel loafers. The implication was one of preppy elitism and effeteness. Lawyers were typically on the receiving end of these barbs.
Let’s dive into how the tassel loafer came to be and how to wear it.
History Of The Tassel Loafer
The tassel loafer is an American invention, being introduced to the footwear market after the Second World War. Alden, the famous Massachusetts-based shoemaker, claims to have produced the original. In the early 1950’s, they were often two-toned, with the vamps being white and the rest of the upper being another color.
When Brooks Brothers introduced the style into their storefronts a few years later, that cemented the tassel loafer’s status as a preppy, country clubby shoe.
Since then, they’ve indeed been popular with the preppy set, but they’ve been popular with American business men as well. Lawyers, bankers, and stock brokers all have a reputation for wearing tassels.
As visibly successful men in these professions tend to not be under forty, it’s no surprise that this shoe isn’t associated with youth.
How To Wear Tassel Loafers
Many brands that cater to young men sell these loafers despite a reputation as old-mannish and elitist. How can these be worn without coming off as an octogenarian?
Vamp Height, Material, & Styling
The key is in how high the vamp hits on your foot. Slip-ons with low vamps (that is, ending closer to the toe than the ankle) tend to be geared towards older men, whereas those with higher vamps tend to have a younger vibe. This applies to tassel loafers as well.
This isn’t to say that low-vamped shoes are totally off-limits to younger men, nor that shoes with longer vamps will look silly on older men.
One of the archetypical colors we think of with tassel loafers is burgundy. While this is certainly a rich color, it has a particularly geriatric effect when seen on tassel loafers. Try a sand or chocolate suede, or perhaps a British tan leather to inject a little youth into them.
Finally, what you wear with them is important. Suede tassel loafers look great with no-show socks in the summer, and leather tassels can look awesome with the right jeans or casual trousers.
Just don’t wear them with those black crew socks and pleated khakis, capiche?
Tassel loafers’ formality is one of the more hotly debated aspects of their existence. Are they too casual for suits, or do they work? Are they business casual, business professional, or neither?
A safe bet is that they are too casual for business suits in more sartorially conservative industries like law, government, and finance. However, a stylish tassel loafer with a suit worn more for fun than for a board meeting can look quite dapper.
Like so many things in life, context is key.
- Suede or leather tassel loafers or mocs in tan, brown, or chocolate: jeans and casual trousers
- Calfskin or cordovan in black, brown, or burgundy: odd jackets & trousers and suits (no business suits, please!)
As tassel loafers are made in a myriad of colors and materials, they can be worn any time of year. Below, we offer some suggestions for colors and materials organized by season:
- Spring: Light brown, tan, or blue suede or leather in moccasin or loafer versions
- Summer: White, cream, or bone suede moccasins
- Autumn: Chocolate brown suede, leather, or cordovan loafer
- Winter: Burgundy, black, or dark brown leather
Top Tassel Makers
There are plenty of brands who make high-quality tassel loafers at a wide range of price points. The blue nubuck pair pictured above is a super unique one that was made by Undandy; we linked to them below, and you should check them out. Here are some other brands that we feel do a great job, but please let us know who else you like in the comments!
Owning Tassel Loafers
In closing, we think that the tassel loafer is a fine item, and every man of style should have a pair or two in his closet.
The key is to make sure that you’re wearing them in a way that exudes style and a certain sense of ease. When Italian men wear brown suede tassel loafers with navy trousers and light blue dress shirts on a Vespa, this is what we have in mind.
On the flip side of that coin, when American men wear them as “dress” shoes with oversized business suits, this is not what we have in mind.
With that said, if you wear suits regularly, a tassel loafer can be your casual Friday shoe. By all means, wear it to the office with some casual trousers and a button-down collar shirt with no tie. It can be a shoe yo acquire early on in your wardrobe building too. Having a pair of these in the rotation will allow you to let your oxfords and derbies rest for an additional day.
If you’re a more casual dresser and are into the aesthetic, pick up a couple pairs in some different colors and styles. Make it your thing.