This month marks the 60th anniversary of Gucci’s famous horsebit loafer, which solidified itself in the preppy wardrobe sometime in the 1970s, where it remains to this day. Even a shoemaker as conservative as Alden sees fit to offer a version.
“The Official Preppy Handbook” puts the shoe in an interesting context, placing the oft-derided-for-flashiness bit loafer alongside such low-key staples as white bucks and LL Bean moccasins:
Here’s a passage from the oeuvre of G. Bruce Boyer (who’s actually old enough to have an oeuvre), writing about the bit loafer’s origins:
In the mid-1950s there was [the] development of the Gucci slip-on. There is no question that this now legendary shoe deserves its reputation for having revolutionized casual footwear, which is the reason a Gucci slip-on is included in the costume collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
The Florentine leather firm of Gucci began as a saddlery in the first decade of this century and quickly achieved a considerable reputation for high-quality craftsmanship, detail, and design. The family-owned firm then turned to luggage, handbags, and other small leather accessories, acquiring more cachet along the way, and inevitably began making high-quality and stylish shoes. The famous Gucci slip-on was actually designed, coincidentally enough, in the late 1930s – just about the time “Weejuns” were first being seen on campus. Although the original version was constructed of heavier saddle leather, the design was what it remains faithful to today: a successful effort to retain the comfort of the moccasin while adding the fashion and elegance of a dressy shoe. In short, it was the first shoe that bridged the gap between casual and business wear. This dressy slip-on was refined with fine, lightweight calfskin, a pared-down shape, and a metal snaffle bit, and as such it became avenue-elegant and gained acceptance in corporate board rooms and country clubs alike.
Asked for his memories of the shoe, Richard Press offered this observation:
Wore my first faux Gucci loafers from Barrie Ltd. in the mid-’60s and have absolutely no recollection who made them for Barrie. Phenomenally counterfeit, marginally weightier and with a slightly duller New England finish than the Italian version recognized only by connoisseurs of the original style. Difference was rationalized by Barrie’s attraction for Yalies with starter shoe well below Gucci’s price, plus “made in America,” an important consideration in Ivy circles.
For the ultimate in bit-loafer porn, check out the epic “Ode To The Bit Loafer” thread at Andy’s trad forum. Meanwhile, here are some images Ivy Style has run.
Back to school?
Illustration by Watatani:
By now you should be sufficiently inspired or repulsed, which means it’s time to vote:
Though its appeal in Tradsville is far less than penny loafers and tassel loafers, the bit loafer earned its place in the WASPy wardrobe through taste-driven natural selection. As Charlie Davidson said, “People made things a classic, not manufacturers. It’s people who made some things accepted and not others, otherwise how do we account for all the things that failed?”
Nothing in fashion happens by accident, and the Gucci horsebit loafer is one of those rare items still available in its original form 60 years later. The word “iconic” is thrown around indiscriminately in fashion media these days, but here’s one case in which it’s entirely apropos. — CC