Even without their academic associations, loafers do have a smart look to them. There’s something perfectly preppy about a swanky horsebit buckle. It’s easy to imagine a kiltie fringe on one of the characters of The Secret History. But what has made loafers a classic is their chameleon quality — the shoes work with everything from disco-era flares to the most micro of mini-skirts to the slinkiest of slip dresses. To find the best options out there, we talked to loafer lovers — including stylists, designers, and our very own Strategist staffers. Below, you’ll find a mix of price-conscious classics, splurge-worthy heeled styles, and polarizing patent-leather pairs.
What we’re looking for
There are a number of different types of loafers out there. A few styles are fairly specific to men’s shoes, like the Belgian or the monk-strap loafer, so for this guide, we concentrated on those geared more toward women — that includes penny, tassel, horsebit, kiltie, driving, slipper, and lug-sole loafers. (We’ll get into what sets each style apart below.) Technically, lug soles are not a traditional feature of loafers. Although staunch traditionalists might not approve of their recent rise in popularity, we included them here because they happened to be a hit with our panelists. So if you’d like a shoe that’s more modern, the style is a good bet. And whenever a loafer could be considered a hybrid of one style and another, I relied on editorial judgment to categorize it.
Leather (or faux leather, which is basically just synthetic materials like plastic, if you’d like to get technical) is a catchall term for what most loafers are made of. But because we know there are lots of different preferences when it comes to leather — suede, patent, matte, polished — we broke it down by specifics, even noting which are real versus fake leather so you get all the details. Another important aspect: the sole. A rubber sole versus leather will fit and feel completely different. A rubber sole tends to wear down more quickly (it can also feel slippery, until it’s slightly scuffed up), whereas leather, with proper maintenance, will probably last a bit longer. With that in mind, a fully leather shoe will also cost more, since it’s more expensive to construct. There are exceptions to this observation; how long a shoe lasts also varies depending on how often you wear it and what conditions you’re wearing it in. But overall, it’s a pretty good rule of thumb. Sometimes, the material of the sole wasn’t listed — but when it was, I included that information.
Loafers are typically very simple shoes. But each pair, depending on the style, features little details that sets it apart. The first detail to look for is a penny strap, which is signature to, as you probably guessed, the penny loafer. This strap with a small hole in the center (big enough for a penny, as these Miu Mius show) comes in two different versions itself; it can be stitched over the vamp to the side of the shoe for a clean look or rolled underneath, turning it into a beef-roll penny loafer (because of its resemblance to a beef roll you’d find in a butcher’s shop). Similarly, the fairly divisive, grandfather-looking kiltie loafer is defined by cut-leather fringe hanging over the vamp of the shoe. It can also feature a bow with tassels on top of the fringe for a more ornate look. If you like the tassels but not the fringe, an aptly named tassel loafer is just that. The horsebit loafer also has a decorative piece on the vamp, but it’s a metal buckle (that doesn’t actually buckle anything) instead of fringe; this is one of the more formal shoes of the bunch, whereas driving and slipper loafers are the most casual, featuring soft, moldable materials. And lastly, there’s the lug sole, which is a raised rubber sole that has deep grooves to provide better traction — or just add a more pop-punk vibe to your shoe.
Best overall loafers
Sizes: 5–11 with half-sizes | Style: Penny | Material: Polished leather, leather sole | Embellishments: Beefroll stitching
The cult-favorite Bass Whitney Weejun earned the title of “most mentioned.” (Important: Gwyneth Paltrow kept hers from her turn as Margot in The Royal Tenenbaums.) The penny-loafer style features beefroll stitching, giving it a bit more heft than regular stitching. Two past and present Strategist writers, Hilary Reid and Erin Schwartz, consider them classics. Reid constantly gets compliments and questions about where they’re from — once, a former New York photo editor confused them for Celine. Schwartz describes them as “peak Ivy League, ‘Walcott’-by-Vampire-Weekend, tennis-lessons-on-the-weekends loafers.” These have “an aura powerful enough that they turn anything I wear into prep cosplay,” Schwartz adds. Nikki Kule, founder and creative director of KULE, appreciates that “they don’t give you those painful blisters when you first wear them.” (Note that if you don’t love a leather sole, there’s also an “easy” version of the Whitneys that comes recommended by Lauren Valenti, senior beauty editor at Vogue — they are almost exactly the same but have a rubber sole rather than a leather one.)
Best lug-sole loafers
Sizes: 5–11 with half-sizes | Style: Penny | Material: Leather, rubber sole | Embellishments: Lug sole, beefroll stitching
Weejuns come in a whole host of iterations that add new details to the same core shoe. Clare Vivier, founder of Clare V., likes the Lillian Bow featuring a big grosgrain bow in place of the penny strap. Or consider the Estelle tasseled brogues.
Hailey Rizzo, the blogger behind Feeling Good As Hail, pointed me toward this chunkier style of the Whitneys, too. Their “super lug” sole makes them a little edgier than the signature — while still having that “timeless charm.” (They even dress up her French-tucked band T-shirts.) She warns that they need a bit of breaking in: “I’d be lying if I said they were comfortable from the get.” (Her tip is to take them out on short “trips” — like to the grocery store — and to buy no-show socks to help with rubbing on your heels.) Once these are set, the loafers “never fall off the back off the back of my feet,” according to Rizzo.
Best (less-expensive) lug-sole loafers
Sizes: 5–11 with half-sizes | Style: Penny | Material: Matte leather, faux leather sole | Embellishments: Lug sole
Sometimes, lug soles can look a little silly on loafers, as if they were haphazardly glued on. The Corinnes decidedly don’t have that problem: The sole looks intentional, neither too high or too low, and fits the shape of the loafer just right.
Photographer Denisse Myrick also pointed us to Madewell’s Frances loafer, which are much simpler thanks to their lack of embellishment and slim profile. But the Corinnes feel like much more of a modern-day loafer than the Frances without being so trendy.
Best platform loafers
Sizes: 5–12 with half-sizes | Style: Horsebit | Material: Burnished faux leather, synthetic sole | Embellishments: Platform lug sole
Lara Mahler, founder of wedding-planning company The Privilege Is Mine, has been a fan of Sam Edelman shoes for over a decade — she wore her last pair until they had a hole in the sole, repaired them, and then wore them to the ground again. When it came time to find a replacement, she settled on the Teagans, which feature a lug sole that’s been upped by a platform. This makes them “super-supportive and sturdy,” according to Mahler. The shoes also have a bit of a non-conformist attitude, with the hardware on the strap resembling chains rather than a true horsebit. They simultaneously feel masculine and feminine, Mahler says, a balance that’s usually hard to find.
Sizes: 5–11 with half sizes | Style: Penny | Material: Leather, rubber sole | Embellishments: Platform
“Loafers always seemed aggressively preppy to me,” says Catherine Smart, co-founder of sauce-and-salad-dressing maker Not Just Co. The sportier Ghitas are a glorified sneaker she can get behind, with a penny-style strap (sans the traditional penny-size pocket) and platform that elevate them beyond a simple slip-on. In comparison to the “truly punishing, stiff laminated pairs” Smart has tried on in the past, she describes these as having a “cushy bounce” because of the supportive sole. She also likes the understated stitching along the top of the shoe, which makes them “corporate-ish” for when she’s otherwise in “head-to-toe workwear.” You can also get the Ghitas in suede, if that’s more to your taste.
Best kiltie loafer
Sizes: 36–42 | Style: Kiltie | Material: Polished leather, rubber sole | Embellishments: Fringe
Former Strategist writer Chloe Anello owns around ten pairs of loafers. These Alex W loafers from Vagabond Shoemakers are a favorite for their traditional silhouette with modern touches, like decorative fringe across the vamp, a chunkier sole, and exposed stitching. She admits these can feel slightly stiff at first — so comfortable socks are imperative when breaking them in. But once loosened up with time and consistent wear, they have now molded to Anello’s feet. If you’re not interested in the fringe, you can also get them in a simpler penny-loafer style.
Best (less-expensive) kiltie loafer
Sizes: 5–11 with half-sizes | Style: Kiltie | Material: Patent faux leather, rubber sole | Embellishments: Tassels, fringe, lug sole
Franco Sarto came up almost as many times as Bass did in our research. Strategist associate editor Jenna Milliner-Waddell admits she was never fond of Franco Sarto as a kid when “my mom wanted me to buy church or school shoes from them,” but now she thinks the brand is fairly underrated. These loafers were gifted to her — whenever she wears them, Milliner-Waddell says that “no one ever believes they’re from DSW and Franco Sarto.” Unlike other pairs that gap on the sides — she blames her wide feet — the Jacks don’t.
Ingrid Nilsen, former YouTuber and co-founder of The New Savant, is also a fan of Franco Sarto. She heard about the brand from influencer Mallory Kugler Goldman while she was on a hunt for a burgundy pair of loafers to replace her worn-out favorites. Nilsen owns the plain penny-loafer version, but the shoes are essentially the same as the Kiltie Fringe Platforms, minus the embellishments. They have a cushioned sole to add comfort while still being supportive. And though patent leather can be rather polarizing, Nilsen makes a strong case for it: “I’m a believer that a touch of patent to any outfit immediately makes it feel more sophisticated. I don’t wear much jewelry, so I get shine in my wardrobe through patent textures,” she says.
Best horsebit loafer
Sizes: 34–42 with half sizes | Style: Horsebit | Material: Polished leather, leather sole | Embellishments: Buckle
Gucci invented the horsebit loafer in 1953, so we’d be remiss not to mention the luxury fashion house on this list. As the tale goes, Aldo Gucci noticed many American men were wearing simple, slip-on loafers, so he thought it might behoove the brand to create a classic leather loafer but with a twist, the twist being the gold horsebit. Today, the iconic Gucci loafer is ubiquitous — so much so that there are plenty of people out there who are dedicated to finding dupes for Gucci’s many different styles of horsebit loafer, from mules to heels. But nothing beats the original, according to a few of our panelists, who believe they’re well worth their price tag. Myrick even calls them “one of the best investments I’ve ever made.” She wears them so much she plans to have them resoled finally after five years. But aside from the clean, classic style, the fit is what appeals to those who recommended them. Grace Atwood, founder of The Stripe and co-host of the Bad on Paper podcast, calls these the “fancy-lady version of Birkenstocks,” explaining that the footbed and leather mold to your foot the more you wear them, so by the time they’re fully broken in, they’re “possibly even more comfortable than sneakers.”
Best (less expensive) horsebit loafer
Sizes: 5–11 with half-sizes | Style: Horsebit | Material: Burnished leather, rubber sole | Embellishments: Buckle, lug sole, beefroll stitching
The Liannas are a version of our top-pick Weejuns with a horsebit and “super lug” sole. These don’t have the prissiness of the traditional penny style — there’s something about their Frankenstein-adjacent, Herman Munster–esque appearance that feels almost subversive. (Otherwise, these would be the sort of shoes my abuelito would’ve owned.) Despite the lugs looking lumbersome — borderline clomping — the loafers have a springiness to them. They don’t drag me down with every step. They are a little stiff around the back edge at first, though not enough to be pinching, and after the fourth wear or so, the Liannas became painless.
Best (even less-expensive) horsebit loafer
Sizes: 4–13 with half sizes | Style: Horsebit | Material: Faux leather, synthetic sole | Embellishments: Buckle
For a cheaper alternative to Gucci, these Sam Edelmans are a solid option. They have a similar horsebit detail as well as a slim, sophisticated shape, but they won’t break the bank. “They broke in super-quick, so I was able to wear them for a full work day, including the commute when that was a thing, after only wearing them around the house for a couple of hours,” says Kanani Rose, a diversity and inclusion specialist (and Anello’s sister-in-law) She also appreciates how breathable the shoes are, so you can wear them without socks and avoid “swamp feet.” They come in over 30 shades, so owning more than one is justifiable.
Best slipper-style loafer
Sizes: 5–13 with half-sizes and narrow, medium, and wide fits | Style: Slipper | Material: Patent leather, rubber sole | Embellishments: Vamp stitching, block heel
“The Row on a budget, baby” is how illustrator Alexandra Citrin-Safadi describes these. They have an austereness that’s characteristic of the Olsen twins–founded label, ornamented only with the subtlest of stitching on the vamp. These fall closer toward the ankle than what you’d see traditionally, giving the pair “that good slight awkwardness.” Citrin-Safadi adds, “These shoes are plain. They are perfect. I am the embellishment.” As for sizing, she suggests going with your usual unless “you are committed to a heavy sock — then I would maybe size up by a half.” Her recommendation convinced me to request the Boccas from Franco Sarto. In the week since the shoes were delivered, I (almost) haven’t taken them off. From the box, these were already comfortable. No red marks to report. Citrin-Safadi was right in praising the purity of the loafers — they’re unassuming without being unattractive and almost handsome. (I didn’t attend a private school, but these are the sort of shoes that I imagine I would’ve worn if I had.)
Best driving loafers
Sizes: 35–43 | Style: Driver | Material: Suede, rubber sole | Embellishments: Beefroll stitching
Driving loafers were originally created for men who wanted more grip when driving (hence the name and the knobbed rubber sole), but now they’ve become a beloved shoe for those who would like something as comfortable as a slipper but more acceptable to wear outside the house. Deanna Eng, vice-president of strategy at Beam, calls them a go-to because of how versatile yet presentable they are. She’s worn them “from morning yoga to meetings to happy hour” without feeling the same strain on her feet as she would with a stiffer style. Anello also owns them and can attest to their comfort. She credits the loafers’ traditional moccasin construction — meaning only one piece of suede is used — as it helps them literally mold to your foot over time. This lets her wear them sockless without worrying about potential blisters.
Best heeled loafers
Sizes: 35–41 | Style: Penny | Material: Patent leather | Embellishments: Heeled, penny strap
If you’re looking for a heeled loafer, stylist Ryan Gale suggests Labucq. “I’m obsessed with my cognac kitty loafers from Labucq. I feel like they were designed specifically for me,” she says. Even though they have a two-inch heel with a bit of a platform, Gale notes that they’re actually “the perfect height and thickness” for morning commutes, errands, and running around to different meetings throughout the day. In addition to this cognac color that Gale owns, they also come in a neutral black and cream, plus an emerald-green python pattern.
Best (less-expensive) heeled loafers
Sizes: 6–11 | Style: Penny | Material: Polished leather | Embellishments: Curved heel, penny-style strap
A trip to the Camper store in Soho introduced Strategist junior writer Brenley Goertzen to the Thelmas. She immediately fell for the slightly square-yet-still-rounded toe and sculptural, curved heel. Though the higher height stands out in the world of loafers, the bottom platform helps to even them out, Goertzen says, adding that even when sprinting to catch a train, these “stick firmly to my feet without feeling like stilts.” (Fair warning: The Thelmas do need a bit of breaking in.)
Best heeled loafers with a platform
Sizes: 35–44 with half sizes | Style: Smoking | Material: Velvet, leather sole | Embellishments: Grosgrain bow, platform with heel, square-toe
Our sister site the Cut once described Suzanne Rae’s shoes as having “an extravagant handsomeness” that belongs in Marie Antoinette’s “I Want Candy” montage with “those macaron-colored boxes.” It’s a description I find fitting — except they aren’t super frilly, either. I have a mini-collection of shoes from the Brooklyn-based brand, and three pairs of them are loafers. The Boulevardiers are the bow version of the my (sold-out) ginghamed Vichys. (The two styles feature the same platform-and-heel combination, which come in at 1.25 inches and three inches, respectively.) The platform is what stops the loafers from feeling wobbly — I say this as someone who has twisted an ankle because of a heel. The square toe gives my toes space, too. I also have the (non-platformed) version of the Boulevardiers and can vouch for the richness of the velvet. I’ll note that a Suzanne Rae shoe can be on the small side (I usually take a 7 but need a 7.5 in the line’s loafers). And note that the company sells out quickly because of its limited runs, only occasionally relaunching designs.
• Chloe Anello, former Strategist writer
• Grace Atwood, founder of The Stripe and co-host of Bad on Paper Podcast
• Alexandra Citrin-Safadi, illustrator
• Deanna Eng, vice-president of strategy at Beam
• Ryan Gale, stylist
• Brenley Goertzen, Strategist junior writer
• Nikki Kule, founder and creative director of KULE
• Lara Mahler, founder of wedding-planning company The Privilege Is Mine
• Jenna Milliner-Waddell, Strategist associate editor
• Denisse Myrick, photographer
• Ingrid Nilsen, former YouTuber and co-founder of The New Savant
• Hilary Reid, former Strategist writer
• Hailey Rizzo, the blogger behind Feeling Good As Hail
• Kanani Rose, diversity and inclusion specialist
• Erin Schwartz, Strategist writer
• Catherine Smart, co-founder of Not Just Co.
• Lauren Valenti, senior beauty editor at Vogue
• Clare Vivier, designer and founder of Clare V.
Additional reporting by Chloe Anello
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