Spotlight: Formal Loafers

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When I was first assembling my black-tie kit I was attracted to the distinguishing swank of formal pumps but ran into a few obstacles in my quest to obtain a pair.  First and foremost, such footwear seems to be made only by high-end shoemakers which makes for a hefty price tag.  On a lesser note, I was unsure if I had the temerity to pull off such delicate looking footwear as the demure low vamp and dainty bow that make formal pumps so distinctly unique also render them distinctly effete:


Brooks Brothers formal pumps (by Pearl & Co.)

So it was that I stumbled upon a sound compromise: formal loafers.  These slip-ons provide the distinctiveness of the pump but with a more masculine air.  Their longer vamp also apparently makes for a more secure fit.  Best of all, they can cost considerably less than their traditional counterparts.  I ended up buying Sandro Moscoloni Royal patent loafers similar to the style seen at the top of the page for just $100 and have been very happy with them for the past ten years.

Generally speaking, formal loafers follow the basic rules of traditional formal footwear: thin soles and heels are more formal than thick ones and a wholecut construction is more formal than visible seams.  Patent leather is also more formal than unvarnished although you’d be hard pressed to find formal loafers that aren’t patent because they would too closely resemble their informal everyday counterparts.

Like formal lace-ups, the shoe’s style also impacts formality.  The following is a look at the three major variations of formal loafers.    All prices are in US dollars although some models are no longer available for sale.

(Regarding terminology, there are a lot of conflicting interpretations of what constitutes a slip-on versus a loafer.  For the sake of argument let’s just say that slip-ons are a broad category of shoe that doesn’t fasten with laces or straps while loafers are a specific type of slip-on typically made with stiff leather and hard soles.)

Pseudo Pumps

At the dressiest end of the spectrum are loafers with bows identical to those seen on formal pumps.  The only difference between the two types of shoes is the former’s longer vamp and the bow’s corresponding position atop the foot’s instep.


Mr. Hare ‘Robeson’ ($820)

DSquared 'Joe Jackson' ($725)

DSquared ‘Joe Jackson’ ($725)

Ribbon Strap Loafers

Slightly less dressy are loafers that substitute a flat decorative strap of ribbon in place of the traditional three-dimensional bow.  The ribbon is typically grosgrain.

Calvin Klein ‘Guilford’ ($130)

Calvin Klein ‘Guilford’ ($130)

Hugo Boss 'BOSS Black Mellion' ($225)

Hugo Boss ‘BOSS Black Mellion’ ($225)

Salvatore Ferragamo ‘Party' Vernice Moccasin ($530)

Salvatore Ferragamo ‘Party’ Vernice Moccasin ($530)

Paul Smith 'Dover' with suede band. ($589)

Paul Smith ‘Dover’ with suede band. ($589)

A relatively rare subset of this loafer style features a strap that extends down to the shoe’s sole:

Tom Ford ($1,330)

Tom Ford ($1,330)



Plain Patent Loafers

At the most casual end of the spectrum are loafers without any decoration at all.  Only their patent finish and (virtually) seamless construction sets them apart from an ordinary dress loafer.

Calvin Klein 'Gregory' ($130)

Calvin Klein ‘Gregory’ ($130)

Crocket & Jones 'Albert' ($525)

Crocket & Jones ‘Albert’ ($525)


Thanks to reader Hans Servando for suggesting this post.


  1. Stuff

    Cool post. I saw these recently at Neiman Marcus, but wondered what the market for them really was. Good to know they’re acceptable alternatives. However, like everything at Neiman Marcus, they’re out of my price range, except for the two CK models. I just don’t trust CK for anything beyond underwear, but that’s just me.

  2. Minnesotaboy

    Yet another wonderful and helpful addition to the site.

    For traditionalists (and other hardly souls), Broadland Slippers in the UK still makes traditional opera pumps for a reasonable price (a little over $200). Both patent and plain leather can be had, as well as either pinched or flat bows.

    Despite all the wonderful modern alternatives you survey so well, I still — down deep — like to wear opera pumps. In some ways, it’s like when you start wearing a real hat in public. The first few times, it seems strange. But soon it seems perfectly normal. And quickly, too, it becomes a welcome part of the ritual.

    The prospect of “bows” really isn’t so strange, either. All oxford and blucher shoes already have “bows.” Opera pumps just do it with ribbon rather than shoe laces. Remember, too, the “bow” under your chin is tied with the same knot you use to tie your shoes. This just reminds you.

    1. Anonymous

      A note: nowadays hidden “bows” in oxfords are so fashionable:

  3. John

    I’ve owned the CK Guilford for a few years now and they are holding up pretty well. Granted, I don’t wear them that often – and they’ve been worn almost exclusively indoors – but for the price you can’t go wrong.

    The only issue I’ve ever had is that the ribbon has a tacked-on look to me. The difference is subtle (like most things black-tie), but I notice on the very similar model from Ferragamo, their ribbon looks more substantial and the stitching goes all the way around to give a more secure look. Again – for $400 less, I’m really happy with my CK’s!

  4. David V

    I made my own. Think of the look of the Crocket and Jones ‘Albert’ in calf with pinched bows.

  5. David V

    Something else to keep in mind. The nice thing about the the pump is that the bow is exposed and not covered by the bottom of the trousers. What would be the point of having bows on your shoes if they are not seen?

  6. A. R

    I rather like the idea of these with semi-formal wear. I don’t suspect I would ever wear them with a tailcoat though.

    1. Anonymous

      I would be glad (i think many of readers too) if you post Peter wearing white tie (readers role model).

  7. home

    Hola! I’ve been following your website for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Humble Texas!
    Just wanted to say keep up the great work!

  8. P. L.

    Peter, would you mind commenting on which of these (if any) would be appropriate for white tie, especially in comparison to patent leather balmorals? The white-tie section of The Guide doesn’t mention formal loafers specifically.

    Doing a little bit of online sleuthing of my own, the vienna ball dresscode you linked to in a previous post specifically states that patent loafers are a correct alternative to pumps and oxfords. In contrast, the Gentleman’s Gazette “Do’s and Don’ts” coverage of the 2014 Met Ball has as it’s #1 on “what not to wear to a white tie event: 1. Do Not Wear Slippers.” It then provides an example of someone seemingly wearing shoes that to me resemble the Mr. Hare ‘Robeson’s at the top of this article. So, I’m curious if you or any of your readers can provide some insight.

    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      I have not heard of loafers being worn with white tie before but who am I to argue with the Vienna ball organizers? Maybe other readers will have more insight into this.


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