While penny loafers had been common footwear throughout the 1900s, it wasn’t until the 1980s that they saw their peak in popularity. These unisex shoes were extremely popular among both the preppy and pop cultures of the 80s.
These shoes had been popular for many decades before the 1980s because of their classic design, but the rise of preppy fashion really grew the popularity of penny loafers as a style of shoe that both men and women loved.
The History Of Penny Loafers
The penny loafer can be traced back to the 1900s when a Norwegian gentleman sought to improve the design of a common pair of lace-less shoes that were worn by fishermen. He had gone to the United States, where he studied cordwaining, and on his return to Norway, created the first Aurland moccasin.
By the 1940s, his moccasins made their way to the United States, where they were marketed to schoolchildren and college students as the perfect pair of shoes. Not only were they very affordable, but the design without laces made them perfect for students who had to rush to school in the morning.
The penny loafers continued to rise in popularity throughout the 50s and 60s. And after John F. Kennedy was seen wearing penny loafers with socks, the trend set in and it quickly became popular to wear socks with loafers.
By the end of the 1960s, loafers had become very popular with the working class. They were also popularized by musicians of the time including Elvis Presley and Miles Davis.
In fact, Miles Davis was seen on a regular basis sporting an Ivy League sweater with chinos and a pair of penny loafers. Even James Dean was known to wear loafers with his blue jeans and a white T-shirt.
Why Are They Called Penny Loafers?
The term penny loafers can date back to the day when these shoes were very popular among college students. Back in the 40s and 50s, it was commonplace for kids to place pennies into the slots on the side in front of their shoes.
This provided them with a way to call home or pay for a ride when it was needed. Thanks to inflation, by the 1970s kids started placing dimes in their loafers as well.
Penny Loafers In The 80s
The popularity of the penny loafer exploded in the 1980s when it became commonplace for men, women, as well as schoolkids to wear them on a regular basis. For the most part, they were generally worn without socks.
They were simply slipped on over the feet, as one rushed out the door in the morning. Some attribute the popularity of loafers in the 1980s to the book “The Preppy Handbook”. but in reality, it was trendsetters like Michael Jackson who made the shoes more popular.
The most famous person to ever wear penny loafers was none other than Michael Jackson. Throughout the 80s, he was known to wear a pair of Florsheim shoes in virtually every video and performance. These shoes were worn both with and without socks in videos such as “Billie Jean”, as well as the 1983 TV special “Motown 25”.
But perhaps the most famous use of penny loafers, was when Michael Jackson performed the moonwalk across the stage in a pair of Florsheim Imperial loafers. Jackson’s “magic shoes” were eventually auctioned off for more than $50,000.
Are Penny Loafers Still Popular?
Penny loafers are still quite popular today as a shoe of choice. Though preppy fashion isn’t as prevalent as it once was, penny loafers still remains a popular choice for shoes today.
As with any fashion that withstands the test of time, a classic design and comfort are usually needed, and these are two hallmarks of penny loafers. They are still stylish today as they were when they first appeared many decades ago, and we don’t expect this fact to change any time soon.