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Women's Penny Loafers - Classic or Haute-Couture, Women’s Penny Loafers Make a Fashion Statement

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Penny loafers are the epitome of the classic American women’s shoe. Although this moccasin-style slip-on originated in Norway, penny loafers quickly became one of the most popular and enduring styles of American footwear. The original penny loafer was made in 1936 by George Henry Bass, a tannery owner from Maine, who named it Weejun, a play on the reference to the Norwegian origin. The G. H. Bass & Company, founded in 1876, continues to make the Weejun in men’s, women’s and children’s sizes.

The original Weejun was a hand-sewn, slip-on, sturdy leather men’s shoe. This style was called a loafer, purportedly so named from an article in Esquire magazine in the early 1930s, accompanied with photographs of Norwegian cowboys wearing moccasins. Legend has it that the Spalding leather company created a similar moccasin-style shoe and gave the name “loafer.” Bass improved on this comfortable shoe by adding an attached, double-thick leather strap across the top which created an opening that resembled lips. This embellishment gave the distinctive characteristic that set it apart from other loafers. Small objects, including pennies and dimes, were slipped into this compartment, hence the name, penny loafer.

Traditional penny loafer construction features a well-made, completely leather shoe with a leather sole. Exterior stitching around the front and sides gives the resemblance to the moccasin. The classic color is cordovan, but other popular colors include brown, black, white and grey. A smart variation of the women’s penny loafer is two-toned black and white.

Penny loafers became a status symbol during the 1950s and ‘60s, worn by both men and women. It was the ubiquitous shoe for collegiate women, who wore it with bobby socks. The popularity waned in the 1970s and ‘80s, but made a come-back as a “preppie” shoe in the ‘90s. Today, the variations of styles of women’s penny loafers are creative and innovative. Almost every major women’s shoe manufacturer offers a version of the penny loafer. Bass makes not only the Weejun, but several variations on this traditional theme.

Classic, good quality leather styles can be worn with professional office attire. Cole Haan, an upscale, traditional fashion house, offers several designs including a chic black and white spectator and a dressy patent leather model in several colors. Although the exact style may change from year to year, a variation of the classic penny loafer is always featured. Naturalizer, Rockport, Trotters, Bernardo, Michael Kors and Donald J Pliner also make traditional penny loafers with a formal look. Classic, well constructed, hand-made, pure leather women’s penny-loafers range in price from under $100 to several hundred per pair.

Several companies offer soft leather versions that can be worn without socks or hosiery. These casual styles look good with shorts, skirts and jeans. Several versions of this casual loafer have non-leather traction or rubber soles that work well as a walking shoe or for a relaxed look with everyday attire. L. L. Bean, Sperry Top-Sider and Dr Martens feature an assortment of casual, fashionable styles pairing modern detailing with the traditional design. Eastland, Sebago, Born, Frye, Tommy Hilfiger and Unisa also make women’s penny loafers with a contemporary look. Penny-loafers in this category fall within a moderate price range, usually below $100.

High-heeled penny loafers give a sophisticated look to a modern outfit. High-fashion shoe designers, including Yves Saint Lauren, Gucci and Christian Louboutin, provide haute-couture variations. Some feature open toes, stiletto heels, sculpted heels, tassels, buckles and other ornamentation. Materials include suede, patent leather, soft pigskin and classic calf leather. Prices are noticeably higher, ranging from several hundred dollars to over one thousand per pair.

Most women’s shoe companies have websites that display current styles, clearance items and prices. Many have on-line purchasing; some provide live operators who can help with selection, fit and questions about the product. A list of store locations is usually provided for those shoppers who want to find a nearby shop, see the product and try it on. Several companies have marketing agreements with reputable on-line merchants including Amazon, Shoes.com, Zappos and shoebuy.com for Internet sales.

Other sources for women’s penny-loafers include discount shoe stores, such as Payless and Famous Footwear, that sell off-season styles or bulk lots of brand-name shoes.

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