Photo: Marcus McDonald
In this article
- Best overall
- Best lug-sole
- Best kiltie
- Best horsebit
- Best driving
- Best heeled
The last time I counted, I had about ten pairs of loafers in my closet. I like that the shoes can be snappier and less dainty than ballet flats and a little more serious than mary janes. But when you talk to as many self-professed loafer lovers as I have, the question of “Which loafers are the best?” gets a lot of different answers. While creating the following list of the best loafers for women, I learned just how polarizing patent leather is and how popular the lug sole has become (though it isn’t typically seen on loafers, the chunky profile has earned a lot of fans when combined with the otherwise classic shoe). So to narrow the recommendations I heard from photographers, editors, designers, bloggers, and other stylish folks, I’ve been wearing multiple pairs of loafers in a range of styles for the better part of a year. I have walked around in swanky horsebit buckles, handsome kiltie fringe, and even a boldly block-heeled pair. (My new rule is that the best loafers can be worn comfortably and without blisters from the very beginning, without too much breaking in.) The loafers that made the cut include a pair seen on a Tenenbaum and a “fancy-lady version of Birkenstocks.” (But if you’re looking for other styles of shoes, we also have buying guides for Chelsea boots, white sneakers, workout shoes, and more to meet all your shoe-shopping needs.)
What we’re looking for
You probably know by now that here at the Strategist we like to focus on size inclusivity, and that includes footwear. For this guide, I was on the hunt for loafers that come in a range of sizes, including half-sizes, and different widths for those with narrower or wider feet.
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, I focused on those geared more toward women — including penny, tassel, horsebit, kiltie, driving, slipper, and lug-sole loafers. (I’ll explain what sets each style apart, below.) While loafers traditionally don’t have lug soles, lug-sole styles have recently surged in popularity and are a hit with many of the fashionable people I talked to. So if you’d like a shoe that’s more modern, the style is a good bet.
Most loafers are made of leather or synthetic faux leather (which is often a form of plastic). The finish can vary from suede to matte to patent leather and is largely a matter of style and personal preference. Another important aspect is the sole, which will usually be made of rubber or leather. The two materials can feel completely different: Leather seems slippery at first, thanks to its smoother finish, while rubber is often grippier (especially when there’s a lug sole involved). Rubber is generally cheaper and can wear down quicker, while leather will cost more up front but can ultimately last longer (resoling is fairly simpler, too, with the right cobbler).
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 styles of loafers, 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 women’s loafers overall
Sizes: 5–11 with half-sizes | Style: Penny | Material: Polished leather, leather sole | Embellishments: Beefroll stitching
G.H. Bass introduced the Weejun, based on shoes that were making a splash on the Palm Beach social scene, back in 1936. Weejuns have been a preppy staple ever since — Gwyneth Paltrow even kept hers from her turn as Margot in The Royal Tenenbaums. The Whitney style of Weejuns, which features the brand’s famed beefroll stitching, is a timeless loafer and I believe everyone should own at least one pair of them (it also happens to be the style that was most recommended by the people I interviewed for this guide). I’ve been wearing a pair weekly since September and they are especially smart and sharp-looking. The shoes slip right on — the leather itself isn’t too stiff, though the heels famously take a few wears to loosen up. The toe box has enough space that you can comfortably have a sock on too.
Though the Whitneys aren’t cheap at nearly $200, their all-leather construction is made to last. They also look more expensive than they are: A former New York photo editor once confused Strategist senior editor Hilary Reid’s pair for Celine. They are unquestionably the shoes to buy for a preppy look — Strategist writer Erin Schwartz once described them as “peak Ivy League, ‘Walcott’ by Vampire Weekend, tennis-lessons-on-the-weekends loafers.” Note that leather-soled Weejuns, like the Whitneys, can be slippery on carpets until they have a few scuffs on the bottom, but if you want something with more traction from the start, there’s also a rubber-soled version (a favorite of Lauren Valenti, beauty director at InStyle).
Best (less expensive) women’s loafers
Sizes: 5–13 with half-sizes and narrow, medium, and wide fits | Style: Slipper | Material: Leather (patent and crinkle), rubber sole | Embellishments: Vamp stitching, block heel
Franco Sarto’s Bocca loafers are more affordable than the Whitney Weejuns, at $110 instead of $175. They have a rubber sole rather than a leather one and only the subtlest of stitching on the vamp, so they are much plainer shoes. Unassuming, yes, though not unattractive — I’d go so far as to call them handsome, more in the style of men’s loafers than others I’ve tried. The leather on the Boccas is supple and really molded well to my feet when I tested a pair, but I also found that it shows scratches more easily. Still, you’re getting a good loafer, especially if you find the Boccas on sale. Illustrator Alexandra Citrin-Safadi, who also recommends the pair, likens them to “The Row on a budget, baby,” as they have an austere quality that’s characteristic of the Olsen twins–founded label.
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 number of iterations, with new details on the same core shoe, and this Super-Lug version is a favorite of fashion blogger Hailey Rizzo. They have the same glossiness and penny slot as the originals but are grounded by a thicker lugged sole that gives them more height. They have an edginess about them for that reason, so Rizzo likes to pair hers with French-tucked band T-shirts. She does warn that, like the Whitneys, the shoes need some breaking in, especially around the heels: “I’d be lying if I said they were comfortable from the get.” To quicken the process, she recommends taking them on short “trips,” like wearing them to the grocery store, and buying no-show socks to prevent them from rubbing against your ankles.
Sizes: 5–11 with half-sizes | Style: Horsebit | Material: Burnished leather, EVA sole | Embellishments: Buckle, lug sole, beefroll stitching
Another pair of lug-sole loafers to consider is the Lianna Weejuns, which features a horsebit buckle. I fell for the combination of the traditional with the nontraditional. There’s something almost Frankensteinian about them, and even though they look a bit clompy, they have a surprising amount of springiness. The sole is made from eco-friendly EVA — a kind of foam used in sandals like Tevas — making them bouncier than meets the eye. Like the Whitneys, the Liannas start off stiffer around the back edge, though not enough to be pinching. After I wore them a handful of times, they were pretty well broken-in. And more than a year since I bought them, they still look nearly new.
Best (less expensive) lug-sole 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 the soles were worn through, 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 super-supportive and sturdy platform lug sole. The shoes also have a bit of a nonconformist 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.
Best kiltie loafers
Sizes: 36–42 | Style: Kiltie | Material: Polished leather, rubber sole | Embellishments: Fringe
Some of the best boots I own come from Swedish shoemaker Vagabond, so I was eager to try its loafers for myself after hearing about them from former Strategist writer Chloe Anello. The Alex loafers have all the hallmarks of the brand, being well made and modern-looking. They also feature a raised top seam that’s similar to the traditional beefroll, but with more minimal stitching for a smoother look than what you see on the Weejuns. The shoes’ mirrorlike shine — which is still more muted than patent leather — hasn’t scratched since I got them in July, and the kiltie fringe hasn’t curled up on the ends. That said, these loafers start out slightly stiff. Anello suggests always wearing socks while breaking them in. But I used my trusty shoe stretchers as a shortcut, and the loafers quickly became easier to slide on without rubbing against my heels. If you’d rather not have the kiltie, Vagabond also makes a non-kiltie version — though I prefer the former for a little flair.
Best horsebit loafers
Sizes: 34–42 with half sizes | Style: Horsebit | Material: Polished leather, leather sole | Embellishments: Buckle
It would be an oversight not to mention Gucci on this list, considering the Italian house invented the horsebit loafer in 1953. (It was Weejuns that influenced founder Aldo Gucci.) Since then, the Gucci horsebit has become iconic, with a whole host of fans who are dedicated to finding dupes. But nothing beats the original. These have the dubious distinction of being the most expensive loafers on this list, at almost $1,000 — but are well worth their price tag, according to a few of our panelists. You’re paying a premium not just for quality but for the Gucci name. Photographer Denisse Myrick considers hers one of the best investments she has made. It took five years’ worth of regular wear before she even had to think about resoling them. The fit is another reason why they’re so appealing. Grace Atwood, founder of The Stripe and co-host of the podcat Bad on Paper, describes them as the “fancy-lady version of Birkenstocks.” By the time they’re fully broken in, they’re “possibly even more comfortable than sneakers,” she says.
Best (less expensive) horsebit loafers
Sizes: 4–13 with half sizes | Style: Horsebit | Material: Faux leather, synthetic sole | Embellishments: Buckle
For a much 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 colors and materials, so owning more than one pair is justifiable.
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 their name and knobbed sole. But now they’ve become a beloved shoe for those who want shoes that feel like slippers but look nice enough to wear outside the house. M. Gemi’s Felize loafers come recommended by Deanna Eng, vice-president of strategy at Beam, for being supremely comfortable without looking frumpy. They’re so versatile she’s worn them everywhere from morning yoga to a business meeting to happy hour. Anello also owns them and can attest to their comfort. She credits the loafers’ traditional moccasin construction — meaning they’re sewn from a single piece of suede — as it helps the shoes literally mold to your feet over time. This lets Anellowear them sockless without worrying about blisters.
Best heeled loafers
Sizes: 35–41 | Style: Penny | Material: Patent leather | Embellishments:Heeled, penny strap
The Kittys from Labucq, with their hooflike square toe and a flared block heel, seem clopping at first glance. But I found these loafers surprisingly light on the feet. I could really walk in them from the first wearing, without click-clacking on every step. The heel is balancing, so they don’t feel wobbly; stylist Ryan Gale describes the shoes as having the perfect height and thickness for morning commutes, errands, and meetings throughout the day. The shoes are also thoughtfully crafted with contrast stitching, a little platform in the front, and a crinkled finish on the leather. Just one word of advice: I usually take a size 7 but sized up to a 38 (which converts to a U.S. size 7.5/8 on the brand’s size chart) to fit my wide feet.
Sizes: 35–42 with half sizes | Style: Penny | Material: Matte leather (sole, and heel) | Embellishments: Heeled, penny strap with medallion middle
I screenshotted the Nonos from Nomasei when I first spotted them while scrolling Instagram, then patiently waited for them to go on sale. Though I bought mine on markdown last summer, I would be willing to get another pair at full price now. These might be my most complimented loafers. There’s an obvious level of craftsmanship in the smoothness of the leather, cushiony lining, and stitching and details throughout. (Though I suppose this shouldn’t be too surprising, as Nomasei’s founders met while working at Chloé.) Even the hand on the shiny front medallion features tiny knuckles and fingernails plus a bracelet and ring. The heels on the Nonos are lower, at a little over an inch — about half the height of the heel on the Kittys — for just enough lift.
Best (less expensive) heeled loafers
Sizes: 6–11 | Style: Penny | Material: Polished leather | Embellishments: Curved heel, penny-style strap
Strategist junior writer Brenley Goertzen discovered the Thelmas during a trip to the Camper store in Soho. She was immediately drawn to the slightly square-yet-still-rounded toe and sculptural, curved heel. Though the almost-three-inch heel 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.” It can take a while to break them in, though. She first wore them with thicker socks to keep them from rubbing and was eventually able to go sockless.
• Chloe Anello, former Strategist writer
• Grace Atwood, founder of The Stripe and co-host of the podcast Bad on Paper
• 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
• Hilary Reid, Strategist senior editor
• Hailey Rizzo, 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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Concepts Related to the Article "The 12 Very Best Loafers for Women"
The article "The 12 Very Best Loafers for Women" covers various concepts related to women's loafers, including styles, materials, embellishments, and specific product recommendations. Here's a breakdown of the concepts covered in the article:
1. Loafer Styles
- Synthetic faux leather
- Patent leather
- Penny strap
- Kiltie fringe
- Horsebit buckle
- Lug sole
4. Specific Product Recommendations
- G.H. Bass & Co. Whitney Weejuns
- Franco Sarto Bocca Loafer
- G.H. Bass Whitney Super-Lug Weejuns Loafer
- G.H. Bass Lianna Super Lug Weejuns
- Sam Edelman Teagan Lug Sole Loafer
- Vagabond Shoemakers Alex W Loafer
- Gucci Jordaan Leather Loafers
- Sam Edelman Loraine Loafers
- M. Gemi The Felize
- Labucq Kitty Loafer
- Nomasei Nono Moccasins
- Camper Thelma Loafers
These concepts cover the different aspects of women's loafers, including style variations, materials, and specific product recommendations, providing a comprehensive guide for individuals looking to purchase loafers.
I'm here to provide further insights or answer any specific questions you may have about women's loafers or related topics.