How to style the tassel loafer - and is it smart or casual?

After having to working from home, having zoom calls in t-shirts and shorts, many of us were happy to get back to the office and dress up a bit. I myself got an unexplained craving for a new tailored suit.

But did we all want to jump straight back into tight, laced oxfords a pinstripe suit, white shirt and tie? Maybe not.

So for a lot of people a mixed, semi casual look seemed a good compromise. And also a way to demonstrate personal taste and individuality.

Enter the loafer.

Thomas Bird loafers - penny and tassel

It's smart, it's casual. It's easy to slip on and off. It doubles up as a weekend shoe. What's not to like.

But which type?

The three main types of loafer

First came the penny loafer. Inspired by a Norwegian fisherman moccassin, the penny loafer became hugely popular in Ivy League universities in the 1920s and defined the preppy look. 

Two new variations followed based on the slip on penny loafer design. One was the horse bit loafer, made famous by Gucci and the smart polo playing riviera set in the 1950s.

The other was the tassel loafer. Legend has it that the Hollywood actor Paul Lukas brought a pair of shoes with tassels back from Europe to the USA and looked for similar ones to be made for him. 

Formal or casual?

If we grade classic mens shoes from formal/dressy to informal/casual, we would put oxfords at one end and loafers at the other.

But the tassel loafer is versatile and harder to pin down.

The tassel loafer can be worn with a very formal outfit. With a grey suit and socks, black tassel loafers look the part in any boardroom.  

Henley black with grey suit

But lose the socks and switch the suit for blue or white jeans and the look is completely different. Here's a pair of our Henley loafers in blue. 

Henley blue casual with white jeans

The same blue loafers would look completely differerent with socks and a navy suit. See below.

Evoking a vintage era

The tassel is purely decorative, which helps to make the tassel loafer a slightly more playful style.

Tassel loafers today are worn by the a generation of smartly dressed men, in new and contemporary ways, but the style also evokes a throwback to that vintage and classic era, the 40s and 50s when the tassel loafer was born.

Tassel loafer styling with a suit

Here is another example of tassel loafer versatility. Ed Ruiz is wearing Thomas Bird loafers with a navy blue pinstripe suit. The look is completely different from the casual look with white jeans above.

Blue loafers with a navy blue suitBlue tassel loafers with a navy blue suit

We asked Ed how he liked styling our Henley tassel loafers. Ed told us:

"I have loved trying new things when wearing these dapper tassel loafers. Sure, I've been pairing them with some semi-dressed up combos, the typical no-show socks look that is very common with loafers nowadays. But I'm really enjoying them as part of more formal combos, like this double-breasted pinstripe suit. With socks for a full dressed up effect. The unique blue color really elevates any outfit into memorable territory, plus the sheer elegance of their design is truly outstanding."

Here is Ed in the full outfit.

Blue tassel loafers with navy blue suit
Ed Ruiz wearing Thomas Bird blue tassel loafers

More tassel loafer styling

We asked another of our favourite style icons Luigi aka The Suited Traveller what he thinks of the tassel loafer.

Luigi told us, "it is the shoe model that is most flexible. They look so damn cool with a formal outfit but you can use them with a casual chic look. This is model that can go sockless and look good."

Luigi knows his stuff and we learn more about style every day from him.

He has a pair in oxblood on the way to him which we hope to see photos of and will include here in this blog in the coming weeks.

James Bond wore loafers?

We think so. In the book, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Ian Fleming famously wrote that Bond wore 'black casual shoes (he abhorred shoe-laces)'. Sounds like slip on loafers to us.

Many styles of tassel loafer 

Many brands now make tassel loafers. There are lots of variations, in style and quality. Some have shorter, round shapes (or lasts), some longer and more elegant. New variations include other materials like textiles, and alternative soles like heavy rubber commando soles.

Which colour is best?

Tassel loafers come in many colours. It's all down of course to your personal taste and style, and the occasion. Some combinations always seem to work well, such as oxblood loafers with a navy or blue suit, seen below. We also like contrasts, like the blue loafers with white jeans above.

Henley oxblood with navy suit

The Thomas Bird Henley Tassel Loafer

We wanted our Thomas Bird Henley tassel loafer design to be classic, with a slightly longer last, very European, with a soft rounded toe. 

Henley tan

We chose a heel that was a little higher than some others, to keep it a little smarter and formal, when you need that look.

Always practical, we added a rubber insert in the leather sole to make the sole last longer. In keeping with our other styles we opted for hand dyed leather, to give that unique, artisan made look and quality.

We chose our favourite colours - oxblood, tan, blue, chestnut and black.

Is the tassel loafer right for me?

If you want a dress shoe that can be formal/dressy and informal/casual, the tassel loafer could be just right for you. 

And it's timeless. It will never go out of style. So pick your favourite colour and add it to your wardrobe!

All the best,

Thomas Bird

See also: 

How to style penny loafers

See all loafers