Why the Gucci Loafer Is a Shoe-In for the World’s Swankest Slip-On

An iconic accessory that's as comfortable and stylish as ever

On the World of Gucci Web page, visitors can shop the collection, watch runway videos, visit the Gucci Pet page and click through a slideshow that shows just how big the world of Gucci is. It's called "Who's Wearing Gucci Loafer."

Feast your eyes, little people: There's Bruno Mars in London going sockless with his brown woven leather loafers. Oh, look! Here comes James Franco with a showroom shine on his black Guccis. Click in far enough and you can see celebrities of yesteryear, too—John Wayne in Rome, Jane Birkin at Cannes, Matt Dillon on the set of Drugstore Cowboy—all of them slipping their toes into that sumptuous soft leather badged with the jangly snaffle bit.

The Gucci loafer turned 60 a couple years back, a fact that's remarkable for more than sheer longevity. The shoes are one of the few fashion accessories from the '50s that are still perfectly in style, despite looking pretty much the way they did when Eisenhower was in the White House. (Ike didn't wear Gucci loafers, by the way, but Ronald Reagan did.)

Photo: Nick Ferrari

How to explain this simple shoe's enduring influence? "The difference is the horse bit," said Ellen Goldstein, professor of accessories design at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. "It was new, exciting and different—a throwback to English riding, and a time when wealth was prominent and sophisticated. And it's stayed with us because it's now a classic."

In 1953, Aldo Gucci flew to New York, where the family firm—famous since the 1920s for its handmade luggage and handbags—was opening a store at the Savoy-Plaza Hotel. Gucci noticed how many young professionals were wearing loafers, a perennially popular shoe with college students since 1936, the year Bass introduced the Weejun. But American loafers were minimal and stiff; Gucci decided the shoe needed an Italian touch.

He crafted a slip-on using calfskin leather and then stitched a horse bit to the instep. The bit was already a Gucci trademark, one that Guccio Gucci had started using after working at the Savoy in London where he'd been inspired by the aesthetic of the English racing set. The resulting loafer was as comfortable as a bedroom slipper and as sleek as a thoroughbred. Celebrities took it up first—Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Clark Gable—and the rest took care of itself.

While these days some deride the shoe as a flashy symbol of conspicuous wealth (a basic pair starts at $545), its critics have long been outnumbered by its fans. One of them was the late Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, lashed by the press in 1987 over "Gucci-gate"—the revelation that this civil servant owned 50 pairs of Gucci loafers.

Savoy: The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images; DiCaprio: Jackson Lee/Star Max/FilmMagic; Disick: Otto Focus/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic; Aldo: CSU Archives/Everett Collection