Oi Polloi

Bass Weejuns: the Story Behind the Loafers

Published: Thu Jun 06 2013

This was originally posted last July, but seeing as we’ve just received some rather nice cognac Weejuns, we thought we’d knock it back up to the top

Whether you still haven’t mastered tying laces or you just don’t like the sound of Velcro, the slip-on stylings of Bass Weejuns make them the perfect pair of shoes for a bit of high-class loafing. Although they probably conjure up images of Yale graduates or pool-cue-wielding suede-heads, the classic loafer shape was first worn on the nimble feet of Norwegian farmers who needed light, easy-access footwear whilst working in the areas where their cattle were loafing (which explains the name for ya’).

Well-travelled Yanks soon got wise to the style, and in the early thirties a Maine-based boot company by the name of G.H. Bass was approached by Esquire magazine to make a few pairs of the shoe for an article they were running on ‘winter resort style’. Although Bass were originally skeptical and didn’t think outdoor house slippers (their words, not ours) would sell, they rattled a few off for Esquire. The article hyped the shoes as being the next ‘footwear novelty’ and offered this reassuring statement — “The shoe provides slipper-like comfort for end-of-the-day wear, yet it may be worn about the house without fear of guests raising their eyebrows for it is not a slipper.”

The shoes, which Esquire named Weejuns (as in Norwegian), were soon the talk of the jet-setting elite and selling like slip-on hotcakes. But it wasn’t just Martini-supping high-fliers who had a penchant for slip-ons, and by the fifties Bass Weejun loafers were the shoes of choice for the sharp-dressed students across America, who combined the laid-back loafers with slim fitting Levi’s trousers and button-down shirts to create what became the Ivy uniform (bet you’ve never heard that before eh?). As an interesting bit of general knowledge ammo — the term penny loafers came about due to the more extrovert Weejun owners putting shiny pennies in the front of their shoes to add a bit of flair, but predating this, it was apparently fairly common practice to carry around enough change for a phone call in the diamond cut-out on the front.

Whilst we’re not about to rattle on about ‘subcultures’, ‘tribes’ and all that rubbish, Bass Weejuns are a classic, leathery tale of shoes outliving their original purpose, and whether you’re a jazz-cat, a moon-walker or even a techno-viking, you could do a lot worse than a pair of Weejuns.

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