The penny loafer and I have a somewhat fractious relationship.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a true and genuine affection for the penny loafer. But the particular geography of my feet–with the right foot a full size and a half larger than its counterpart–makes a slip on shoe a less than suitable option.
In fact, my last (and only) pair of penny loafers was purchased in 1983. As a teen, I coped with the size difference by placing an insert in the left shoe, which helped moderate the slippage, to a degree.
So, in an effort to rectify this situation, I set out in search of an option for my mismatched feet–the first pair of penny loafers of my adult life.
A Little History
In the early 20th century, Norway was a major destination among the well heeled for fishing expeditions. A slip on shoe worn by local fishermen quickly gained traction among these visitors, and it started showing up in European resorts and, eventually, Palm Beach.
Esquire took note of the shoe. In the 1930s, at the behest of the magazine and retailer Rogers Peet, G.H. Bass & Company began making a shoe based upon the Norwegian design, christened the Weejun. For more than a half century, Bass was the most venerable among the penny loafer’s many makers.
Over time, the penny loafer’s cultural associations evolved, and it now has a place among the most distinctly American of shoes.
Sadly, Bass is no longer a major player for those of us who favor American made shoes, having almost completely betrayed its heritage. With very few exceptions, virtually every version of the Weejun it now sells is manufactured overseas.
Determined to add a penny loafer to my shoe rotation, I did some sleuthing. I found three American companies that could make a traditional penny loafer on a custom basis, with different sized shoes for each foot: Allen Edmonds, Rancourt and Oak Street Bootmakers.
I knocked Allen Edmonds out of the running, primarily for aesthetic reasons. And Oak Street Bootmakers is a relatively recent interloper; plus their loafers are only made in the beefroll configuration, a style I don’t favor.
That left Rancourt, a Lewiston, Maine-based company that has been making classic shoes since 1967, although apparently under its own moniker only since 2010.
So to Rancourt I turned, with an eye on the weltline penny loafer in brown. Although I could have ordered online, when placing a custom order I feel it’s better to speak with an actual human being. The person I spoke with was courteous and helpful. She explained that a custom order involved an $80 surcharge, which is consistent with the tariff other companies place.
Shoes, at Last!
Three weeks later, my shoes arrived.
And they are truly a sight to behold!
The leather is outstanding: not corrected grain, bookbinder leather, but a rich full grain. The fit on each foot is spot on. And the color, a deep oak, is truly magnificent; the pictures on the web site simply do not do it justice.
My one complaint is that the stain on the bottom of each shoe is a slightly different shade. But this is a minor concern, and a single day of scuffing on concrete has rendered the difference moot.
I can see these shoes worn in all kinds of settings: sockless with khakis and Bermuda shorts, and it the winter with gray flannels and tweeds.
Some will wear penny loafers with a suit. I decline that option, believing that the suit’s formality contrasts too starkly with the inherent casualness of the penny loafer. I will however, wear it with an odd jacket and trousers.
I should also note that Rancourt seems to have a genuine concern for its workers. The company’s average worker makes more than twice the minimum wage. Admittedly, no one is getting rich on that paycheck, but those are also decidedly not poverty wages–yet another reason those of us at Classic American Style continue to celebrate American made goods.