The History of the Bit Loafer

Posted on January 14 2021

The History of the Bit Loafer

Seen everywhere from the cobbled streets of Paris to meeting rooms throughout Wall Street, bit loafers are go-to staples for the modern man’s wardrobe. It all started when a renowned Italian luxury brand first designed the bit loafer in 1953. Inspired by the casual moccasin and taking influences from equestrian lifestyles, the bit loafer was eventually deemed formal enough to wear with suits and in turn, became a fixture in boardrooms and at trading desks across the country.

What exactly is a bit loafer?

Simply put, the bit loafer sets itself apart from other loafer styles by its distinctive metal detail across the vamp. The bit loafer, a name derived from the horsebit snaffle, soon became the ideal business shoe and was especially popular on Wall Street. The renowned menswear author G. Bruce Boyer wrote about the classic bit loafer:

a successful effort to retain the comfort of the moccasin while adding the fashion and elegance of a dressy shoe. In short, it was the first shoe that bridged the gap between casual and business wear. This dressy slip-on was refined with fine, lightweight calfskin, a pared-down shape, and a metal snaffle bit, and as such it became avenue-elegant and gained acceptance in corporate board rooms and country clubs alike.

Bit loafers and their cult following

From politicians like George H.W. Bush and Richard Nixon to Hollywood royalty such as John Wayne and Clarke Gable, bit loafers became one of the most beloved shoe styles of all time. Female style icons like Jane Birkin and Brigitte Bardot were also avid fans of bit loafers, styling them with everything from sun dresses to white jeans.
The versatile nature of how the bit loafer can be styled is showcased in blockbuster movies with different genres. In the 1989 hit film Drugstore Cowboy, Matt Dillon plays the character of Bob Hughes, a junkie who robs pharmacies. His tough guy persona is expressed through his outfit of a black leather jacket, black jeans, and bit loafers. In contrast, Matt Damon as the wannabe upper-class Tom Ripley in the 1999 classic film The Talented Mr. Ripley, pairs his bit loafers sockless with turn-up pants as he cruises around Italy on a Vespa. 

The more recent 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street follows the real-life crazy antics of Leonardo DiCaprio as the notorious Wall Street personality Jordan Belfort. As he speeds through a lavish and fast-paced lifestyle filled with drugs and manipulating the stock market, he practically lived in bit loafers and tailored suits.

Jay Butler’s Millbank Loafer

We’re big fans of the bit loafer here at Jay Butler. Our take on the classic bit loafer is the Millbank Loafer and it is designed for today’s gentleman. Crafted using genuine moccasin construction to ensure maximum comfort with every step, the Millbank has a full leather sole that’s lightweight, flexible, and durable. We also incorporated a slightly shortened vamp to cover less of the foot, encouraging better ventilation while maintaining the sophisticated and formal feel of the loafer.

We also figured that it would be best to provide some variety.  That’s why we decided to offer the Millbank with a gold-tone or silver-tone bit, along with a range of more than ten leather color options. For those of you who prefer tastefully unique style and luxury, we also offer the Millbank in American alligator and ostrich leather. 

The Millbank Loafer: endless styling possibilities

A question we get asked a lot is what to wear with the Millbank. The best thing about it is that it’s such a versatile style that you can easily transition your look from day to night and from casual to formal. Pair it with shorts and a button-down for an effortlessly cool daytime outfit. When the sun goes down, swap the shorts for a pair of jeans and you’re all set. 

Our selection of leather types and colorways are also perfect if you’re looking for seasonal styles. Our suede Millbank in olive green, for example, is the perfect companion for fall weather, while our full-grain leather Millbank in dark brown is an ideal workhorse shoe that will seamlessly pair well with everything in your closet.

Start browsing through our offering of bit loafers here.


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