Shoe: Beckett Simonon "Cohen" Loafer in Dark Brown (2017)
Price: $199, from BeckettSimonon.com
Loafers hold a special place in the footwear pantheon: for a shoe so simple in design, their identity couldn’t be more complicated.
Descended from a traditional Norwegian fisherman’s slip-on, the English sporting loafer first gained wide appeal as a souvenir brought back on the feet of those who could afford a voyage to the fjords. It then migrated to the resort scene (see: “those who could afford”), allegedly arriving in West Palm Beach, Florida during the 1930’s. There, this lower effort alternative to the Oxford found a group both conscious of image and short of time: the American collegiate male.
Immortalized in the movie Animal House as the prepster’s piece de resistance, loafers - specifically, the Bass Weejun - became popular on Northeastern college campuses for their blend of athletic ease and aristocratic connotation (see: “those who could afford”). In American popular imagination, the fate of the loafer would forever be East Coast Prep.
Across the pond, however, a different thread was unraveling.
Right around the time that Bass & Co unveiled the Weejun in 1951, England’s “mod” culture stepped into the mainstream. London's mods staked their identity in an idea of a polished, affluent, post-war modernist – from suits to scooters to the shoes they wore to use both, an ideal “mod” product was one that realigned the old to the lines of the new. Slim-fit suits were a part of it. English rock was a part of it. Loafers gave a mod his steady foundation.
Only twenty years later, however, the “new” was old enough to become new again. The loafer’s association with the music of mod culture gave English punk and New Wave artists license to lean on the venerable silhouette, and before long, even American pop artists were adopting the shoe for its newfound “edge.” Michael Jackson’s moon-walking Florsheims were this wave at peak.
A Norwegian fisherman’s shoe worn by Ivy Leaguers and English Punks, made spectacular by the 1987 VMA winner for Best Choreography – there’s a penny for your thoughts.
At the time of this review, I’m an American college student attending a prestigious university after a childhood spent in the greater Northeast. Long story short: my read on loafers is more Dead Poets than downtown punk. Yet, even though my wardrobe consists mostly of white tees and dark pants, I was pleasantly surprised with the mileage I get from these shoes.
First things first, let’s meet the loafers. The slip-ons in questions are the Cohen Loafer by Beckett Simonon, a direct-to-consumer e-comm shoemaker offering handmade dress shoes at accessible prices. As GREATS is to sneakers and Warby is to eyewear, Beckett Simonon (BS?) is to formal footwear. Cool products. Low prices. Done.
Speaking of product: the Cohen.
Aesthetically, Beckett’s loafer is a classic Ivy-style slip-on. There’s a moccasin toe (check), a one-piece back (check), and an austere, sensible monotone upper (Worthington Check, the III). While it’s as generic as they come, for a first pair of loafers, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I own a navy suit, grey chinos, and olive green J. Crew shorts. If I’m wearing a shoe whose connotation meshes with each of those, I’d prefer its looks to do just the same.
Materials-wise, the Cohen is just as traditional. The shoe’s upper is made from full-grain calfskin, lined with untanned vachetta leather for sockless comfort, and then stitched to a leather outsole with a rubber heel cap for added traction. While it’s far too early for me to comment on durability, the leather feels thick out of the box and the stitching is, well, done by hand. For the three weeks I’ve worn them so far, I’ve been impressed by the quality.
“Three weeks of wear?” I’m glad you asked.
It’s time to talk wearability.
As mentioned above, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with just how wearable the Cohen loafer is in casual settings. My on-campus wardrobe consists of white tops and neutral bottoms, varied by occasion: smart casual chinos, late-to-class tees, you know the deal. In these bounds, I’ve yet to find a silhouette where loafers don’t work.
When I need to make an impression without a jacket or tie, sockless loafers paired with cuffed chinos and an OCBD are a subtle way to say “some effort is cool.” When it’s 40 at 9am and 90 at 4pm (shoutout Michigan fall), a crewneck sweater and chino shorts look right at home with shoes meant for loafing. On a sunny day, Cohens can even make a plain tee and chino shorts lean Cape Cod. I wear mine most often with 8" shorts and an uncuffed OCBD in hopes it will one day lead to yacht ownership.
That being said, as a 21-year old male, loafers are still primarily a formal shoe. Compared to, say, Nike’s sublime Flyknit Racer (another streamlined, low-heeled athletic silhouette), the context created by a century’s worth of Ivy League association might not always be additive compared to the meaning evoked by another similar shape. I’m a firm believer that most aren’t buying loafers to replace their Common Projects, but I don’t want to give the impression of a casual shoe “magic bullet.”
There are many ways to fill a shoe tree, and while our handsome, punk-meets-prep leather low-top may have the cultural bones to play more roles authentically than other shoes, the Cohen Loafer is still not the only shoe you should own.
What it is, however, is a damn good generalist.
While boat shoes may have worked well for that junior year semi-formal, even the most minimal 2-eyes err heavily towards the “casual” side of smart casual. The same is doubly true of the brown leather “dress sneakers” sold by most heritage brands. On the converse, even a “casual” brogued oxford is typically interpreted as much more biz than the opposite.
In the middle of it all: loafers like the Cohen.
Disclosure: Beckett Simonon sent these shoes along to me for nothing more than a request for an honest review, and to me, an honest review requires the reader trusting the writer - hence, the candor. My sincere thanks to Donna at Beckett Simonon for her kind gift.