Worth the Tassel: Alden for Drake's Tassel Loafers
Alden did not invent the penny loafer. That accolade rests with London shoemaker Wildsmith with their ‘dress slip on’ from the early 1920s. Or an enterprising Norwegian shoemaker Nils Tveranger who whilst catering to a winter holidaying English duke, happened to fasten a keyhole shaped saddle to the vamp of a moccasin style shoe. The end result combined both his American-taught cordwaining skills with a simple traditonal shoe made by local fishermen. It all depends on what folklore you choose to believe.
One could very reasonably argue Alden, however, perfected the from and made the penny their own with the fundamental “Leisure Hand Sewn”; the gold standard of form and function in a saturated market awash with cheap coated leathers and substandard making. Beyond any semblance of doubt, Alden can also categorially lay claim to the Penny Loafer’s more grown up and distinguished cousin, the Tassel Loafer.
The story goes that Hollywood leading man Paul Lucas requested the Middleborough, Massachusetts based shoemaker to conjure a custom outdoor version of the European dancing shoes he favoured that featured fringed tassels at heir laces’ end.
After tinkering with the formula, the resulting ready-to-wear style Alden launched in 1952 ended up using the same moccasin construction as the ‘LHS”. However, a sleeker, almond shaped last was employed with decorative tassels and horseshoe vamp detailing.The upper’s undulatingcurves were more reminiscent of an Albert Slipper than a dress shoe, adding a wonderfully louche touch to proceedings. It was an immediate hit with stars of the big screen and other bon vivants.
The style also proved increasing popular with the East coast Brahmin and by the 1980s, remarkably, it had entered into the business uniform of the upper echelons, often seen paired with pinstriped flannel suits and Hermes ties. The term “tassel loafered’ became shorthand for the good life enjoyed by bankers and lawyers in the gilded corridor from Boston to Washington DC. For while the penny loafer will always be redolent of the ivy covered walls of prep schools and academic institutions, the Tassel loafer was its sophisticated older relative free of educational shackles on its way to a glittering professional career..
“There is probably no shoe that has more identity as an American shoe than the tassel loafer” proclaimed Alan Flusser in 1983’s indispensable Clothes And The Man. It certainly seems that way. John Vinocaur of The International Herald Tribune even declared that that the shoe was worn, indeed flaunted, by young men opposed to France’s socialist government of the mid 1980s. To them the preppiness of the shoe represented all that was great and good about American prosperity and free market capitalism, becoming in the process part of their ‘battle uniform” against the red tape and nationalised industries of their homeland.
It was not to last however, and the lines became increasingly blurred when their counterparts on the left soon followed suit and abandoned the sandals, desert boots and other footwear of the righteous proletariat and embraced the tasselled loafer themselves. “It helped them get tables in the better restaurants” he explained.