The Horsebit Loafer Buying Guide

This is not a simple list of brands; in this article, I will explore why you might pick one type of horsebit loafer or another, explain each recommendation in a fair bit of depth, and explain what types of loafers to avoid.

The Horsebit Loafer Buying Guide
Oak Street Bootmakers Black Horsebit Loafer

So, you understand how to talk about loafers, and now you want to buy a pair. What do you want? This is not a list of brands, this is a guide.

Well, for one, you have to decide between the moccasin-style horsebits and the apron-toe-style loafers. Moc Toes are more visually interesting, and more versatile in that they're easier to dress down. Both styles work with a suit, but apron toes are sleeker and probably easier for most people to appreciate.

Then, you need to decide what aesthetic approach you want to take—do you want something relatively classic, or soemthing a little more modern and unique? Something you can wear to work, or something that you can wear to stand out in SoHo? Something that looks good with shorts, with jeans, with a dark suit, with a tuxedo... or with a range of outfits?

Moc Toes

I like moc toes more. Are they a tiny bit dumb-looking? Yes, but that's a good thing. On penny loafers, a moc toe would be a casual detail. But when the horsebit loafer was introduced, a moc toe with a gold horsebit on black calf, it was the shoe of choice for New York bankers to wear with their suits. This history allows moc toe horsebits to be dressed up or down very easily, and manages to look cool in each context; I think of them as a uniquely versatile shoe.

There's only one brand I can start with, and yes, it's the expensive one.

Gucci 1953

Gucci's 1953 Horsebit Loafer

Gucci's 1953 loafer is the original horsebit loafer. It's in museums. Despite being the heritage option Gucci's horsebit loafers are also, obviously, an expensive high fashion option. It's $920, and it's a well-made shoe, but not a $920-well-made shoe. It's blake stitched with a single leather sole, so it should be more comfortable than many other dress shoes. The horsebit has a good shape to it, and the shoe has a good "toe spring," which is to say that the toe portion turns up off the ground, as opposed to some other shoes where the toe stays flat.

Replicas I mention below below—Carmina's XIM last and Allen Edmonds' Verona II—are pretty close imitations. They're very similar lasts and, I'm pretty sure from what I've heard and what I've seen in stores, better leathers. I've also been told that the construction is better, but they're all blake stitched single leather soles, I think, so... Really, at Gucci, you're paying for heritage + the name... or because you don't know that the other options are kinda better.

Gucci also does fun colors, and has some styles that are driven by their logos or their colored straps, which I think are dumb, but if you're into conspicuous consumption, there's another reason to buy I guess.

Gucci-likes and Other Moc Toes

Oak Street Bootmakers

These brands make loafers that are an homage to Gucci's 1953, and they make them better. I don't think of them as knockoffs or anything like that, but if you want to keep things as authentic as possible, then by all means, go for Gucci. For those of you who want to save money and get a better-made shoe, though...

Carmina's XIM-last Horsebit Loafer is fantastic. I'll probably buy a pair soon. You're not going to beat this value, but I suppose I'll list alternatives anyway. They also make many of these for women.

The main advantage of Allen Edmonds Verona II over Carmina's is that it's easier to find an Allen Edmond's store and try a pair on. They're also a good value, and might even go on sale, if you're lucky.

Alden's regular horsebit loafer is ugly as sin, but their Cape Cod model is pretty nice. It's also being produced by Oak Street Bootmakers, so just buy from them instead of paying Alden's markup.

Rancourt is known for making classic American loafers, and does good horsebits in both classic styles with leather soles, and a more intriguing lug sole model. Their Ivy horsebit loafer with Leffot is a somewhat different last, and comes in shell cordovan, if you're willing to shell out a little extra.

Rancourt x Leffot Ivy Horsebit Loafer in Color 16 Shell Cordovan. This material has a totally unique sheen in person, especially as it ages.

Apron Toes

Gucci's Jordaan Horsebit Loafer

We'll start with Gucci again—particularly, their Jordaan, which I think is pretty prototypical. The apron toe is sleeker, more modern, and... if you ask me, not as cool, but still pretty cool. It's shaped more like a regular dress shoe, which... I think defeats some of the charm. You can still dress up a moc toe horsebit loafer, if you want, because it was historically associated with rich NYC bankers and lawyers (among other groups). Still, some aesthetics will be better served by these flatter, sleeker lasts. Particularly, I think this last works best with either vintage Armani or in lazy-luxury type outfits—imagine you're on vacation and just wearing loose-fitting silk head to toe.

Ferragamo is the alternative fashion option, although it's fallen out of favor, and their current designs are nothing special The platonic ideal of a Ferragamo last is elongated, and flatter, and squared off compared to everything else on this list. I think their horse bits look kind of dumb, with the flat bar on the inside as opposed to Gucci's rounder shape. Still, this style is somewhat historic, and fits in well with certain 80s-90s vibes. I can't really find much history on them, but I'm pretty sure that was their heyday, they seem like a yuppie shoe to me. Their "Tremezza" line is supposed to be very well made (although, at the prices they charge, you should start looking into bespoke footwear instead). I'm not sure how you would buy a horsebit loafer in the classic Ferragamo style these days, the Gucci Jordaan might

Again, Carmina is the brand to beat in value. They have four different lasts of horsebit loafers for men, including a wide option. And they have even more options for women, including kilted horsebits, which are kind of unique. However, notice that none of these lasts mimics the Gucci Jordaan or classic Ferragamo styles.

For women, Meermin also makes a good apron toe.

Morjas does good apron toes that are not-too-sleek, a good in-betweener shoe (although I think your'e still better off with mocs). Use this link or referral code yyl87w7rqj for $20 off.

Current Hype

Blackstock & Weber is the current king of hype loafers, and is particularly known for these lug sole loafers. They also do two-tones, unusual patterns, colors, and textures... look around their whole collection.

Horatio London does some cool loafers in a similar vein. Not really a hype brand itself, but a similar approach to design.

Yuketen is generally known for really cool, weird shoes, but their horsebits are mostly pretty standard and classic moc toes (with some exceptions). But they're still a cool brand, so I'll lump them in here. (A friend posted five years ago about how he got his pair for $220, and I'm jealous, that is a ridiculous price).

Budget Options

Meermin Softcalf Horsebit Loafers

The best budget tip is to buy secondhand. You can search eBay for the brands I listed above, or you can look in person. Hopefully, you now have an idea of what you're looking for.

The second best budget tip is that cheap suede is better than cheap smooth leather. I could break down why that is, but you don't care, just try out suede.

But if you want to buy new... I'm never going to recommend Aldo, these shoes aren't too cheap.

Meermin is one of the best values in footwear. $200 might not be that cheap, but it's a worthwhile pick. The only reason I'm listing other brands here is that it's hard to try a pair of Meermins on.

Beckett Simonon's shoes are pretty well-made and go on sale every now and then. They have a bit of toe spring, which is good. There are better options at ~$220 (Meermin, particularly), but if you buy them through one of their specials / sales / deals, they might be a budget standout.

I've heard a few good things about Jay Butler, too. They seem pretty solid for $229, and they make a wide variety of styles.

Bass Weejuns are... still about $200. But they go on sale sometimes, so I still think of them as a budget model. They really aren't a reasonable competitor to any brand above. Their leather and construction leave a lot to be desired. But they have some history, and some people like the last.

Sebago also makes some interesting styles in the ~200€ range, and sometimes goes on sale.

Similar Shoes

I think Gucci's furry Princetown Mules are pretty cool, but they're definitely long gone from the trend cycle, and generally silly-looking. unless you know what you're doing with them.

Paul Stuart does Velvet Horsebit Slippers and... uh... Patent Leather Horsebit Opera Pumps. Yeah, so, if you want to try to pull off a horsebit with eveningwear, that's a thing.

Tom Ford makes these chain loafers that are somewhat like horsebit loafers. As one alternative, consider these from Solovair x Golf le Fleur. The chain is technically a logo, but I still think they're cool.

Single-monk / buckle "loafers" are a thing. They are loafers to the extent that they are slip-ons, so depending on how functionally important the buckle is, they might or might not technically count. The metal buckle fulfills some of the visual function of a horsebit. I like this one from The Anthology.

Bad Horsebits

Do these even count as horsebit loafers? Either way, they're awful.

Cole Haan and other mass market companies make... bad horebit loafers, really. A horsebit should have oval rings. But with cheap brands, you'll often either see a sort of rectangular shaped horsebit, which I think is ugly, or in some cases, just a straight metal bar with no rings, like these from Tod's. Nothing good about it, just a straight metal bar like, glued to the saddle. That's crap, but I guess I think of them in the same category as bit loafers, just the worst attempt at the style. Most of these brands are also cemented and the leather is crap. The one upside of Cole Haan is that it's known for comfort. It won't look good and won't last, but oh well.

Oh, I have seen vintage Cole Haan horsebit loafers that were actually very good... Good luck finding a pair of those.

Prada does lug sole loafers with a metal logo plate that were very popular for a while. I do not care for them, they feel to me like people are mostly just obsessed with the branding.

Horsebit drivers are usually the same as the cheap, mass market horsebit loafers, except they're drivers. Good shoemakers usually don't make drivers, because why would you bother using good leather in a shoe that should never even leave your car?

If you intend to buy drivers to wear outside of your car, you are probably confused. May I suggest buying loafers instead?