When you’re going for a smart sharp casual look, you have plenty of shoes to choose from, but you must choose wisely, especially if you’re looking to maintain a versatile yet minimal wardrobe.
White leather sneakers, while versatile, skew a bit too casual for your dressier occasions where a suit and tie are called for.
Black or dark brown leather cap toes, while elegant, can definitely feel too formal if you’re wearing jeans and a polo.
So what’s the alternative? The perfect middle ground that seems to look great and feel natural next to both casual-leaning and more formal-leaning outfits?
My money is on the tan leather loafer.
They’ve been my shoe of choice for YEARS, and barring any crazy weather, they’re the most common pair I reach for before heading out the door.
In this article, we’ll go over exactly how to wear loafers and what to wear them with.
More importantly, let’s get into the specifics of why I believe tan—also called cognac, or caramel, or “light brown”—leather loafers are the ONE pair of shoes every guy going for a smart, sharp look must have in his closet.
3 Reasons To Wear Tan Leather Loafers
There are plenty of reasons, yes, but let’s start with my top 3.
1. The loafer is the perfect shoe for a smart casual style
Tan leather loafers are just casual enough to be worn with chinos or jeans, and formal enough to be worn with trousers and a jacket.
Talk about versatile, am I right?
2. It elevates your casual looks
If you’re like me and dress mostly in a smart sharp casual sort of style, you’ll find that a sharp loafer comes in handy.
But even if you’re going more casual, like:
- denim and a polo shirt, or
- chinos, a T-shirt, and a denim jacket
…a tan leather loafer clicks up your stylishness like 2-3 notches.
Contrast that with a pair of minimal leather sneaks, which still looks great, sure… but it doesn’t elevate the whole look like tan leather loafers do.
3. It’s super comfortable!
You don’t have to worry about laces; loafers slip on and off super easily.
Of course, you can rock a sockless look in the summer (though I do recommend, at the very least, some absorbent insoles).
And you can wear them with warmer wool blend socks in the winter, or dress socks when you want to wear loafers with trousers or a suit.
The best tan leather loafers: What do they look like?
If you’re just getting into loafers (or leather dress shoes, in general) all loafers probably look the same. But there are a number of different styles of loafers.
The specific one I want you to get looks like this:
What sets this loafer apart from the others?
This is a penny loafer, for sure, but resembles an apron-style toe or Norwegian (minus the split toe) vs a moccasin-like construction.
This pair has an almond toe shape (more oval than circular, more pointed than round, slightly elongated but not too much… it’s a nice middle-of-the-road shape)
It’s hand-finished in a rich cognac color with variations of light and medium brown, and the slightly burnished toe and heel add a bit more interest.
Finally, the leather is pebbled rather than smooth; the textured leather adds more interest to the overall look without being too over-the-top.
“Which loafer are you showing in these photos?”
This particular pair is the Dartford in Tan Soft Grain from Herring Shoes’ house line. Herring graciously partnered with us for this article (#spon) and also sent us a few pairs from their house line so I can see them in closer detail.
I have a couple pairs of tan loafers in my collection, but over the past few months these have become my absolute favorites.
I love the hand-finishing, which is what gives it that unique color variation. And the pebbled texture is so damn good looking!
Also, I’m a big fan of texture, like I previously mentioned, and good texture can really spice up an outfit without saying “Look at me look at me! I need attention!”
Herring is an online retailer of fine men’s shoes, but their house line in particular is worth your consideration. They’re high-end and incredibly well made for the price (made by Carlos Santos of Portugal, shoemakers since 1942)
One thing to note (especially my US readers): Even though Herring is based in the UK, they ship US orders daily using DHL, which means you often receive your order within ONE working day.
On top of that, they have an incredibly generous return policy (they offer a $10 return label to ship alllll the way back to the UK, if needed!)
Check out the Dartford loafer and all other shoes from Herring here.
Why Cognac or Tan Leather Loafers?
A tan / cognac leather loafer is the perfect balance of casual and formal.
If you checked out the Spectrum of Style Formality, you know that loafers are in the middle, formality-wise, when you line up all the possible casual and formal shoe choices.
And as far as color is concerned, while tan / cognac is more on the casual side, overall, it’s still a very “dressy” shoe when you take into account the fact that it is a loafer (vs. say, a sneaker or a boat shoe).
In contrast, darker brown or black feels more formal, which can sometimes be tough to pull off casually.
This tan color with slight burnish feels not as formal, while obviously still being a very capable “dress shoe”.
Plus, these lighter to medium browns—again: tan, cognac, light brown, caramel—provide a great contrast to navy, gray, olive… the typical colors of jeans, chinos, and trousers.
Why go for a pebbled leather texture?
As much as I love a standard, smooth leather dress shoe, I’m really all about that texture.
Texture is fun to play with because it’s similar to pattern (like check or plaid or stripe) but much more subtle and interesting.
The pebbling on these leather loafers are, to me, much more interesting than any other smooth leather loafers I have.
At the same time, you don’t have to worry about texture taking away any of the formality, which means these will fit right in no matter if you’re more formal- or casual-leaning.
Wondering how to wear loafers? A few outfit ideas
Just to show you how versatile these can be, I’ve put together 3 different outfit ideas so you know what to wear with your loafers.
One’s more casual, the second, more what I consider “smart sharp casual”, and the third is obviously a formal look.
I typically dress in a smart sharp casual fashion, but just know that tan leather loafers are the best type of shoe because they can go with practically ANY style you choose.
1. Casual outfit with loafers
So for this look, I went with gray chinos, a blue printed cotton sport shirt, and a quilted vest.
This outfit is the perfect example of simple casual with the option to “dress it up” just a touch with the loafers.
I mentioned earlier that you could dress even more casual (with a T-shirt and denim jacket, for example) and the tan loafers are still right at home.
2. Loafers with a Smart Sharp Casual outfit
For a slightly more dressed up look, I went with dark denim jeans, a simple white dress shirt, and a sport coat.
You can even do a tie with this look to take it up another notch. But regardless of what you decide, the point here is the loafers!
They’re the perfect accompaniment to this outfit, and I personally love the contrast of the tan color with the darker tones.
3. Formal outfit with loafers
Finally, for the formal option, I went with a navy blue Spier and Mackay suit, light blue striped dress shirt with button down collar, and a paisley tie.
Again, tan leather loafers fit seamlessly into this look. Sure, you could go with a black cap-toe or a dark brown wingtip, but you don’t have to. These loafers are a no-brainer.
Have I sold you on the tan leather loafer yet?
Now that you know why I suggest tan leather loafers for the all-in-one shoe perfect for 95% of your smart sharp casual outfits…
(not including your all-sweats-on-Sunday look, and your very occasional black-tie soiree, obviously)
…are you completely down with getting a pair for yourself?
Hopefully I’ve been convincing enough 😉
Definitely check out the Dartford model from Herring. The value you get for the price is insane.
I can speak from firsthand experience that they’re crazy comfortable. They hug my feet nicely with no heel slippage and have a really comfortable last.
Plus, the sexy silhouette simply looks great. The hand finished color and slight burnishing, and the pebbled leather texture? A nice, delightful bonus.
Whatever you choose, adding a tan leather loafer to your wardrobe is a smart move. I highly suggest you pick up a pair, stat!