Monday, November 21, 2011

My Lifelong Love Affair with Gucci Loafers

I don't remember when I got my first pair of Gucci loafers.  I know that it was when I was at prep school in the mid-1970s, at Saint Grottlesex, either during my junior or my senior year.  But I can't exactly pinpoint the date.  It's been so long that I just don't remember.

The iconic, classic Gucci loafer

Gucci loafers.  I'm referring to the classic, old-fashioned, pre-Tom-Ford-era ones, with snaffle-bits, favored by slippery-slope investment bankers, louche Euro-trash, and the denizens of Kennedy-era Southampton and Palm Beach and their social and stylistic offspring.  Footwear fashions may come and go, but the classic Gucci loafer remains essentially unchanged for more than half a century, and rightly so, because it is a highly profitable mainstay of the firm's footwear empire.  Leaders at Gucci blessedly know not to kill the golden goose of the House of Gucci.  They might play with it, as they do, by offering variations on it, but they haven't yet killed the original.  And I hope they never do, at least during my lifetime, as I plan on wearing the classic Gucci loafer to my grave . . .


Gucci loafers have been a staple of my footwear wardrobe ever since I first slipped my feet into a pair as a teenager, my fevered heart pounding with anticipation that, yes, my dream of owning a pair was finally coming true.  I had coveted Gucci loafers for long enough that when it came time for me to actually try on a pair to buy I felt like Cinderella confronted with the glass slipper brought 'round after the ball.  I knew they were meant to be mine.

A 1970s preppy hottie, wearing Gucci loafers
Photograph courtesy of Google Images

I had to put up a fight to get them, though.  Neither of my parents wore Gucci loafers when I was growing up, and they disapproved of them.  My parents were far too conservative to wear such shoes, and considered them flashy, shockingly expensive, and downright frivolous, given who wore them—people of suspect morals and spendthrift ways.

People just like me, as it turned out.

I first became aware of Gucci loafers when I went away to boarding school.  It was there, at Saint Grottlesex, that I encountered them on the feet of the fast-living, unnervingly sophisticated, more-than-worldly, Manhattan-raised offspring of families with boldfaced names, limitless resources, and house accounts (remember those?) in stores stocked with expensive European-made goods.  Remember, this was back in the 1970s, long before every major city in America became over-retailed with specialty stores and shopping malls clogged with purveyors of luxury goods, all to be had with just a Visa card and a credit line.  In those days it was hard to find a store in America outside of Manhattan that stocked Gucci loafers.

The flagship Gucci store in Manhattan, before it moved to the Trump Tower
Photograph courtesy of Google Images

My schoolmates at Saint Grottlesex who wore Gucci loafers (a relatively small minority of the school's population, I admit) seemed impossibly glamorous and sophisticated to me, and I wanted to be like them.  And that meant I needed to ratchet up my wardrobe in order to fit in with them.  I needed a pair of Gucci loafers.

Douglas Fairnbanks, Jr., wearing Gucci loafers
Photograph courtesy of Google Images

"You want what?!" I remember MD asking me when I told her I wanted a pair of Guccis, instead of the much more reasonable and mundane Bass Weejuns she was prepared to buy me to take back to boarding school for the fall semester of my junior year.  Except that we didn't call it "Junior Year" at Saint Grottlesex; we called it the "Fifth Form," in the traditions of the English public schools that Saint Grottlesex (and others like it) followed.

"Are you crazy?!" she said. "Have you any idea how much those ridiculous shoes cost?!  Forget it!"

Brand-new and begging to be worn . . .

At the time I didn't know how much Gucci loafers cost, except that they were expensive (they had to be, considering those I knew who wore them).  But I was determined to own a pair, despite my mother's objections and her unwillingness to foot the bill.  I don't know whether it was then or within the next year, but I somehow scraped together enough money to buy myself a pair—black leather ones with brushed brass snaffle-bits.  I was beside myself with excitement when I brought the shoebox home, the forbidden treasure nestled inside, wrapped in tissue paper.  And when I slipped them on my feet, alone in my bedroom, I felt flushed with pleasure, but nervous, too, knowing that I had done something rash and extravagant and that my parents would disapprove when they discovered what I had done.

Even though I took no end of heat from MD for squandering what little money I had on a pair of shoes I could ill afford, I was thrilled to have them.  I felt as if I'd crossed over to the other side, to where the fast and exotic kids from New York at Saint Grottlesex lived and played.  I no longer felt like a suburban hick, staring through the window at the fun happening inside.  I was inside.  Well, sort of—at least I now had the same shoes as those inside wore . . .

The Gucci store in Florence, in the 1950s
Photograph courtesy of Google Images

And I've been happily wearing Gucci loafers ever since, thank you.  In fact, I'm wearing a pair of them right now, as I write this essay for you, Dear Reader.

The classic Gucci loafer is deliciously comfortable and marvelous looking in a sporty, horsey way, and pretty much "goes" with anything, in my view.  I wear them with suits, with khakis, with jeans, and with shorts.  I draw the line with black tie, though, but I didn't used to when I was younger, before I owned embroidered velvet slippers, or Belgians, or kidskin dancing pumps to go with my evening wear.  But that's another story for another evening, I suppose.

I wear Gucci loafers everywhere: to the office, while walking the dog, out to eat in the city, or knocking about in the country on a summer weekend's afternoon.  I wear them so often that I sometimes absentmindedly find myself wearing them while engaged in impromptu outdoor weekend chores or projects—hopefully (but not always) beat-up old ones, and not a fresh pair, just brought home from the store.  In cool weather I wear Gucci loafers with socks, but in warm weather I mostly wear them sockless—that is, assuming my ankles have the barest blush of a tan, a requirement to carry the sockless look off, in my view.

A mess of our worn-out Gucci loafers

Between the two of us, Boy and I own dozens and dozens of pairs of Gucci loafers in various stages of wear.  It is almost embarrassing.  Part of the reason we have so many pairs, though, is because we haven't gotten rid of our worn-out ones when we've bought fresh ones to replace them.  Boy has a number of what he calls "Gardening Guccis" that he keeps at Darlington, shoes that are so worn and scuffed that they really aren't suitable to wear off the property, but which are wonderfully comfortable and admirably suited to wearing while—well—gardening or doing painting projects.

Boy's mud-caked Gardening Guccis

In addition to his collection of classic Gucci loafers, Boy also has a number of pairs of what he calls his "Ghetto Guccis," as they were clearly designed to appeal to the Hip Hop set and are much fun to wear at parties.

A party favorite in three different colors of leather!

Me?  I stick with the old-fashioned, tried-and-true, classic Gucci loafers with the snaffle-bits, in either brown or black leather.  Sometmes I might get a pair with red and green ribbon beneath the bits, or I'll try some sleek driving shoes; more recently I bought a pair with bamboo "bits" instead of metal snaffle-bits.

The classic, with a twist

I even have a couple of pairs from the 1990s that were so of-the-moment when I bought them as to be unwearable today.  They languish in my closets, unworn.  Most of the Gucci loafers I own, though, are the classic style that looks good on the feet of anyone from a fourteen-year-old boy (should he be so lucky), out goofing around with friends, to an eighty-year-old codger out for a swell lunch with a scrumptious niece or granddaughter.

The look, the dog, the loafer . . .

In short, I love me my Gucci loafers.  And I'll never stop wearing them, either.

Tell me, when did you get your first pair of Gucci loafers?

All photographs, except where noted, by Boy Fenwick

41 comments:

  1. Gucci does not make my size!

    But I am very curious about your 90s models. Can't we have even a hint?

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    1. I'm afraid my 90s ones are too embarassing for words to show...

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  2. What is it about shoes and teens? Although it wasn't Guccis for me, I do remember the anguish I lived in until I had the "right" boat shoes and the "right" gym shoes. Nowadays I play the role of MD when it comes to shoes for my boys. The younger one in particular has an eye for the finer things. I refused to buy the custom basketball shoes he wanted, but instead gave him the amount I thought reasonable and told him he would have to make up the difference. I arrived home one afternoon to find that the shoes had arrived via post. How did I know? They were artfully displayed front and center on a cake stand on the dining room table!

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  3. Comfortable & good looking...are you sure they are shoes!

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  4. Good Lord! Probably before you were born!

    No...not really....but I got my first pair in 1968?! When I was in college! .......My husband........Probably the same time! The Gucci store wasn't in Los Angeles.......(I mean Beverly Hills)

    I am a girl; and we love the Gucci Classics also!

    They are the coolest shoes. I also love the Belgians....does Reggie????

    I am on the edge of my seat!

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  5. Oh, I forgot to say!

    Shoes do make the man! My very wise mother said.......

    "Look at his shoes"! Are they polished? Are they lovely and fashionable?

    Look down!"

    Wasn't she smart? Good Lord! She is spinning in her grave right now!

    I just read of the guys outside the "clubs in Manhattan" (NYTimes) the girls are "all done up in cute dresses hair and make up"; the guys in dirty t-shirts, flip flops or athletic shoes....dressed to "go work on their cars"!

    Now that is a good line! "dressed to go work on their cars"! I'm saving that one!

    Yikes!

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  6. Oh yes, our Florentine classic! The funny thing is, you never see the Florentine social equivalents of you and me in them, but that doesn't stop us! I, like Boy, wear the Ghetto version too, especially when in Monte-Carlo! By the way, never throw those shoes away, they'll find their way to Southeby's one day for certain!

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  7. I think I was about 18. They are terrifically comfortable, and were so in vogue for British men too in the mid seventies/eighties, (and even still today I enjoy wearing them, which probably dates me). But never with a suit - it's far too outre! How clever to have kept all your old ones...my hand-me-downs have been disposed of. Maybe I should keep them for gardening too. Except I don't have a garden, (here).

    BTW you must have been ribbed about the name of your school, surely?!

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  8. This is not a "Love Affair"... those pictures portray an absolute orgy. Good Lord, man! I like it.

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  9. Mr Darling, the 1970s hottie? You, perhaps?

    I have never owned a pair of Gucci loafers but well might by tonight. Eighteen years ago I bought, in haste, a pair of Ferragamo loafers and, believe me, the old saying "... in haste, repent at leisure" holds true all these years later.

    My shoes, generally speaking, are relatively anonymous - Alden and Peal and Co., but recently I bought a pair of Prada blue suede driving shoes which go particularly well my oldest, most faded pair of 501s. After seeing your party favorites I think I'm off to Nieman's this afternoon to peruse the Gucci offerings.

    Gucci gardening shoes! That's style!

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  10. A few thoughts:

    1. They have a terrible nick name of "Deal Sleds" in the Georgetown social circles as guys who were them are exponentially more often than not able to "close the deal" with a lady than those not wearing Gucci Loafers.
    2. That pile of Loafers makes my heart pitter patter.
    3. First pair was for my birthday a few years ago in black - to be worn with black tie - at parties. I save the lace ups for more formal occasions.

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  11. When I came out as gay to my sister, she responded by saying "Now you can finally get some of those gucci loafers you've always wanted"! I went out and bought the first of what must now be a couple dozen pairs.

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  12. reggie,

    love, love this article on 'G' loafers ! my story is a mirror of yours; bought my first pair in palm beach freshman year of college and have no idea how mcuh they cost. have been wearing them ever since. have to be the classic 'bit' loafer = sign of a well dresssed preppy guy!

    john / birmingham, MI

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  13. What do you think of Tod's?

    Best

    Herts

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  14. Oh Reggie, we are too much alike, and I've deduced I am about 9 years old than you. My first pair were purchased in Florence on Big Daddy's AmEx card. In the late 60's I shelled out about Forty-Eight dollars, in early 1970's the price of was One Hundred Twenty. Today about Five Fifty. Now I have to buy mine in Bar Harbor though I can buy them at the Gucci store 6 blocks up the street to avoid the Ghetto guys. The same holds true for Saks and Needless. Oh to live on the UES now!

    No Ghetto models for me, but I did buy the burgandy patent leather model once, which were tossed during the move(1973) from UES back to Buckhead. Should have saved them to send you and Boy for gardening clogs! (43 Medium I recall)

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  15. Reggie,
    I think some custom shelving in the closets of Darlington is in order to show off this amazing collection with the "getto" assortment being front and center!

    Or maybe you can take the buckles off the ones you don't wear or need and use them like frog-closure for wool pillows in the library or somewhere(my house?)to enjoy!
    ~R

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  16. JT: Thanks -- maybe someday I'll do a post on my 1990s Guccis. But then, again, I don't think I should, as my readers will be shocked at how I lost my mind and let my standards fall by the wayside!

    T&CMom: What a clever arrangement you made with your son. MD was not so forthcoming...

    Sandrajonas: No, m'dear, they are not merely shoes -- they are a way of life!

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  17. PenelopeBianchi: Thank you for not one, but two comments. I am most flattered. And yes, one adores Belgians, too, as I wrote in a story in June, 2010: http://reggiedarling.blogspot.com/2010/06/belgians-bandwagon.html. Thanks, RD

    Paul Gervais: Thank you, and isn't it interesting how people in the country of origin of what are considered to be luxury goods on these shores sometimes take an entirely different approach? I remember a trip to Paris when I was in college and where i was determined to buy a Lacoste or two. My hostess, a rather swell elegant, was bemused that I should want such a thing, as noone in her circles wore them (it was the late 1970s), or so she claimed.

    Columnist: For some reason we find it impossible to dispose of our worn out Guccis. Stay tuned: I'm working on a piece about Saint Grottlesex that I hope you will like...

    DAM: "Deal Sleds"? How marvelous is that?! Would you please put your readers out of their (our) misery, and start writing your blog, again? Please!

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  18. Carey: What an understanding sister you have!

    John/Birmingham: Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed this story. You sound like a fellow-traveler, indeed!

    Herts: I have a pair of Tods loafers. But I've never cottoned on to them as I have to Guccis. Don't know why I didn't buy a pair of Tods driving shoes, as I love(d) the way they look(ed).

    Hello Bob: Thanks for your comment. I'd kill for the Burgundy patents, but wouldn't be able to squease my feet into them, as I wear a 45D. Now, Boy on the other hand...

    A&A: One of the great challenges of living in a really old house is that closets are few and far between. Most of the shoes we own that aren't in heavy rotation wind up in boxes stacked on shelves (usually never to be seen again) or piled up in baskets...

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  19. Hello Reggie, Thanks for the great memories centered on these loafers. It's the aura as much as the physical quality that makes a great product. They look smart when new, and comfortable when worn.

    About your storage problem, here in Taiwan one of the most basic pieces of furniture is the shoe rack, which comes in myriad forms and sizes. You might want to look at a few to inspire a New York Federal solution. Some of the plain ones with nice wood might even do as is.

    Happy Thanksgiving,

    Road to Parnassus

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  20. I do love a pair of Gucci loafers and I remember your lovely tale about the Belgians. After reading your article I noticed Belgians in an almost obsessive way. I own neither Belgians nor Gucci loafers (other Gucci's though) but should invest in a pair, they'd go over well here in Milan. I love Boy's nicknames: gardening and ghetto guccis...Something I'd love to have in my everyday lingo someday!

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  21. Our Guccis brought us together again, remember?

    happy hols! and love to you and le Beau Boy,

    xo bits xo

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    Replies
    1. Indeed they did, for which I shall always be grateful, m'dear!

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  22. On Thanksgiving day, a guest and fine gentleman wore a lovely classic pair and I thought to myself that I really must encourage my dear husband to sport a pair. They are very chic for young boys and even dapper gentlemen.
    I love your images of them in heaps.
    pve

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  23. They are quite frankly, just pretty darned hard to beat. A sophisticated Continental Weejun I say. They pass the "ADG Beach-Church" test. You can wear them on the beach with swim trunks and look just fine. You can then dust 'em off and kneel in gratitude and walk up for communion with an equal measure of "it's ok-ness"

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  24. PS...the Reggie Darling word verification for my comment was

    "ballinina"

    Cool. I'll be using it today. Somehow.

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  25. Thanks for this, now I am totally lusting after some Gucci saddle shoes. I think I'll be visiting a Gucci shop this weekend to try some on.

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  26. I agree with Penelope's mother...shoes make the man, and the woman for that matter. One can rarely go overboard with shoes. We all should be so well heeled. I loved your story of teenage yearnings and your lovely pile of loafers.

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    1. PB's mother was much in the school of MD: "Always look at the shoes first, THAT tells everything about the wearer!" -- and she was referring to BOTH sexes...

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  27. "Garden Guccis", looove it! Got my first pair of Gooches, black suede, not until age 30. A pair of leopard Belgies beat 'em to the finish line...XXOO

    ps...have been carrying a torch for a pair of plain white classic horsebits ever since spying a black and white pic of Roman Polanski sportin a pair :)

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    1. Leopard Guccis? Too divine. I'm still kicking myself for not buying re-issued interlocking G ones that looked too 1970s for words. Fun for a party, but fdefinitely NOT for the IBank where I work.

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  28. My grandmother and mother chipped together and bought me my first pair of classic Gucci loafers in 1992. They felt I "needed" them to attend my first Christie's auction. I dashed into the Gucci store on my way back to college and purchased them in a frenzy of anticipation and glee. I wore those same loafers, resoled at least four times, until 2006 when I bought the exact same loafers again. Six years later, I have yet to have them resoled. I hope to always have a pair in my closet. They are more than shoes, they are something else entirely--an attitude, a comfort, a security blanket, a sentimental icon of past events. I still have my loafers from 1992--just can't bear to part with them. Loved your blog, just loved it.

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    1. It is most difficult to bring oneself to part with a wornout pair, indeed. Thank you for your comment!

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  29. Nearly forty years ago I traded my surfboard for cash at the Bethesda Surf Shop (a G&S 6'10" pintail shaped by Skip Frye), hopped in the car and high-tailed it to the Gucci boutique which was located in the Watergate in Washington at the time and bought my first pair. I have had them in brown, black, suede, driving sole and various other versions ever since.

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    1. In the Watergate! How delicious, indeed. I wasn't aware that the boutique was there. I bought mine in NYC on a visit to a friend who lived there. Thank you.

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  30. Dear Dr. Reggie, The addiction started on my 18th birthday in 1976, my mother decided her son needed some nice dress shoes and Bass Weejuns weren't quite up to snuff. She took me to the Gucci Boutique and proceeded to direct me to the classic mocassin bit loafer area and that's the last I remember until waking up and looking down at a pair in caffe with the red and green canvas inserts upon my feet, suddenly the air was cleaner, the bird songs sweeter, I was hooked, so here I am years later still getting a rush every time I put a pair on, thanks for the memories.

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  31. Never bought the Gucci loafers, but have the Double G Gucci belt. In the 1980's probably paid $65. for it at the 5th Avenue store. Still wear it. The chipped electroplated gold G's buckle now grace a new belt strap from Express. The "G" patterned pigskin one has long ago fallen apart. I was surprised to see a similar one with an Express looking brown belt for about $265. at Saks in Boston.

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  32. Bought my first pair at 24 in law school with a check from a generous great-aunt (who had no idea and would probably be mortified at the price). I needed something for those dreaded biz-cash events and for spiffy dinners and the like. Mine are the classic model in a dark brown, bulletproof boarskin, with brass bits and--what really seals the deal--a hunter green leather lining. I will hopefully have them forever.

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  33. Buying my first pair of Gucci loafers. Looking for a classic pair but should i buy them in brown or black? Any thoughts?

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    1. Can't go wrong with either. I bought my first pair in black, though...

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Please do comment! I welcome and encourage them, and enjoy the dialogue.

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