Tired of boring loafers? Try out an unusual but underrated option — the Belgian Loafer.
The Belgian loafer is an odd duck in menswear. It’s a slipper. It’s a shoe. It’s a superfluous statement associated with old money, prepsters, or unfortunately, Bernie Madoff’s collection of 300+ pairs (size 8.5W, in case you were wondering).
In fact, this ultimate dress-shoe hybrid is quite a versatile piece of kit. It’s easy to dress up or down and one can even wear it around the house.
While the shoe was once worn only by those ‘in the know’ and on the cutting edge of style, they’ve been popping up on social media feeds everywhere. Brands have started to take notice and find ways to bring them to the wider public. But, I haven’t seen much written about them in the last couple of years.
With that in mind, I wanted to compile what I hope is a useful guidebook for you.
At first glance, like much of what we see on social media these days, these shoes aren’t cheap. But brands are bringing them to market at different price points.
Let’s call them The ‘luxury’ tier, the middle ‘investment’ tier, and the approachable tier. We’ll cover the major players in each, and I’ll provide commentary and original photography if I have experience with the brand.
Here are our top recommendations from the list:
The shoe is appealing and accurately embodies the intended style, particularly in its shape resembling the original Mr. Casual. However, in all honesty, the similarities largely end at the shape. Considering the price is 79 USD, you essentially get what you pay for.
Read on for more info and the complete list…
The Luxury Tier
Here are some high-end Belgian loafers to consider:
Belgian Shoes NYC
The original ‘Belgian’ shoe is still regarded by many as the pinnacle in the category.
Henri Bendel (the nephew of the homonymous M. Henri Bendel and the first importer of Coco Chanel to the US) invented the shoe in the mid-1950s. The light, comfortable slipper appealed to the leisure classes of New York City’s Upper East Side.
Cobblers still make these shoes by hand in Izegem, Belgium. They’re sewn inside-out and then turned to create an elegant shape. The insoles are handmade, using ultra-fine ‘piano hair.’
The shoes come in four styles: the Mr. Casual is a loafer with a light rubber sole, suitable for many everyday activities.
The Henri has a slightly elongated, elegant shape with a higher vamp, a lower, rounded quarter, a bit of a heel, and a leather sole.
The Traveler, as the name would imply, has a more substantial sole and heel. Each shoe has a signature elegant bow on the vamp.
Belgian Shoes come in four widths — narrow, medium, wide, and wide+. Due to the complex sizing system (and a desire to retain exclusivity), they encourage customers to come into the shop and get fit.
Also, for this reason, despite a revamped web presence, there isn’t an e-commerce operation for new shoes.
I was able to find a practically new Henri on Poshmark for quite a steal a few years ago in a 10.5 narrow. I measure about 10.5B on a Brannock device, and I think it’s the right length for me. They’re a little snug through the toe box, but I wear them when the occasion calls for it.
In the end, though, I may just bite the bullet the next time I find myself in New York City and get fit. But, at 625 USD, it’s pretty eye-watering.
Baudoin & Lange
A newcomer to the luxury loafer but not luxury footwear space is Baudoin & Lange. Created in 2016 by bespoke shoemaker Allan Baudoin, these are light, flexible, and streamlined. As a nod to the bespoke craft, three little nails sit on the heel of each shoe.
Offered in deerskin, brushed Asteria suede, and a few exotic leathers, these come in a few different models. The Sagan Classic is the original and one I have in my collection. It’s an unlined loafer coming in seven (at the time of this writing) suede colorways, from a wonderfully versatile dark brown to a unique ‘greige.’
The Sagan also comes with a dandyish tassel, should you want one. But the standard model, unlike the Belgian Shoes, doesn’t have a bow.
The ‘Stride’ version has a rubber sole that appears chunkier than the Traveler model from Belgian Shoes NYC. Perhaps it’s the more defined heel.
If elegance and elevation are what you’re after, the Sagan Grand may be for you. It’s a more traditional structured loafer on a slightly elongated, refined last.
Sizing comes in European whole sizes from 36 (US 5-5.5) up to 47(13-13.5). If you’re between sizes, I’d recommend taking the smaller one.
Speaking with the customer service team both over email and video consultation, they advised me to buy a little snug as the shoe will stretch over three or four wearings. Some who bought their usual size found it too loose after a few wears. So, a 42 fits my foot better than a 43.
These are quite the expensive shoes, but a smaller scale may mean better quality control than a global fashion brand like Ferragamo, Bally, or Gucci, who charge roughly the same or even a fair bit more for a loafer like this.
Mariano Rubinacci’s eponymous brand of Italian luxury goods also offers a soft, Belgian-style shoe. Called the Marphy, it comes in deer leather, linen, velvet, and suede. It’s also available in a range of colors, including some bolder options like burgundy, a vintage-feeling green, and lighter orange.
The vamp and toe box are a little shorter than the B&L and perhaps more in line with the Mr. Casual. There are a couple of vamp ornamentation options as well. The bow is a little more aggressive than contemporaries from Belgian Shoes. Tassels are smaller but still proportional to the shoe.
Like the Baudoin & Lange, sizing comes in European whole sizes from 37-47. The brand encourages customers to size up if in between. The product photos appear to show stitching at the seams, but it’s unclear whether the soles are indeed Blake stitched to the uppers rather than glued.
Pricing can vary depending on your outlet. The website currently lists them for 490 euros, which, depending on exchange rates, is between 520 and 530 USD.
Upmarket e-commerce platform Mr Porter has some leather tassel loafers available for 515 USD and suede for 475 USD. Todd Snyder has some limited edition (which appears to be nothing more than Snyder slapping his name on the lining and in a shoe back) pairs for 475 USD as well.
Belgian Loafers: The Middle Tier
Here are some Belgians at a more accessible price point:
This brand is a direct reflection of founder Henrik Berg’s move as a teenager from Spain back to his mother’s native Sweden.
Blending traditional Mediterranean craftsmanship with the streamlined Scandinavian look, Product briefs describe a ‘tight and timeless collection’ of versatile items, and the shoes seem to meet the mark.
Brown and black are the cornerstones of the offerings, and the brand aesthetic as a whole is minimal and inoffensive. How very Swedish.
The collection, like many direct-to-consumer footwear brands, is handmade in Spain.
At first glance, the design of their Belgian loafer is a dead ringer for the Sagan. However, subtle differences reveal themselves upon closer inspection. First, the ‘tongue’ of the Morjas Belgian finishes at a kind of ‘point,’ whereas the tongue of the Sagan is more of a gentle curve.
The sole appears more substantial than the Sagan but is still a lower profile than many other Blake-stitched shoes. There seems to be a slightly wider toe box in the Morjas than the Sagan. This may be more accommodating for wide feet, even if Baudoin & Lange claim to have flexible sizing for all kinds.
Speaking of sizing, Morjas offers half sizes between US5.5 and US12.5. Size guides suggest taking half a size down from traditional American brands such as Allen Edmonds and Alden but the same size as Spanish brands like Carmina and higher-tier English dress shoes like Crockett & Jones and Church’s.
Pricing is attractive, too. At 299 USD for all models in suede and deerskin, that’s more than half of a Belgian Shoe and nearly that of a Sagan. You wouldn’t know the difference unless you’re an eagle-eyed elitist.
“Custom” shoes can be a bit of a risk. Here at TMM, we know that all too well. But if you’d like something one-of-a-kind at a mid-tier price point, Idrese is an excellent place to start.
Created by Jawad Malik to combat what he perceived as ludicrous upcharges from ‘luxury’ brands for an inferior product, he also wanted the ability to design what he wanted.
Indeed, you can design whatever you want in almost any material you can think of. Plum linen? Done in a few of the (surprisingly good) rendering engines. Houndstooth vamp and flannel base, why not? Or something more classic like brown Nappa leather or black suede.
This also allows the customer to add or remove a traditional bow on the vamp. Tassels are an option, too, but they appear outsized for the silhouette of this shoe.
Sizing guides actually suggest going half a size up from normal, and that’s been the experience here. This is interesting, considering both Idrese and Morjas are made in Spain, likely in similar factories.
A 9.5 medium was fairly snug on my toe box. But free shipping and free returns on custom orders are an attractive value proposition., Idrese offers sizes from US 5.5 up to 17(!) in medium and wide options.
Quality on the shoes is decent, but not outstanding-especially when compared to some of the brand’s other offerings. At 275 USD, they’re not the cheapest. It’s also quite pricey for a non-stiched shoe. But, the value proposition lies in making what you want and leaning into the Belgian’s reputation as a ‘go-to-hell’ shoe.
The savvy reader will notice all the brands featured in this price tier come Spain.
Bomberos is indeed one of them and a company with responsibility and sustainability in their mission.
While corporate HQ is in Houston, TX, Bomberos makes at two sites in Spain: rural Almansa and seaside Alicante. The shoes are made from Italian deer hide, box calf, or water-resistant suedes from the renowned C.F. Stead tannery in Leeds, UK.
The shape of the shoe is quite attractive and well-proportioned. The toe isn’t unnaturally elongated, and the vamp/tongue extends far enough up the foot to securely keep it on. The bows are neither too big nor too small. Based on product photos, they may use the same supplier as Idrese.
Colorways are twists on classics. A reddish-brown they call ‘hickory’ and a dark gold ‘tobacco’ suede are of interest for fall and summer wear.
All models are Blake-stitched with a leather sole and wooden heel. The heel appears about the same as the Morjas, but the sole is a touch chunkier. It does have a rubber patch for better traction.
As these are unlined, most suggest taking half a size down. Shipping to and returning from the United States is free, so you can experiment if needed.
Pricing varies between 249 USD and 289 USD. But, there doesn’t appear to be rhyme or reason for why. A guess is demand, as it can be hard to find a pair in your size (they list from US 7- US 13) in stock.
Belgian Shoes: The Approachable Tier
Finally, we’ve reached a selection of the most affordable Belgian loafers:
While Italy and Spain get much of the glory in the luxury footwear space, India is becoming a player in this world as well.
Dhruv Bhalla, founder of 3DM Lifestyle, had a vision for creating a curated shoe brand covering any situation a stylish guy could find himself in. Like other entrepreneurs in the direct-to-consumer menswear world, he was tired of luxury brands marking up astronomically. So, he built his own.
The shoe itself is a somewhat exaggerated version of a traditional Belgian. The toe box is elongated, but not comically so. The tongue, by contrast, is shorter than some other models.
The bow is going to be polarizing.
Soles are Argentinian leather, which is also a first on the list. 3DM Lifestyle currently offers limited colorways at this time. However, the options are still quite versatile in a rich-looking cognac suede and attractive medium blue.
The brand uses whole UK/US/EU sizes from US 7 up to US 14. Brands generally recommend sizing down if you’re in between, but it may be worth looking in the comments to find out a little more.
Customer service appears to be nothing short of extraordinary, with Dhruv himself responding to comments. Indeed, it looks like making a half-size is an option if a customer connects direction.
Pricing is also fairly attractive. At 185 USD, with free shipping and returns, this is a fair option for those looking for an approachable version of a traditionally expensive shoe.
For those looking to dip their toes (pardon the pun) into the world of Belgian loafers, a company called Journey West may be an option. While I wasn’t able to find much about their story, they’re available on eBay or at Uncle Jeff’s Internet Emporium in about seven different colors and sizes from 7-13 US.
It’s an attractive shoe that captures the essence of what the style is supposed to be. In many ways, it nails the shape of the original Mr. Casual. But, the shape is about the extent of the similarities, if I’m honest.
These were, indeed, my first pair of Belgian loafers. I sized down to a 42 (9), and it was the right decision. Upon opening the box, a whiff of shoe glue and what I can only describe as a ‘preservative’ smell hit me. It dissipated after airing them out for an hour or so, though.
The soles are rubber, which is quite nice for wearing around the house. They’ve held up well, too. What hasn’t held up is the insole. It is quite thin, to begin with, but after 3 or 4 months of regular wear, the insole and lining became so worn it was like walking directly on the insole.
But, for 79 USD, you get what you pay for. A suggestion, if you do like the style, would be to consider sizing up and then adding a soft, thin insert.
Belgian Loafers: Laid-back Footwear Elevated
Belgian loafers are an unusual, elegant shoe. It’s easy to dress them up or down with anything from faded denim and a workshirt to a full white-tie ensemble.
They have a reputation as old money and a little snooty, but I like the comfort and versatility they provide.
But what do you think? Would you go all-in on a pair? Or is something in the mid-tier more your speed?