After years of sneaker domination, loafers and dress shoes are making a comeback

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Fashion trends are often a reaction to the ubiquitous. Five years ago, it was new to see sneakers worn in the office or out in the public at fashion week. And true mavericks have dared to associate Burberry coats with Nike Dunks.

Now, while the most stuffy offices are overflowing with Allbirds, Nikes and Vejas, loafers and dress shoes are making a comeback. Some of menswear’s biggest influencers, including Justin Livingston and Phil Cohen, have started slipping loafers and chunky-soled dress shoes into their usual sneaker rotation, and female influencers like Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber have made same. Meanwhile, streetwear designer Brendon Babenzien’s new collections for Noah and J.Crew have focused on dress shoe styles.

According to NPD Group, traditional dress shoe sales in both men’s and women’s fashion saw double-digit percentage growth in 2022. Beth Goldstein, executive director and industry analyst for accessories and footwear at NPD Group, said that sales of hybrid shoes that combine the silhouettes of dress shoes with sneaker-like soles have also increased significantly from last year and before the pandemic. Other data from NPD shows sales of leisure and performance footwear fell 11% and 7%, respectively, in the second quarter of the year. Meanwhile, the fashion footwear category, which includes loafers, dress shoes and heels, grew 8%.

“This year, for both men and women, dress shoes – including styles like loafers, oxfords, pumps, sandals and boots – showed strong growth over last year. Social events are back on the calendar and people are back to work – that’s more [driven by] the social occasion piece, as we know work environments have continued to become more casual,” Goldstein said.

Naturally, brands specializing in loafers and dress shoes are experiencing a spike. Birdies, which launched in 2015 with a loafer as its flagship shoe but also sells sneaker styles, has seen loafer sales increase significantly this year. In response, the brand has so far launched 50 new styles of loafers in 2022 and plans to launch more in the fourth quarter.

“Our loafers continue to be our most successful style and our best-selling silhouette, with The Starling as our number 1. [selling] style and a customer favourite. It has over 15,000 5-star reviews,” said Bianca Gates, co-founder and CEO of Birdies. “To date, we have seen a 31% increase in our loafer sales year over year, which will likely double by the end of the year.”

Regina Popp, senior fashion and trends director at shoe retailer DSW, said loafers, in particular, are in high demand. She owed this to the style and comfort they provide, which is increasingly important for fashion in the post-pandemic era.

“As fashion takes a more personalized turn, it’s only fitting that loafers [catch on]. They pair perfectly with oversized blazers, soft suits and looser denim silhouettes,” Popp said. “They tick the boxes for comfort, easy to style, and pair well with denim, but they offer a fresh alternative to the white trainers or retro joggers that have dominated for several years. The classic prep is also becoming the new No. 1 streetwear direction.”

In DSW’s fall campaign, a collection from its private label Crown Vintage, made with actress Emma Roberts, is all about boots, loafers and clogs. DSW declined to provide specific sales data on loafers and dress shoes versus sneakers, but said the two were integral to the business.

It is important to note that moccasins do not replace sneakers. Even though sneaker sales fell slightly and dress shoe sales increased, sneakers still account for the majority of shoe sales globally. Sneakers generate about $4.8 billion in annual sales while “fashion shoes” bring in $4.2 billion, according to NPD data. But Goldstein said it was a sign that sneakers were no longer the only option.

“I don’t think this indicates a reversal of the trend that was happening before the pandemic, with formal dress gradually losing its share to casual for years,” Goldstein said. “Consumers had cupboards to replenish this year for events that hadn’t happened in two years.”

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