Skip to Content

Loafers Vs. Boat Shoes: What’s The Difference?

Loafers Vs. Boat Shoes: What’s The Difference?

Okay, the dad vibes are back, and we couldn’t be happier! Loafers, boat shoes, moccasins, and numerous easy-to-slip-on shoes have been gracing the runway shows for the past couple of months. Dad hats, pants, and sneakers have gone from fusty to fashionable. Hence, you might wonder which shoes win the “loafers vs. boat shoes” battle.

Whether you’re trying to figure out which fashion-forward footwear options to purchase or wear to your next meeting, you came to the right place. Both loafers and boat shoes seem to have become slicker, brasher, and even cooler (dare we say that).

Once designed for the decks of yachts, loafers and boat shoes seem to have gone through a revamp phase – and, now they’re back and better than ever.

From what we have seen during Fashion Week, new styles, color combinations, and patterns have made these shoes fit a weirder, wider-ranging wardrobe (turns out they’re no longer reserved for dads).

However, how do you decide between the two? “Loafers and boat shoes are the same shoes, only in different fonts!” might be an argument you were about to make. But, they’re made from different fabrics, with different details, and with different occasions in mind.

Loafers are easy to slip on and style for a bunch of occasions (formal and non-formal), while boat shoes are typically viewed as casual. Hence, choosing between the two might depend on your style, your preferences, and the events you plan on attending while wearing your shoes of choice.

Worry not, we’re bringing you everything you need to know to solve the “loafers vs. boat shoes” mystery. Whatever the case might be, the right style of loafers or boat shoes can take you from “dad” to “daddy” within minutes. Throw a glance!

What are loafers?

Loafers Vs. Boat Shoes: What's The Difference?

When you’re trying to decide who wins the “loafers vs. boat shoes” battle, there’s nothing better than researching everything you can about both footwear styles.

Right off the bat, loafers are some of the most versatile shoes out there and they’re guaranteed to make a fashion statement wherever you go.

What are loafers, though? Loafers are slip-on shoes typically made with leather or suede. What makes them different from other shoes (a.k.a. boat shoes) appears to be the fact that they don’t feature laces, fastenings, or other types of closings.

They’re typically low-cut and they possess lower (flatter) heels and thin, leather soles. There are different types of loafers you can choose from, too – mainly penny loafers, tassel loafers, horsebit loafers, and chunky (or lug sole) loafers.

First off, penny loafers have a decorative leather strip over the upper. Now, the term “penny loafers” comes from the fact that the strip has a slit in the middle in which you can place a penny. The more you know, right?!

On the other hand, tassel loafers have leather tassels hanging from the vamp (or the upper). Finally, horesbit loafers are the iconic Gucci loafers embellished with a piece of metal placed across the vamp (or the upper).

Chunky loafers are a novice trend that features thicker soles and a signature silhouette. Whichever style of loafers you decide to go with, you’re bound to wear them everywhere you go because they’re as versatile, comfortable, and easy to style as you might think.

What about the boat shoes, though?

What are boat shoes?

Of course, the “loafers vs. boat shoes” battle wouldn’t be complete without the latter footwear option. Boat shoes might have a confusing name, but they’ve been around for ages and they’ve earned the right to be known as one of the best casual dad shoes ever.

And no, you don’t have to own a boat to wear them (but a boat sure helps sell the illusion of lookin’ like a million dollars).

What are boat shoes, then? Boat shoes were made for sailors and boaters (as you might have guessed) to prevent them from slipping and falling on the boat deck.

They were made with non-slip rubber soles and a hand-sewn upper that was bound to make everyone who wasn’t a sailor or a boater want them, too. They’re both functional and aesthetically pleasing, and they’re one of the most popular casual shoes out there for that very reason.

They’re great for different occasions – events on the beach, boat parties, holidays, and even officewear depending on where you work.

Boat shoes are typically worn without socks because they were meant to be worn during the summer. But, boat shoe connoisseurs argue that you can wear them with socks depending on the event you’re attending (never on the boat, though).

Boat shoes have managed to come back on the fashion scene with designers coming up with different color combinations, patterns, and fabrics to make them more modern and fashion-forward. Of course, they kept the timeless, signature boat shoe design.

But, they added a sprinkle of je ne sais quoi to make them stand out. Take a peep at the Brunello Cucinelli off-white boat shoes and you’ll know what we’re talking about.

Loafers vs. Boat shoes: What’s the difference between loafers and boat shoes?

Loafers Vs. Boat Shoes: What's The Difference?

“There’s no difference. Both of them are comfortable, versatile, and easy to slip on and off. Both of them are fashionable, easy to style, and give off the same energy.”

Now, these statements are true, which happens to be the reason why most men think loafers, boat shoes (and even moccasins) are the same.

But, there are a couple of differences that might change the way you view them. Whether you’re looking for the perfect shoes to wear to the office or you’re hoping to purchase the right shoes for a holiday that’s coming soon, we’ve got your back.

Fear of God suede boat shoes are perfect for the high seas, for example. Manolo Blahnik Plymouth collapsible-heel suede and leather penny loafers, on the other hand, are much more suitable for the office or even a date.

Loafers and boat shoes are clearly great for numerous occasions, but here’s what sets them apart (and what might help you make up your mind about which ones are better for you).

1. The lacing

We had to start with laces because they’re one of the most prominent differences between the two types of shoes. When we’re talking about the whole “loafers vs. boat shoes” thing, we can’t brush over the fact that loafers don’t have laces while boat shoes do.

First things first, loafers are known as slip-on shoes, meaning they’re not made with any type of laces, fastenings, or closings. When you want to wear loafers, you simply slip them on and go – and that’s why you have to make sure you get the right style and fit for yourself.

However, boat shoes come with laces that are typically placed on the upper of the shoe. Boat shoes are known for their lace pattern because they were originally made with peripheral or side lacing, known as 360-degree lacing.

So, the OG boat shoes had laces that went all the way around the shoe and fastened at the front. Nowadays, you can find some designers making the same, OG boat shoes, but most feature the laces on the upper rather than around the shoe.

2. The heels

When you take a closer look at loafers and boat shoes, you’re guaranteed to notice the heel difference. Whether you’re planning on getting new shoes for a meeting, an event, or even a date, the “loafers vs. boat shoes” battle might help you understand which ones are better for the occasion.

Loafers are generally considered semi-formal which means they’re pretty similar to dress shoes. They’re made with distinct soles and heels that are attached to them (which means the heels are higher than those of other, more casual shoes).

Also, they’re made from different materials and fabrics such as rubber, leather, and EVA. Their soles and heels are attached using the same methods as those of dress shoes – cementing, Blake-stitching, or Goodyear Welting.

Boat shoes, on the other hand, have thicker, sneaker-like rubber soles that don’t feature attached heels (the heels are more like an extension of the soles).

Soles on these shoes are embellished with herringbone patterns which provide traction to prevent slipping and falling. Boat shoes are relaxed, easy-going, and casual, unlike loafers.

3. The toes

Oh, the toes are different, too! We know you might be thinking “Why on Earth would toes matter?!” but the toes make a world of difference when we’re talking about the overall appearance of the shoe. And, the toe box plays a role when we’re talking about what occasions different shoes are appropriate for.

With that out of the way, loafers and boat shoes do have different toe boxes. Loafers have apron toes and boat shoes have moc toes – both of which appear to be a fancy name for a piece of leather stitched on the upper of the shoe.

And, that piece of leather can be placed on different parts of the upper, giving off different vibes. When we’re talking about loafers, for example, the piece of leather doesn’t extend all the way to the toes. Apron toes stop around the area where the beginning of your toes would be.

When we’re talking about boat shoes, the piece of leather does extend all the way to the toes.

4. The outsoles

Loafers Vs. Boat Shoes: What's The Difference?

We already mentioned the outsoles when we were talking about heels, but there’s nothing wrong with repeating some of the things we learned.

Now, the outsoles might play a huge part when we’re talking about which shoes win the “loafers vs. boat shoes” battle.

Depending on what you need them for, the outsoles might be the one thing that helps you decide between the two. Loafers are similar to dress shoes which means they’re made with leather (or other synthetic alternatives).

Loafer outsoles can be made with grippier materials, but that’s not the case for the most part because they were never meant to be worn somewhere you would actually need slip resistance.

Also, loafers are meant to be more formal which means they’re designed to look polished, put-together, and expensive rather than practical.

However, boat shoes were always meant to be worn outside, on the boat, or on the beach. Hence, boat shoe outsoles are made with rubber and embellished with a herringbone pattern for added texture, traction, and protection.

Even though they’re no longer reserved for sailors and boaters, boat shoes are still made with the same features.

5. The fabrics

We decided to also mention the fabrics because they can make a difference, too. Both loafers and boat shoes are typically made with leather, suede, and/or Nubuck.

Loafers are more likely to be made from high-quality, premium genuine leather, but that’s not to say you can’t get them made from other fabrics, too.

On the other hand, boat shoes are more likely to be made from suede because they’re softer (and they’re meant to be more casual). Same as with loafers, you can definitely get them made with other fabrics, too. Rubber outsoles are a notable difference, too.

Other than that, both loafers and boat shoes are so popular at the moment that you shouldn’t face trouble trying to find the perfect pair for yourself. Whether you prefer earth-toned, natural fabrics or fashion-forward, statement ones, you’re guaranteed to find what you’re looking for.

Loafers vs. Boat shoes: When to wear them?

Now, you might be confused about the formality of these shoes. We already mentioned that loafers are generally seen as more versatile because they’re formal enough to wear to an event but casual enough to wear to the beach (depending on the fabrics and the style).

Boat shoes, however, are seen as 100% casual because they’re more relaxed and easy-going (and they were meant to be worn on a boat from the get-go). Of course, fashion’s pretty forgiving when you know how to style different pieces together and when you know how to wear them with confidence.

What do you do, then? Work with whatever your gut’s telling you to do, and check out these styling tips and tricks that are guaranteed to make you look like you know exactly what you’re doing.

1. When to wear loafers?

Loafers are great for pretty much every occasion you can think of. They’re easy to dress up or down because they’re semi-formal, but there’s a slight difference between the penny loafers, tassel loafers, horsebit loafers, and chunky loafers.

We could go on and on about how to style them, but here’s the bottom line.

Penny loafers, tassel loafers, and horsebit loafers are generally better for events, meetings, and other occasions where you want to look like you tried. Combine them with structured suit sets, chinos, clean, crisp button-downs, cashmere sweaters, and clean-cut coats.

Chunky loafers are more relaxed and easy-going, and they’re great for grabbing lunch with friends or running errands (while staying on top of your fashion game). Combine them with denim, simple, white tees (or graphic tees), and even leather.

2. When to wear boat shoes?

Loafers Vs. Boat Shoes: What's The Difference?

Repeat after me: “I don’t have to go on a boat to wear boat shoes!” Now, the name might be a little confusing, but boat shoes are a great footwear staple because they’re comfortable, easy to wear, and easy to style.

Boat shoes are better for casual settings rather than events, but you can style them with workwear and formalwear, too.

Wear them during the summer with linen trousers, rolled-up sleeves on clean, crisp button-downs, and sunglasses for that “I have a boat” energy. Or, combine them with chinos, simple, white tees, and clean-cut blazers for something more appropriate for the office.

With that out of the way, how do you decide which ones to go with? We would go as far as to argue that the “loafers vs. boat shoes” battle doesn’t have a winner. Both shoes are equally stylish, comfortable, and dad-like, and you’re guaranteed to be happy with whatever you decide to go with. Good luck!