The Politicization of Tasseled Loafers

Published: Wednesday, November 3, 1993

To say “tasseled loafer” in Washington is not just to describe a simple shoe, but to utter a political phrase, often part of an epithet.

It is frequently connected to the word “lawyers,” as in those tasseled-loafered lawyers!, although no law degree is required to wear them. And despite its earlier image as the shoe of the postgraduate preppy, it is today a kind of everyman’s shoe, available in all price ranges.

Nonetheless, the shoes have been deployed in recent years as metaphorical weapons in the nation’s political wars.

When George Bush wanted to hurl a wounding barb during the last Presidential campaign, he complained that Bill Clinton was supported by “every lawyer that ever wore a tasseled loafer.”

Mr. Bush may have had reason to believe the charge potent as he had himself once been the target of a tasseled-loafer insult. When he ran for President in 1980, he complained that Ronald Reagan had bested him in a debate in New Hampshire by using unfair tactics. One of Mr. Reagan’s aides retorted in a widely disseminated remark that those with Mr. Bush’s private-school pedigree were generic sore losers. “Those tasseled-loafer guys always cry foul when they lose,” the aide said.

As the nation debates issues like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Clinton health-care plan, Congressional aides may be heard referring to the “tassel loafers,” a newly made up term referring to the lobbyists, often lawyers, who try to influence legislation.

In France, the tasseled loafer makes its own peculiar political statement. John Vinocur, the executive editor of The International Herald Tribune, said that the shoes were worn, actually flaunted, by young rightists in the mid-1980’s who wished to demonstrate their distaste for the Socialist Government.

To them, the preppiness of the shoe represented American prosperity and free-market conservatism. Thus, it became part of the battle uniform of the young soldier of la contre-revolution.

That all became blurred, Mr. Vinocur said, when many French leftists soon followed suit and abandoned sandals and other proletarian footwear in favor of the tasseled loafers. “It helped them get tables in the better restaurants,” he said.

Apart from the delicious weirdness of having legions of Frenchmen trying to look like the Phillips Academy class of 1964, the French have at least one thing correct. The shoe is certainly a distinctly American creation.

Tasseled loafers so much evoke the elegant era of the 20’s that some clothing historians mistakenly believe they date from that time. They became popular, in fact, only in the post-World War II era.

The Alden Shoe Company in Middleborough, Mass., claims to have invented the shoe after World War II at the request of Paul Lukas, who was a well-known and debonair actor. Mr. Lukas, who appeared in films like “The Lady Vanishes” and “Watch on the Rhine,” asked custom shoemakers in New York and Los Angeles to devise a version of a shoe he had brought from Europe that had little fringed tassels on the ends of the laces.

The two shoemakers showed the design to the Alden company, which drastically modified it, using the tassels as ornaments on a moccasin-style shoe. The earliest tasseled loafers were two-toned (usually with white top panels), and they were originally popular in Hollywood. The classic style was first produced in 1952. In 1957, Brooks Brothers added a version of Alden’s shoe to its stores, fixing the tasseled loafer’s image as the shoe of the country-club set.

Clark M. Clifford, the 87-year-old lawyer who has served as a counselor to several Democratic presidents, is one of Washington’s most elegant and tastefully dressed men. He recalled that he acquired tasseled loafers in the early 1950’s.

“I only think of them as appropriate for weekend wear and relaxation,” Mr. Clifford said. “I save them entirely for that. It seems out of keeping to wear them for business, although from time to time I see someone wearing them that way.”

In the 60’s, when preppy style ran amok, many a tasseled loafer sat at the end of a leg covered with loud madras pants or, worse, trousers with little embroidered whales. Tassels had been used for centuries as ornaments on furniture and even saddles. When they sit on the top of a shoe, they resemble nothing so much as the carved radishes served at some old-fashioned restaurants.

The evolution of “tassled loafer” as a pejorative term for “lawyer” is unclear, but it may have to do with the notion that a man who wears little useless ornaments has, if you will, effete feet.

The top-of-the-line Alden shoe is made from shell cordovan, an especially rich-looking horsehide leather that undergoes a special vegetable tanning process that takes up to a year. The cordovan shoe, usually burgundy-colored, costs anywhere from $315 to $345 a pair (Paris shops sell the shoes for upward of $500 a pair). The classic Brooks Brothers version has distinctive stitching on the back and sells for $345.

The calfskin versions are far less expensive. In fact, tasseled loafers are ubiquitous in all price ranges and style modifications from dozens of manufacturers. They are available just about everywhere, sometimes along with kilties (those little fringed flaps) and wingtip style perforations and sometimes both, which some may find to be garish excess.

Or of course, one could have a pair of restrained tasseled slip-ons made to order at one of the handful of the remaining English bespoke bootmakers. John Carnera of George Cleverley Ltd. in central London says that he makes dozens of pairs each year, many for American clients and that chocolate-brown suede is increasingly stylish.

“We wear a lot more suede on this side of the Atlantic, you know,” he said. He will craft a pair in suede or calfskin for about $1,300. Exotic leathers would cost a bit more.


【单向街·沙龙】林奕华-田沁鑫 主题:都市里的情与欲



林奕华:我发现大陆的一些城市,北京上海,都在有意的像伦敦巴黎那样发展,这是一个全球化很明显的特征,虽然全球化这个东西,从表面看来,是一种物质文明 的进步,但与此同时也反映了很多问题,大家在追求同一样东西的时候,也容易变成同一种人。如果让现在大部分的人都去上班,他们是为了什么,大家会说为了工 作,如果问他们喜欢工作吗?他们都会觉得上班是在浪费时间,如果可以选择的话,希望可以用自由身去工作,或者我根本不用工作。所以中间会产生很大的落差: 城市每一天有那么多人,用尽了城市的办公室,但其实他们觉得不自由,那么上班族在追求什么呢?

发现除了生活之外,大部分上班的人还是有一些幻想的:他们的幻想是“我可以成功”,所以在中环上班会比在旺角上班高级很多倍。所以整出戏的背景是在一座大 楼里面,每个人都往上爬。如果你问我,上班到底代表什么?一方面它给我们制造了很多所谓的中产阶级,这部分人卡在草根和更高的阶级中间,这部分人有很多的 梦,但却只有很小的实现空间,然后生命就这样过去了。


其实华丽两个字反映的是欲望,所以上班族真的不是我们所说的蚂蚁中的那些工蚁,他们也是有想象的,其实上班族很有趣。北京所有现代的建筑里都是用来收藏上 班族的,可以说是像很多庙宇,就像是一种欲望的图腾。为什么这些建筑要用炫目的设计,其实就是为了吸引人,对这个东西产生想象。





香港从上世纪70到80年代,它扮演了一个重要的窗口的角色,但是由于历史的原因香港人不可能孕育出各种不同的东西,今天的香港大部分的报纸都是《苹果日 报》的翻版,明星在各个节目中也说着同样的话,两家电视台其实就一家,明星也是很像,所以现在不是偶像时代,是经纪人时代,要符合市场的定位,这是为什么 香港人创意无法拓展的原因。
这种文化的同一性,表现在人际交往中的感觉就是你和一个人交往跟你和一百个人的交往差别不是很大,“你在香港提出一个问题的思考,很快大家就会有一个相同 的反应,‘你想那么多哦?人生最重要就是快乐嘛!’在学校里面也是一样,香港的年轻人上课一般很少问问题,因为没有人愿意突出自己,反而很多内地学生爱提 问,香港学生就会使脸色了,‘哎呀,又来了……’”


“因此我在这本书里面谈到了一个概念,就是‘琐碎化’,本来很多无关痛痒的事情,以娱乐的名义被无限放大。因为大家精神真的太空虚了,大家很需要找到生活 的焦点,很容易在鸡毛蒜皮的事情上制造话题,简单来说,就是大家没有自己的话题,需要在媒体上找话题,我们自己不是话题,但是为什么不呢?”