Wendy, hey, thanks for writing in. The good news for your husband is that both of these styles are comfortable in their own way. The good news for you is that they’re pretty different, and I think once we go into the distinctions you’ll have an intuitive sense of the right choice for him. And we were just visiting both of our loafer factories last month so this is fresh on my mind…
The simplest difference between these two shoes is a matter of formality. The Handsewn Penny Loafer is more casual and the Italian Penny Loafer is more dressy. You can wear the Handsewns with jeans, khakis, and maaaaybe dress trousers. Shorts, too, if that’s your thing. But they’re not going to be your best play for a suit, unless it’s a super casual play suit, like cotton poplin. The Italians have more versatility and will go from jeans all the way up to your most formal suit. You could stop right there! But let’s get into the details for a second.
The Italian is made in Italy (surprise) with a Goodyear welted construction, which we’ve gone into in a past column. It’s made of a more structured hide of calfskin than the Handsewn and it’s lined in leather. The shape is super refined, with a relatively high sidewall (the part that runs forward from the ball of your foot around the toe). Really building up that sidewall adds to the formality of the shoe, not least because it gives you some more foot coverage. And then if you flip it over, you’ll see that there’s a thin piece of rubber on the leather sole. It doesn’t look like there’s a Comfort™ aspect to the shoe – it’s so thin that you really can’t see it from the side – but it gives you a little bit of bounce as opposed to, let’s say, the full leather experience you’d get from a traditional dress shoe.
The Handsewn is made in Portugal with a slightly lower profile with a softer sidewall (the part that runs forward from the ball of your foot around the toe). It has a moccasin construction and it’s handsewn on the last. In fact, each pair involves an hour of hand-stitching. I always like it when something feels both really special and really casual, and this just fits the bill. It’s not overly precious… it’s just easy. And unlike the Italian, only the suede versions are lined in calf (the leather versions are unlined!) and it’s got a full leather sole. There’s also a nice little decorative counter-stitch detail at the back that balances out the front.
Let's go deeper on comfort. This is really about personal preference... something that feels good immediately vs. more of a slow burn. Right off the bat, the Handsewn is going to present as the more comfortable option. It’s more flexible and almost slipper-ish (like a moccasin) and a slightly wider, fuller shape. And it feels awesome when you slide it on your foot. Compare that to the Italian, which has more structure to it and is going to need some breaking in. That said, in the long run, it will hold your foot better and give you more support.
So there’s really not a bad choice here, Wendy. The Italian is more refined and structured, the Handsewn is a little more casual and comfortable. We make both. We endorse both. We love both. I dress up for work every day and end up wearing the Italians a lot, but that’s because they’re the only ones I own. They’ve been on our line longer and I’m more used to them. Inertia, I guess. The Handsewns are fantastic and now I’m thinking I need a pair of those too. Thanks for the inspiration.