When you look up loafers, you can find boat shoes, and when you search for boat shoes, you can see loafers. So, what really is the difference?
Finding good shoes is hard enough, and the interchangeable use of loafers and boat shoes can further complicate your search. To get the right one, you need to be aware of the defining feature of each type of footwear.
Loafers are slip-on shoes that feature no laces, while boat shoes are loafer-like shoes with decorative laces that don't need to be tied. Boat shoes have a harder sole than regular loafers and are harder to find. Their main purpose is to be easy to wear on deck.
In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about boat shoes, loafers, and the metrics along which you should judge your footwear. By the end, you will know which shoe is right for you based on usage intent. But first, let's go over the key differences and similarities. Loafers and Boat shoes are slip-on, do not require tying laces, and feature a functional strap.
The main difference between the two is that one is meant for everyday use (loafers) while the other is more specific to boats and smooth surfaces (boat shoes). Loafers are more likely to work in semi-formal settings, while boat shoes can be used in all informal contexts except for running.
What to Look for When Buying Shoes?
Before we compare loafers and boat shoes, let's go over the three specific things you need to judge shoes by. This will help you pick the right product since neither of the options is inherently superior. But for different situations and needs, one type of shoe fits perfectly, which brings us to the first factor.
If one type of shoe were universally superior, it would replace all other shoes. But the fact that we have footwear ranging from jogging shoes to oxfords makes it quite clear that different shoes shine in different scenarios. Knowing your needs will help you judge your footwear based on your requirements.
It can also allow you to pick the second-best option. Even though boat shoes and loafers have similar appearance and structure, their performance is not interchangeable. For instance, boat shoes are fit for boat sailing, but loafers aren't even the second-best shoes to wear on a boat deck.
Value for Money
The second aspect to keep in mind is the value you get on the dollars you spend buying the product. This can help you decide whether you want the 'perfect' option among the items being compared or the 'good enough' option.
It can be easy to get carried away reading about the features and benefits of a product and make an impulsive buying decision. Including a value-for-money rating can offset the impulsiveness or urgency inspired by a positive review.
The Defining Difference
Finally, you must note one aspect that differentiates the two products being compared. Including this in your buying decision can allow you to overcome purchase paralysis by showing you how different the two products are.
Often, we are stuck, unable to decide which one to buy because they seem too similar. Knowing not just what sets the two products apart but how that ties to our needs can help one reach a decision sooner.
Loafers vs. Boat Shoes
Having covered what you need to consider before deciding between two types of footwear, let's look at how Loafers and Boat shoes differ and which one is best for you.
Loafers: A Brief Overview
Loafers are comfortable slip-on shoes that can be worn in semi-formal and casual settings. They are designed to be worn in day-to-day life and are accessible at different price points. The term 'loafer' found prominence because of Esquire's editorial shots of the shoes being taken at a Norweigan farm in the cattle loafing area.
Loafers have board usability and are very malleable in terms of style. You can wear them under your denim jeans or trousers. They are as fit for a casual hike as they are for a dinner party. Except for two specific scenarios, loafers can be worn almost everywhere. If a surface is slippery or requires better traction, you don't wear loafers on it.
This includes finished wood platforms like boats and steep trails. The second context where loafers would be sub-optimal is a strictly formal setting. You might wear formal-looking loafers to a cocktail party, but they might not be the best fit for a job interview. In 'formal' settings where the degree of formality is rewarded, loafers don't get you enough points and might even get you penalized.
This is relevant only if you're looking to buy shoes to wear to a job interview or on a boat. In these two contexts, you should skip the loafers. Other than that, loafers are perfect for almost every situation.
Value for Money: 9/10
Nautica Men's Loafers start at below $25, while Florsheim Midtown Loafers cost over $100. There are plenty of expensive loafers designed for rich people who don't want to wear 'common' loafers but don't like tying their laces.
The variety of price points at which you can get loafers shows that it really is a shoe for everyone. You can get used to loafers knowing that they're acceptable in all social circles and are affordable enough to get multiple units.
The Defining Difference: 7/10
Loafers are different from other shoes because they don't require lace-tying or strapping. They are different from boat shoes in that their soles are not designed to have a decent grip over a slippery boat surface.
But given that loafer-hybrids of every type of shoe exist, it is hard to make the difference in soles seriously. Sneaker loafers, as well as rubber loafers, often have functional similarities with boat shoes, given that the latter is also a slip-on shoe.
Drawbacks of Loafers
Having covered the advantages of loafers and how well they perform, along with the three factors that dictate a shoe buyer's decision, let's go over the main disadvantages of getting loafers.
They Can Be Considered Lazy
While most social circles and circumstances accept loafers, there are a few situations where judgemental people dismiss loafer-wearers as lazy. This is most significant in job interviews and at elite networking events where anything other than leather shoes and laced oxfords is seen as unbecoming of the wearer.
This drawback applies to boat shoes as well, so it is not as much of a competitive disadvantage as it is a collective one.
Not Suitable for Slippery Surfaces
While loafers with ribbed rubber soles exist, most loafers are casual shoes not meant for hiking or sailing. Unless a loafer is specifically meant to be worn on a boat, in which case it would probably be called a boat shoe, it is not meant to be worn on finished wood surfaces. Similarly, a loafer can be worn when hiking only if it is made to be a hiking shoe as well. This drawback is absent from boat shoes which are specifically designed to be worn on deck.
Boat Shoes: A Brief Overview
Boat shoes are, as the name suggests, shoes designed to be worn on boats. They are slip-on shoes but are unlike loafers in that they feature a boot sole and have laces. Slip-on shoes with laces might seem confusing, but the laces are mostly decorative. Where loafers were traditionally faceless, boat shoes always had an aesthetic touch. Nowadays, they have a separate visual identity because of a range of lace-attachment designs.
Boat shoes score higher than loafers in terms of fitting specific requirements because they are designed to cater to a very specific situation. Boat shoes are meant to be worn on deck, where they're far better than loafers. But even in the loafer territory (casual wearing), boat shoes are usable.
Even though boat shoes cannot be worn in formal settings, they have a wider range of uses than loafers. You should care about this if you go sailing and attend social functions. A shoe with wide use range and an effective specific-usage (on boat) performance is perfect for you.
Boat shoes are usually more expensive than loafers. They also have dedicated brands that cater specifically to boat owners. The higher average price ensures that high-quality manufacturers are interested in making these shoes.
You can also get really cheap boat shoes by searching for Boat shoes under $25, so if the price is a deal-breaker, you will get boat shoes at every price point. But compared to loafers, you will have fewer options to buy from.
The Defining Difference: 9/10
It is hard to score the defining difference of boat shoes, but given that it has a functional effect, it gets a better rating than loafers. Where loafers are defined by being easy to wear, boat shoes are defined by having a decent grip and laces.
The laces thematically tie to sailing as ropes and knots have historical significance in terms of anchoring and tying the sails. But the high-traction soles are crucial in making a shoe usable on deck.
Drawbacks of Boat Shoes
Not Ideal for Running
Even though boat shoes look like sneakers, their sole is built for traction and doesn't have enough flexibility to cushion your feet when you run. Loafers with running-shoe soles exist, but boat shoes require a hard sole which is inherently unfit for running.
They Can Be Hard to Get
Unless you shop online, boat shoes can be hard to come by compared to other shoes. This drawback seems exclusive to niche-use shoes and is absent from loafers. But as long as you buy your shoes from Amazon and can wait the time it takes to ship, you have nothing to worry about.
Loafers and boat shoes can be categorized as slip-on footwear that can be used for casual occasions. Boat shoes have boot soles, while loafers have regular soles. Still, they can be used interchangeably except in specific situations. Loafers are better for running than boat shoes, and boat shoes are better for wearing on-deck than loafers.
About THE AUTHOR
I have a deep love of houseboating and the life-changing experiences houseboating has brought into my life. I’ve been going to Lake Powell on our family’s houseboat for over 30 years and have made many great memories, first as a child and now as a parent. My family has a passion for helping others have similar fun, safe experiences on their houseboat.Read More About Brian Samson