What’s the midway point between a dress shoe and a sneaker? If our lives depended on providing an answer, we’d probably go with the moccasin. Comfortable and casual, but by no means smart or sporty, this historic design is one of the oldest styles of footwear still being made and worn today. It’s also one of the most overlooked and underrepresented, which is a crying shame if you ask us, because it’s actually an extremely versatile everyday option.
Moccasins are soft, flexible, comfy and casual. They work well with most day to day outfits, the main exceptions being formal tailoring and sportswear. Outside of that, they’re surprisingly versatile, pairing nicely with jeans, chinos, shorts (sometimes) and even soft tailoring.
If you want to know more about moccasins and where to buy the best ones then you’re in the right place. Below, we explore the style’s background, defining characteristics, key variations and the brands making the best versions.
What Is A Moccasin?
So, how exactly is a moccasin defined? This can be tricky, as the term has been hijacked somewhat and is now commonly used to describe a number of styles that don’t necessarily fit the traditional criteria. We’ve seen boat shoes referred to as moccasins, boots referred to as moccasins, hell, we’ve even seen some sneakers referred to as moccasins.
Traditionally, a moccasin is a piece of footwear made from a single piece of fabric which wraps around the foot and is stitched together on top. Historically, they didn’t have soles, but more modern versions do have a flat, unheeled sole, sometimes made from crepe rubber.
The style originated in Asia and North America, both of which had their own distinctive versions. Native American moccasins were made from tanned elk, deer, buffalo or moose skin and stitched together with sinew. They often featured decorative tassels, fringes and embroidered patterns.
Today, moccasins can be characterised by their flat soles, soft uppers (usually suede), pronounced stitching on the toe and a wide, roomy fit.
Key Moccasin Styles
The lace-up moccasin is the most classic example of the style. It can vary quite a bit from brand to brand, but it always has a flat rubber sole, large raised stitches around the toe area and a lace-up design with a minimal number of eyelets – usually only two or three on each side.
Turns out the moccasin’s soft uppers and thin, flat sole make it excellent for driving. The driving moc is a slip-on variation on the classic moccasin that features a unique dotted rubber sole for grip.
It’s a popular summer shoe that goes great with smart-casual outfits and even tailoring.
Strictly speaking, a loafer is not a moccasin. However, given how commonly the two styles are confused with one another, we thought it might be worth mentioning.
Yes, a penny loafer does feature a moc-style toe and sometimes a flat sole, but it’s generally much tighter fitting, smarter and comes from a different lineage completely.
Thanks to its roomy fit, softness and comfort, the moccasin has become a popular template for slipper designs.
These indoor-specific versions of the style often feature an even thinner sole, cosy fleece lining and even softer suede uppers than usual. Occasionally they feature fringe or tassel decorative details too.
The Best Moccasin Brands To Buy From
Much like Northamptonshire is the spiritual home of British formal footwear, Maine is the spiritual home of the North American moccasin. That’s why designer Yuki Matsuda decided to make the northeastern state the base of operations and manufacturing for his premium footwear brand, Yuketen.
The label specialises in classic lace-up moccasin styles, handmade in New England using the best local materials. The prices are high, but you’ll understand why the moment you get your hands on a pair.
Shop now at Clutch Cafe
Direct-to-consumer brand Velasca is dedicated to crafting the best possible shoes at the lowest possible price tag. All of the label’s shoes are handmade by skilled artisans in Italy’s shoemaking capital, Marche, and feature all the quality and attention to detail you’d expect.
There are no traditional moccasins in the label’s range, but there are a number of loafers that riff on the style. Particularly the Balabiett, which features beaded tassels, fringe detail and decorative Jacquard fabric on the toe.
Shop now at Velasca
Historic British brand Clarks has plenty of moccasin styles in its Originals collection. The two most notable versions are the Desert Trek and the Wallabee.
Both feature a flat crepe rubber sole, two eyelets and moc stitching to the toe – the key difference being that the Desert Trek is stitched down the middle of the toe while the Wallabee is stitched around the edge.
Shop now at END.
Launched in the 1990s, Yogi is a brand inspired by the unconventional Earth and Roots shoes of the 1960s and 1970s. They feature a negative heel, which means the heel is lower than the forefoot.
Some claim this provides certain health benefits, but the vast majority of people who buy Yogi shoes are doing so for their stylish casual looks instead.
Many of the brand’s most popular designs are based on the classic moccasin template, featuring broad fits, pronounced stitching and soft suede uppers.
Shop now at Yogi Footwear
Quoddy is another Maine-based moccasin brand that’s been crafting high-quality traditional footwear since 1909.
The label offers a range of ready-to-wear moccasins and deck shoes, as well as the option to have a pair of shoes made to order for a completely custom design and fit.
Shop now at Quoddy
A relative newcomer to the Maine moccasin scene, EasyMoc has been crafting its hand-stitched footwear for around a decade.
The collection features everything from slip-on moccasin mules to classic moc-toe chukka boots, with prices starting at around £200.
Shop now at END.
Japanese label Visvim is known largely for its sky high prices, but also for drawing inspiration from traditional Native American clothing.
In the brand’s footwear range, this inspiration manifests itself as lots of moccasin-style designs, including the iconic FBT, which features a mid-top moc-toe upper with fringe detail sat atop a sneaker-like sole.
Shop now at MR PORTER