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What Are Moccasins? A Historical and Modern-Day Guide

With the way fashion keeps evolving every season, there is no telling what the newest fashion trend will be. But parallel to these trends, some fashion staples have stood the test of time.

But one piece of clothing that outshines any other in terms of longevity is the moccasin. But what are moccasins?

What are moccasin

In 2008, archaeologists found a well-preserved 5,500-year-old leather shoe in Armenia, on the border of present-day Syria and Turkey – that’s about the same time the first wheel was invented in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq).

Areni-1 is a one-piece leather-hide shoe. It is the oldest known piece of well-preserved leather footwear in the world.

Many consider moccasins to be the oldest shoe and speculate the origins back to 3500 BC, but they’re probably even older.

But before we talk about the history of moccasins, let’s understand what moccasins are.

What Are Moccasins?

So, what are moccasins exactly? Moccasins are a type of footwear and are traditionally made out of soft leather, mostly soft tanned hides of deer, elk, buffalo, or moose.

The word moccasin (also spelled mocassin, mocasin, mocussin, or moccassin) goes back to the early 1600s and loosely translates to “footwear” and comes from the Algonquian language Powhatan. They were the first shoes for tribes in Native America.

The reason why the name has stuck is that this tribe was the first to get contact with European settlers. The moccasins are said to have arrived in the US nearly 30,000 years ago from Asia via the Bering Sea.

Now, the term, with its numerous spellings, has become more of a generalization for any kind of native footwear that has an indigenous design.

Let’s take a deeper look at the history of moccasins.

History of Moccasins

Every tribe had its own take on the Algonquin moccasin. In fact, different tribes would often add different variations and additions to their shoes based on what they did.

Distinctive differences like the fringe, seams, beadwork, or painted designs made it very easy to identify the tribe of the wearer simply by their shoes.

Native American Indian moccasins were designed for their specific occupation and climate. They were soft, usually made from deer-hide, hand-sewn, and had their signature gathered toe style.

But harsh environments demanded different designs.

It was at the beginning of the 20th century that Norwegian farmers and sailors adapted the footwear and developed hard, practical shoes that were more suitable across harsher climates and habitats.

Tribes who lived in plain and desert regions wore thick-soled moccasin to protect their feet from cactus prickles. They had their traditional soft-leathered upper part, but to adapt to the harsher climate, the moccasins were sewn to a heavy-duty piece of rawhide that acted as the sole.

While moccasins originally sported an exposed-ankle cut, tribes in these regions designed high moccasins to protect their ankles. They were made from buckskin, and long leather thongs were used to tie them around the ankles.

Once the animal hides could be waterproofed, moccasins were evolved to be comfortably worn during the winter season. The hides were smoked to season the leather and prevent it from cracking and hardening when wet.

Usually, these shoes were primarily designed for protection and were not decorated like other shoes.

Hard-soled moccasins left footprint tracks that enemy scouts could catch on. To prevent this from happening, tribespeople would stitch long heavy animal tails to the back of the heels to make it impossible to be followed.

For added comfort and warmth, winter moccasins were constructed using animal hair that would be turned inward after being sewn, or the craftsmen would add heavy inner wrappings. This included using leaves, clipped buffalo hair, and sagebrush bark as insulation barriers between the cold and the tribes’ vulnerable feet.

Manufacturers picked up the popularity of moccasins, and by the turn of the 20th century, the production of moccasins had peaked. They produced over 7,000 pairs of snowshoes (hard-soled moccasins) and 140,000 pairs of soft-soled moccasins every year for a population of no more than 400 people.

Somewhere around the 1960s, the industrial revolution advanced the process of production, and pieces of leather that used to be hand-cut by a knife were now crafted in a factory by experienced cutters. They then distributed these leather pieces to artisans to assemble and decorate with beading and embroidery for a fixed fee.

Features of Moccasins

Moccasins have a few defining characteristics that set them apart from other shoes.

1. Lack of heel

Moccasins usually don’t have a heel. When they were designed, the Native American Indians used a single piece of leather to craft the shoe; hence the sole and the upper half of the shoe had no distinction.

People started sewing stiffer soles that were either made of leather or rubber to adapt the shoe for harsher terrains
But while they may have soft or hard soles, the lack of heel is a distinctive moccasin feature.

2. Distinct U-Shaped Seam

A true moccasin was marked with a puckered U-shaped stitch seam above the toe, and the modern-day moccasins are designed to reflect that trademark detail, even if they’re not shaped the same.
Some seams also include bold and intricate embroidery, decorative laces, tassels, and sometimes even beads.

3. Loose Fit

Moccasins were traditionally sewn by hand, which gives them their loose-fitting characteristic. They were primarily built for comfort and protection and are more suitable to be worn during the summer and spring seasons.

Types of Moccasin Shoes

As we’ve already mentioned, traditional moccasin shoes have evolved with geography and time. But they can still be broadly classified into two types: soft sole and hard sole.

Soft Sole Moccasins

Soft sole moccasins were primarily worn by tribes in the Eastern forests of North America. These forests mainly had woodlands with leaf and pine-needle-covered ground, which is why they didn’t require a hard sole.
While moccasins can be worn indoors and outdoors, soft-sole moccasins are usually worn indoors. However, soft sole moccasins can still be worn outside (usually on soft surfaces like grass) as long as the climate is favourable.

Soft-soled moccasins’ upper and lower pieces are constructed with similar materials, usually with one piece of leather.
Interestingly, they were made inside out and didn’t have a permanent form since they have no predefined hard sole. This made it possible for the left and the right parts to be worn interchangeably.
Modern-day soft-soled moccasins are not as delicately constructed and sport a thick-enough sole that you can pleasantly wear outdoors and still intimately feel the ground under your foot.

Hard Sole Moccasins

Unlike soft-soled moccasins, hard sole moccasins are made using two or more pieces of animal hide and were primarily associated with desert areas and western plains. They were made to protect the tribes’ feet from sharp rocks that weren’t worn down by the water, harsh cactuses, and prairie-grass-covered surfaces.
The lower part (the sole) is made of stronger or thicker material. The hard-soled moccasins required more tailoring than other moccasins because of the shaped hide and the upper leather material that had to be sewn over them.
The puckered-U toe of two-piece moccasins (similar to that of the Apache) protected the wearer from sharp objects that could run into the seams and injure the foot.

Moccasins are not just built to last; the natives also had a keen sense of fashion. Not only did they stop at decorating their shoes with embroidery and beading, but some tribes also introduced sheepskins to make it look better and feel more comfortable.

Moccasin sheepskin slippers have a soft lining and insole that create a push cushion which makes it feel like your feet are slipping into clouds when you put them on. These slippers take comfort to another level with their fluffy sheepskin-trimmed collar.
While traditional moccasins< are best suited for warmer climates, sheepskin moccasins are excellent choices for chilly days.

Driving Moccasins

Driving moccasins were explicitly tailored for auto enthusiasts who desired a more comfortable, flexible, and practical shoe to navigate between the brake and gas pedals. Also popularly known as ‘driving mocs,’ these shoes gained popularity in the 1960s, the decade where people were fascinated with fast and expensive cars like Ferraris and Porsches.

At first, these shoes were known as a luxury for the rich since not many could afford leather shoes that were designed for the sole purpose of driving. In fact, the driving mocs were created specifically to cater to wealthy men who owned these luxurious automobiles and were looking for sleek and lightweight shoes that made it easy for them to drive.

Driving mocs gave people an elevated experience by allowing the car and the driver to form a closer bond.

How are driving moccasins different from traditional ones?

While they’re styled very similarly to the traditional moccasins, driving mocs feature pebbled rubber nubs along the outsoles to provide better grip and yet, allowed them to feel the pedals, which the other typical hard-soled footwear didn’t. The pebbled sole extended to the heel to protect the shoe from slipping when the foot is on the pedal.

Adding to the feel of the shoes, its connection with luxury and fashion combined with its aesthetic style has made it a fashion staple even after 50 years. While moccasins have evolved over the years, the look and style have stayed the same after all these years. You can pair them with jeans, seersucker pants, chinos, or a skirt/dress. You can also style them for a dressed-up shorts look.

The bold colours look great when paired with cool and neutral-coloured clothes. It adds a sense of flair and eccentricity and makes you look cool, calm, and collected. But don’t wear your driving mocs with socks, since they look best without them. Also, if you don’t feel comfortable wearing shoes barefoot, you can take advantage of ankle socks that aren’t visible.

Moccasins vs Loafers vs Espadrilles - Are They The Same?

Loafers and Espadrilles may look very similar to moccasins, but they have several distinctive features. They’re all easy-to-wear options that can work on formal and informal occasions, but the bottom line is that they’re not the same.

Let’s address the key differences that set moccasins apart from loafers and espadrilles.

Moccasins vs Loafers

Loafers were similar to the moccasins worn by Native Americans, though that’s not where they originated from. Loafers were seen as casual or informal wear when they were introduced in the mid-1900s, but they gained popularity over the years. Legend has it that the Loafers are actually inspired by the shoes worn by fishermen in Northern Europe. While they’re a picture of elegance now, their origin was more rooted in functionality.

A few people traveling to Scandinavia in the early 1900s noticed the comfortable-looking footwear worn by the Norwegian fishermen, known as Bass Weejun.

Loafers were inspired by these shoes and have evolved to be as we know them today. While they look very similar to moccasins, they have quite a few notable differences.

  • Lace. Loafers are also called open shoes or slip-ons since they don’t have laces, whereas moccasins may or may not have laces. Moccasins are decorated with embroidery, tassels, or laces.
  • Sole. Unlike loafers, the sole of moccasins are soft and flexible. However, the sole of both shoes is made of either rubber or leather.
  • Heel. Though both the shoes are slip-ons with an exposed ankle, loafers may or may not have a heel, while moccasins do not have a heel. Though arguably, loafers usually have a low heel, if any.
  • Origin. We can trace the history of loafers back to Scandinavia, whereas moccasins have a Native American Indian origin.
  • Seam. Moccasins are widely known for their bold seam lines, whereas loafers may or may not have bold seam lines.

Now that you have a fair idea about what makes loafers different from moccasins, let’s talk about espadrilles.

Moccasins vs Espadrilles

Espadrilles were first introduced as peasant shoes but evolved to become workwear shoes. Like Loafers, Espadrilles are also extremely similar to moccasins by the way they’re constructed. Espadrilles are usually made using canvas material and use more than two pieces of material. They’re now made of jute fabric, which is a vegetable fibre from the Corchorus primarily found in countries like India and Bangladesh. Here are some notable differences between moccasins and espadrilles.

    • Origin. Espadrilles can be traced back to Basque in France and Spain.
    • Material. Espadrilles often have the upper piece of canvas rather than leather and are stitched onto a coiled rope sole. Canvas comes in various styles and colours; therefore, espadrilles offer multiple options that you can choose from for different settings.
    • Sole. While moccasins feature rubber or crepe soles, espadrilles’ rope sole is made of jute. The jute sole is an iconic feature of Espadrilles. The jute can be styled as a single rope or into an intricate braided design. The jute sole is also known to be finished in vulcanized rubber or sometimes a crepe outsole in order to increase its durability.

Espadrilles get their name from ‘esparto’ grass which was used by people to spin into the strong braided rope.

  • Heel. Moccasins don’t have a heel, but espadrilles frequently do. In fact, they feature pretty high heels for women’s shoes.
  • Lace. You’ll occasionally find lace-up options in espadrilles.

Are Moccasins Slippers?

Slippers, by definition, are footwear that provide protection and comfort that is generally reserved for indoor use only. They’re designed for breathability and ease of use and are made of soft materials, usually a stretchy fabric that wraps around the foot.

Many people assume moccasins are slippers, mainly because of the comfort soft-soled moccasins offer. But while you can wear them indoors, most moccasins are not always designed for indoor use.

However, there are slippers that adapt the moccasin design and style.

But the bottom line is, if you purchase a true moccasin, you’re not limited to wearing them indoors like slippers. Especially modern-day moccasins that are designed to be worn outdoors comfortably. They can work for a variety of settings, be it casual or formal.

How To Wear Moccasins

With so many colours and styles to choose from, moccasins can be paired with just about anything. Moccasins will leave you looking fabulous while maintaining a laid-back attitude. Here are some outfit ideas for you.

Leggings and skinny jeans

Pairing moccasins with denim jeans can never go wrong, especially if you’re going for a casual chic look. Leggings and skinny jeans taper down and snugly hug the bottom of your ankles, so they can easily slip inside your moccasin boots, unlike most other lowers.

Moccasin Boots Black Suede Crochet

Source: Laidback London

 Moccasin Boots White Leather

Source: Laidback London

Slim-fit jeans and leggings look sleek with ankle-cut moccasins and show off your ankles in the best possible way and make for a stylish and comfortable pairing.

These work well if you have a casual daytime appointment or are simply running some errands in a t-shirt or blouse and skinny jeans. If the weather is a bit chilly, you can grab a lightweight leather jacket to complete the look.

We recommend wearing them without socks as the sheep wool keeps your feet warm and is breathable.

Skirts and Shorts

What are moccasins - Setsu Camel Suede - laidback london

What are moccasin - Argo Khaki Suede - laidback london

Source: Laidback London

Moccasin boots look great with denim short-shorts or a miniskirt. This look is extremely sexy and not hard to accomplish, but it may get cold, so be sure to go for this look when it’s warm outside.

Despite the typical dark winter hues, moccasins come in a wide range of pastel hues that you can choose from to brighten up your summer look. From dusky pink suede with stars studs to sand suede with pink crochet detailing, you have a number of dreamy colours to choose from.

Tall moccasin boots that come up to the upper part of your calf can be tricky to style. To balance out the bulkiness of the boots, you can wear a top in monochrome to draw the eyes upward and elongate your figure. Heavily decorated moccasins look dazzling when paired with a neat and simple outfit with fewer colours.

Dresses

 What are moccasins and how to wear it with dress

Source: Laidback London

Dresses look great with moccasin boots, and because moccasins are so earthy, they look incredibly tasteful when you pair them with bohemian-looking dresses.

While it’s recommended not to wear socks with moccasins, that’s usually because they’re already lined with fur and are super comfortable (also, most people don’t know how to style them with socks.) If you’d like to add more layers to your outfit, you can try different sock combos. If you’d like to go for a safe bet, team similar hue socks and moccasin boots.

On the flip side, you can simply go for the classic black or white-knitted socks to add more texture to your look.

What are moccasin - wear it with socks

Source: Laidback London

Formal Dresses and Suits

What are moccasins - Argo Dusty Pink Suede - laidback london

Source: Laidback London

Moccasins are mostly associated with semi-casual looks, but you can pair leather moccasins that have a bit of heel with formal dresses and suits.

If you’re going to pair moccasins with a super-formal black tie or a three-piece, that may not be a good choice. It’s more suited for seasonal wear like a tailored linen suit or a cotton blazer with fitted trousers.

With both moccasins and the suit, it’s ideal to choose dark colours, simple details, and quality fabrics.

Conclusion

So, now we’ve answered the question “what are moccasins?” and you also know the history of moccasins, their different types, and how to wear them.

From a fashion perspective, moccasins are always on-trend. If you know how to pair them right, they’ll go with just about anything. We hope this guide about moccasins helped explain what you should look for in a true moccasin and any other questions you may have had.

If you purchase a pair of authentic moccasins, there’s no question that they will last and be your go-to pair of shoes for years to come!

#laidbacklondon