Austen Heller, founded by former University of Pennsylvania quarterback Gavin Hoffman, is bringing durability and reasonable pricing to the fanciful field of men's loafers – freeing men from the sweaty constraints of socks. The shoes are simple and elegant, with detailing that recalls a perfectly constructed saddle as much as the daintier products already on the market. The Chicago-based brand produces all of its distinctive loafers in family-run factories in Portugal, where the shoes are hand-stitched using traditional moccasin construction by shoemakers with generations of experience making the world's best footwear.
The iconic Tod's pebbled-bottom driving shoe, the Gommino, is an obvious inspiration, but Austen Heller adds some American heft and utility with its more durable sole. These loafers are designed to take punishment from pavement, not just to skate across recently waxed Italian marble floors (though they'll do nicely there as well). Austen Heller's take on the preppy classic are crafted in rich leathers and suedes, with cushioned insoles and soft calfskin linings for comfort. And – as befits this bit of inspired foppery – the loafer comes in some sharp color options: cherry red with a black sole, navy with a bright yellow sole.
For a simpler look, we like the Slaters in dark gray suede or the can't-go-wrong Classics in rich brown calfskin. Shipping and returns are free and, as an old-school bonus, each pair comes with its own wooden shoe trees. [$195; austenheller.com]