Vocab

Know Your Terms: Moccasin

Because dropping the lingo is half the fun of dressing well.

A slip-on loafer with moccasin construction by Di Bianco.

As American style continues its worldwide resurgence, consider this an essential term in your lexical quiver—even if you didn’t play Cowboys and Indians as a kid. Why so vital? Well, by definition, moccasins were the original American footwear; the word stems from Algonquian (mockasin or maskisina) and encompassed practically every shoe or boot worn by Native Americans—all of which, naturally, were hand-tooled. A moccasin can be constructed from a single cut of leather, with a center seam down the vamp, but the most common variety is built from two soft pieces of hide. Craftsmen wrapped the sole around the sides of the foot, and over the toes, where the second, U-shaped leather swath was laid and bound, with a puckered seam—this is also known as a gathered toe—using either a whip stitch or a running stitch. (A “moc toe,” meanwhile, simply describes any shoe with a moccasin-like fore seam along the vamp.) In the early-20th century, the heelless, slip-on style of low-top mocs gained popularity when American manufacturers slapped on sturdy rubber soles and called them boat shoes, and as loafers infected Europe, just waiting for tassels, metal straps, and the luxury market. These days, the dexterous, hopelessly comfortable construction of the moccasin also reveals itself in round-the-house slippers and raceway-ready driving shoes, indulging both our need for speed and relaxation. What could be more American than that?

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