There are a few grand companies still left in the US that classic American shoe.
I do wish they would make more ankle boots as I tend to go off roading in my leather souled footwear and there is a big hole in the market when it comes to a good old balmoral boot; It seems everyone jumps right into making the bluchers when it’s just not the same thing -- a tale for another post.
J. Crew a few years back separated its menswear from its womenswear and when this happened they took the menswear into a very collegial high end old money aesthetic. 60s style fitted corduroy trousers with small embroidered pheasants or dogs, narrow ties with coat of arms looking shields leather dopp kits for the man on the road needing to keep his shaving gear in a properly classic case. With all of this came the shoes as well. Proper shoes… wingtips that were double souled leather with pebble grains and slippery heels. The kind of shoes you wear on an elevator while heading to sit at your desk that has that extra white shirt in the drawer for when you spill your bourbon on yourself before the meeting.
For the shoes, they went to the most prolific of the American made brands, and that was Alden of New England. One of the last surviving American factory made dress shoe brands, they showed up at the new J.Crew and made a splash to the point where J. Crew began doing special makes of ankle boots and special colors… Now to the reason why I’m writing.
The Alden shoes retail for nearly $600 when you add the tax. A bit out of most men’s budgets… and for a shoe for a traditional mall store… often something that stands out as a bit out of place. So J. Crew decided to do something within it’their men’s shoes that’s a bit more approachable to the mass market that covets the stoic studying genius look. They made reproductions of the Alden shoes… very close when it comes to design, fit and materials, and sold them for half the price of the Alden shoes.
Handcrafted in China.
So I bought three pairs.
The ankle boots in russet brown, and a black pair and a russet brown pair of the low quarter captoe style.
Off the bat they look and feel just like Alden shoes. The leather used are said to all be imported to China for the hand making of the shoes and the uppers are very very fine calf skin with very tight pores. Very much like the Alden leathers that take a beautiful shine. The soles are dense and tough like Rendenbach would produce. Hard and so far they appear to be wearing down very slowly without deforming.
The footbed is taking a while to break in. Usually with high end leather soled shoes… Like Alden and Allen Edmonds, there is the leather sole, a bed of cork above that sole you walk on, and a leather footbed on which you stand. The cork sandwiched between after a few wearings helps the footbed take the shape of your foot so you get a custom shape to walk on. These are taking their time so I’m not sure if these have that cork layer or not, they may just take a while to break in because they use a tougher upper layer of leather. The shoes are fully lines in calfskin so your foot slides in easily while wearing socks, and the back of the heel has the rough side out so it grips to your heel and your foot doesn’t slide out while walking.
The ankle boots have a last (foot shape) with a larger toe box. I like this for the look and for the fact that I have a wide forefoot. The low quarter shoes have a narrower toe box but not too narrow… they look like shoes made in the 1940s and I love them for that reason.
They have a well placed heel cushion under a thin piece of leather and a combination leather and rubber heel. Being a swing dancer I tend to prefer rubber heels lately because I kinda like being able to put on the brakes while spinning.
I’m still breaking them all in, but first impressions are that these are like new Aldens. As I’ve written before, I have very fickle feet when it comes to what I wear. The stiffness tends to be a pain and if that goes away I’ll love them a lot more. I know Alden and Allen Edmonds break in faster. They feel very balanced for walking and dancing but I do wish they made them in a wide or E sizing.
If you want something that is absolutely the finest reproduction of a classic vintage American business shoe, these fit the bill. I’ll dance in them for a while and write a follow-up.