A Summertime Favorite: Penny Loafers
Once the weather warms up and the days get long, I often find that the best shoes are either sneakers or slip-ons. I typically wear sneakers with jeans and casual outerwear, and slip-ons with dressier trousers and sport coats. Styles can really range, but most of the time, sneakers tend to be white and minimalistic, and the slip-ons tend to be penny loafers.
The penny loafer is often thought of as a quintessentially American shoe — a style that’s most at home with tweed jackets and Shetland sweaters, as they were originally worn on Ivy League campuses in the mid-20th century. Today, however, you can safely wear them without any preppy connotations (although, you can also wear them as such, if you wish). With a sleeker pair of European pennies, for example, you can combine them with a soft-shouldered sport coat, wool trousers, and an open collared shirt for a very dégagé Continental look. With some beefroll loafers, jeans, and a light jacket, you can go back to looking like an American, but in a way that doesn’t feel too preppy. 
If you haven’t yet got yourself a pair, consider some of these:
Highly expensive at $750+: JM Weston’s 180 moccasin and John Lobb’s Lopez are pretty iconic, with the first having uniquely high walls around the toe that help distinguish it from the pack. My favorite loafers in this price tier, however, are all from Edward Green – an English firm known for its tasteful designs, quality construction, and beautiful finishing. Check out the Piccadilly, Montpellier, Sandown, and Harrow to start.
Pricey options between $350 and $500: Less expensive, but no less well-made, are loafers from all of your usual suspects. Carmina, for example, has something that looks very much like Edward Green’s Montpellier, while Alden has a wide range of handsome American designs. More recently, Wildsmith (a bespoke shoemaker once famous for their unlined loafers) relaunched as a ready-to-wear brand, and although their loafers aren’t as close to their originals as Edward Green’s Harrow, they’re priced competitively. Shipton & Heneage will also have a nice range of options, and they’re made a bit more affordable through the company’s Discount Club. Additionally, Crockett & Jones is very much worth a look, as are Alfred Sargent, Sid Mashburn’s house line, Kent Wang’s antique calf loafers, and the newly launched Paul Evans.
A bit more affordable at $350 and below: Of course, for more affordable shoes, there’s always Allen Edmonds’ factory second store, where the company heavily discounts shoes that didn’t pass quality control. Flaws are often very, very minor, if even visible at all. Loake’s 1880 line is also worth a look, and they sometimes produce for Charles Tyrwhitt and Herring (just note that some Loake-made shoes aren’t of terribly good quality, so use good judgment). Similarly, Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers will have some nice models, even though their quality can really range. Stick to the stuff that retails for $350 and above, and wait for end-of-season sales. In addition, Meermin offers some of the best price-to-value ratio right now in footwear, especially once you take into consideration their made-to-order program, and Jack Erwin is the best I’ve seen in the sub-$200 price range. For more American styled loafers, check out Rancourt and Bass’ Made in Maine collection.
Shell cordovan: Lastly, shell cordovan loafers are worth highlighting. Although shell cordovan is traditionally a workboot material, it works wonderfully today for slightly dressier styles (think wingtips, tassel loafers, and penny loafers). Alden’s Leisure Handsewn is a really beautiful American model, while Carmina will be more European. Meermin may also be able to make you something through their made-to-order program.
(Pictured above: Hooman Majd in his fifteen year old Edward Greens)

A Summertime Favorite: Penny Loafers

Once the weather warms up and the days get long, I often find that the best shoes are either sneakers or slip-ons. I typically wear sneakers with jeans and casual outerwear, and slip-ons with dressier trousers and sport coats. Styles can really range, but most of the time, sneakers tend to be white and minimalistic, and the slip-ons tend to be penny loafers.

The penny loafer is often thought of as a quintessentially American shoe — a style that’s most at home with tweed jackets and Shetland sweaters, as they were originally worn on Ivy League campuses in the mid-20th century. Today, however, you can safely wear them without any preppy connotations (although, you can also wear them as such, if you wish). With a sleeker pair of European pennies, for example, you can combine them with a soft-shouldered sport coat, wool trousers, and an open collared shirt for a very dégagé Continental look. With some beefroll loafers, jeans, and a light jacket, you can go back to looking like an American, but in a way that doesn’t feel too preppy. 

If you haven’t yet got yourself a pair, consider some of these:

  • Highly expensive at $750+: JM Weston’s 180 moccasin and John Lobb’s Lopez are pretty iconic, with the first having uniquely high walls around the toe that help distinguish it from the pack. My favorite loafers in this price tier, however, are all from Edward Green – an English firm known for its tasteful designs, quality construction, and beautiful finishing. Check out the Piccadilly, Montpellier, Sandown, and Harrow to start.
  • Pricey options between $350 and $500: Less expensive, but no less well-made, are loafers from all of your usual suspects. Carmina, for example, has something that looks very much like Edward Green’s Montpellier, while Alden has a wide range of handsome American designs. More recently, Wildsmith (a bespoke shoemaker once famous for their unlined loafers) relaunched as a ready-to-wear brand, and although their loafers aren’t as close to their originals as Edward Green’s Harrow, they’re priced competitively. Shipton & Heneage will also have a nice range of options, and they’re made a bit more affordable through the company’s Discount Club. Additionally, Crockett & Jones is very much worth a look, as are Alfred Sargent, Sid Mashburn’s house line, Kent Wang’s antique calf loafers, and the newly launched Paul Evans.
  • A bit more affordable at $350 and below: Of course, for more affordable shoes, there’s always Allen Edmonds’ factory second store, where the company heavily discounts shoes that didn’t pass quality control. Flaws are often very, very minor, if even visible at all. Loake’s 1880 line is also worth a look, and they sometimes produce for Charles Tyrwhitt and Herring (just note that some Loake-made shoes aren’t of terribly good quality, so use good judgment). Similarly, Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers will have some nice models, even though their quality can really range. Stick to the stuff that retails for $350 and above, and wait for end-of-season sales. In addition, Meermin offers some of the best price-to-value ratio right now in footwear, especially once you take into consideration their made-to-order program, and Jack Erwin is the best I’ve seen in the sub-$200 price range. For more American styled loafers, check out Rancourt and Bass’ Made in Maine collection.
  • Shell cordovan: Lastly, shell cordovan loafers are worth highlighting. Although shell cordovan is traditionally a workboot material, it works wonderfully today for slightly dressier styles (think wingtips, tassel loafers, and penny loafers). Alden’s Leisure Handsewn is a really beautiful American model, while Carmina will be more European. Meermin may also be able to make you something through their made-to-order program.

(Pictured above: Hooman Majd in his fifteen year old Edward Greens)

It’s On Sale: Edward Green Shoes

Edward Green is my favorite shoe brand, but they are very expensive. At Brooks Brothers, for example, they go for about $1,300-1,500 a pair. Are they worth it? Well, they won’t last you any longer than the ~$250-350 shoes you might buy from Allen Edmonds, Paul Evans, or Meermin, but they do look very, very beautiful. They use great materials and have exceptionally nice finishing techniques. What that effectively means is: the interior will feel slightly nicer, and the uppers will be colored in a way that gives them some visual depth. 

Unfortunately, they’re rarely discounted, which makes Ashton Marks’ sale on them notable. Included is a very useful black cap toe (in two widths), some brown wingtips, and a couple of loafers. Shipping is free, and with the discount, you’re looking at about $750 a pair. Not cheap, but about half the price of what they go for in the US. 

If you haven’t ordered Edward Greens before, know that the general rule of thumb is to go a half size down from your Brannock size. That is, if you normally wear a 10D, then you’re probably a 9.5 in most of Edward Green’s shoes. The only exception is maybe the 888 last, which is tighter at the toe box, so some people take their regular US size. 

How Much Should You Spend on Dress Shoes?
One of the questions I frequently get in my inbox is: “I’m looking to buy a better pair of dress shoes, and only have X to spend. Should I save up for something better, or is so-and-so brand OK?” Like with many questions we get, a lot depends on the person asking.  
It’s worth noting, however, that in footwear (like in everything), there are serious diminishing returns after a certain point. Very roughly speaking, that point tends to be around $350 at full retail, although what’s sold at full retail can be had for less with smart shopping (eBay, factory seconds, seasonal sales, thrift stores, etc).
The Unfortunate Reality of Diminishing Returns
There are a number of things that go into the construction of a good shoe, but the two biggest are: the quality of the leather used and how the soles have been attached. Jesse did a great job in describing the difference between corrected grain and full grain leathers here. It’s also worth noting that even among full-grain leathers, there can be differences in quality. Additionally, most well made shoes will have their shoes attached through a Goodyear or Blake stitching process. Jesse reviewed some of these in the second episode of our video series, and you can read more about each technique here. The short of it is: with a sole that’s been stitched on, rather than glued, you can more easily resole your shoes, which means you don’t have to bin them when the bottoms wear out.
In the past, the “entry price” for good (dress) shoes tended to be around $350. These were usually from Allen Edmonds, Ralph Lauren, and Brooks Brothers, although not everything from these brands were worth buying. There were also some European names such as Herring and Loake’s 1880 line.
After this, you get marginally better constructions, but the differences become smaller and smaller (perhaps a leather insole vs. a fiberboard insole, or a sole that’s been attached by hand rather than machine, or slightly better leathers used for the uppers). Largely, as you move up from the $350 MSRP mark, you’re paying for design. A $1,250 pair of Edward Greens won’t last you 4x longer than a $350 pair from Allen Edmonds, but to many, they’re shaped and finished more handsomely.
The Emergence of a More Competitive Market
The good news is that the market has gotten a lot more competitive in the last five years, and the cost/ benefit curve has smoothed out considerably. Today, there are companies such as Beckett Simonon, John Doe, and Jack Erwin below the $200 price mark (the last of which I was particularly impressed by). Just a hair over $200 is Meermin, which I still think is one of the best values for (relatively) affordable footwear. They have a “Classic” line for about $200 (but with customs and duties, you might pay around $230) and a higher end “Linea Maestro” line for about $300 starting. And at the $350 mark, there’s more than Allen Edmonds and Loake’s 1880 these days. Paul Evans, Kent Wang, and Howard Yount are all good companies to look into.
The question of how much should you spend isn’t about what’s “good” in the footwear market, it’s about what’s “good enough” for you. For dress shoes, the only real criteria are: quality full-grain leather uppers and some kind of stitched on sole. Much of the rest is about aesthetics and personal preference.
(Photo: Crockett & Jones’ Whitehall oxfords at Ben Silver)

How Much Should You Spend on Dress Shoes?

One of the questions I frequently get in my inbox is: “I’m looking to buy a better pair of dress shoes, and only have X to spend. Should I save up for something better, or is so-and-so brand OK?” Like with many questions we get, a lot depends on the person asking. 

It’s worth noting, however, that in footwear (like in everything), there are serious diminishing returns after a certain point. Very roughly speaking, that point tends to be around $350 at full retail, although what’s sold at full retail can be had for less with smart shopping (eBay, factory seconds, seasonal sales, thrift stores, etc).

The Unfortunate Reality of Diminishing Returns

There are a number of things that go into the construction of a good shoe, but the two biggest are: the quality of the leather used and how the soles have been attached. Jesse did a great job in describing the difference between corrected grain and full grain leathers here. It’s also worth noting that even among full-grain leathers, there can be differences in quality. Additionally, most well made shoes will have their shoes attached through a Goodyear or Blake stitching process. Jesse reviewed some of these in the second episode of our video series, and you can read more about each technique here. The short of it is: with a sole that’s been stitched on, rather than glued, you can more easily resole your shoes, which means you don’t have to bin them when the bottoms wear out.

In the past, the “entry price” for good (dress) shoes tended to be around $350. These were usually from Allen Edmonds, Ralph Lauren, and Brooks Brothers, although not everything from these brands were worth buying. There were also some European names such as Herring and Loake’s 1880 line.

After this, you get marginally better constructions, but the differences become smaller and smaller (perhaps a leather insole vs. a fiberboard insole, or a sole that’s been attached by hand rather than machine, or slightly better leathers used for the uppers). Largely, as you move up from the $350 MSRP mark, you’re paying for design. A $1,250 pair of Edward Greens won’t last you 4x longer than a $350 pair from Allen Edmonds, but to many, they’re shaped and finished more handsomely.

The Emergence of a More Competitive Market

The good news is that the market has gotten a lot more competitive in the last five years, and the cost/ benefit curve has smoothed out considerably. Today, there are companies such as Beckett Simonon, John Doe, and Jack Erwin below the $200 price mark (the last of which I was particularly impressed by). Just a hair over $200 is Meermin, which I still think is one of the best values for (relatively) affordable footwear. They have a “Classic” line for about $200 (but with customs and duties, you might pay around $230) and a higher end “Linea Maestro” line for about $300 starting. And at the $350 mark, there’s more than Allen Edmonds and Loake’s 1880 these days. Paul Evans, Kent Wang, and Howard Yount are all good companies to look into.

The question of how much should you spend isn’t about what’s “good” in the footwear market, it’s about what’s “good enough” for you. For dress shoes, the only real criteria are: quality full-grain leather uppers and some kind of stitched on sole. Much of the rest is about aesthetics and personal preference.

(Photo: Crockett & Jones’ Whitehall oxfords at Ben Silver)

Reviewing Two New Shoe Companies

I’m genuinely amazed at how many new footwear companies have cropped up in the past few years. Every six months there seems to be a new entrant, which makes me wonder how anyone is making money. It’s good for consumers though – more choices, more competition. It’s been particularly good for consumers on the lower end of the price spectrum, whose options have opened up pretty dramatically.

Two such companies recently asked if they could send me some shoes for review (I took them on loan). Here are the results.

Beckett Simonon: Is Cheap Worth It?

The first is Beckett Simonon, who is offering two lines of affordable footwear. The first is a Goodyear welted collection made from vegetable-tanned, full-grain leathers (which are sourced from Poland). Those are available for pre-orders at $115-130, and come with a one-year warranty (which is nice). They also have a line of rubber-soled shoes that’s priced between $80 and $90.

I received a pair of their Goodyear welted loafers and some brick soled chukkas. The chukkas are comparable to what you’d get from Bass or Clarks, but are offered at a lower price. I like the shape of Clarks’ Desert Boots a bit better, as it’s a bit narrower in width, but the difference is so small that it’s barely worth mentioning. Quality wise, they’re pretty similar, though at that price, I suspect the suede options will be safer than the leather ones.

At $115, the loafers are a particularly interesting offering. The Beckett Simonon shoes are considerably better in construction and style than the similarly-priced John Doe shoes I reviewed two months ago, and they’re certainly a step up from the department store competition. Of course, there are trade-offs here, too. The leather, in particular, isn’t of the quality you’ll find on more expensive shoes. The shapes are also a bit boxy.

So are they recommendable? I think there are still better options out there for the budget conscious consumer (I made some suggestions here), but those will cost at least $75 more. Still, if you find a style you like, and can’t swing the extra money, these are certainly worth considering.

Paul Evans: More Competition at $350

I also looked at Paul Evans, whose shoes, like a lot of the new footwear companies we’ve seen, price out at about $350 a pair. As the price might suggest, the quality of materials here and construction are considerably better than the inexpensive Beckett Simonon. But how do they compare to their direct competitors?

There was a time when the $350-tier was the sole domain of Allen Edmonds, but these days, there are more options. I don’t have Allen Edmonds’ calfskins here to compare, but I do have some Loake’s 1880s and Meermin’s Linea Maestros. Both of those seem to be made from nicer leathers that don’t crease as easily, and I found them a bit more comfortable just under the heel. 

The upside to Paul Evans, however, is the design. These simply look very nice and the shape is much more appealing than what you’d typically find in an Allen Edmonds’ store. The toe box is slightly sleeker and the waist curves in more to hug the foot. They’re sharp shoes.

In any case, shipping and returns are free, so if you’re on the market for $350 shoes, there’s little lost in checking them out. 

(First photo, moving left to right: Beckett Simonon suede chukkas, Beckett Simonon calf loafers, and Paul Evans Grant cap toes)