When you initially discover the concept of quality shoes, the first brand you learn about is Allen Edmonds. AE, particularly for Americans, is the standard for men’s dress shoes. The company began in Wisconsin in 1922--the current headquarters is only ten miles from the original site. Like many menswear brands in the U.S. and the U.K., Allen Edmonds gained a large following after it provided shoes to soldiers during World War II.
Today the firm produces everything from dress shoes to golf shoes. The pride of production remains the classic pieces. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all wore the AE Park Avenue for their inaugurations. Most of the goods are still produced in America, which makes AE one of half a dozen men’s shoe companies that have not shuttered or moved production abroad. Allen Edmonds is owned primarily by private equity firm Brentwood Associates; the CEO is former investment banker Paul Grangaard. He maintains that moving abroad could cut the company’s costs by 60%, but doing so does not fit within the long-term vision of the brand.
Given the history and popular following of Allen Edmonds, I have been interested in the brand since I first discovered Styleforum. About two years ago I snagged a pair of sand suede desert boots for just $100 during a factory seconds flash sale. This past summer I was looking for more shoes that I could wear to my private equity job, so I was happy to come upon a great deal for the Strands. The retail price for these shoes, as well as many of AE’s other popular dress shoes, is $395. In May, the company had a promotion for ‘CEO’s 5 favorites,’ which were all reduced to $275. On top of that, American Express was offering a $50 statement credit on any purchase of over $250 at Allen Edmonds. So I managed to get a pair of new, original AE Strands at the retail store for effectively $225.
Well, in reality I had to order them. I visited a store in my area to get fitted, but discovered it did not have the color and size combination I wanted in stock. So the salesman put in an order, and the shoes were crafted for me and deliver about 3-4 weeks after my order.
Allen Edmonds offers a litany of shoe styles. This shoe is the Strand cap-toe oxford in oxblood calf.
Here is the website’s description:
The Strand is Allen Edmonds CEO & President Paul Grangaard's favorite style! The relationship began in the early 1980s when, as a newly-minted banker eager for overseas experience, he had the good fortune of being transferred to Frankfurt, Germany. Given his age, inexperience and the language challenge inherent in the job, he was looking for a "credibility-enhancer" and some needed gravitas. So he bought his first pair of this distinctly American version of the classic senior executive's cap-toe brogue. When he became head of Allen Edmonds in 2008, Paul made sure they were one of the first styles reintroduced in the Timeless Classics Collection.
Built on the 5-Last, these balmorals are full of personality, thanks to an array of impressive perforations plus a striking medallion on the cap toe. Perfectly complementing its design elements is this model's orderly and architectural form, which effortlessly conveys an air of achievement as well as refined elegance. This means, just as it did for Paul, that when you put on a pair of Strands, you'll elevate your game at the same time.
Given the ‘official’ description/story and my photos, I will not say much about how these beauties look. They are elegant. The last is round and classic. The styling is conservative, yet eye-catching. In my opinion, the shoes demonstrate how traditional items can be very interesting and even somewhat ‘hipster’ (whatever that really means). A nuanced color, coupled with perforations and design, can really add personality to conservative styling.
Moreover, I think the Strands are extremely versatile. They can be worn as business professional with a suit, in all but the most formal settings. They can also look great with dark denim. It’s a personality pair of shoes.
I also want to clarify that the photos were taken before these shoes received wear or care. The pictures reflect the color and appearance of the leather without any sort of conditioner, cream, or wax.
Allen Edmonds dress shoes are considered the standard of quality for ‘entry-level’ good-year welted shoes. The leather and construction are better than the cheaper ‘real’ shoes like Jack Erwin; I wish I could compare them to Loake, Velasca, or Meermin, but I have handled none of those more affordable ‘entry-level’ brands. Additionally, these AE shoes are not quite as nice as my Carmina monkstraps or my Kent Wang balmorals.
The leather of these Strands is soft. It feels pretty thick and durable. However, it is a bit stiffer than those on my more expensive shoes. The details on the uppers of these AE’s are impressive. I particularly admire the neatness of the perforation and stitching, especially on the cap-toe’s decorations. The little points are crisp and the curved lines are very consistent. Moreover, the sole is well-attached to the upper; however, the fineness of the welt stitching is visibly less detailed than Carmina and Kent Wang. The edge simply has bigger stitches, and hence fewer stitches per inch.
From my perspective, the clearest compromise on detailing in Allen Edmonds dress shoes is the sole. They seem very durable and strong, but simply lack sophistication in comparison to costlier and even some cheaper makers. The sole stitching is exposed rather than channeled. The leather on the bottoms is relatively hard and finished in a boring way. The heel is rubber, and the flattening of the inner edges occurs to a different degree on each shoe. Of course, none of these details matter very much at all. Clearly the soles are well-constructed. I just want to point out that they lack the detailing and intricacy in comparison to Carmina and Kent Wang leather soles.
As I have said previously, I am skeptical that there is a such thing as ‘true to size.’ In terms of length, my feet are between a US 8.5 and a 9. In terms of width, they are between a D (regular) and an E (slightly wide). These shoes are in the famous Allen Edmonds 65 last, which runs narrow. I bought an 8.5E in this pair. There is a significant gap in my lacing, which is often a problem for my feet. Over the two months or so that I wore these shoes to work regularly, they were sometimes uncomfortably tight on the sides of my feet, though they were fine with thinner socks and when I was standing. Perhaps for a future purchase in this last I would consider an 8.5EE. Overall, this last is little inconvenient for my feet, but AE’s vast offering of sizes enables me to fit into my shoes.
At the price I paid, it is hard to make many serious criticisms of Allen Edmonds dress shoes.
My primary complaint is about the soles. On one hand, the uppers are made of quality leather, and are finished quite nicely. On the other hand, the soles are durable but not pleasing to look at. Of course, soles are practically designed to grind against the ground, not really to be eye-candy.
Other than that point, I do think the leather was a bit stiff. It took longer to break in than my more expensive shoes.
In my opinion, these shoes do indeed deserve their reputation. Allen Edmonds dress shoes are the standard for quality good-year welted shoes. The shoes are made with excellent leather and have a durable construction. In particular, I love the styling details and oxblood color of these Strands. At retail ($395) they are slightly expensive from a price-to-quality ratio perspective. However, they can be had at discounts through occasional sales. And they can also be purchased at lower prices as factory-seconds. Regardless, over the next few years, I anticipate that these will hold up very well and be a regular pair in my rotation.
PROS: Quality good-year welted construction, beautiful detailing on uppers; American-made
CONS: Unimpressive soles; slight stiffness; narrow last (personal problem); slightly pricey at MSRP