Question: Who is the DEFINITIVE American shoemaker?
Explanation: That should’ve been easy, no? Of that iconic list of shoe manufacturers – each quite innovative to the evolution of American fashion in their own right – only one satisfies all the prerequisites of what we expect the DEFINITIVE RedWhite&Blue cobbler should be:
- Proven Heritage Label – Charles H. Alden opened his Middleborough, MA factory doors in 1884. Over 130 years later, Alden is the lone survivor of originally hundreds of New England shoemakers who closed up throughout the following century. Some of the few left notable neighbors are relative newcomers compared to Ol’ Timer Alden: Rancourt&Co (reestablish. 2009), Quoddy (1998), Sperry Topsider (1935), LLBean (1912), and New Balance (1905)….and, mind you, just Rancourt, Quoddy, and Alden produce entirely in-house instead of overseas. This fact alone is what disqualifies GH Bass from real contention to Alden, since the Maine birthright of 1876 no longer makes its once-great Weejun in the USA….more talk about that later.
- Uncompromising Craftsmanship – Multi generational family owned and operated in the same birthplace city it began. The likes of Sperry, Bass, New Balance, and of course Nike, had long ago chose profitable imported mass production over attentive custom manufacturing. While Alden steadfastly relies on traditional welted shoemaking with use of only the highest quality raw materials. And unlike “that other” more mainstream domestic source from Wisconsin (and a lil’ bro at that….est. 1922), 100% of Alden’s catalog is Made in USA. Yup, not even our gold standard supplier of corporate-climbers Allen Edmonds is infallible to the global economy. See for yourself AE’s casual line where most disseminated models are from the Dominican Republic.
- Innovation of [Cult] Classics – 403 Indy Boot. Tassle Loafer. Unlined Chukka. Longwing Blucher. Plain Toe Cordovan Blucher. Leisure Handsewn Loafer aka “LHS”. Bred over the decades for gritty combat by our WWII GI’s, or hostile acquisitions by refined boardroom executives; and now most recently, Lumberjack wannabes with smelly goatees and raw denim alike – Alden is not just some boutique player or has-been, having proved itself over and over in the traditional shoe game.
- Shell Cordovan - More durable [read: pricey] than your usual calfskin, Alden is synonymous with this ultra luxurious hide; especially as the largest stockist of Chicago-based Horween Leather Company since the 1930s (renown heritage label, one of the oldest US tanneries left continuously running).
Visible Horween Shell Stamp outside & inside my own LHS pair, Unlined version from Brooks Brothers.
As much as I recommend the popular Cheesehead Badger on this blog, Allen Edmonds is actually quite entry level on the overall gentleman’s footwear spectrum. The Park Avenue Captoe is so likened by yours truly and the rest of the menswear blogosphere because of its ~$200 mark on sale, perfect for young professionals who need a staple dress laceup of American quality and budget. Yet, Allen Edmonds and all of its glory is trumped by Alden in all regards. Which that ruling should resonate with you: Allen Edmonds, Made in USA and crafter of beautiful timeless designs in its own damn right, is the very MINIMUM of a proper shoe game. And yet how many grown men own a pair of AE Park Aves? Let alone Alden,Crockett & Jones, Edward Green, Carmina…. outflanked by the brainless masses in their rubber-soled plastic flimsy Florheims (once a heritage American maker like Alden…now an afterthought sold at Macys).
The DEFINITIVE American Shoe: The Penny Loafer
No shoe serves best with this metaphor than application to our DEFINITIVE American shoe. True, the Weejuns were there first, but we can all agree that the Bass Weejun of modern day is forgettable with mass produced Chinese replicas of its former American made glory (again with the exception for its recent special USA made collections, such as the Fenmore that Yours Truely also ownes and can attest to!)
Alden picked up where Bass had dropped long ago. Of course, the topic of “Who makes the best…..” is always hotly debated, but you can find the most anecdotal support for the Alden LHS on the forums and blogosphere (ex. SF, AAAC, Dappered, etc), developing a cult-like following. But at an ever-rising, high dollar pricepoint that has reached $700 FOR A DAMN PAIR OF LOAFERS – kind of MSRP…..Its easily a waiting game for the majority of us to scrap together the pennies [editor's note: horrible joke].
Makes sense that the Goodyear-welted, American handcrafted loafer made of rare Cordovan Shell commands a premium. But this is one of the star players of your entire wardrobe, and a wear-for-a-lifetime kind of shoe if there ever was one. Well all know that penny loafers are our best versatile shoe, casual enough to wear barefoot and with shorts on the weekends, yet sophisticated enough for all semi-formal occasions up until you require the suit+laceups like the Captoe. It was said that our Original Preppies of the 50s/60s-80s would wear their pennies until they required duck tape, and could get away with owning a single pair for classes Monday to Friday and church on Sundays.
You start with your first leather slip-on, probably a boat shoe like Sperry Topsider, in middle school and wear to college. Then upgrade to a calfskin Cole Haan Pinch Penny or AE Cavanaugh as suggested on this very blog, wearing through college on to early adulthood as a First Year Business Analyst or Med Student. Maybe you also have begun spreading outwards, finishing out the rest of the leather loafers: Tassled, Beefroll FullStrap, Moccosin, Kiltie, et al. Then by your mid/late 20s, you are promoted to Associate or start Residency as a fresh Doc, and your old frat cleat pennies have worn through and are too embarrassingly-scuffed for use at the office or patient floors. Along with donating your last remnants of college memories (ie Southern ______ graphic print frockets and your Costas with croakies), you retire your first pair of pennies to strictly casual and rain-wear. Finally finishing out your penny loafer apprenticeship and prepared for the rest of your successful adult life.
…..then you smoothly sail to the rest of your life. Wearing your trusted dependable guys to Casual Fridays as a future Partner, your First Born’s backyard bday cookout, rocking chairs with the Ol’ Lady at your Hilton Head retirement home. Taking proper care of your lifelong best friend and true wardrobe investment, horse brushing your Cordovan pennies so often and always using cedar wood trees immediately after wear. And since its a gentleman’s shoe, unlike the glue rubber wrecks found at DSW and Macys, you have your LHS restored once the sole requires it. Nope, this is a men’s best friend that will carry your feet into the grave.
Hell…Smooth sailing my ass! FYI it doesn’t stop there. This is your life now. You blow every Xmas bonus on a new pair of LHS until you collect every limited production trim, waiting ever-so-patiently for TheShoeMart to start backorder ….first #8, then Black, then rarer Cigar and Whiskey, then unicorn Ravello….After you’ve cleared the LHS you move on to the Short and Longwing Bluchers…. then Chukkas….The hoarding stronger than your Shaggy Dog and Snap T Synchilla obsessions! Feel free to drool through this AAAC thread for a glimpse of your future. Warning: NSFW.
Enter: The God Mode Prep
noun [/ɡäd mōd prep/]
1. This is the ideal young gentleman we all aspire to be.
“Mr. Calvin Sloan is a rising rock star Jr. Associate. BA from Yale, MBA from Wharton. His father was Managing Principle at our Atlanta branch for over twenty years. A GMP kind of guy, one of us. Thinking we should fast track him to leadership. All agreed? Good. Now let’s go snort coke off dead hookers.”
Three years ago I created this All-College Trad-Comprehensive meme (along with a Tolkien nerd speak that should NEVER be repeated outside this blog). Was just after I brought my other wardrobe staple and lifelong investment – a Barbour - and made an official decree: That one is simply not complete with his Classic East Coast training until he is blessed by the Holy Trinity of these Heritage Porn Stores: J Press, Barbour, and Alden.
Specifically owning these 3 must-haves for a complete Holy Trinity:
Alden LHS Pennies
That’s it. Do not buy anything else I tout about on this blog if not for these 3 quality flagships. You’d be so far ahead of those already In the Know that only fellow elitist GMP’s will be able to recognize. Whether you complete the major milestone of one’s personal journey as a college senior - President of your Middlebury Chapter whose been raised from classical GMP birth and gifted by Daddy a pair of LHS before graduating on to Georgetown Law to follow in Daddy’s footsteps at his Firm. Or like Yours Truely – painstakingly educating thyself from the start and collecting such prized investments over years of saving beer money, just now circling back to Trad Heaven with his very own Alden LHS….the Capt. Ahab to his White Whale, his Holy Grail, his Perfect 10/10 Brunette…. as a mid-20s young professional and 5+yr author of a clothing blog he barely updates anymore (sorry about that folks!) My personal journey will never be complete, but my new pair of LHS rounds out a spiritual goal of transforming my collegiate youth into a capable, well-dressed man schooled in the tradly and preppy ways.
[editor's note: As always....jumped the shark with all of this random symbolism of clothes....its just clothes people. I know that. Haven't lost it. Right? Stage 1]
As alluded, your first pair of Aldens to buy, or even singularly own forever…as if thats humanly possible to keep only to a lone pair [see above: Hell...Smooth sailing my ass!... ] is the Model #986 Leisure Handsewn Loafer.
Meet your last BFF you’ll ever need to meet: A pair of LHS Cordovan Color #8 Burgundy.
Normally I prefer that you go to the “original source” company that first innovated the particular product. However, you’ll notice that I advocate for the Brooks Brothers collaborated version of the LHS instead. This is because their version is Unlined, which makes it easier to wear and breathe during the summer months; while Alden’s own make (most popularly found at The Shoe Mart) comes with Lining only. The downside comes when you want to buy the various colors, which Alden only offers for its own make. Thus I suggest buying the popular Rosso Corsa Red Ferrari of LHS shoes and get the popular #8 Color with Brooks Brothers and all the other trims with Alden. But you can be the judge of which lining is best for you.
Many owners have also added that the BB Unlined LHS “fits like a glove” and are comfortable enough for house slippers, requiring very little breaking-in. I have generally found this to be the case for my own although I do think there is some breaking for a true comfort fit.
My Brooks Brothers LHS fresh out of the box (bought NOS via eBay).
The advantage of the Brooks Brothers Unlined LHS is that it usually qualifies for their biannual 30% Off Sale. So at the present MSRP of ~$730, they would drop to a mere ~$510. CHEAP! Right? But at least you can factor in the points to your BB Credit Card (you have one…right…) that add up to reward gift certificates.
The downside is that since the Unlined LHS can only be found at Grandaddy Brooks, stock is easily Sold Out and it can take more than a few months to replenish backorder. In fact, when I was looking to buy my LHS early Spring of last year 2015, the #8 trim was completely gone at BB online and nationwide (via checking with my local BB Sales Assoc.) They were not able to get another order in until F/W 2015! That reason, and the fact that LHS price keeps going up and up since it was around $500 just a few years ago, means you should buy as soon as you saved up. Once they’re out of stock at BB then it may take another year before showing up again, at probably a higher price.
The Shoe Mart also carries seasonal discounts, typically in the 15-20% range off their Alden catalog.
Although you have a tiny chance of finding them less $500, by pure luck by searching eBay and the clothing forum Buy&Sell sections. You can find a lightly used pair for under $400 but often there are not too many listings at any given time, so your size take some patience. One eBay Powerseller in particular, SteveSmith of SF/AAAC membership fame, happens to source his Brooks Bros NWT items from the secretive Garland Factory Store. He had carried very few select sizes of Old Stock LHS before. (Friendly Plug: I actually scored mine with personal discount since I happen to know Mr. Smith in real life….won’t say what I ended up paying out of respect, but it was one of my best treasure hunts ever! The LHS he sold me in mid-2015 was floor stock with minor scratches that had discoloring on the right shoe due to the display lighting. It only took a few weeks of leaving the pair out in the daylight to even out, before wearing.)
eBay is also how I picked up my lightly used Suede Tassles – since Alden supposedly innovated them. $508 brand new, sniped for $125 with shoe trees and original box. Not bad at all!
My twin precious.
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