Review: Allen Edmonds Carlyle

Let’s face it: Allen Edmonds Park Avenues are cliche. Everywhere I go, the black cap toe oxford is a style that is oppressively pervasive. So you can imagine my distaste for the Park Avenues when I decided to buy my first black dress shoe. I always found the cap toe, while serviceable, too stylistically constricting for my purposes. Instead, I opted for the sleeker, more modern, plain toe Carlyles, that I could dress down with chinos or polish to a mirror shine and dress up to black tie. I picked them up last winter during the AE Factory Seconds sale, and they have been on my feet a handful of times since then.

Having a skinnier and more elongated last, the Carlyles fit a bit tight on my wide feet. I went for a size 7.5E, but now I suspect I may need an 8E. More on that later. The shape of the Carlyles is very attractive, with smooth lines and gentle, sloping curves. European shoes are still much neater, but there is something distinctly less “American” about the shape of the Carlyles, at least to my eyes.

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Sleek and elegant is the Carlyles’ game.

Out of the box, I thought the texture and surface of the calf felt kind of strange; the calfskin leather was a bit stiff and felt finished, and was not nearly as supple as that of my Chester wingtips. I chalked this up to the fact that they were new, and had not been broken in yet, and they were likely holding on to some sort of factory finish.

The construction is Allen Edmonds. You know what to expect. They’re solidly made goodyear welted shoes, nothing overly luxurious but decent quality nonetheless. They feel like they can take a beating and still be polished right back up to scratch. One thing that does bother me is the finishing on the edges of the leather pieces; not only are they not dyed and contrast against the black leather, but it also looks like they’re fraying slightly, and whether that’s how they are or it’s a blemish it is still very much a problem.

The laces are flat waxed laces, which I feel are easier to dress up than the typical waxed round laces you see on most dress shoes.

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Closeup of the laces. Also a nick by the second eyelets.

Due to being seconds, the Carlyles have a myriad of hairline flaws and blemishes, including a few nicks and scratches and an odd crease mark near the right heel. As I wear these and polish them, however, I do not doubt that they will begin to blend right in.

Formal oxfords are unique in that as far as the unadorned, dressy end of the spectrum, the wholecut, the cap toe, and the plain toe all suffer from subjective formality. Some people will consider the cap toe the most formal shoe one can own, while others may consider the wholecut to be yet more formal. However what is important to consider is context: wholecuts may be appropriate on a dinner suit, but are completely out of place in an office room. With the Carlyle you have much more versatility, but there are always nuances, pros, and cons to each.

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The most noticeable blemish I’ve seen, by the welt.

Without the rigid line of the toe cap, plain toe and wholecut oxfords both suffer from the same problem: garishly noticeable creasing. Now that’s not to say that creasing should not happen. Creasing absolutely happens. It’s a foolish idea to want to prevent any creasing whatsoever as a shoe will naturally crease with wear. However, some shoes will inevitably look better with creasing than others. A toe cap serves not only as a bit of construction for the crease to form around, but also frames the creasing between the line where the cap ends and the vamp begins. Without this bit of framing, the creases break the otherwise uninterrupted curve of a plain toe. To me this looks unattractive and crude.

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The aforementioned rear crease. With the way the light hits it, it’s barely noticeable.

Perhaps I need to break in the Carlyles more. Perhaps the creasing will soften up as more creases develop and the leather molds more to my feet. After all, I’ve worn them a little over ten times. Regardless, upon examining the creasing, I noticed the distinct line, right about where a cap toe would begin. I’ve always heard that the hardest of creasing should be on the widest part of the shoe, yet this is far from the widest part. Perhaps I sized incorrectly. 7.5E felt snug with a slight bit of heel slip; maybe 8E would be more appropriate width-wise, but it would only exacerbate the length issue. Sizing with differences in lasts is tricky. If you intend to buy the Carlyles, keep this in mind if you’ve only owned one other pair of shoes.

Ultimately, Allen Edmonds on sale are still some of the best bang-for-your-buck dress shoes money can buy. At this level, I can only nitpick, and for $200, the grievances I may have with the shoes are negligible.

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Review: Nordstrom 1901 Calgary Chukka

I’ve been in the market for an affordable and stylish suede chukka that can easily be dressed up or down. No doubt, I’ve heard of Nordstrom’s 1901 Barrett chukka, but by the time I checked in to buy them, they were out of my size.

It was a couple weeks ago that I was scouring the sales section of my local Nordstrom that the Calgary caught my eye. The website labels them as “Rustic Leather,” but to me it looks like the boot is constructed from suede, with waxed portions on the toe and heel. The sole is a chunky rubber, and appears to be glued as opposed to stitched (but for under $300, that’s to be expected).

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Much prettier in person.

From the website, the Calgary chukkas appear very chunky and work boot-like, but in person they are much sleeker. The details establish that the boot will never be able to be dressed up as some other chukkas, but overall the aesthetic is very rugged gentleman; refined yet still outdoorsy and adventurous, and versatile in their own right, like a man who can wrestle with a grizzly bear one moment, then read a book by the fireplace, sipping tea, the next. While they aren’t as sleek nor dressy as Loakes, they aren’t as casual nor clunky as Red Wings.

The first thing I noticed when I put on the Calgary chukkas is how comfortable they are. The size 8 boots easily fit my 7.5E wide feet (or are they 8E?), while still maintaining a slim silhouette. The insole is padded with a memory foam-like material that cushions and molds to your feet, which makes wearing the boots for extended periods of time easy. In fact, every time I wear these boots I’ll catch myself walking with a little extra spring in my step due to the sponginess of the insoles. In the weeks that I’ve owned them, I have had absolutely zero pain or discomfort during the break-in process.

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Suede texture. I swapped out the laces with my Clarks Bushacres.

I’m unfamiliar with the feeling of cheap versus high-quality suede, but the boot feels soft and smooth. The nap isn’t very plush, it is actually cut very close to the boot, and the waxed portions sort of feel like cheap plastic. That being said, the feeling is excellent for a $70 boot. Much better than the plethora of suede Clarks that I’ve tried in stores. The uppers are flexible without feeling excessively thin or floppy, but the waxed areas offer a bit of construction that helps maintain its profile. The suede is a vibrant rust orange, a colorful alternative to the chocolate suede I was looking for. Dressy? Absolutely not. Full of edge that you can bring to your outfit? Absolutely. It can pair with earth tones like no other, with a warm, striking contrast without being too in-your-face intense.

I have to say one of the only faults of the boot is the sole. I’ve only worn the boots a few times in dry weather, but I can see issues being there with the rubber soles. While suede in the rain is always a bad idea, even on dry ground they don’t feel all too grippy nor durable, but only time will tell how they hold up.

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Waxed/Burnished toe.

Another problem is the laces. They’re simple round laces that feel like cheap elastic, and I suspect they will, with more wear, begin to fray in time. They seem to replicate the style of dressier waxed laces — while being a good deal thicker — which looks inappropriate and contradictory for the style of boot in my opinion. I swapped mine out for the laces from my Clarks Bushacres and I think they look much better.

As a preference, my only other complaint has to do with the waxed toe and heels. Some will love it, some will hate it. I hate, hate, it. The burnished look contrasts jarringly with the rich, colorful suede uppers, and almost single-handedly ruins the look for me. It fits in the contexts of some Workwear or Americana looks, but makes the boots somewhat limiting to dress up.

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Laces: swapped.

All things considered, I am very glad I ended up buying the Calgary chukkas; for the price that I paid, I got an extremely comfortable and pleasant-to-wear boot that I always look forward to putting on.

Full photo album can be found here.