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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


On Black Shoes

Safe. Modest. Conservative. Formal. These are some of the words I frequently hear tossed around to describe black shoes. Black shoes are, in essence, the quintessential business shoe. Enter the Allen Edmonds Park Avenue. Ask around internet forums and style blogs, and nine times out of ten, someone will inevitably recommend a man’s first dress shoe to be some variation on this style; a black closed-lace cap toe. Whether it be Meermin, the aforementioned Allen Edmonds, Loake, Crockett and Jones, you name it, the black cap toe oxford has found its place in our offices and is here to stay.

That being said, has it become the only place for the black shoe? Dig a little deeper. What more do you hear? Boring. Prudent. Somber. Inflexible. Black shoes, the cap toe notwithstanding, have been condemned by the fashion-oriented as conformist and too formal to function outside of office attire, being replaced in lieu of various shades of brown to the tenth degree, ranging from the bright, flashy walnuts to the understated and classy bourbon tones. Even the rich sanguine oxblood and deep burgundy tones have exploded onto the feet of members in the fashion world.

But that doesn’t mean black doesn’t have a place.

Consider this a return to form; an analysis, so to speak, of the various uses of a black shoe. Yes, it is true that black is traditionally a formal, business color, but black shoes can be dressed down and up for a powerful, elegant look. First and foremost, black is a color that demands respect. It is a color that denotes that one takes his or her self seriously, and puts effort into their lives and the things they do. Because of their formality, black shoes are often unadorned and simple, leading to a sleek and refined silhouette. After all, there is a reason that Black Tie necessitates the use of black shoes.

If you’ve ever taken an interest in English formalwear, then you no doubt have heard the phrase “no brown in town.” I always wear my worsted wools and my darker city colors with black shoes. Black footwear contributes to the color gradient of the suit; it doesn’t disrupt the clean lines and flow of the suit and effectively keeps the suit grounded by connecting it to not only the ground, but the shadows you cast on it. Wearing walnut with a navy suit, for example, does the opposite, projecting high contrast that draws attention to your footwear instead of the outfit as a cohesive whole. It is a very flashy and fashionable look, and in that sense works with the outfit, despite contradicting the very basis of a suit. A suit is meant to be visually appealing, by building and emphasizing both the lines of the human body and the masculine silhouette. The contrast breaks these lines apart and segments your body into three distinct pieces: top, bottom, and shoes (assuming you are using a belt). Black is powerful, it is understated and it is refined, as opposed to the more rakish and flamboyant browns.

Even outside of the realms of tailoring, it is wholly possible to wear black without being utterly formal. Although here is a place where browns would be far more versatile, you can, dress black down with chinos, or take off the suit jacket in place for a casual jacket, and so on. Black does not have to be a color reserved for suiting.

At the end of the day, there will always be people who will favor the brown shoe over the black, but that’s the beauty of menswear: it’s a subjective art, and one where everyone can see one another’s expressions of their own selves with the clothes they wear.