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.
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.
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.
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.
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.