The debate has raged on for years – which premium American shoe reigns supreme, the ubiquitous Allen Edmonds or the elusive Alden? Arguments have been made around cost, build quality, fit, style, laces – if it’s a characteristic of a shoe, it’s been used as a comparative pro or con. Alden shoes are only found at a dozen or so brick and mortar stores nationwide, and outside of the US are a real chore to find. Adding to the elusiveness of Alden is the fact that they offer a wide array of lasts, which can fit so differently from last to last, a blind wearer would be certain they’re a different size or brand. For gents who don’t live near an Alden dealer – finding the idea size and last requires some patience, ordering and retuning a few pairs to find that ideal fit. Allen Edmonds however is available at many department stores, and is often quite easy to hunt down to try on at a local brick and mortar.
Alden Lasts – Photo Credited to Shoemart & Epaulet
For calf leather shoes, Alden also retails for a considerable premium over Allen Edmonds. For example, the retail price of a pair of straight tip bluchers in calf from Alden is $526, the equivalent shoe from Allen Edmonds called the Park Avenue Cap-Toe is only $385. That’s a 37% or $141 premium for the Alden shoe. What’s more, Allen Edmonds can often be found on sale and since they create so many new styles each season, are regularly offering shoes on clearance, with savings up to 60%. Alden can be found at a discount from Alden dealers with a little patience – but even on clearance an Alden shoe is going to be the price of an Allen Edmonds at full retail.
The difference in cost makes a comparison quite difficult as one could make a compelling argument, it’s like comparing a Mercedes to a Volkswagen, and thus it isn’t fair to compare the two brands as a finer leather, or superior stitching should be expected for such a hefty premium. There is one exception however, and that is in the case of Genuine Shell Cordovan. At $700 for the Alden and $650 for the Allen Edmonds, the difference in cost is a mere 8% between the Alden Chukka and the Allen Edmonds Dundee. Both Alden and Allen Edmonds use the same source of shell cordovan (in this author’s opinion the finest) which is from Horween in Chicago Illinois, have an oak tanned sole, and have nearly identical style and both come in the classic burgundy that cordovan is most famous for.
Now in this article I won’t delve into why genuine shell cordovan is the finest material to make premium shoes from, as that’s a lengthy discussion in itself, but suffice it to say it’s a widely shared view of which this author subscribes. With these two shoes festooned in burgundy Horween shell cordovan, similar styling and comparable prices, we’ve zeroed in on the two specimens to be compared, but how to compare these two premium shoes? Well, my opinion only goes so far – so while I’ll offer my opinion and experience throughout this journey, we’ll chiefly rely on data.
First, I’ll carefully photo document both shoes from new – taking pictures of the stitching, photographing the number of stitches per inch and the consistency of stitching.
Next, I’ll measure the width, length and height of the heel, arch, and ball of both brands to compare the two brands size (both are a size 12D) and consistency (difference between the left and right shoe).
Next, I’ll weigh the left and right shoes to further compare the consistency from each manufacturer, and to compare the weight difference between brands.
Finally, here’s where things get really interesting… I intend on wearing each pair twice a week until they require a resole, and keeping track of the distance walked with each pair to provide updates at key intervals. A picture of both pairs after 6 months of use is largely useless if one pair has 250 miles on it, and the other 400. So to keep it honest, I’ll be using two separate Fitbit One’s to track distance walked in each. I’ll do my best to take pictures of both at round intervals (IE: 100 miles on each pair, etc) so as to more accurately depict how the shoe will wear, as well as how the finish of the cordovan will mature and age over time between brands (while they both use Horween, Alden does additional color treatment to their Color No 8 shoes). While not “laboratory accurate” the Fitbit one was chosen based on its accuracy exhibited by this author’s testing using GPS tracked runs – with the Fitbit data tested against Nike+ GPS running watch data worn simultaneously. In addition, when used in the 5th pocket of jeans, arm and upper body motions do not affect the step/distance calculation, like wrist based tracking devices.
Once both pairs have exhausted soles, they will be re-soled with their respective companies resoling service, and compared one last time to finalize the test.
Can’t wait for the next installment? Well there’s some good news in store… The test began several months ago, so look forward to an update soon!
A special thanks to Allen Edmond’s for providing us with a pair of Dundee’s to use in this comparison.