The joy of cordovan – and how to wear and maintain it

Wednesday, February 3rd 2021
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I'm a relatively recent convert to cordovan, but have come to love it as I've started to wear more casual clothing, and darker colours.

It also added a layer of love visiting the Horween tannery in Chicago last year (shown below). That’s worth a read for detail on what cordovan actually is - more a membrane than a skin - and the work that goes into tanning it. 

If you don’t own cordovan, or have been put off by it in the past, I’d put forward two major arguments. 

First, its look and colour (particularly ‘colour 8’ from Horween) is uniquely able to bridge casual and formal clothing. The only thing that comes close is suede, and that is never quite as smart. 

And second, it’s tough and pretty much waterproof. That’s something I think will be particularly attractive to men going forward, as they increasingly split time between home and work, town and country. 

I didn’t wear cordovan for years. 

I think the biggest thing that put me off most was just that normal, calf leather seemed more exciting. It produced a higher polish, looked sleeker, and aged in a way that produced more variation in colours and textures.

Cordovan always seemed a little dull by comparison. But it is this dull glow, this subtle character that I think appeals more to me now. Just as fancy patinas have lost all charm, so cordovan has gained it. 

Cordovan is a thicker and more oiled leather than calf, and as a result ripples more than wrinkles. As it isn’t a skin, it doesn’t have a top layer, and so can look almost shadowy, with colours floating beneath the surface.  

You also get a nice contrast between hard smoothness where there is reinforcement in the shoe - like the toe and heel - and a highly textured colour change where it bends. 

It is this texture in the creases that I think make it bridge formal and casual clothing. 

Because cordovan is shiny - it has a natural shine, and one that comes quickly back with buffing - it should be rather smart. Indeed, traditionally it was considered a formal leather, to wear with tailoring rather than denim. 

But these creases make cordovan look like it’s 20 years old, almost from the first wear. And this heavy, characterful creasing is what gives cordovan shoes such a casual feel. 

The loafers shown above - my Alden full-straps on the Aberdeen last - look almost black in this light. Indeed, some readers thought they were black, when they saw the recent checks post that featured them. 

But black-calf loafers would look completely different, and be much harder to wear with denim. It is the oiled, worn-in look of cordovan that makes them work. 

The colour is particularly appealing too. As Nick Horween told us on that tannery visit, this ‘colour 8’ makes up about 65% of their cordovan production. 

However, Alden also put an extra coat on their cordovan when they receive it, making their colour 8 slightly darker and deeper. And it’s a shade I prefer - you can see the difference in my Vass pair above.

Some people describe colour 8 as burgundy, but for me it’s much closer to a mix of purple and black. When it creases, the paler colour that comes up is like a pale purple or pink (which is surprising for some, and I know puts some off).

The purple/black colour is dark enough to go with lots of materials and styles of trousers, from denim to flannels. But it is also absolutely unique - the kind of thing you recognise immediately on someone else walking down the street. 

I’ve seen and worn many shoes over the years that were called burgundy, oxblood, or something similar, but I always felt they had nothing to recommend them over black or brown. Colour 8 does. 

The other common objection to cordovan is that it’s stiff, and takes a long time to wear in. 

It’s certainly thicker than calf. But I’ve not found it usually takes long to wear in - no longer, really, than the soles you get on a lot of English shoes. And I’ve never really had to start wearing them just a few hours a day - again, unlike some calf shoes. 

Cordovan can feel heavy, certainly. My Alden Norwegian bluchers feel substantially heavier than, say, calf Dovers from Edward Green. But the sole is thicker too. 

One thing that’s certainly true, is that cordovan can be particularly uncomfortable if the shoe is too tight. I recently bought a pair of Alden Jumper boots (Barrie last, below) and they were comfortable from day one. But the full-strap loafers pictured here can pinch horribly. 

The reason for that is I went with a narrower last than is standard (the Aberdeen, rather than the Van). This was not easy, and required a trip to the Madison Avenue store in New York. 

The reason I did that was that I’d always found the classic Van-last loafers to be too chunky for me. They just don’t go with the style of trousers I wear. 

You can see that in these images with my Blackhorse Lane denim. A jean with a leg that slim looks silly with a normal Alden loafer on the bottom. Fine with wider legs, perhaps some workwear-like chinos. But otherwise no. 

It was a great decision in that the loafers look lovely. And they feel lovely for most of the day. But after five or six hours of being out and about in town, they start to hurt. It’s something I will look at correcting at some point, perhaps by stretching them a little. 

For now, I’d recommend going for a more comfortable fit with cordovan, if you have the chance. It’s not an Alden thing, by the way - it’s the same with my Edward Green black cordovan (shown below). 

Speaking of black, I bought those EG loafers in black cordovan largely for its toughness, but it doesn’t have the same variation as colour 8, and therefore charm. 

As to other colours, I haven’t tried the ‘whisky’ colour, or dark brown, but I would like to at some stage. I think I’ve just been so attracted by the unique look of colour 8 that I’ve always gone for more styles in that same colour, instead. 

How to care for cordovan

Cordovan is, generally, easier to look after than calf. It benefits hugely from brushing, and from buffing (rubbing). 

A fast brush will not only remove dirt, but the friction will build up heat that brings back oils and shine to the leather. I recommend doing it after every wear, if you can. 

Rubbing it vigorously has a similar effect, and produces more of a shine. I recommend doing so - with a cloth - before you wear them or when you want them to look particularly good. 

A small amount of cream every few weeks can help soften the leather, and feed it, but don’t use too much or you’ll get white marks in the creases. Remember it’s already pretty oily. 

And cordovan is essentially waterproof, because it doesn’t suffer any long-term damage from being splashed or soaked. Splashes can produce white marks (welts) but the treatments above deal with these. 

Finally, even scratches and nicks can be rubbed out to an extent, with the help of a deer bone (shown above, at Ludwig Reiter). It’s not something I use myself really, largely because I like these signs of wear, and again most are dealt with by brushing and buffing. 

For a more detailed breakdown of these steps, with illustrations, Jesper has a good guide here

There are lots more things we could say about cordovan: other tanneries, whether the extra expense is worth it, the particular costs of buying Alden in Europe at the moment. But I’ll leave those for another post, or indeed the comment discussion below.

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Sam

I’ve had my Alden/Brooks tassels in #8 for more than ten years now, resoled probably three or four times. Definitely my favorite shoes. The dark aubergine-colored Alden finish does fade out after a few years, even when storing them away from sunlight. The original Horween shade underneath is still a fascinating color. Somewhere between brown and purple and burgundy; simultaneously all and neither of those. Love it!

Nick

Hi Simon, do you have any recommendations as to where I would be able to get my hands on low vamp alden loafers in the UK? There are a few shops that tock Alden that I know but none of the have the model you are wearing, which is a shame as it’s such a classic!

Visa Kuntze

Hi Simon, I think the classic penny from Alden is on the Van last, not Barrie. I myself have never seen a Barrie lasted loafer from them. Both fir similarly, though, being quite roomy!
I’m afraid I don’t know any UK retailers of Aberdeen full strap loafers, either. Clutch Cafe could probably order them for you.

OP

There are post forwarding companies, if the extra cost and hustle are worth it (cheaper than travelling, and currently available). I’ve used Reship a couple of times before. I imagine there are more like it.

John

Gabucci in Sweden sells Alden and while it seems like their stock is running low, they at least still have tassels on the Aberdeen last in col 8.

John

Oh, I remember that from your Stockholm article now that you mention it. Alden seem to have a large love-hate following online which has so far made me steer clear of them (even though I really like the darker shade of their col 8), but I’ve been looking to purchase a pair of cordovan loafers a while now myself. Any plans on covering EB loafers (particularly their cordovan)?

John

Enzo Bonafé, sorry.

Stefan

I order this up for clients all the time. Feel free to send me a DM if none of your local retailers will. Shoesofstefan at Instagram

Jon

Hi Nick –

Reach out to Ealdwine in Raleigh NC USA. I don’t have an email for them handy, but the owner has an insane shell collection and the store sells Alden – including special makeups. Ask for Jim when you email them. The guy knows where to find everything all over the world. I’m in an Alden group on FB with them and their customer service seems great… though I’ve yet to buy from them. Should be an easy ship across the pond.

Cheers,

JPS

Martins

What would be your thoughts about cordovan colour 8 wholecut? I’m a bit worried they would be not smart enough for flannels and too smart for chinos…

Detlef Rueskamp

You can easily buy all necessary equipment to care for Codovan leather from http://www.afinepairofshoes.co.uk. Very nice people though !

David

Shell Cordovan is really quite a stellar leather to wear. I especially enjoy it punched and brogued. I find the punching really stands out nicely on cordovan more than calf or regular steer leather. I would also concur that the break-in period is about on par with non-cord shoes. Have you had any experience with Shinki cordovan? They may the second largest producer after Horween. Would you consider adding any cordovan accessories?

Hugh

It is my preferred leather for watch straps. I’ve got two where the cordovan has a hatch grain to it. Unlined with some decorative stitching. Lovely.

Peter Hall

I have a pair of Carmina Cordovan Derbies (Detroit ) in black and they are my work wear shoes and increasingly with 501.s. I’ve avoided all creams, but rub and buff with standard kiwi polish and use trees to keep the shape. Certainly, very comfortable and quite capable of surviving a downpour or two, although I still have my old habit of stuffing with newspaper if they are very wet(military habits die hard). As you say, a very subtle charm.

Paul Boileau

Traditionally cordovan has not been that popular in the UK probably due to supply (and cost). More than one cordwainer has told me that he didn’t like working with it. I had one pair of Alden loafers in #8 years ago when I lived in the States. At that time I don’t think any UK shoe manufacturers sold cordovan. I had these loafers for years but eventually the cordovan gave out at one of the ripples. I cannot remember polishing them for the last 5 years or so of their life- just a quick rub down. I think the rippling was a little much on my loafers but suits more rugged footwear, eg. boots better.

Kenny

Did Trump tax exports of leather soled shoes? If so, could you provide more details? Trump’s protectionism was focused on imposing and raising tariffs. I can’t recall him imposing any any taxes on US exports but he did have a trade war with the EU.

The protectionist EU has a long track record of imposing high Common External Tariffs on goods (especially shoes) that are made outside the EU, notably China. It makes Donald Trump look like a liberal free trader!

When Trump retaliated against the high Common External Tariffs (e.g. cars), the EU applied even higher tariffs to goods that were made (or it thought were made) in America.

Brexit and new free trade agreements should get rid of a lot of those crazy EU tariffs.

Eugene

Crockett & Jones has several boot models and perhaps even a shoe or two available in cordovan. I don’t think they stock color #8, but usually have whisky and dark brown, which is a little different from Alden’s Cigar brown.

Karol

I’ve just noticed… Are those pressed creases on your jeans? I don’t think I’ve seen anybody doing it

Anonymous

Hello Simon,

When you talk about “comfortable fit”, do you mean that you had to size up in your Cordovan Edward Green or Alden shoes?
Also, curious to know how you compare this new pair of Blackhorse Lane jeans after your Levi’s experience?

Thanks in advance!

Hugh

Which BHL fit are these?

Ajbjasus

Lovely. My interest in good shoes started when I bought some Santoni black cordovan chukka boots in an outlet shop in Kitzbuhel for about a hundred quid. They are rugged very low key for Santoni, with treble leather soles and Norwegian welts, and abosolutely bomb proof.Kitzbuhel is an interesting place for clothes shopping, with hand made shoes from Haderer, tailoring from Prader, and Fraunschuh, who manufacture locally, and curate some lovely Italian clothes.

Nikita

Are these NW1? They look slimmer on you than usual.

SK

Prototype meaning that it’s not available on BHL just yet?

Anonymous

Hi Simon,

A couple of questions if you wouldn’t mind:

1. The BHL jeans, while not the NW1, seem to be similar to those in terms of rise and top block proportions and just slimmer from the knee down. Is this correct? If yes, what model do you prefer between this prototype and the NW1?

2. I understand Alden’s LHS loafer is commonly done on the Van last. I think you have one in suede. Would you not wear that with these jeans /similarly narrow trousers?

Anonymous

Thanks! Which do you prefer between the prototype and the NW1?

Maurice

I’m not surprised that the Aberdeen last has caused you more discomfort than the Barrie, it is not nearly as forgiving. Do you wear your loafers a half size larger than your jumper boots? General wisdom among Alden fans dictates that the Aberdeen fits true to (Brannock) size, and the Barrie is roomier all around, and can be worn a half size smaller. I find this to be true. BTW, Horween has produced very differing shades of colour #8 through the years. Recent ‘vintages’ seem to be noticeably darker and more purple than shoes and boots from 4-5 years ago; those were much closer to a burgundy red. Beautiful as well, but not as smart.

Rogey

You briefly mention white marks that can appear in creases from using cream, but my understanding is that cordovan naturally produces oils that can cause a white film. You just brush or wipe it off. That occurs on my Alden cordovan monks, even though I don’t use anything on them. There’s nothing wrong with the shoe, but it can be a bit of a shock if you’re not expecting it.

Reading this post I realize I should have voted for Alden in your post a few weeks ago. All of my Aldens are comfortable–the most important thing in any shoe–and Alden makes a quality product at a fair price.

Shem

Hi simon i believe the full strap pictured above is in the aberdeen last? I have very narrow heels and broader width at the front. Would you say the van or abeerden last is more suitable? There is a color 8 cordovan in the van last which I think looks good in casual and formal settings

shem

Hi simon thanks. On the side, do you have any plans to review the armoury in house label shoes? They may be below the price of the shoes you often wear (e.g. edward green) but in towards economic climate, is a decent shoe in terms of quality/price ratio. I’m curious to see how their loafers for example, compare to those by aldens.

Luke

very interesting article, as always. My experience is different. My Alden Tassel Loafers on the Aberdeen last in the E fitting (Alden’s widest fitting), are my most comfortable shoes. I generally struggle with CJ loafers (only come in one width standard), as I have to go up in size to accomodate my wide forefoot, which leads to a shoe that is a bit too wide at heal.
Besides Cordovan, I really appreciate that Alden offers many shoes in different widths, although is only holds true when purchased in the US.

Flynn

Hi Simon,

You make a compelling case. I used to feel the same way about suede as you once did about cordovan. It seems both are in fact lower maintenance than calf leather.

Ignoring any particular gaps in one’s collection, what shoes types do you think are most versatile when made from cordovan? Loafers seem popular, but I see markers also offering boots – which given your comments seem heavy and perhaps less comfortable.

Barry Kearney-Luc

I invested in my first pair of Alden Black Cordovan Tassel Loafer in January 1981 and still wear them today. It cost me 20% of my (then) monthly salary. RO! – Priceless.

I highly recommend the Alden restoration service.

Simon

I’d love to see something one day on leather alternatives for shoes. It would be super cool to see you commission something vegan just to see what’s achievable if you apply the same craft and taste to a different material. Obviously that’s niche interest (perhaps just me) but it could be an opportunity to flex some skills with a different set of constraints.

Anonymous

Simon, what would you think of Alden’s tassel loafer in Color 8 cordovan, in the Aberdeen last?Leffot has it:https: //leffot.com/brands/alden/563

Alexander

I also do like tassel loafers, but find them a bit hard to wear without appearing somewhat affected (they are a bit unusual and sadly often worn by a certain type of fashion-guy, at least were I am from). Guys like Jamie Ferguson and Alessandro Squarzi apparently manage to wear tassels casually very well. Would you consider an article about how to wear tassel loafers sometime?

Eugene

I have Alden’s tassel loafers in their old hunter green suede. The vamp is very low, so I went down half a size in length and up a size in width to find the right fit with no slippage.

Dr Peter

I am glad you have become a convert to shell cordovan, Simon. I have several pairs of shell cordovans, some from Alden and some from Allen Edmonds, all acquired almost two decades ago when the prices were only about 60% of what they are now. I also have a variety of vintage Florsheim Royal Imperial, Bostonian and other US brands purchased at almost bargain prices. They are truly priceless, especially when in good condition. These were mostly from vintage shops and eBay. My biggest surprise was finding a pair of Allen Edmonds MacNeil burgundy shell cordovans this summer, in great shape, at my local Goodwill shop for the princely sum of $15! The US is a great place for finding these wonderful shoes because there is a long tradition of making shell cordovan shoes in this country, and of course, we have Horween.

I have had some of my old shells recrafted by a local cobbler who did excellent work until he retired last month. I also have Kirby Allison’s cordovan care kit (complete with deer bone) which comes in handy to smooth the ripples a bit. But I must say I rather like the ripples, and when brown shell acquires an olive patina around the ripples with age, I absolutely love the effect.

zo

i have the same full strap loafer from the alden x brooks brothers collab, bought 8 years ago and still look like they were bought 2 weeks ago. easily my fav shoes for the summers. i find the low vamp a bit unsuitable for the winters though.

Steven C

Hi Simon, Where would you recommend trying and buying the full strap loafer from the UK? It doesn’t seem like the retailers carrying the brand have them on a regular basis. And your pair look totally dark, so dark that I find it difficult to believe it is a No.8. Did you order a ‘dark’ No. 8 by any chance? Great look. Worth every short term pinch!

Brendan

I quite like the cream sweater you are wearing in one of the photos. Where is it from?

Jtkuga

Simon,

I have never liked wearing brown shoes with either navy suits or charcoal suits, as I prefer the shoe to be darker than suit, and therefore opt for black. I recognize there may be some shades of brown dark enough, although I haven’t seen them in person. Assuming the shoe itself is smart enough, how would the colour 8 cordovan go with a navy or charcoal suit? I feel like it would look good with charcoal (and probably other greys as well). Not so sure about navy… What are your thoughts?

Jtkuga

Simon,

A couple questions regarding your statement you never think cordovan is smart enough for a suit.

1. What about a suit lower down the formality scale, say a mid Grey flannel?

2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but haven’t I seen you wear suede shoes with pretty smart suits? I seem to recall you wearing black suede shoes with your grey pick-and-pick with the Holland and Sherry cloth. Is cordovan not as smart as suede? I would have figured it to be more formal.

Thanks

Anonymous

Simon,

Thank you for the high quality of your columns. These have been so informative since I found your site about 2 years ago. Appreciate your site, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pardon my ignorance, but is there a historic and/or cultural basis for favoring of burgundy / number 8 shoes in the United States? Here in NYC, they are far more common than I have seen on trips to London. The cultural association of shoes is fascinating to me. I live in topsiders during the summer months and these also seem to have strong ties to the Northeastern United States.

Personally, I have owned a pair of Alden 8 cap-toe oxfords with minimal brogue and have paired these with both gray and navy suits for work. In my far less informed opinion, they go very well with traditional navy, but especially mid gray worsted or flannel. I receive comments/compliments on these shoes (far more than others), typically from older gentlemen who tell me they have a similar pair and have worn it for decades. Mine are about 7 or 8 years old and have become better with age.

Thank you.

Yuri

Please do not wear black shoes with jeans. Please.

HENRY

A grain Piccadilly can still fit with a pair of denim…isn’t it?

Felix

Would also say there are lots of great casual combinations with black shoes. E.g., heavy black winter boots with denim can look great. And when it’s grey denim, black shoes actually look best.

RolleFC

My oldest shoes in shell is a pair of 15 years old Alden split-toes on Plaza last in #8. Very well worn. They were never even close to being as dark as your’s, rather a true burgundy.
Now, however, they are best described as brown-ish with a slight burgundy tint.
Quite different to what they looked like when new, but even more beutiful.

Christopher

Dear Simon,

great post, as we are used to it!
I am considering buying a pair of cordovan loafer, but I am not sure, which to go for. Alden (same as yours) or Carmina? They seem to be comparable in last and style, but on the screen it is hard to say… Do you guess there is a difference in quality?
I would appreciate your thoughts and maybe another recommendation!

Anonymous

Any particular misgivings about Carmina? Is it in general or specifically their cordovan? Thanks.

Anonymous

Thanks for your reply, Simon. I totally agree that, with most non-designer shoes, you get what you pay for. Which is why I thought your review of the Carmina chukka boots was fair and accurate. But I still don’t quite understand your preference for Alden over Carmina on quality/value grounds. In the US, at least, and speaking solely about each company’s cordovan offer, their pricing is very similar. I don’t currently own either but I have held, tried and examined examples from both and, at least from the quality signs that such examination can discover, I have to say that it seemed to me as though Carmina had the upper hand.

To start with, both use Horweem cordovan. I am not sure if there is much variance in the quality of cordovan offered by Horween (as there is, for instance, with European tanneries). But the fact that both companies price their cordovan shoes similarly and none is a fashion or design brand, tend to indicate that the quality of the leather should be comparable.

Then there is the leather sole. Alden states that they use “oak leather soles” (likely meaning oak bark-tanned). Carmina uses JR Redenbach oak bark tanned soles, which are considered some of the finest, comparable to Bakers, and used in Edward Green’s shoes. Maybe Alden uses JR soles as well but, even then, there does not appear to be any advantage to Alden.

And then there’s the general quality of workmanship. Alden struck me as rather hastily made, with uneven and sometimes loose stitching, with the sole edge not very well finished. On the contrary, I found Carmina’s work to be much cleaner in the pairs I’ve checked.

Am I missing something? I would sincerely appreciate your guidance as I am currently deciding which way to go for a pair of cordovan tassel loafers. Thanks in advance.

Anonymous

This has raised an interesting question that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere – are there different grades of cordovan produced by the same tannery? Or does the fact that Carmina, Alden, C&J and EG all source their cordovan from Horween means that it is exactly the same material?

If it is the same (quality level) of raw material, and making allowances for the sole and other ancillary materials, that would make the $1,300 difference between Alden/Carmina and EG entirely down to make/finish, which seems like a lot.

I guess my point is: I am happy to pay for calf or suede EG principally because the leathers they use are at the absolute top of the industry (as is their make for GYW shoes) and there is an -in my experience- noticeable difference in how the leather wears from day one and especially how it ages. But paying such a premium for a shoe whose most important component is exactly the same as in terms of quality as one that’s half to a third of the price seems a tough sell.

Anonymous

Simon, curious to know if you have any thoughts on the last post re: quality of cordovan sourced by makers. Thank you.

Quentin

The quality of Alden’s soles is rather poor. No comparison to Rendenbach soles. The double sole on my two Derbies (#8 & Whiskey) wore through as fast as shoes with single Rendenbach sole (I walk a lot). Since I had them resoled with R. double soles they are still going strong.

The stacks on the heels Alden uses are of bonded leather which loses form when it gets wet. After repeated exposure to wet pavement the heel begins to bulge at the rim and one can see the layers. Not pretty. Never had this with any other leather soled / heeled shoe.

Felix

I have an old pair of C&J Harvards (unlined cordovan pennyloafers – btw are all cordovan shoes unlined?) that I have kicked around quite badly. They have the typical waves instead of creases mostly, but also some creases in which the texture of the leather has visibly changed, looking dull and a little pulverized on the surface. Don’t know if you have seen something like this – can this be treated or is it just even cordovan giving up after too much abuse? (I do brush them from time to time.)

Dante

Hi Simon, nice to see you moving into this area of things, been a reader for about 8 years now and this is my first time commenting I think.
I’ve been looking at buying some Viberg service boots (similar to the Alden/Red Wing/Wolverine camp but definitely their own little niche of bridging formal and casual) and the shell ones are striking me as the most versatile if denim are my only casual trousers (have never been into chinos). Do you think these in Dark Cognac cordovan would work with something like grey flannels as the top end of the formality scale? Perhaps better if the toe cap was unbrogued or just a plain toe, or if the edges were dressed a little darker?
I can’t put my finger on exactly what makes these distinctly less formal than the Aldens, but they’re also one of Viberg’s most formal offerings.
Thanks so much and take care!

https://viberg.com/products/service-boot-cap-toe-horween-dark-cognac-shell-cordovan

Dante Andre-Kahan

Fair enough, thanks! The search continues for a boot that can go with nice denim and smarter trousers. I’ve seen some people in more casual cities pull off balmorals or derby boots like a Galway with quality denim, but I’m a little young to pull off that kind of boot in general. Never been big on even smart chukkas or chelseas either unfortunately, especially because the Canadian west coast is a relentless sea of Blundstones. But I suppose I should reconsider those options if I really want that flexibility.

Joel

Hey Simon,

Thoughts on grained cordovan? It is intriguing to me.

Anonymous

Simon, would appreciate your thoughts on the Drake’s by Alden cordovan chukka boots? See here: https://www.drakes.com/usa/shoes/alden-for-drake-s-burgundy-color-8-cordovan-commando-sole-chukka-boot

zo

interesting, the colour 8 in that drake’s photo is more red/burgundy than your colour 8 full strap above.

Chancellor

Is cordovan waterproof even without the coating the Alden adds to it?

Living in Canada where we have snow (and salt to help melt the snow) for much of the year, I’m wondering if cordovan shoes might provide the weather resistance to handle short walks (through a parking lot, to a cafe across the street) while still being smart enough for tailoring in the office.

Dario

Yesterday morning I got an email about some Enzo Bonafe loafers in “Colour 8” cordovan and I was wondering “what is that”?
Later in the day I read this article. The timing could have not been better!
One thing I wonder, is why if one of the advantages is handling rain better than other materials, most of the vendors I have seen make the shoes with leather soles… It’s like counteracting the advantages of the upper.

Dario

Thanks Simon! I decided to buy a pair of dark brown cordovan loafers from Crockett & Jones shortly after the article, and they arrived today. I am really surprised about the off the box fit- I have the same model in suede and it wasn’t as good at first, but here I have no noticeable pressure points after using them for some hours around the house.

Anonymous

Simon
A shirtmaker is telling me he is worried the Chambray Cloth might not be enough for a shirt (1.1 x 2.5m). Is this a valid concern, is there anything I can say to reassure them?

petronio

Simon, it is a great post. Very interesting the combination of loafers and selvedge denim.
I love loafers but I have a high instep and wide feet. Do you think that Alden or Edward Green have lasts for loafers which can fit with wide feet ?

Alex

I haven’t yet added any cordovan footwear to my collection yet, so I found this article intriguing. The big appeal for me is it’s toughness and waterproof properties, as you note. Am I alone therefore in finding it curious to see its use in loafers and often offered with leather soles? Unless I want to go the MTO route, I’ve got 1 rubber soled option from 6 offerings at Edward Green and 0 from 11 offerings at C&J, which I find puzzling!

CHIN-CHEN LEE

Absolutely agree Color 8 is very versatile and you can never truly find a calf to match that color (though I have tried).

Personally not the biggest fan of cordovan, though for a different reason (total ok with roll vs crease). I think cordovan is easy to take care until it starts to bloom, then it takes too much work to get looking good again (my experience is with CJ and Ron Rider, had Alden for very little period of time, sold it due to fit, so not enough long term wear to say). Before it bloom, yes it’s pretty easy to take care of it, once it starts to bloom takes too much time after a downpour vs. calf.

BC

How do you like to wear your Alden Norwegian bluchers? I like the style generally (sort of a dressed-up Doc Martin for the urban professional), and I assume you wear them with denim, which is a nice look (although I think the images above are actually from an article you did on similar Kaan shoes, correct?). Are the Alden versions sufficiently versatile to wear with flannel, cords, and cavalry twill, maybe with an appropriate sports coat?

Anonymous

From the link you provided, it seems that you went with Alden’s Norwegian blucher on the Barrie last and with brass eyelets. May I ask why did you prefer this make up to the more common Aberdeen last and blind eyelets? Thanks.

Thomas A Powell

Simon,
I have wanted a pair of cordovan tassel loafers for decades. As many Americans of my generation did (and still do) we wore tassel loafers with pin and chalk stripe suits in classic corporate settings. I have been talked out of purchasing cordovan shoes by Alden and others because of two issues. One, I have a very wide foot, US EEE. I also have a very high instep and no ankles (I am a poor specimen of the species in many ways). The second is that I was directly told that because the leather is thicker, they make your feet sweat more, especially if you already have that tendency. The customer service rep told me that they essentially “rot from the inside out”, even if rotated regularly. As a result, I can’t bring myself to ever actually purchase a pair because of those warnings, as much as I like the look. They simpy cost too much to take the chance, in my view. Any comments on these issues?

Tom in New Hampshire

Kevin

Simon – I like the cut on your Blackhorse Lane jeans – could you advise as to which model you are wearing?

Bob

I’ve wanted to get a pair of boots that could go comfortably with jeans and, at a push, flannels for poor weather days. Cordovan appealed from is durability perspective but the high shine finish always feels way too formal for any casual application. I’m somewhat surprised that you’ve gotten over this aspect yourself and somewhat wish I could follow suit.

SDF

Welcome to cordovan;-) I’ve had the same Aldens as you for at least 15 years. they are easy to take care of and Alden refurbishment is well worth it. Additionally, I have a pair of Johnston and Murphy Crown Aristocrafts that are at least 30 years old and have been refurbished several times. J&M no longer makes anything worthwhile .

Hank H

Whats the verdict on the jumper boots? Been thinking about getting them from gabucci for a while now. Thanks!

TeeBee

Good to see that you mention Vass.
I have two pairs of Cordovans from Vass. Both made bespoke for me 21 years ago. Obviously, they have both been resoled. They are among my favourite shoes, as the fit and comfort is great.

Anonymous

Simon
Curious if you’ve seen the Bit Ivy loafer in Color 16, a deeper burgundy version of Color 8 on pre-order from Leffot? I’m considering adding a loafer to my shoe collection to fill a gap. Any recommendations regarding color and style would be appreciated. As always, versatility is paramount. Cheers!

John S

I’ve bought Alden tassel loafer and Tricker’s PTB at 40% OFF via site I found on Reddit: https://sartoism.com/collections/shoes

Shem

Hi simon one of the things that put me off buying cordovan (apart from the price) is how shiny the shoe is. It gleams like nobody’s business in shops selling them,
. Does the shine dull quickly? Kinda strange in a casual outfit if your shoes shine that much

John Butcher

As a long time fan of both Alden and Cordovan, I’m glad to see you’re a convert. The understated look and outstanding durability of the shoes have made them a favorite of traditional menswear retailers in the U.S. for years. I have a pair of Cordovan shoes from Crockett and Jones, and they’re well constructed, but a more snug fit than Alden’s.

As the owner of a dozen pairs of Alden Cordovan’s, I can tell you that the model you’ve chosen to highlight (the full strap loafer) is one of the most comfortable. Another model you might want to try is the monk strap. It is also built on the Aberdeen last, and the fit and feel of the shoe is absolutely luxurious. It’s also a very versatile shoe for dressing up or dressing down.

John Auer

I’m also a newcomer to shell cordovan, but I am hooked. I’ve purchased half a dozen pairs over the last year. The color 8 is my favorite but I can’t wait to a pair of long wing bluchers in whiskey SC.

Quentin

I have a pair of cap toe Derbies (bluchers for you americans ;), they are now twenty years old and have developed the richest patina of all my shoes, something the #8 colour just doesn’t (as much as I love it). It looks almost as if some patina artist (think Berluti) had a go at them.

Though, with all the fats in the leather I have never found it necessary to administer shoe cream or polish.

I just buff them to a mirror shine with a section of tights (pantyhose) over the horse brush. Only when there is a deeper scratch I apply some Saphir Renovateur on the spot (which with buffing gets applied over the whole shoe then).

Cordovan comes as far as maintenance goes right after suede. Brush of dust and buff them, and you’re done in 99% of cases.

Anonymous

Dear Simon,
I was hoping to get the benefit of your advise. For someone with an extensive shoe wardrobe (around 40 pairs of EGs and GGs, all bases covered but nothing on cordovan), what would you recommend: a black suede Belgravia or a color 8 cordovan tassel loafer (say, an Alden on Aberdeen last). For reference, I already have Belgravias in dark oak, black calf, dark brown suede and snuff suede. Thank you kindly.

Dave

Simon – I just received a pair of Alden Cordovan chukkas, do you recommend shoe trees for storage? Thanks

Simon K

You make a very good case of cordovan loafers with dark denim . Ive always somehow found that look somehow silly on me. Perhaps that loafers look different on different bodytypes.
Anyways, the Alden Indy color 8 shell is often said to be super versatile. That it fits in almost everywhere. I wonder if you could give a perhaps cooler perspective. I have never checked them out in the flesh myself.
https://aldenmadison.com/collection/indy-boot-color-8-shell-cordovan-40508h/

Winot

Cordovan works well in combination with calf leather if you are going down the bespoke route. Cleverley made me some boots with cordovan around the bottom and a hatch grain calf at the top.

Anonymous

Simon why would you be reluctant to buy/wear a belt made of Cordovan ? Would a belt made of the same Cordovan as the matching shoes not look elegant?

Chris Jones

Hi Simon
I’ve owner 2 pairs of Cordovan shoes in recent years, one by Church’s (in a plain Derby) and the other by Crockett & Jones (in a Brogue identical to the ones they did for Polo Ralph Lauren). Both were in a burgundy. They were nice and I’d always wanted a pair but like most things, the wanting was better than the having. There was nothing wrong with them (although they were a bit stiffer than calf) but, for the price, they were just a bit underwhelming and I occasionally felt the need to tell people they were Cordovan. Off the thread slightly, but I’m now big into Lizard and other exotics. Would love to see an article on types of shoe leathers (wallets, belts, etc.). Crocodile is my favourite but can be fiercely expensive….but I don’t feel the need to tell people when wearing them !!!

Peter

Good Morning Simon. I have had two very different experienced with Cordovan.
My first pair were purchased from Brookes Brothers in Chicago. They were one of the best pieces of footwear I have ever worn; always smart and shiny in the the Cherry Black that you describe. I wore them until the welt could not stand up to another repair.
The second pair produced by a well respected British manufacturer were rubbish. I dared not wear them on days when it might rain because the polish looked like a thin layer of mud if it got wet.
I also noticed that the lining leather wore out very quickly.
Both pairs were saddle loafers
I suspect that Brookes Brothers also added the additional finish that Alden use and which you describe.

CHIN-CHEN LEE

Your BB were by Alden and pretty sure all Alden Shell Cordovan has this acrylic finish, most others don’t add that to their shell.

Josh

This was a perfect primer for the unique characteristics of Cordovan. I have just one question: do we know whether any of the colours in the C&J cordovan range are in fact color no. 8? They have ‘burgundy’, ‘dark brown’ and black 🤔 Lovely though the Aldens look, the associated hassle and inflated costs of getting them over the pond are significant deterrents for now.

P.S. (😏) I finally ordered the PS watch cap in red, and the rapid despatch and sweetly worded confirmation message already have me convinced it was a great decision to do so.

Noel

Nice article, thanks Simon.

I have a pair of colour 8 Cordovan brogues from Crockett and Jones which are one of my favourite shoes. It gets compliments often. I’ve been thinking about a pair of boots in Cordovan. Have you been happy with your boots in general? Or do you think cordovan is less versatile in boots?

Incidentally, which Blackhorse lane model are you jeans Simon?

Mike Buchholz

Simon, I have approx. 8 pairs of the color 8 from Alden.. but not these loafers. I just might get a pair.. they look great with Denim. and I think would look great dressed up. May I ask what pair of Blackhorse Denim you are wearing in the photos? I like how those are slim but not TOO slim if you know what I mean. Thank you.

Rik

Interesting article Simon. What do you think of cordovan shoes made by UK manufacturers like Crocketts?

Diego

Hi Simon – great post. I bought some cordovan (Horween) derby from Church’s some time ago thinking that they were going to get that kind of patina that Alden’s colour 8 gets and, unfortunately, it never happened.

Although not a number 8, I really like those cordovan Vass. I think that your review was not that favourable but I think that they have a fantastic shape and combination of materials and sole. A very elegant and distinctive casual shoe. But then I am biased as I really like Vass.

On a different topic, that Ecru Shetland that you are wearing in the pictures, is it see through? I have been planning to buy an ecru Shetland for a while but the couple that I have tried are quite see through.

Diego

Thanks for your response. Yes, always with a shirt or a long sleeve t-shirt underneath. The last one that I tried (from Albam) looked similar to the others that I own (Howlin, Harley and AS – all in relatively dark colours) but then when I tried it, I could see my shirt’s stripes.

Diego

Understood. Thanks again for taking the time to reply.

Anonymous

Simon, you mention your black cordovan loafer from E. Green and your relative lack of enthusiasm for it when compared with color 8. Wouldn’t you say that a black cordovan loafer is more casual than a black calf one, and perhaps comparable to a black suede one?

Henry

Off Topic: This comment section gave me once more the evidence on how a good portion of “clothing buyer” population is mostly driven by instinct rather than a more rational process…look how many people repetitively asked for your jeans details without seeing that you already well explained about them … or in other cases they ask for something which is very well explained in the article itself …what a superficiality!! Gents! READ!!!! (“Think”would set the bar too high…I’m aware 🙂 )

…and here comes how people doing your job can leverage meaningful portion of business for certain sectors…in this case the clothing industry.

As usual a lovely read.

Have a good weekend’s
H

Tim Thomas

I’ve been wearing Alden cordovan shoes for thirty years now. My father and grandfather owned many pairs and Alden’s wingtips and tassel loafers are a tradition amongst us here in New England. Personally, the single monkstrap in color 8 is my absolute favorite. It can be worn with a suit, odd trousers, and jeans. Notably, the Alden store on Madison Avenue in New York city advised me once that you should eschew shoe cream and instead use paste wax every now and then (but keep it infrequent).

Christopher

Dear Simon,

one mor question. Do you think that the cordovan loafer are as versatile as a pair of brown loafer? In your article about your Belgravian loafer, you write, that these shoes are your favorite and most versatile shoes.

Christopher

Thank you for your fast response! Appreciated your recommendation and I will go for a brown leather/box calf loafer. I guess the cordovan loafer are some day an add on, but for now not what I would wear daily…

WK

Hi Simon,

Thanks for another wonderful article! Looking forward to more coverage of cordovan in PS!

If I remember correctly, you wear US 9E in EG 184 last. Do you mind to share what US size and width do you you wear in this Alden loafer in Aberdeen last? Many thanks in advance!

Henki82

I have the same question as the guy above:-) Just so that I understand you correctly Simon: the Alden loafers you are wearing are a size 9 US/D width? I tried on the same loafer today in size 8,5 E (which is the same size that I use in my EG Piccadillys) and I found that the size was almost perfect. Even though I noticed that the Aldens are slightly wider/more roomy when compared with my EG`s – especially in the heal area. But from what you write here about comfort and opting for the larger size (if in doubt) I figure that I ought to go for the size 8,5/ E rather than trying my luck on a pair in size 8,5 D ? Any particular reason why you sized up in these Aldens?

Henki82

Thank you for your reply – I greatly appreciate that you took the time to answer my question on this “old” thread! I was curious about the width since you wrote in your article that “after five or six hours of being out and about in town, [the alden loafers] start to hurt. It’s something I will look at correcting at some point, perhaps by stretching them a little”. I assumed that you thought about stretching the width of these shoes (and not the length 🙂 Perhaps you didn`t need to? Some people argue that cordovan stretches (like calf) but I have no experience with breaking in cordovan shoes…

Stephen

Simon,

Thank you for a most interesting article. I bought the Alden Plain Toe Blucher in Colour 8 at the San Francisco Alden in 2016, and returned to the same shop for the Black version in 2017.

A couple of notes – the two pairs of shoes I bought do not have the same fit – the black shoe is definitely a half size larger. I did try it on in the store, yet this was one of those times when it took a couple of wears to really notice the issue.

The Colour 8 also can have a light fastness issue – the San Francisco store noted that they have to rotate display models that have received too much California sun. What I notice (and I’ve seen online photos that confirm my experience) is that the two shoes are not aging or developing a patina the same way.

I do love these shoes. I like the comfort, the all day wearability. I’ve walked around Canada, the US, the UK (even some hills in the Lake District), France and Switzerland in these shoes. They seem to be similar to my childhood notion of what an adult men’s shoe looked like.

I rarely wear them with a suit – they are not especially sleek or fashionable. Connoisseurs sometimes notice them and appreciatively comment. I am also fearing they are already past their prime – I have a deer bone, the Alden Cordovan polish, etc., but the upper fronts are wavy, and I don’t see the patina improving over time. I’ll have to check some of the online guides further.

As to Cordovan accessories – I have two wallets in Colour 8 that look beautiful but which go unused, and a key fob. I’ve also ordered Cordovan belts (other colours). Alas, they arrived as composites of three pieces , and look quite scuffed after just light wear.

Charles

Hello,

I have gain knowledge from your writing.

“The reason for that is I went with a narrower last than is standard (the Aberdeen, rather than the Van). This was not easy, and required a trip to the Madison Avenue store in New York. ”

so from the above what did the Madison Avenue store did for you? Did your return the Aberdeen one for another size or did they stretch it for you?

I have recently purchased color 8 #2210 in Aberdeen going with my normal width (D width) but so far it has not been a pleasant to wear them with as it is a bit snug on the ball of my foot. Do you have experience on this or advice for me. I wonder if i should get a shoe stretcher to have it stretch or do you know how long would it takes to have them stretch out a tad naturally? i think all i need is another 3-4mm wider.

thanks and any advice would be highly appreciated!

TomK

Simon,

In my experience, Alden shell cordovan shoes can be rather smart (or not). It depends on the last, the model, and any custom features. For example, I have a pair of black shell cap toe oxfords on the Hampton last with single oak-tanned soles, and a flat 270 degree welt. I can wear these in the “smartest” of corporate/legal office environments in Manhattan and they are often the most appropriate and nicest looking shoes in the building. On the other hand, Alden makes some iconic casual shoes which many believe look best sockless and paired with shorts. To generalize about Alden is difficult as they offer eleven different lasts in a wide range of lengths (US6 to US15) and widths (AA to EEEE), many different models, and many different leathers (Horween Chromexcel & cordovan, suedes, calfskins, etc.), sole materials and thicknesses, welts, and so on. Further complicating matters is their custom retailer program whereby they create unique configurations for some of their retailers. So, for example, there are shoes that can only be purchased from Shoemart or Leffot or their Madison Avenue store, etc. I suppose the one generalization that fits, however, is on finish. They do not offer the highest level of finish and that which they do produce is inconsistent. It’s puzzling really why they don’t step it up in this area. Perhaps because it is a multi-generation family-owned business with a unionized workforce that sells everything they produce? Not a good reason for poor quality but perhaps enabling factors.

TomK

Simon,

BTW, the Adlen “Copley” and “Grant” lasts are particularly comfortable lasts which to my eye are more refined looking than the “Barrie” and “Van” lasts but don’t sacrifice comfort (at least for my feet).

Jan

Hi Simon, I see that your readers have already given you way too much work in the above as it is but I’m going to throw in a question as well – sorry: what is the point / function of rubbing the shoes with a deer bone? I have had a pair of Alden loafers in colour 8 (which you rarely ever see in the wild where I live but feel hopelessly unoriginal after reading this article and the comments) for years and all I needed to do – as you say is the occasional brush or rub down with a piece of cloth and keep them on shoe trees. What does the deer bone (purportedly) add to this? And why specifically deer bone? Sounds so random. Any thought / insight would be much appreciated (and justified by the title of this article;)

Jan

Interesting – albeit a little farfetched that you need deer bone for this because it is oily – thank you for pointing me towards this article – I will give it a try!

Quentin

I never understood what the bone should do, either.
Bought one years ago and if I apply it like in the Jesper article the only thing I get is get scratches. My two pairs of Cordovan Derbies are now 20 years old and they still have more than enough fat in them. No need to apply any.

I put a tiny bit of Saphir Renovateur on scratches and buff them out. Works like a charm and that is all they need as regards shoe care products.

Drew

Thank you, Simon. Another wonderful post and excellent examples of how to style cordovan shoes. Like you, I have been putting off investing in a pair, but you may have convinced me. Is Alden your preferred brand?

You also mentioned brushing them the day you wear them. Is this your recommended maintenance for all shoes, or should calf leather sit in trees overnight before shining?

Thanks so much!

John

Do they stretch after the break in period? I tried them on today in size 8 but had a little heel slippage. Tried half size down to 7.5 and it was quite snug fit with a little tight in the forefoot. The shopkeeper guy suggested me to get 7.5 as they will stretch. What do you think?

Best,

Quentin

In my experience they do stretch.
Maybe it’s my feet which are bit biased towards the outer sides but I had to put in some extra insole in my two twenty year old pairs perhaps eight years ago, as they have become wider and my feet began to slip noticeably.

WK

Hi Simon,

When you said you wear 8.5E on EG all lasts, I presume you refer to just loafers such as 184 last or including oxford and derby lasts say 202 or 606 last? Normally I would go 0.5 size up on oxford and derby last in EG. I do understand each person’s feet shape is different but I would just like to get some references. Many thanks again in advance for your clarification.

Casey

Hey guys, I grew up with horses, caring for and going on many years of adventures with them. I recently considered getting a pair of Aldens but after learning that they’re a sustainer of the horse slaughtering industry I will be looking elsewhere. How do you feel about the morality and integrity of supporting this? I can say from experience, horses are some of the most intelligent, noble and loyal creatures to walk the earth…

Hugh

Nick Horween has said that most horse hides he gets are from Canada where horses are eaten, so the skins are by products

Shashank

Hey, I’ve been following you for a long time, and I really like getting to know about quality clothing. Recently I’ve been struggling to figure out how to buy a perfect denim shirt. What is the right fit for it? I would really appreciate some help here.

Alexander

You were mentioning the armoury/fukuda lasts. Have you seen the hudson loafer? https://thearmoury.com/products/hudson-tassel-loafer?variant=32131236102215
I think it is really unique and pleasing to my eye because of the short vamp.

Alexander

Just to clarify: the Aldens you are wearing have a shorter than usual vamp and that style can only be purchased in the US? Thank you!

Alexander

May I ask: how do the C&J Cavendish and the Belgravia and their vamps compare to the Alden? Are they much higher?

Alexander

Would you agree with f.e. George Wang (https://dieworkwear.com/2018/09/06/the-sophisticated-black-tassel/) that black loafers work better with jeans than brown ones? BTW: I totally get your preference of color 8 over black.

Alexander

That´s what I thought too. For me dark brown (chocolate) suede remains probably most versatile in combination with denim/chinos, aside from the equally versatile color 8.
Thanks!

P.A.

Hi Simon,

Apologies if I might be slightly off-topic, but I couldn’t find anywhere more relevant to ask you this question.

I really enjoy the profile of your low-vamp Alden penny loafer, cordovan or not.
Alden is really expensive in my country, whereas to my surprise Allen Edmonds is not. AE has a low-vamp, penny loafer very similar to Alden’s but half the price.
How would you compare those two brands in regards to quality, and value ?
Thanks
P.A.

P.A.

Thank you for your reply.

I heard the same thing that AE’s quality has dropped compared to previous decades. I bought second hand a pair of long wing bluchers that is probably older than me, the leather has developped a wonderful patina and is still going strong (I’m actually wearing them today).

However, as someone who would like to add a versatile loafer to my shoes collection, and who quite likes the Ivy style, it is difficult to find in France such a loafer shape. Loafers in France are usually either elongated in the Italian style, or chunky (“boxy” ?) like Weston.
Currently at 260€, I feel like I can’t really beat AE’s quality at this price point.

Another item on the shopping list !

P.A.

Siji Sowonola6

What is your take on Crockett and Jones Bradford (Cordovan). Just got a pair though I am yet to try it on