If I could only own one pair of shoes, it would be my Alden AF53 Cordovan boots built on the Trubalance last with a commando sole. I’ve worn these boots everywhere and with everything including suits in the winter.
Shell Cordovan is a hide from a horse’s rear quarters. One horse can yield two “shells”, or enough for one pair of shoes. The leather is extraordinarily dense and supple, but because horses are not raised for slaughter in the U.S., cordovan has become rare with only one U.S. company producing the leather in any quantity –Horween of Chicago.
4 years ago, I went searching for the ultimate boot. My requirements: durable, stylish, and made in the U.S. (to feed my fetish like interest in classic american products). The internet lead me to Alden shoes.
I was fitted at the Alden Shop in San Francisco, and eventually ordered the boots for what I felt was a ridiculous sum of $525. With the recent popularity of cordovan (even J. Crew is selling cordovan these days), the boots now sell for $685 from Alden of Carmel (who has this particular model specially made).
Welted boots and shoes are serviceable – that is the soles can be replaced by a cobbler. Shoe repair is a dying trade in the U.S., but it is worth repairing a pair of welted shoes, so had these re-soled with a Vibram sole at Geary Shoe Repair in San Francisco.
The boots come with what is called a “commando” sole. The commando sole is a triple sole of two pieces of leather and an sewn in rubber outer sole. Unlike most leather soled shoes, they work great in snow and winter slop. The replacement vibram outer sole was glued on, so time with tell how they work relative to the originals, but the workmanship looks great.
Many folks on the fashion forums claim Alden shoes will last “decades.” That may be true, but only if you wear them lightly. I wear these boots like a San Franciscan might have in 1914 – that is hard and everyday. The uppers are showing wear. The liners have ripped at the heel, probably as a result of the roominess of the last. The top two speed lace eyelets are pulling away from the upper. And, as has happened with another pair of my Aldens, there is a break in the leather at the top of the boot where the liner and outer shell meet. But overall they are still serviceable.
After 4 years, I have my eye on the J. Crew cap toe boots. The only down side (outside of cost of course) is the lack of the commando sole. I think a boot should wear hard, and I don’t think the leather sole will stand up to Tahoe and N. California’s wet winters.