Alden Indy 405 x J Crew: Out of the Box
The Alden Indy is the benchmark for well made boots, and features great construction
The Alden Indy is not inexpensive, and the box size will result in scratches when brand new
In doing research for this post, one thing really stood out. Over the past decade, we’ve seen the rise (and sometimes fall) of a number of really impressive bootmaker brands. Viberg, Truman, Oak Street Bootmakers, Grant Stone, etc. However, these brands are rarely compared with one another on the forums. Whenever someone posts a review, the question that comes up is almost always: “How does it compare to the Alden Indy 405?”
While the answer to that question might sometimes be that the other boot is better, it’s clear that there is really only one true benchmark in the high-end boot world.
Unfortunately for a boot that is so iconic, there isn’t a lot known about its beginnings. Alden’s website says that they started the Foot Balance system in the Indy sometime before the 1970’s, but nothing more. One thing everyone can agree on, though, is that the real story begins in 1980. June of that year is when Harrison Ford famously refused to wear the Red Wings the costume designer picked for him for the first Indiana Jones movie. Instead, he insisted on his Alden Indy 405 he had first purchased as a young construction worker. [You can learn more about that story here]
The attention from the movie secured a permanent position for the 405, now called the “Indy” to honor Indiana Jones, in Alden’s line up. Over time, Alden has made countless variants for their retailers to sell. These include the 403 – which swaps out the calfskin for chromexcel, the “c” variant that adds a commando sole, various shell offerings, and this model made specifically for J Crew.
With the hype it has today, we might forget that the whole reason it’s called the Indy. A construction worker purchased them to beat up and brought them to his big movie role. Does the Indy deserve to be the universal yardstick for all high-end boots, or is this worship of a washed-up movie star that is decades past it’s prime?
The first thing that catches your eye on the shoe is the “Heather Raisin” leather. Supposedly unique to the J. Crew variant of the boot, the leather color strikes a balance between the fairly light hues of the normal Alden Indy 405 “Brown” and the darker brown of the 403 “Brown Chromexcel.” The slight reddish color can be seen in the variation around the shoe. This is particularly noticeable where the boot was stretched over the last and the pull-up effect was amplified. Unfortunately, this leather clearly will get scratches pretty easily. Just in shipping there are already a few knicks and scrapes on the boot that won’t come out with a horsehair brush or working it in with your hands.
These are most noticeable on the heel, where fairly large sections of the leather have been worn. As any Alden boot owner can tell you, Alden refuses to use boxes that actually fit their boots. These were crammed into a box just slightly smaller than what Allen Edmonds uses for their Park Aves. Fully understanding the way Alden sees tradition, this is one they should be willing to drop.
The toe of the boot features one of the Indy’s most well-known designs, the moc-toe inspired contrast stitching. Unlike a traditional moc-toe, where two pieces of leather are joined along a ridge with a stitch, this is just two lines of thread on a single piece of leather. It provides a great balance between a plain toe boot, which can seem a bit stuffy, and a full moc-toe, which is difficult to pair with anything but very informal outfits.
The non-waxed brown cloth laces come woven through the five brown-painted metal eyelets. Just above the traditional eyelets, Alden installed 4 speed hooks on each quarter panel. Small compared to most other boots with this style of eyelet, don’t expect to fit rawhide laces under these without bending them.
The ankle features a single row of stitching that is both decorative and holds the leather lining in place. Further down is the other unique part of the J. Crew version of this boot. While typical Indys have a line of stitching that runs horizontally along the back panels of the boot, this version has a more traditional line of stitching outlining the round heel counter. This results in a less flashy design compared to other Indy boots, which may or may not fit what you’re looking for.
Welt and Sole
Below the upper is a very wide 270 degree goodyear welt in contrasting, light colored leather. This is another hallmark of the Indy line and makes a similar statement to a stitch-down design. This is something that’s hard to miss. From a design standpoint, it’s difficult to take such a large went down to a close fitting heel, expect the welt-joint to be visible no matter what. For what it’s worth, the Alden team did as well as they could with this particular pair.
Bringing up the bottom of the shoe is the pink-colored neocork outsole, with their black heel topped with the classic Foot Balance Logo.
Fit & Comfort:
The TruBalance last takes the idea of a combination last, a design where the front of the shoe is wider than the back, and turns it up to 11. While featuring a heel that is typical for the size on the box, the forefoot is extremely generous both in width and height. While many take this space as reason to size down, this is actually against Alden’s recommendation. Following Alden’s advice, I got these in my brannock size, and these are one of my best fitting pairs. On the other hand, if your forefoot isn’t wide enough to prevent you sliding around you might constantly be crushing your toes in the front of the shoe – one of the reasons brannock sizing is so problematic.
Moving on from the last, which is a big pro, elsewhere they feel fairly standard for a goodyear welted boot. The footbed is fairly flat, and the leather is stiff and will need some breaking in. That being said, Alden has been advertising the comfort of this midsole longer than most of us have been alive. They are very proud of what they put together here. I am looking forward to putting some miles in and reporting back.
Speaking of the midsole, Alden actually uses four different layers. The first of which is a layer of cork thicker than what you get in most other Alden products, with a steel shank set within. Just above the cork, a full vegetable tanned liner is visible in the toe box of the shoe. Finally, another piece of leather with a small amount of padding runs about one third of the way up the shoe from the heel. Each of these layers, apart from the shank, was specifically designed by Alden to be able to compress after a few wears. This should ultimately create a one-to-one imprint of your foot over time.
Just below that midsole is an outsole made out what Alden calls Neocork, but is generally known as nitrile cork. This is a rubber based sole (the pink part) with small chunks of cork throughout (the white dots). This type of sole is generally long lasting and grippy in the rain and on dry pavement, but tends to lose that grip once the snow and ice start building up. On the other end of the durability spectrum, the “Foot Balance” branded rubber on the heel, separated from the nitrile cork by leather stacks, is made of very soft rubber.
Online and in ads, there seems to be disagreement in what type of leather is on this boot. J. Crew lists the leather as a brown Chromexcel, but misrepresents other details on their website. Not being sure which details were right and wrong, I emailed Alden and was told this was their “Workboot Calf.”
The leather is thick, supple, and generally very soft. It is also extremely waxy. Before there are any wears you might mistake it for a plastic coating due to the flat sheen.
Wrapping through those metal eyelets are one of the only real problems with the boots . The laces feel very cheap. I’m worried that the metal on the speed hooks will shred the laces, and that isn’t a feeling I’ve really had on any other pair of boots.
Inside the boot, a “glove” cow leather lines the interior and feels incredibly sturdy and supports the structure of the entire boot. Along the collar and the eyelets a thin, soft leather provides a bit of extra padding. It covers some of the stitching from rubbing in areas that could be uncomfortable.
Alden also actively discourages sales at their retailers. It is possible to find them legitimately on sale for 10 to 20% off at various locations. However, the big discounts come from accidental sales that are honored by the store. Unfortunately, the economic devistation of the COVID-19 lock downs have taken a real toll on the companies who were known for doing this. Unionmade and Need Supply are permanently closed. J. Crew and Brooks Brothers are both facing restructuring.
If you don’t feel like waiting months, or even years, to find a big sale on an Alden firsts, theshoemart.com or their in person location in Connecticut is the only place you can find legitimate Alden seconds. This will bring the price down to about $400 for a standard pair of Indys. Reviews online indicate that most – but not all – of the boots you receive will be nearly indistinguishable from firsts thanks to Alden’s strict quality control. Just be aware that returns are not free.
One more thing on theshoemart – you can’t link directly to the Alden seconds. You need to create an account there and request access to see the products. I’m not aware of anyone ever being denied for any reason, but it is a step you need to take.
Is it possible that a pair of boots that costs more than a month’s rent in a few American cities could be considered a good value? From a utility standpoint, of course not. You can get boots with similar types of construction, variants of the same leather, etc. for a lot less.
But you know what? Most Alden Indy owners don’t care. The VW Golf R is a great small car, but the BMW M3 is the one that sells the posters. Six Flags has roller coasters and cartoon characters, but it’s Disney World that people fly across the country for.
Just like the M3 is the small German 4-seater, and Disney world is the amusement park, the Indy is the higher end boot. The people who buy a pair do so because they know what they are getting. The don’t have to worry about compromise, even if it isn’t the best deal out there.
While the Alden Indy 405 might be the go-to boot for a lot of people, does it deserve to be what everyone compares themselves to?
From initial impressions, absolutely, though that doesn’t mean nobody ever beats them.
Alden has been consistently putting out well made shoes made in Massachusetts for over 100 years. For better or worse, they don’t care about chasing trends no matter how much their clientele begs for it. They have outlasted hundreds of competitors, and run the company like they will outlast hundreds more.
Keep your eyes out for future updates.
Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let me know below.