Alden Unlined LHS in Shell: Simply the Best?
- Price: $748 MSRP [No Longer Available]
- Pros: King of trad-loafer design, bulletproof materials
- Cons: Expensive, No longer available from retailers
The Alden Leisure Hand Sewn, or LHS, has a bit of a cult following. Particularly in the “trad” or “ivy” community. This is a shoe that is considered the end goal for a lot of people. However, even among the range of $500+ loafers in the LHS line, one in particular stands out to the navy blazer wearing crowd – the unlined shell cordovan model.
Perhaps fittingly, while the lined shell model is available at almost every Alden retailer, the unlined version has traditionally been exclusively offered at another brand associated with the navy blazer, Brooks Brothers. In fact, the shoe wasn’t even branded as an Alden, instead featuring the Brooks Brothers logo throughout. They even came in a different box without any hint of the Massachusetts-based shoe company.
Unfortunately, this connection – which has no doubt helped create the aura of the shoe – has also been its downfall. In a (failed) bit to become profitable, Brooks Brothers shifted away from rebadging Allen Edmonds, Crockett and Jones, Alfred Sargent, and Alden in favor of their own products. With Brooks being the only place to buy these, the end of that contract brought the end of this shoe.
Nearly two years on from when Brooks started removing these shoes from their shelves, nobody else has started to sell this shoe. Is this because the demand just isn’t there due to the superiority of the lined version? Let’s find out.
All around the shoe, the Color #8 unlined shell upper is the star. Where calf or similar leathers tend to feature tight creases, and lined shell tends to feature noticeable rolls, unlined shell has a character all its own. Not quite sharp rolls and not quite creases, the Alden unlined shell penny loafer looks like it’s only been worn two or three times – even 2 years on.
The toe of the shoe is the best place to see the unique wear pattern that shell has. It’s here on the toe that the mild rolling can be seen clearly, with the stitching of the moc toe providing the only real structure. Somewhere between a traditional moc-toe like Rancourt or Quoddy and the flat, stitching-only toe of the Indy, this shoe features a noticeable ridge between the stitching but remains a single piece of leather. One area of wear that I am surprised about: the significant color loss on the toe stitching. Initially, the stitching matched the color of the shell. Unfortunately, over time the stitching has increasingly turned white. This is something I have not noticed on any of my other moc-toe shoes that came with colored thread.
Further back, the strap on the shoe is as short as it could be while still covering the top of the shoe and features a small half-moon decoration. This is also the only area where a flaw can be seen on these shoes. On both of these shoes, the strap was installed about a quarter inch/half a centimeter further back than it was supposed to be. This leaves a bit of a gap that I have not seen on any other LHS.
On top of the strap, the tongue is unlined like the rest of the shoe, with a tendency to lose its shape over time. While some might view this as a problem, I believe it fits the character of the shoe. Nobody is wearing shell penny loafers with black tie, so adding a bit of a casual flair is a positive.
The only part of the upper with two layers are the back stay and the collar. These two panels are both covered by a thin layer of shell designed to hide the edges. The stitching along these pieces is tight, however there is a bit of fraying on the back of one shoe.
Underneath, the single leather sole is held on with a 360-degree goodyear welt, and finished off with black edge dressing. Underneath, the natural colored sole, branded with the older “Brooks Brothers” style logo, is finished off with channeled stitching and a dove-tailed heel.
All over the exterior, the shell has finally shed almost all of the coating that Alden adds to their shell. While I appreciate that it helps in the initial photo-shoot, if I’m getting shell, I’m looking for actual shell. I always look forward to when the upper gets to this point.
It’s also starting to get that uneven fading that shell is famous for. This is something I view as a feature, not a bug, of the material.
Inside, the shoe features no lining and the stamping from Horween is clearly visible. The insole is a hard leather, with a heel pad that runs about 1/3rd the length of the shoe. This, again, features the Brooks Brothers branding.
Fit, Comfort, & Break In:
Alden designed the Van last, which these shoes are built on, specifically to be forgiving to more foot types than a normal loafer last. It runs a bit wider and taller in the toe box compared to similar offerings like the Allen Edmonds Patriot or the Crockett and Jones Harvard.
That being said, the Van last certainly was not made for everyone. While it is a combination last, or a last designed to be tighter in the heel than the toe, it still has a notoriously wide heel for a given size – a problem for a shoe with no laces to lock you down.
I actually initially ended up with the unlined version of the shoe for this very reason. I had to find something with a bit of give in the toebox to allow me to size down ½ size from what I would normally prefer. That doesn’t mean you should expect the shoe to stretch permanently, if it’s not comfortable out of the box it never will be, but the unlined shell does have just a little give due to the lack of structure. I measure an 11.75D on the Brannock, and these are an 11.5 D. Don’t rely on Brannock sizing for this. If at all possible, try it on before purchasing as these details will be different for every person.
From a comfort perspective, out of the box these shoes are not particularly comfortable but over time the footbed molds to your feet, providing a comfortable shoe overall. If I was going to nitpick, the LHS features a typical dress shoe heel height, which is noticeably taller than most other comparable loafers. This has a tendency to push your foot forward more than other brands and without laces to spread out the pressure these can become a bit uncomfortable if you’re standing for longer periods. Still – I’d walk 10 miles in these before going 1 mile in the Quoddy True Penny.
The only other component that breaks in over time is the sole softening up with wear. In addition to not stretching out, the shell will remain a fairly tough leather over time and will never break down in the way cow or calf leather will – at least in any reasonable timeframe.
Anyone who purchases this shoe is doing so for the unlined shell upper, so that’s a good place to start. The upper is the famous Horween Color 8 Shell. This leather is famous for just how tough it is. The internet is scattered with stories of people who found what look like trashed old shoes and were able to restore them to near new condition for $3 dollars in shoe product and 15 minutes of work. Alden ships their shell with a coating, but that wears off over time and gives way to the shell’s normal ever-so-slightly-bumpy texture. With no lining on the shoe, there is nothing to wear out inside the upper.
The insole, leather, and the midsole, cork, work together and compress over time to provide support. Inside of the cork, Alden uses a metal shank to provide additional support. While this is great for making sure the structure of the shoe stays intact, this will also set off any metal detector you walk through. If your job involves semi-regular security checks, be sure to invest in some good-looking socks. You’ll be showing them to the world at every stop. Interestingly, while other LHS I have worn had a similar issue, other Alden products that use a steel shank have not set off these detectors.
For a single leather outsole, the sole has held up very well. These shoes see more wear than anything else I own and still have plenty of life left in them. The rubber on the dovetail heel has worn a bit quicker than normal, however it should still last the life of the outsole without needing any repair.
Ease of Care:
If all you care about is longevity, shell uppers basically need no care at all. There are those who have neglected their shoes for decades, only to have them restored to near perfect condition. While shell naturally loses luster with age, there are steps that help keep the shine. These shoes have seen brushing after every few wears to keep the dust and the grime out – with a few drops of water if you’re looking to get a real shine – and clear Saphir Cordovan Cream around once a year. Be careful not to use the cream too often. Using it too often (or using too much) can result in a white haze that can take a dozen wears or more to work out.
With the standard Goodyear welt, resoling these shoes is easy. Alden does offer a resole and restoration package for $179, this is significantly more expensive than their competition which generally falls around $130. At least you do get a pair of branded shoe trees. Using Alden does come with some other drawbacks in addition to cost. First, Alden will not use any sole that wasn’t originally on the shoe. Want to switch from leather to one of the other soles they offer? Too bad. Want a different colored edge dressing? Pound sand. Second, Alden will re-apply the plasticky coating that the shoes came with, removing the wonderful color fading of the shoe. I’ve heard that you can request they skip this but, judging by reviews, it seems like a 50/50 chance on if they actually fulfill this request.
If you’d like to get a different sole or be sure the shoe comes back without the coating, any local cobbler should be able to resole these.
The MSRP on the Alden Unlined LHS in shell when I purchased them was $748, but now you can’t buy them from a retailer new. There does exist a small – and shrinking – resell market for new versions of this shoe. Though, prices have been steadily trending upwards. Brooks Brothers blew out their stock, offering prices as low as $224 for a pair. A lot of people bought out the stock with the goal of flipping them for a profit. Unfortunately, it seems that the people willing to make only a few bucks have already collected. The only remaining options are near MSRP already.
If you are looking for the next-best-thing, Crockett and Jones does offer an unlined shell loafer known as the Harvard. C&J priced this substantially higher at $920. For those who can’t stomach that price, you can find a more casual option in Rancourt’s Cordovan Penny Loafers, priced at $650, or go towards a more formal option with Carmina, priced at $790.
How can you judge the value of a shoe that you can’t find? Some would consider it priceless as it’s currently impossible to replace if you have a size that isn’t common.
If you were able to get them for MSRP, it’s hard to say you got a bad deal. The shoes will literally last for a generation. Further, unlike some of the recently popular companies, Alden’s 100+-year-history shows they are in it for the long haul.
Those who were able to get them at Brook Brother’s sale price are borderline criminals. The lined version never gets close to this price – seconds still cost more than $500 [NOTE: the Shoe Mart will only show seconds to those who have an account and applied to view them].
There is no other way to get around it, these are an amazing pair of shoes. In fact, they are my favorite pair. Judging by the prices people are willing to pay when they were available for less than $250 a few months ago, I don’t think I’m unique in this opinion. The shoes are versatile, comfortable enough, and long lasting.
Knowing that these are not currently available at any retailer is a problem in the industry and should be fixed. However, I like to believe that there might be hope on the horizon. J. Press has picked up an Alden contract, and I can’t think of a better company to take up the model.
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