J Crew Kenton Boots: Out of the Box
- Price: $278 [Though on constant sale]
- Pros: Great Price (on sale), Really Interesting Color
- Cons: Quality Doesn’t Match Up to Ludlow Line, MSRP is Unrealistic
The J Crew Kenton Boots line is designed much like their Ludlow line. In other words, offer a more affordable alternative to higher end footwear, while keeping some of the key features such as goodyear welting, higher end leather and more.
We’ve previously looked at some of the J Crew Ludlow line and have been blow away by the quality. Knowing that, let’s get this out of the way. These boots are no where near the quality of those loafers. They come from a different factory, using (mostly) different materials, and feel like they are from a completely different brand. If you’re wondering if these are just the boot version of those loafers, you can stop here.
Of course, I said that I think the Ludlow line was the best quality in shoes for the price, period. It’s hard to expect that every pair of $100 shoes you buy should be able to compete directly with Alden. Let’s dive in and see if this is still a good value.
While some of the J Crew Kenton Boots might look a bit too much like their Alden counterparts, this pair is different enough that it is able to stand on its own. I think that’s a good thing.
The first thing you notice taking the J Crew Keaton Boots out of the box is the Repello suede upper. It is almost like chameleon car paint, it changes quite a bit depending on how the light hits it. In bright sunlight it’s a reddish brown (though not nearly as red as on the J Crew website). In the shade, it morphs into a traditional medium brown. When looking at the boot with a few folds in it you see the entire spectrum of colors. This is some visually impactful stuff.
Jumping down a level, the toe itself is as plain as they come. With no adornment and a structure that is not as bold as a Red Wing or as svelte as a Thursday, it carries an unpretentious vibe.
This subtlety continues as you move back on the boot. There is no decorative stitching here. The shaft is held onto the toe by two rows of stitching, and a single row on each side keeps the heel counter on. Even the eyelets, which switch to speed hooks near the top, come in a very subdued antique brass.
Really, other than the color of the suede, the only thing that stands out here is the piping that runs along the eyelets and throat of the boot. Unfortunately, I don’t think this stands out in a good way. The material looks cheap and tacked on. While I understand the need to include it, I do wish it had been executed in a better way.
Mid- and Outsole:
The tan welt, held down with white thread, is cut and sewn clean. The stitching is impressively even. Next time someone tells you that White’s shouldn’t be expected to have clean welt stitching, point to what this factory can do on a mass-produced boot. The welt edge is also very clean. It’s not the best I’ve seen, but certainly far from the worst.
At first glance you might think the outsole is a Vibram 430, but as you take a closer look you’ll see this is a different design. The lugs themselves have a bit more depth, and the color is closer to dark gray than black or brown. Both boots came with the luges sewn off center, more on that later though.
Fit & Comfort:
Just about every other review out there say the J Crew Kenton Boots fit true to size, or even slightly large, but that was not the case for me. I got these in a 12, which is the same size as the Ludlow loafers I received, and they feel at least a half size small. If I was planning on wearing thicker socks like I normally would with boots I don’t think I would even be able to get them on. For a full list of sizing in all the shoes we’ve reviewed, click here.
I would really suggest trying these on in person if at all possible. Alternatively, I’d order a couple of sizes and just plan on returning the one that doesn’t fit. For awareness, J Crew charges $7.50 if you return by mail, but returns in-store are free.
When it comes to comfort, these boots are pretty good. The materials they use are all very accommodating. Despite being at least a half size small for me, the upper was soft enough that I could still walk around without feeling like my toes were going to fall off. Further, the outsole is soft. Very soft. Softer than any other Vibram sole I’ve seen, actually. This provides a great amount of impact protection as you walk along, almost like a sneaker.
The only big complaint I have is about the off-center lugs. On both shoes the lugs were shifted to the left. This meant that landing on the shoes felt slightly different with the left boot naturally rolling inward and the right naturally rolling outward. This may change with time, but initially it was not a good feeling.
Speaking of the outsole, that softness is a double-edged sword. While it’s impossible to tell after only taking them out of the box, based on other soles I’ve had with this type of material they are going to wear down extremely quickly. The tread pattern is nice and thick, so you’d still probably get many months of wear, but don’t expect Dainite-type life from these.
That feeling, that the boot is built to a less durable standard, carries throughout the rest of the boot as well. The J Crew Kenton Boot is extremely light. I have not found anywhere that says these have a shank, and based on how they feel I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t one. That in and of itself isn’t a deal breaker – Allen Edmonds doesn’t use shanks for example – but is generally a sign of less sturdy construction.
On the upper, the materials are a mixed bag. The C.F. Stead Repello suede is a star, as always, but the rest of it is clearly built to a cost. The lining, piping, and laces are “just ok.”
Ease of Care:
It will come as no surprise that suede boots will need more care than regular boots. Repello suede has some water repellant already built in (hence the name), but that does wear off with time. Every 6 months or so you’ll want to give it a good cleaning with a Suede and Nubuck Cleaner.
You’ll also want to make sure that you keep shoe trees in the shoes when not in use. This is especially important on a pair like this that isn’t as structured as some other pairs.
All that being said, suede – particularly from a well-known tannery like C.F. Stead – is hardier than people give it credit for. Maybe don’t take these on a hike of the Appalachian Trail, but also don’t be scared to take them out for drinks after work.
Pricing & Value:
Originally priced at $278, these boots seem to constantly be on sale. In fact, I’ve never actually seen any of the J Crew Kenton Boots listed at full price. 40% off seems to happen at least once every few weeks. I purchased these for around $80 dollars, and that isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime sale.
It is important to note that J Crew cycles through their styles of boot fairly regularly. If there is a make up that you really love, you might want to consider buying at 40%. At the same time, if you have some flexibility on style, this constant rotation means there is a blow-out sale to make room for the new styles every few months.
These boots show how important perception is when it comes to value. When I first ordered these, I thought I was going to get something similar to their Ludlow line. For those who are not aware, the Ludlow line is made in the same factory, with mostly the same materials, as Grant Stone. Those shoes are not just good for the price, they are good.
When I took these out of the box, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. At least initially. Giant slayers these are not. But after taking a second to reorient myself, I realized I was being too hard on these. If you compare it to other boots for a similar price, these blow them out of the water. Ask yourself, would you rather this pair, or a pair from Golden Fox with a plastic welt and a cloth lined interior?
Expectations really were the enemy of happiness with this pair.
When I first opened the box and sat down to write this review, I was ready to light up this pair as cheap, cost cutting, knock offs. However, every time I went back to edit while they sat on my desk, I liked these boots more and more.
For the person who, like me, has more shoes than sense and already has Aldens, Whites, Viberg, etc., these are not the boots for you. There is pretty much no situation where you would grab the J Crew Kenton Boots over those.
However, for the person who doesn’t feel like dropping a rent payment on a pair of boots, these offer a lot of value for a small investment.
They might not last forever, and they certainly wouldn’t be appropriate for “work boots,” but they look great from a few feet away. The color-changing upper will be eye-catching, and the goodyear welt is real – something you can’t say for most boots in this price range. With chinos and an OCBD they will work great.
If you’re just starting out, you could do a lot worse than this pair.