J Crew Ludlow Tassel Loafers: Out of the Box
- Price: $298 [Removed from J Crew’s Website: If you’re looking for a pair check eBay]
- Pros: Great Construction, Amazing Price On Sale
- Cons: Banged Up in Shipment, Hard to Find
If you had asked me a few months ago what I thought of the J Crew Ludlow line of shoes, I would have responded with the same way I think about the Ludlow line of clothes. That is, a mall brand that sells affordable options. Great for most people, but not the enthusiast’s choice. However, then rumors began to fly that same factory that makes Grant Stone makes these. With the nearly ubiquitous sales, the possibility of getting Grant Stone quality for mall brand money was too tempting to pass up, and I placed an order for these J Crew Ludlow Tassel Loafers.
J Crew first introduced their Ludlow line of shoes around 2013. At the time, their business was booming. They wanted to create a way for men to “wear Ludlow from head to toe” and designed a line of shoes to match their suiting. Over that time, the Ludlow line has changed based on tastes. This includes shoes such as gunboats at their height of popularity, an Allen Edmonds Strand alternative, and a variety of loafers to meet the preppy aesthetic that J Crew has always fallen back on.
If you are to believe the folks on Reddit’s r/goodyearwelt, while these shoes were once made in the same factory as Grant Stone, that is no longer the case. [EDIT: Grant Stone confirmed this pair was made in the same factory] That being said, they are still made to the same standards, using the same materials, as they were when they first came out.
Should they be worth your time?
From a style perspective, the Ludlow tassel loafers are about as classic as a tassel loafer gets. Some would probably argue they are too classic, it’s pretty clear they took the Alden Tassel and added the heel stitching from the Allen Edmonds’ Acheson. That might not be a bad thing, both are great shoes, but the design doesn’t scream originality.
The similar design to the big brands also means the shoe is fairly plain. The upper is made of a single piece of leather, stretched over a pointed toe last. Up front, the shoe features a faux-moc toe, raised fairly high. This is one difference between these and the Alden/Allen Edmonds pairs which have nearly flat stitching. To throw more fuel on the Grant Stone factory fire, the toe looks almost exactly like their tassel loafer.
Just behind the toe is the namesake of the shoe, the tassels. Made of a thin cut piece of leather, the tassels here are slightly looser than what you’d find on most other tassel loafers, and will move around with the shoe. They also feature a pretty heavy amount of dark brown burnishing. It looks great out of the box, but I wonder how it will hold up.
Moving back, the shoe features the exposed lacing around the edge, and another raised stitching design on the ankle. The throat is covered with a rolled edge, and fairly straight stitching.
Inside, the tan leather runs the length of the shoe and is matched in color by the heel pad. A bit of suede is placed at the very end to help keep your foot in place. This will also provide a bit of extra padding from the upper stitching in the rear of the shoe.
I was a bit disappointed to see the number of knicks and scrapes this upper had out of the box. To be fair to J Crew, it looks like these were bought and returned a number of times before they got to me, but there were several scrapes that were through the leather coloring and into the almost white base leather. It would have been nice to see the burnishing done with more care, there are spots all over the shoe.
Mid and Outsole
The shoe features a fairly standard single leather outsole, with a leather and rubber dovetailed heel. The stitching of the outsole is extremely clean, even more than several of the more well-established brands I own.
Moving up to the midsole, J Crew used a medium brown edge dye on both the outsole and the welt. Unfortunately, like the burnishing, they didn’t seem to take too much care in application. While there are no missed spots, there are areas on the midsole with thick layers of dried edge dressing. The welt stitching almost feels flat from the dye in between the thread.
Speaking of the welt, the stitching here is incredibly clean and even for a shoe at this price point. There are one or two areas where the threading isn’t perfect, but nothing that is noticeable from more than a foot or two away, and nothing that would impact the ability to resole the shoe. I will point out that the other pair I received alongside these (review coming soon) had a much more mangled welt, so I’m not sure how consistent this will be.
Fit & Comfort:
J. Crew suggests going down a half size from brannock for the Ludlow tassel loafers, but in my experience, these are much closer to most people’s true size. These shoes are also fairly unforgiving when it comes to sizing. With a tighter toebox, wide throat, and stiff construction, you’ll be stepping out of anything too big and suffering in anything too small.
I’d strongly suggest trying these on if you can. If you’re in the U.S. and can find a pair, they can be returned for a few dollars. Or for free if you want to drive them to the store.
This pair is a size 11.5D, but I will be swapping them to a 12. If you’d like to see what size I take in other shoes we have reviewed, click here.
When it comes to comfort, the shoes are middle of the road. The full leather footbed and cork midsole make these fit in among the better half of the dress shoe world. Unfortunately, the stiff leather on the upper makes them fairly tight up top. That isn’t to say they are painful, but you know you’re wearing something on your feet.
There is one area where wide-footers may appreciate. While still more narrow compared to the average shoe, the toe box in this pair is much wider than the Aberdeen last Alden uses or the 97 last from Allen Edmonds. Both of those are infamously hard to fit. If you’ve tried those and thought you would need to give up on tassel loafers, give these a look.
Materials are another area on the Ludlow tassel loafers that really impressed me, especially for the price. The upper of this shoe is made with an Italian vegetable tan leather. While it’s always a bit fishy when brands use the country instead of the brand (especially when they use the tannery’s name in other shoes), this leather feels very premium. It’s also veg-tanned. This is a more expensive process and generally tends to point to a better product (as well as being much kinder to the environment).
Inside, the lining is a soft leather that would be fine for wearing with or without socks. The heel pad, which is probably the cheapest leather on the upper, seems to have very little padding between itself and the insole.
Under foot, the majority of what’s keeping you off the ground is also leather. That being said, I’m not sure the quality of the outsole. It seems very generic, which tends to mean a quicker wearing sole, but I’ll have to get some wear on them to really see. Of course, for the price and the retailer I was expecting everything to be generic, so hard to fault them for one part of the shoe.
Other than the dovetailed rubber heel and the stitching, the only part of this shoe that is not leather is the components of the midsole. As previously mentioned above, a thin layer of cork should allow for the shoe to mold to your feet, and a steel shank keeps everything stable. I would have loved to have seen a wooden shank instead, it would help keep the weight down and make this a better travel shoe, but it’s clear they were targeting Alden here, and that includes the shank.
Ease of Care:
Vegetable tanned leather may develop a more interesting patina, but it is harder to keep pristine than a chrome tanned leather. You’ll want to condition when the leather needs it, generally every few months with regular wear. It’s also important to know that vegetable tanned leather is more likely to darken when applying conditioner.
My personal preference for this is Bick 4. I like that it is specifically designed to not darken leather. The common alternatives are Venetian Shoe Cream and the much more expensive top of the line Saphir Renovator. There are people who swear by all of these, but the Bick 4 is generally the least expensive.
It’s also worth noting that these shoes come exclusively with leather soles. As with all leather soles, you should avoid wearing them in the rain when possible. Alternatively, any cobbler should be able to provide a topy for a few dollars. When the sole does wear out, the shoe should be easily resoleable. J Crew themselves does not offer this service, but any city should have multiple cobblers that can put a new sole on.
That being said, on sale these shoes will cost almost the same as a resole. Unless the uppers are in really good shape, it might not be worth going through with a resole. Speaking of sales…
Here is where things get interesting. While the shoe retails for $298, like just about everything J Crew sells, it is incredibly easy to find these on sale. In fact, I was able to pick this pair of Ludlow tassel loafers up for just $119 dollars. Since then, they’ve actually dropped even further to $110, though are higher at the time of writing.
Another place to take a look is on eBay. When it comes to shoe shopping, there is so much garbage out there that people tend to search the brands they know: Allen Edmonds, Alden, Rancourt, etc. Very few people specifically search out the Ludlow line of shoes, so it can be worth taking a look.
From a value perspective, at least on sale, these rank right up at the top. These can absolutely hang with the bigger brands and cost a fraction of the price. Even compared to the Grant Stones we mentioned earlier, it’s hard to find that much of a difference (if there even is one), other than the way the shoes are handled before you receive them.
The factory in China that made these shoes used a goodyear welt construction. We go into that in more detail here, but in short, if you’re not looking for a specific reason to go for another construction style, goodyear welt is generally the best choice. They certainly didn’t cheap out when it comes to construction.
Really, these are about the best value in shoes you can buy right now.
As you can probably tell, I’m extremely impressed with these Ludlow tassel loafers, especially for the price. If you’re looking for near-perfection, these are not it. Even a pair of Alden seconds will be a superior product, but will still cost 4 times as much.
Honestly, this pair is making me think that if someone asks for what they should buy when they just need a “nice pair of shoes,” the Ludlow line should really be something they could consider.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure that answer will be valid much longer. The Ludlow line of shoes has been slowly being replaced with cheaper, lower quality products. In fact, since the J Crew bankruptcy, they have not been restocking any of their Ludlow shoes at all. Even more worrying, they have been removed from the shoe section and can only be found through direct linking. All but 1 style is now marked as final sale.
Hopefully, once the supply chain issues from 2020 are behind us, J Crew will release these and other shoes once again. I know that I’ll be first in line.
Once they’re on sale.