Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bouge Shoes: The Shell Cordovan Difference

Whiskey colored shell cordovan shoes - photo © of the Horween Leather Company.
here is probably nothing worse than sporting a fine dress outfit and pairing it with crap shoes.  If you find a pair of  new "dress shoes" for less than $300, you're likely wearing crap shoes.  I say "likely" because the frugal shopper may actually find a deal or two out there.

The pinnacle of dress shoes are those made with shell cordovan leather.  Cordovan is sometimes used to define a color - a ruddy brownish color bordering on burgandy.  There are lots of shoe manufacturers that offer cordovan colored shoes, sometimes labelled "Cordovan".  There are far fewer manufacturers offering true shell cordovan shoes.  Don't get them confused!  Shell cordovan is a type of leather made from a horse's rump that is extra smooth and durable.  The tanning process can take as long as six months, but the end product is outstanding.  Shell cordovan shoes will outlast any pair of bovine leather shoes nearly ten-fold, while the price of shell cordovan may be about double.  That equates to some serious value.

Alden Shell Cordovan Blutchers
One of my favorite manufacturers of shell cordovan shoes is Alden - one of the last producers of hand made shoes in the US.  Alden sells a variety of genuine shell cordovan shoes in various colors ranging from the natural cordovan color to black, to various shades of brown ("cigar", "ravello", and "whiskey").  Most are offered new between $500 and $700.  With care, these shoes can be worn regularly for 30 years while developing a patina that makes them look even better.  Watch them get made compliments of this documentary by Epaulet!  It's amazing the time and care required to make good shoes.

Of note: These are hand made shoes, but they are not custom made or bespoke.  The shoes are molded from various lasts (the wood form made for each shoe) whereas bespoke shoes have a last carved from a form of each of your feet.  Bespoke shoes, like that of John Lobb or Edward Green can cost twice as much as a pair of Alden shoes.  If you think that's beyond absurd, keep in mind that a perfect fitting shoe will have no tight spots and no wear that may be caused by deviations between the shoe and your foot.  I'll cover this topic in more detail another time.

Alden paste wax helps protect your shoes. 
But don't overpolish!
Proper care of shell cordovan is everything:
  •  Use only paste wax to shine the shoes.  If you use Alden shoes, use their paste wax (at right).  The crap made by Kiwi is not a paste wax.
  • Do not over polish!  Unlike your old pair of dress shoes, shell should only be polished (very lightly - aka very little polish) perhaps every six weeks with regular wear.  If they get scuffed, just use a regular horse hair shoe brush and brush away for five to ten minutes.  Die hards go at it for fifteen.
  • If they get wet, don't panic.  Wipe them off, let them fully dry, and brush.
  • Use shoe trees!  Shoe trees are wooden inserts that go in the shoes immediately after they've been worn.  There are beautiful poplar and cherry shoe trees available, but the best are made from cedar, which absorbs moisture.
If you don't take care of them, or if you buy a pair that were used and mistreated, hope is not lost.  For $145, you can send them back to Alden to be restored.  There's a fellow that bought a super beat up pair of Alden shoes on eBay for $20, and sent them in for restoration.  You can read about it and see before and after pictures.  He ended up with a fabulous pair of shoes for $165 after restoration.

And that's the shell cordovan difference.



  1. do you know the name of the shoe that is second from the right?

    1. Hi Ming! I can't be sure, but the make is Alden and the shoe appears to be the "Cordovan Straight Tip Blucher" in "whiskey" color. This isn't an available offering on their site, but extraordinary things can happen if you contact them. Nothing is for certain, but I wish you all the best luck in finding them!