It is with great disappointment that I will soon be saying goodbye to my last two pairs of Florsheim Kenmoor Imperials, learning the hard way that it just doesn’t pay to play it cheap with shoes. What once seemed like a good, underrated value for a time-tested design has turned out to not be a good value after all.
What initially turned me on to them was the Kenmoor Imperial’s classic design, which has been around since the 1940s. Whether it’s the plain toe blucher or the long wing tip, the shoes are great looking and made with Goodyear-welted construction, which enables them to be re-soled forever. One of the best parts was the price point. At full price, they’re $225, which is beyond extremely reasonable for well-crafted shoes.
All sounds good, right? But here’s the bummer: the leather is cheap. My Kenmoor Imperials are around five years old. Around the seams at the ankles and near the laces, the leather is rubbing off, which is something that wouldn’t happen with better quality leather. I’ve already gotten rid of one pair because of this, and the two pairs I currently have are on their way out.
I don’t wear my Florsheims every day, or even every other day. (You should really give shoes a day off between wearings anyway.) And even so, there’s this leather problem. Typically, your best dress shoes are made with a grade of leather called “full grain” leather. Full grain leather has all of the grain from the hide, including the top layer. With more wear, it just gets better, developing a patina over time. The cheaper alternative, which looks okay but doesn’t wear well over time, is something called “top grain” leather. Top grain is a thinner layer that gets sanded off the remove imperfections. Again… looks okay, but not the best option for the long haul. Although it’s not explicitly stated on the website, it seems Florsheim is using top grain for the Kenmoor Imperial line.
For someone who only needs to wear dress shoes very occasionally, the Florsheim Kenmoor Imperials are probably a sufficient value. But for someone like me, who works them into rotation once or twice a week (or more), they’ve proven to not be the smart choice. Staying with Florsheims would require a re-purchase of a new pair every few years. Over the course of six or seven years with regular wear, that might mean three pairs, which would ultimately total almost $700. Instead, with regular wear and regular care, one good $750 pair from Alden, which uses the best leathers available, will last a lifetime.
In the years I’ve been writing about and experimenting with the best ways to get dressed on a budget, I’ve been repeatedly reminded that the true value of quality and craftsmanship are constants that never waver. As I said at the beginning, it just doesn’t pay to play it cheap with shoes. True, something nice from Alden, Allen Edmonds, Church’s or Crocket & Jones feels very expensive at first. But it’s a one-time expense for a lifetime investment that only hurts once.