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A guide to help the average man... look less average

Shell Cordovan: The Story

Mark Kwak


Boots: Peal & Co (Crockett & Jones)

Excuse my French for today, but these... are my ass boots.

Yes, ass boots. Why do I call them that? To clear up any confusion, it's not because they get me a bunch of ass. It's instead because these boots are literally made of leather from the rear quarters of an animal, also called shell cordovan.

Here's the story as I've heard it.

Apparently in the early 1900s, shoemakers were tired of making shoes that did a poor job of shielding feet from harsh weather conditions. They wanted shoes that were weatherproof, durable, rock solid. Unfortunately the material they were using, calfskin, just wasn't up to the task. As some of you may know, calfskin shoes generally stains and loses its shine after a night in the rain or snow.

As a result, people started to look in every which direction to find leather that could ultimately handle the elements, while at the same time still look shined and spiffy after a downpour.

They search high and low, wide and far, but just couldn't find anything that was strong enough, until they tested the hide from a horse. At first the hide was nothing special- no better than calfskin. They almost tossed it away, but then saw that the butt region of the horsehide was actually a little different from the rest.

Yes, they realized that the butt region of a horse is actually one of the strongest leathers on earth, and thus started to build shoes out of it. It's true, you can basically make 1.5 pairs of shoes per hide! If you own a pair of cordovan shoes, you basically are wearing the entirety of a horse's rear quarters.


The good news is that cordovan shoes look amazing. They always look shined, and never crease (though they do suffer from what's known as "rolling," look it up). They are also expensive. Almost unjustifiably expensive. You probably can't get a pair of shell cordovan shoes for under $350 unless you find them used or defective in one way or another. However, remember that they are shoes that are meant to endure plenty of hardship before retiring. I could argue that cordovan shoes can last you an entire lifetime, if well taken care of! So, maybe that can help you justify the price a bit.

My favorite brands that carry cordovan shoes (and there aren't that many of them) are Crockett & Jones and Alden.  These two makers actually rebrand their shoes through other retailers as well. All Brooks Brothers' cordovan shoes are Alden, and Ralph Lauren cordovan shoes are C & J.

Definitely not a necessary part of anyone's wardrobe, but worth a thought if you have the money. They look glorious, and really are one of the highest points of men's shoes, period.