I don't talk about shoes nearly enough.
Well, my wife would disagree with that statement, but on Iron & Tweed, I don't think I've expressed just how infatuated I am with leather footwear.
And for the past few months, I've been seeing a new shoe company, Grant Stone, popping up in my Instagram feed.
Right away I was digging their style, but was completely unfamiliar with the company and their products.
So after exchanging a few likes, comments, and messages, I secured a sweet pair of shoes from a Grant Stone to review.
And I'm going to be giving away a pair to one lucky reader!
So stay tuned.
The Grant Stone lineup
At the time of this post, Grant Stone currently offers two different styles of shoes – a longwing and a plain toe blucher.
Both of these models are available on the Leo last, which is designed to be more roomy in the toe area while also providing a more secure fit in the heel.
The longwing is available in four distinct colors and the plain toe can be purchased in three.
To say that these shoes are handsome is an understatement (and I think you'll agree).
With seven great looking options available, it took a while before I was able to pull the trigger and select a pair of Plain Toe Bluchers.
I choose the color “dune” as it was substantially different from anything else in my shoe rotation.
I received my Leo Plain Toe shoes two days after placing the order.
They arrived with the shoe box well-protected inside an outer shipping box, both of which sported the Grant Stone logo.
Upon opening the package, my opinion of the company was instantly elevated due to their attention to detail. From that point on, I knew I wasn't going to be comparing them to budget shoe makers.
They were up against the big dogs.
A few things that impressed me were:
- The custom pattern on the tissue paper
- The inclusion of a stainless steel shoe horn/bottle opener
- The wooden drawstring closures on the flannel shoe bags
- An extra pair of laces was thrown in for good measure
- The founder hand-signed a thank you note
Alright. They've dazzled me with fancy packaging and extras, but now it's onto the actual product.
Construction and materials
The main hesitation when trying out a new brand over the internet is judging quality and value.
You can tell right away from stock photos whether or not you like the style, but shelling out your dough for a product sight unseen and reputation unknown can cause a bit of anxiety for most guys.
Well, I'm here to be the guinea pig for you (a very willing guinea pig) and share my thoughts on the overall quality of Grant Stone.
As of April 6, 2016, Grant Stone founder Wyatt Gilmore had this to say about their introductory lineup:
All of our current production is using either Horween leather or Annonay, a tannery out of France who specializes in calf articles.
Horween is a Chicago-based tannery known for producing the highest quality leathers and held in high regard by luxury manufacturers and leather aficionados alike.
In particular, they're recognized for their superior shell cordovan and Chromexcel leather.
Just in case you aren't a leather geek, here are other awesome shoes that use Horween leather:
- Alden – i.e., the Indy Boot. Yes, the one worn by Indiana Jones!
- Allen Edmonds – Shell Cordovan Collection
- Wolverine – Heritage Collection (think the 1000 mile boot)
- Danner – Stumptown Collection
My Leo Plain Toes use the Chromexcel leather, which offers an aesthetic somewhere between a typical stiff and shiny dress shoe leather and tough and oily work boot leather.
I've found it to be a perfect all-around leather, offering both an awesome “pull-up” effect (meaning the color lightens across the flex points) and the ability to accept as much shine as you'd care to apply (given its smooth, non-oily surface).
This leather creates the kind of shoe than can transition seamlessly from office to pub.
(For the nitty-gritty on Chromexcel, check out this article by Nick Horween in which he describes the entire tanning process and characteristics of this leather.)
Grant Stone utilizes what's known as a Goodyear Welt to secure the soles to the uppers.
Check out this video. Though not related to Grant Stone, it'll give you an idea of what goes into creating a Goodyear Welted shoe.
This technique, also used by the big names listed in the leather section, ensures a durable union between the critical components of the shoes and allows easy resoling so you know you can keep these shoes in service for as long as you care to own them.
Sole and misc.
The soles are double thick vegetable-tanned leather with a nice, deep channel to protect the welt threads.
The heels are stacked leather with a rubber dovetail tap.
On the subject of rubber heels, I typically find that they wear incredibly fast on most shoes – as in, nearing replacement within a dozen or so wears.
On my Grant Stones, the heel looks virtually unworn despite more than 20 wears and lots of miles.
And despite being so durable, it's still suprisingly springy.
There's a steel shank for structure and the mid-layer is cork, which provides shock absorption and allows the shoe to mold to the shape of your foot.
The insole is also vegetable-tanned leather which will conform to your foot over time and is complemented by a full leather lining, furthering the comfort and mold-ability.
After eyeballing every seam and stitch on these shoes, I gotta say, I'm thoroughly impressed. I noted that:
- All of the panels are even between the left and right shoe
- The heel and outsole sit flush without any gaping even at full flex
- The start and end point of the Goodyear welt joins neatly
- The insole extends fully to the inside of the uppers without leaving any gaps
- All seams and stitches are neat and straight with no loose threads
- The edges of the sole are finished beautifully (probably the best I've seen)
There really isn't anything to knock in this department.
How do they fit?
I always have a hard time finding shoes that fit correctly.
They all seem to be way too narrow across the toes and far too roomy in the heel.
So when I learned that the Leo Last is designed to fit tighter in the heel, and wider at the forefoot, I couldn't wait to check it out in person.
After wearing the shoes for a while, I can say that Grant Stone has accomplished their mission with this revised last in that it provided reduced heel slippage and no pinched toes.
Below is a weird photo, I know, but it illustrates my point perfectly.
In most dress shoes, in this case my favorite Allen Edmonds (top image), my toes are pinched together.
Notice how much my big toe is pushed inward in the top photo?
This means pain from misaligned joints and blisters and sore spots from cramped toes.
Proper big toe alignment in my Grant Stone shoes (lower photo)
But in the lower photo of my Grant Stone shoes, you can see that my toes aren't pinched and my big toe is allowed to point forward in a natural way.
This means a HUGE increase in comfort when walking.
This is actually the best fitting Goodyear welt shoe I've ever owned/tried on (and I try on a lot of shoes) and will gladly choose it over my other dress shoes for long walks.
I wore them for 12 hours on the first day, including running errands on foot, without discomfort.
Of course, as with all leather-soled shoes and boots, it's not like having a squishy pair of Nikes strapped to my feet, so calling them “comfortable” is a bit of a stretch.
But there wasn't any pinching, rubbing, or pressure points to complain about.
Giving my Grant Stone shoes the full flex. Notice how the leather creasing is identical between left and right?
If you've ever worn a pair of Red Wings or other goodyear welted footwear, you'll know that “bulletproof,” “beastly,” and “robust” are pretty good descriptors.
And with this type of durability comes an inherently lengthy break in-period.
The Leo Plain Toe felt good right out of the box, but was definitely stiff.
The soles hardly flexed at all during their maiden voyage, which involved me pacing back and forth in my apartment while I assessed the fit.
I actually felt like I was wearing wooden shoes – they're that tough!
But not wanting to baby them, I moved immediately to crouching down repeatedly with the toes fully flexed as a way to expedite the break-in process, and it was pretty effective.
Since the shape of the Leo last is actually wide enough for my toes, I didn't have to wait for the uppers to stretch to the shape of my foot.
All in all, I'd say that by the time the soles had time to loosen up a little, within the first wear or two, they were broken-in to my liking.
I will note that, had these been boots (a future possibility I hope) that required breaking in around the ankle, I'd expect the thick leather to take at least five wears to soften and conform.
What I don't like
Overall I'm very pleased with these shoes, but there are a few things preventing them from being absolutely perfect in my mind:
- Despite the specialized Leo last, the heel is still a little roomy for my foot
- The leather scuffs a little too easily, meaning they'll be casual wear only after a year or so (but I personally love patina)
- I'm over leather soles in general and would like to see a Dainite option in the future
- Though they use American and European materials, Grant Stone manufactures in China
I recognize that these shoes would be a lot more expensive if they were American-made and the rest of my issues are essentially nit-picks based on custom issues and personal preferences.
So there isn't really anything I can find wrong with these shoes and nothing that discourages me from buying more.
Now, the next question is…
What are your options?
I'm over-the-moon with the classic menswear/workwear resurgence.
And with this increase in popularity, comes competition. So we enthusiasts aren't wanting for choices.
When considering price, materials, and construction, I see Grant Stone's direct competition to be Allen Edmonds, which will set you back around $395 for a similar style.
You could also choose a comparable pair from Alden for $555. Yes, that's a lot more expensive, but Alden is regarded as producing some of the highest quality footwear available and has the track record to back it up.
Or, if you're interested in a boot versus a shoe in a similar style and construction, you could go with something like the Red Wing Beckman for around $350.
All great choices.
And given what they bring to the table, I think Grant Stone is priced appropriately for being the new kid on the block.
Final thoughts on Grant Stone
The quality is there, the comfort is excellent for a dress shoe, the fit is nearly perfect (at least for me), and the design is timeless and versatile.
Based on my personal experience, I think Grant Stone strikes the perfect balance between a suit-and-tie kind of dress shoe and one you'd wear everyday – a dress shoe with blue collar roots.
With no style or quality issues to speak of, your main consideration in deciding between Grant Stone and the competition is whether you're willing to pay 20-60% more for an American-made option.
For myself, while I prefer to buy American, I've been beyond impressed with these shoes produced out of China and I have no doubt they'll be with me for the long haul, even with near daily wear.
Truly, I've been so thrilled with these shoes that I need to get the word out.
And to help with that, Grant Stone has agreed to provide a free pair of shoes (of the winner's choosing) to one Iron & Tweed reader!
So stay tuned for the Giveaway post within the next couple weeks.
Drop your email in the form above to make sure you know as soon as the contest is underway!
All the best,