Friday, December 9, 2011

Thoughts on Minimalist Dress Shoes

Going minimalist shoes has been a big whack to the budget this year.  Before “enlightenment”, I bought 1 pair of shoes for my office gig once every 18 to 24 months, and 1 pair of “sneakers” a year.  But this year my wallet has been bleeding over shoes, both running and dress wear.  All I want are shoes that look office-worthy and don’t make my feet feel anything but normal.

A year ago it was impossible to find a men’s dress shoe without a heel and without a narrow toe box.  The options are getting better as the market opportunity is becoming apparent, but it’s been a slow go. 

The Russell Oxford
After much searching and price fretting early in the year I settled on the custom-made Oxford from Russell Moccasin in Wisconsin.  These are $300 shoes, custom made to the shape of my foot.  And WHAT A WASTE OF MONEY.  Here are my thoughts on this shoe:  (1) It took in excess of 5 months to get delivered (they said 3 months which was bad enough).  (2) These handmade shoes look like they were made in my Grandpa’s barn.  They’re shaped slightly differently from each other and one seems a bit off.  Look at the difference in the toe.
 (3) The Vibram Newporter sole they glued to the bottom way overhangs the body of the shoe and looks like cheap crapola.  Look at the photo to the left.  Seriously?  
(4) The toe has started to curl up.  What??  This 1.5" toe lift is not what I want in a minimalst shoe!!  Worse, the shoes have started to squeak!  Now I feel like an Amish boy walking down the halls at work with creaking shoes.  
Russell Oxfords starting to curl up

 (5) After 8 weeks of wearing the shoe the outer sole began to separate from the midsole on the heel. 

 (6) They are nowhere near waterproof, and we’re talking even the slightest bit.  A little bit of ground moisture (like a little puddle or light rain) and it leeches into the seam between the sole and upper.  (7) I tried wearing them with a suit and they looked horrible. 

So jeez, are you kidding me?  Seriously?  I’m sure Russell makes a great boot for running around in the bush, but they can’t make a city-worthy dress shoe to save their lives. 

Sperry Top-Sider Men's Navigator Venetian Shoe
Sperry Topsider
The Sperry Top Sider
While waiting impatiently for my Russell’s to arrive I was walking through a mall 3,000 miles away from home and saw the flat-heeled Sperry Top Sider.  I put it on and it felt like a slipper.  Unfortunately, it also looks like one.  But, I’ve been wearing it regularly and aside from getting more snug in the mid-foot (as my barefooting and VFF wearing increases my foot’s surface area) they’ve been quite comfortable.  Nobody has ever said anything negative about them, or even commented on them.  While the insole is a bit “cushy”, it’s easily removed if desired.  So far this has been my best option.

Vivo Barefoot Ra
The Vivo Barefoot Ra
I don’t own the Ra, and every time I go to order a pair they are not in stock.  (I do now.  Read my review!)  But they look interesting and one day I will snag a pair.   My kids love their Vivo Barefoot Aquarius in dress black; they wear them running and also to piano recitals.  They’ve held up well and I’m sure I’ll be selling them on ebay as used shoes with minimal wear within the next year. 

Vibram Five Fingers
Vibram FiveFingers KSO Trek - Men's
OK, so these are not office shoes.  They’re just too weird for the conservatives in this world to accept outright.  My KSO Trek Sports in dark brown are my most comfortable shoes at the moment, and when worn with Injini black socks I find them great for casual Friday’s and weekend wear.  But there’s no way to get by with these with dress slacks or a suit.  Also, when I’m not running in VFF’s I find my toes go a little cold, even with socks. 

The Primal Professional Shoe
The heel is hollowed so it's 0 drop!
The Primal Professional shoes look quite promising, and I am cautiously optimistic.  Just like the Russell disaster’s mentioned above, they are $300.  The close-up photo looks professional and the design is thoroughly explained. The shoe doesn’t look like some hack job looking to capitalize on a fresh and hungry market.   I am still unwilling to commit my money to this start-up on a promise, but wait hopefully for a solution to my office shoe dilemma. 


  1. Very frustrating trying to find a minimalist dress shoe. I'm willing to buy the VivoBarefoot Ra. But, like you, every time I try to order a pair they are out-of-stock. Seems like there would be a better market for minimalist (healthier) black dress shoes.

  2. Just an update, Born to Run shoes ( has the black Vivobarefoot Ra in stock for $140. (Snagged me a pair!)

  3. Hey Bill,

    It's Mountain from the Primal Professional. Did you know you're the first result when "minimalist dress shoe" is googled? Thanks for the mention.

    Since the crowdfunding campaign last fall, we've been able to secure all the startup capital we need and are rolling forward. The design has gone through a number of revisions that enhance both looks and (barefoot) comfort. You can check them out on our facebook page Let me know what you think!

  4. Men's slip-on shoes that you can put on quickly are the shoes you'll love when you're in a hurry or when you just don't need to make too much effort. That's not to say you'll look sloppy when you're wearing slip-ons. Men's slip-on shoes can be sporty canvas shoes, comfortable clogs or nice leather shoes.