Shell cordovan – the ever-popular material made from a horse’s rear – is exceptional stuff. It’s hard-wearing, has a wonderfully rich color, is naturally water-resistant and crease-resistant, and just looks damn good. It’s no wonder that the stuff is so popular among the shoe aficionados of the world.
There are two major problems with shell, though. First, it’s prohibitively expensive (and prices are constantly going up). Second – and perhaps more importantly – is that it’s extremely hard to come by right now. The explosion in demand over the past few years has made shell hard to get in large quantities, even for the biggest players in the shoe game. So, that got me to thinking – why not go back to calf?
The pair above is Alden’s longwing blucher in burnished tan calf. Like all Aldens, they’re pretty expensive, but unlike the shell models they’re fairly easy to come by. Now, I’d say that the most quintessential LWB is the same model in #8 shell cordovan, and the true shoe enthusiast often lusts after this iconic shoe in a lighter shade like whiskey or ravello. But any of those would probably run you around $800 or more when it’s all said and done, if you can even find a pair. The lighter shades of shell are significantly rarer than the darker ones (like black and #8) because the light colors can’t cover up any imperfections in the shell. Factor that in with the general shortage and it means that a big company like Alden is only putting out a couple dozen pairs of shoes in the rare shells each year. The waitlists are growing a lot faster than that, I can tell you that much.
So in the interim, I’m just focusing on calf. It’s readily available, comes in all sort of colors, is a lot of fun to polish, and can look pretty great in its own right. The pair above will get worn all year with denim and chinos, and I know that they’ll build up a fantastic patina over time.
So that’s where I stand. I suppose I’ll still keep my eyes open for shell shoes that speak to me, but for the time being I think I’m ok without any more. For now, I’m coming back from cordovan to calf.