If quarantine has taught us anything, it is that we all love our comfort. Insanely comfortable joggers, lap desks you can use to take meetings from bed…we’ve seen it all over the past year plus. And if I had to guess, this trend isn’t going away any time soon.
More than ever, companies are getting adventurous with their “classy but comfortable” options so regardless of whether you go back into an office or keep working from home, you’ll be able to look good being cozy.
This task becomes particularly difficult in the shoe game, as especially in a professional work environment the norm has been to wear a shoe that looks clean and expensive but offers no support. Enter Johnston & Murphy.
One of the most reliable brands in men’s shoes for centuries (literally), the team at Johnston & Murphy was one of the first to dive into the fusion of class and comfort through a couple of its lines of shoes. Spoiler alert: we should all be thankful they did.
For this article we’ll be looking at 2 takes on addressing this cross section. We’ve tested their XC4 Prentiss Plain Toe and Holden Wingtip. The first is a more sporty, casual option but with a classic look that works great for casual Fridays in the office.
The second takes on a more formal look for everyday office wear, but with a twist of color and loads of comfort.
About Johnston & Murphy
As the by-line on their website states, Johnston & Murphy has literally been in business since 1850. So yea, they know about shoes. Originally the William J. Dudley Shoe Company, their first factory popped up in Newark, NJ.
(Interestingly, loads of fashion factories are located in Newark…but that’s for another post.) Almost immediately, the company took the industry by storm. In fact, 1850 was also when they designed a shoe for President Millard Fillmore.
Since that time, they’ve made custom shoes for multiple U.S. Presidents including Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, JFK, Reagan, and most recently Obama. If that’s not a good enough endorsement set, I don’t know what to tell you.
Their Our Story page dives into the rest, but following their movement, it’s clear they have always been committed to adaptation. From trying new, funky patterns in the 1970s to creating a women’s shoe line and a clothing line, Johnston & Murphy is committed to keeping up with the times.
That said, the one thing they don’t compromise on is their reputation for quality. Across all product lines, it is incredibly clear that everything they do puts intentionality and excellence first.
» Related: You might like this roundup/guide on the Best Wingtip Shoes for Men.
First Thoughts Out of the Box
Before even opening the boxes for each shoe, you gain a feel of what you’re getting into. The XC4s came in an almost sneaker-like box, a red and black shoebox with writing that pops.
The presentation isn’t too casual, though, as the name of the shoe and company are still in a subdued print. Frankly this was the perfect intro to the shoes inside the box.
At first glance, you have clearly purchased a sneaker. The smooth but also waterproof suede looks like it can be taken for miles on a walk through Central Park or the unfortunate jog to work when you’re late without any issue.
You then notice the accent leather patch on the back of the shoe and the cut of the tongue. These for me were my winning extra features that helped me realize the versatility of this shoe.
The Holden Wingtip, on the other hand, is boxed much more like a traditional dress shoe would be. The box itself conveys class and quality like the many other Johnston & Murphy shoes I’ve purchased in the past.
Opening the box, you’re struck quickly by the bright white sole of the shoe, which definitely stands out from the rest of the rich leather that makes up the body. I’ll be honest, I was a bit concerned at first because this style is, for lack of a better word, adventurous.
Having worked in more conservative workplaces, I thought quickly about whether my employer would have been okay with a sneaker in the workplace. If you have that same concern, read on…as I quickly learned that this feature does not stand out nearly as much while you are wearing them as when they’re 2 feet from your face in a box.
Why the Class x Comfort Fusion Shoe?
This is pretty obvious. We’ve all owned that dress shoe that digs into the back of your heel all day or gives you blisters as you walk blocks from the train to the office and back each day. The alternative has always been a clunky, plain black shoe that might be slightly more comfortable but also just looks like a chunk of toneless material. Gone are those days, gentlemen.
The world is opening up to more ways to find comfort in our style, and I’d argue this is the most important first step (pun intended). You can take on that hour long commute without your calves burning. You can go to that wedding and spend all night on the dancefloor, not stopping to sit back at your table for a bit.
Dress shoes with a more sporty bottom are the clear solution to this, and they don’t need to look ridiculous. The most important thing to remember here, is that the sole of your shoe is the furthest thing away from the everyone’s eyes, and is often flat against the ground.
On the opposite side, you can also add some class and flair to your more casual outfits thanks to this trend. You don’t need to wear your Nikes to that barbecue…strap on a pair of sneakers that feature some leather and a less bulky cut and you’re set to impress. I’m all about this trend, and you should be too.
» Related: You might like this comparison article between Allen Edmonds vs Beckett Simonon.
The XC4 Prentiss Plaintoe
This shoe was really designed with comfort and customization in mind. You receive 2 pairs of laces with this shoe, a plain blue pair and a blue/white textured pair. Being able to switch between them, while it might seem insignificant, really offers some variety in appearance as the solid pair looks more formal than the textured one.
As you’ll see on the page, the shoe also features a neoprene collar, which basically hugs your ankle at the top of the shoe for more support. I’m not going to be doing anything extreme in these shoes, but quite honestly I feel like I could and I love it.
The dual-width footbed was not something I paid enough attention to, but shoot does it help to know about it! When I first tried the shoes on, they were quite snug and I was a bit disappointed. I have feet more on the flat/wide side, so narrow shoes are always a pretty quick write-off.
After looking back at the product description, I realized they advertise a removable footbed to allow for more space in the shoe. Wow did that make a difference! I’m not sure why other companies don’t make a habit out of this, but get on it. Finally, these shoes are waterproof.
We’ve seen shoes advertise water repellent and things along those lines, but Johnston & Murphy actually means it here. This feature does compromise a bit of breathability, but it is worth it.
The Holden Wingtip
This shoe does not have as many “special features” as the XC4, but the simplicity is part of what makes them so amazing. Johnston & Murphy took the most realistic approach to creating a high quality shoe that is comfortable.
They brought high quality, durable, and comfortable leather and slapped a cushioning sole to the bottom. The leather on this shoe is not stiff, which I’ve found to be true about most of their leather shoe offerings. Add in the memory foam that contours to your foot, and after a couple wears you’ll feel like you can actually run miles in these shoes.
Even though the leather looks like a quality you’d want to save for those big client meeting days, I’ll be wearing these on the daily knowing they’ll hold up well while holding me up well. Finally, these shoes are light…like close to running shoe light.
You probably know the feel of the nice leather shoe with a sole that might as well be metal it is so heavy. You don’t have to worry about that here.
Leather Quality Matters, No Matter How Much You Use
One of my favorite things about both of these shoes is their commitment to high quality leather. The XC4 adds leather as a bit of an accent, but after wearing these shoes for some time in casual settings it doesn’t become tarnished which says a lot.
Especially wearing these shoes with a pair of shorts, I have received plenty of positive comments from people walking up from behind who observe the leather accent and love it.
The Holden shoe, on the other hand, is obviously leather forward. Rightfully so. These shoes really scream quality and class because of the leather. And the best part is that you don’t get those tired leather lines you might get from more stiff leather shoes at the midsection.
This leather is flexible and durable. I’d commit to polishing and buffing them like you’d treat any other high quality leather, but that’s just because I think they’re worth that effort and should take you a long way.
Areas for Improvement
I’ll be honest, I feel obligated to keep this section in all my reviews because nothing is 100% perfect. That said, I really don’t have any strong negative feelings about either the XC4 Prentiss Plain Toe or the Holden Wingtip.
From a practical standpoint, I can definitely imagine some folks are turned off by the bright white sole of the Wingtip and can’t see themselves ever wearing something like that into their more conservative workplace. Again, in my experience, the sole is proportionally so small relative to the rest of the shoe that I don’t think this should be a big concern.
That said, Johnston & Murphy could also find some common ground in using a more neutral color for the sole. Other shoes of theirs do feature colors like grey and black, so I’d advise perusing their other options if you have this concern. For the XC4, the only thing I wish is that the shoe were a bit more breathable.
This is nearly impossible when you’ve already committed to making something waterproof, and quite frankly I think the waterproof feature is a huge plus on this shoe. But hey, we can always improve.
Quite frankly, I’m all in on these shoes and Johnston & Murphy as a whole. They do a tremendous job providing value to the consumer in the quality of their products, while also innovating to meet our (probably unrealistic) expectations.
One of the strongest signals of a brand worth supporting is their responsiveness to the current times. Not only does the wide array of Johnston & Murphy’s product offerings affirm this, but both the XC4 Prentiss Plain Toe and Holden Wingtip are testaments to the fact that the company is taking the shoe industry to a place where many others refuse to go.
After graduating with a Bachelor’s in Global Economics, Joe moved to the Federated States of Micronesia to work at a school there. Since then, he’s been traveling the world and embracing the classy nomad style. He currently works for Union Kitchen, a company that supports the launch and growth of startup food & beverage businesses. Beyond that, he can be found hiking with his German Shepherd puppy, Payton.
Do you have experience with Johnston & Murphy?
Let’s continue the discussion over in the Gentlemen Within Private Facebook Community. Looking forward to seeing you in there.
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