Cordovan is both a color (dark reddish brown) and a leather type. The leather is horsehide from a specific part of the horse, the “shell” or butt area. I suppose animal-rights activists might well call those who wear genuine shell cordovan shoes, “horses’-asses”, without being too far off the mark! It is generally considered the finest leather for making shoes as well as other accessories such as belts, because of its texture, suppleness, and durability. Fine men’s shoes made from cordovan leather may last several generations with proper care.
Genuine shell cordovan, when used for a traditional welted shoe (Old-men’s shoes as I like to call them) provides an unparalleled level of lateral support and stability when walking. Your feet feel firmly planted onto the earth. And as good as they look new, they look even better as they age; the leather acquires a deep patina and since it is quite oily is virtually self-polishing. A quick few brush strokes every few wearings and they look awesome once again. There’s a whole web site dedicated to this leather, here.
America has only one tannery left that specializes in working with genuine shell cordovan, the Horween Leather Company of Chicago. They’ve been in business since 1905. They make all the cordovan for Alden and for some of the other shoe-makers that can still work this amazing material.
If you live in New York or California you are blessed with the highest density of stores selling Aldens as well as a few other world-famous men’s shoe brands. If you live near San Fransisco you are in Heaven in more ways than one; there is an Alden Store in that beautiful city.
This is going to sound kooky, but if you live near an Alden store it is worth the trip to see these shoes as if you were visiting an art gallery. Yeah…..that good!
Hey, as I get older, I come to realize that those “old men” knew a thing or two about comfort and value, in a time before marketing managed to convince us that we should throw everything out every couple of years and fuel the money-coffers of the corporations.