Which direct-to-consumer shoe company makes the best brogued dress shoe for under $200? This article considers three of the major players in this market: Thursday Boots, Beckett Simonon, and Moral Code Footwear.
It considers each of the shoes on construction, fit, style, price, and a host of sub-factors intended to assist you, the consumer, in making an informed decision.
Broguing? What's that?
Great question. Before we dive into the brands, let's talk terminology. Broguing is the term for the series of perforations decorating the upper of a leather dress shoe.
Frequently, you'll also see triangular grooves extending from that perforation.
These grooves are called pinking. Originally, these holes were designed to keep water from seeping into shoes when sopping through marshes and bogs while hunting in the Scottish moors. Generally, the more broguing a shoe has, the more casual it becomes.
With that out of the way, let's meet the contestants!
The Social Media Superstar: Thursday Boots
Thursday Boots burst on the style scene in 2014 by raising over $250,000 in a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign in. Leveraging a robust social media presence and YouTube stars like Aaron Marino and Antonio Centeno, the brand has quickly grown.
What started as a company offering boots for $199 has now expanded to include leather jackets, sneakers, bags and, in mid-2018, dress shoes.
The Direct-to-Consumer Darling: Beckett Simonon
Beckett Simonon is a “D to C” company with a unique model. They produce in limited run campaigns which are released approximately ever quarter.
So, if you order in July, your shoes arrive in October. Beckett Simonon says this reduces waste and lowers their warehousing cost, meaning they can pass savings onto the consumer.
They also take pride in promoting fair wages and ethical working conditions. They've gotten quite a bit of play in this corner of the Internet, but have yet to really break out in the mass market.
The Startup with a Pedigree: Moral Code Footwear
Moral Code is the newest manufacturer on this list. Founded by two former employees of Allen Edmonds and Clark's, the company is on a mission to provide luxury footwear at a price the average guy can afford.
Founded in 2017, they're a vertically-integrated company that controls their supply chain, outsourcing what appears to be nothing.
Design, tanning, cutting, stitching, is all done in house at a factory in India. For them, fashion and style should be attainable. That's their “Moral Code.”
Now that we know a little more about the companies, let's dive right in to our review.
Moral Code Review
This is the Holden Model. It's an open-laced, derby-style brogued dress shoe.
The upper is a touch bulky, but definitely not clunky. It does really well with the slightly more casual nature of brogued shoes. Pair this with a tweed suit or a navy blazer and odd trousers and you're in business.
Moral Code has placed the lacing system close to the ankle. I like that. It sits closer to the foot, allowing for a less bulky, more refined fit than many of the open-lacing shoes I've tried.
It's a darker brown shade. Were I to choose a derby again, I probably would have gone with a medium-to-light tan. But, for our purposes, quality and construction is more important than color.
From my armchair quarterback perspective, the workmanship is excellent on these brogued dress shoes. Both the broguing and the pinking are even, and the punches through the leather crisp and clean.
The stitching is even across the upper of the shoe. The Holden model uses a single row of stitches, although I believe some of their higher-priced models use two rows. I don't think one is necessarily better than the other, but perhaps two rows offer more security than one.
I'm pretty sure the Goodyear welt is 270 degrees, not 360 like an Allen Edmonds shoe. That means they've stitched around the outsole until the front of the heel, not all the way around.
You sacrifice a little water resistance here; but are you really going to be out jumping in mud puddles wearing your dress shoes? Not a big deal one way or the other.
The waist of the shoe is fairly standard width, which should accommodate a good range of feet.
The tongue is also nicely padded, which is a good touch.
It's…okay. For $198 retail, you're not getting Crockett & Jones or Carmina leather, and you shouldn't expect to. But, this feels stiff and a little plastic-y.
Now, perhaps it will take some time to really break them in, but after a number of wears, I'm not seeing the depth or character you might find in higher-quality shoes.
Additionally, I didn't put shoe trees in the first few times I wore them, but the creasing happened much more quickly than we'd expect in a shoe at this price point.
Also (and this is minor), I don't get that wonderful, vegetable aroma you get when you open the box. There's not the chemical smell of cheaper, glued shoes, but also not the scent I so look forward to in a fresh pair.
I found these to run quite large. I measure at 10D on a Brannock Device, and needed to go down a full size in order to get it right. That said, I've spoken with folks who didn't have an issue and took their normal size.
They offer free shipping and returns, so if you can swing it, it may be wise to order two and see which fits best.
Additionally, I found the heel to be a little wide. But, that's not a swipe at Moral Code- I just have very narrow heels. Can't expect them to accommodate every foot!
I'm not sure what the midsole and footbed are, although the product description says ‘Comfort footbed.' Perhaps some foam or gel in there? I don't think it's cork, though.
It was definitely a little tight across the vamp for the first few wears, but seems to have worn off as the leather's broken in.
Goodyear welted shoes can take quite some time to become flexible, and we're still working on that. Perhaps that's a testament to how well these are built.
Shape of the Upper: The slope of the upper from tongue to toe is elegant and refined. The point is narrow, but not spear-like. But but it eventually wraps around your foot pretty well.
The Derby, open-lacing style system also doesn't add much bulk to the shoe. That's certainly nice to see, as a lot of lower-quality Derby shoes can be kind of clunky.
The Build: This really is a well-built shoe. The stitching is crisp and clean without extra threads. The holes are punched cleanly through. I wonder if some of the comfort issues are a byproduct of just how tightly these are sewn together.
The Restraint: It's easy to over-embellish a wingtip with all kinds of bells and whistles. This is really well done.
Room for Improvement
The Leather: Again, at $198, we're certainly not expecting anything mind-blowing.
The leather is pretty thick, but it's stiff. Now, for a decent pair of dress shoes or boots, you do want some stiffness. Breaking them in is part of the joy, and why I've worn each of the shoes quite a few times before writing this review. But, these were pretty stiff, and the leather feels more like a $150 shoe than a $200 shoe.
The creasing is also quite present, and I have a feeling it may be prone to cracking. Additionally, “premium” calfskin is a marketing term- it doesn't have any relation to the quality of the leather the way “top grain” or “full grain” does.
Sizing: While shoe “fit” is kind of subjective, I found these to run quite large. I measure a 10 on a Brannock device, and I needed a 9 to wear these properly.
That said, I've talked with a few folks who have taken their normal size with no issues. So, perhaps it's just me or my pair, but I definitely feel they run significantly large.
Heel Cup: Following the same line with the sizing, I found the heel to be a little wide for my foot. I was able to correct this by just lacing them tighter, but it's still a little annoying. This is a minor gripe, though, as Moral Code isn't obligated to make shoes for narrow-ish, flat feet like mine!
Thursday Shoes Review
This is the Broadway model from Thursday. From a design perspective, this is a conservative, American-style business shoe. It's almost a dead ringer for Allen Edmonds' Fifth Avenue.
It's a classic cap toe quarter-brogue with six eyelets and a closed, Oxford-style lacing system. Yes, you can have Oxfords with broguing- looking at you, Galahad and Eggsy.
The cap is shorter than the more elongated toes of European-style models. But, this works with the overall aesthetic of the shoe and creates a nicely balanced look.
The sole is mostly leather, but also has rubber TPU studs built in.
The addition of the studs to these brogued dress shoes creates a chunkier outsole and perhaps compromises some elegance. But, I'm big fan of not slipping when walking on the freshly-mopped floor of an office lobby.
Shoes like Allen Edmonds offer the same capability, but Thursday's able to offer it at half the price.
Goodyear welting is a full 360 degrees, not 270 like the Moral Code. The heel is Thursday's version of Dainite. It's stacked, yes, but it also feels a little chunky.
I've read a seen a few reviews where stitching has been inconsistent and perhaps needed a more thorough QC check, but that doesn't seem to be the case with my pair.
But, there is a major issue that pops up later. Read on.
The softest and likely the thickest of the bunch. Thursday's bating (using enzymes to soften leather) process must be nuts! It's so soft, actually, I wonder how well it will hold up over 5-6 years of wear and just how well it'll be able to hold my foot in.
It's full-grain leather. Also not exactly sure where it's from, but it could be Mexico's renowned Lefarc tannery. It cre
The interior is also lined with “glove leather.” Still don't know what that is or what it means, but I suspect it's more slick marketing language than anything technical. It's quite comfy, though.
Thursday recommends sizing down at least a half-size from your sneakers and taking the same size in their dress shoes as you do in their boots. I'd certainly agree with that. I wear a 9.5 in their Natural CXL Captains, and that's what I took here.
Fit, is spot on once you size down. The heel runs a little narrower than the Moral Code, which is a good thing. The lasting and styling lends for roomier toe box, so I can wiggle my little piggies up and down just fine.
I've got a pretty flat foot, and I think these were lasted with a medium-to-high arch in mind. So, I have to tighten them up quite a bit and I do get some gaping around the ankle area. But again, that's not a knock on Thursday- that's just me!
Quite comfy. The leather on the upper really is soft and feels great across the top of your foot. The break-in time on the upper was almost immediate- which, again, leads me to ask just how well they'll hold up.
I note Thursday doesn't include an anti-slip suede patch on the heel the way Moral Code and Beckett Simonon do. That's kind of annoying for the first two wears, and I do get a little slip. But that goes away after a bit, and it's not a big deal.
The mid-sole is cork, and it breaks in nicely after three or four wears in an eight-hour workday. I suspect Thursday's also slipped some of the EVA “comfort strip” from their boots into the midsole. This adds to the bulk, but makes for a a nice-feeling shoe.
The Leather: It's soft, supple, and smells fantastic. If anything, it's too soft. It started conforming to my foot within the first two hours of wear. Creasing is normal, and the creasing happens where it should.
The Feeling: These really are quite comfortable. After a couple wears, that cork broke in nicely and I was able to go all day without much issue.
Room for Improvement(?)
The Waist: The waist (that's the the middle part between the heel and ball of your foot) is wide and doesn't have shape to it. Perhaps that's done to accommodate a broader range of feet, or perhaps it's a byproduct of the TPU studs and the midsole, but I think it compromises some of the shoe's formality.
The Laces: They may be waxed cotton, but they're quite thick for what a dress shoe is. Slimmer laces will smooth out the lines and create a nice look. Kind of minor, and swapping them out is just a few bucks.
If you want to baby these things, you can check out the laces friend-of-the-site Raphael Schneider offers in his shop over at The Gentleman's Gazette.
The Heel: I'm a notorious klutz, and I've caught my toes and heels on various curbs all over the world. But, I've never had this happen:
Yup. The fifth or sixth time wearing the shoes, I caught my heel on some steps. I didn't think much of it at the time, but I looked down a few hours later and saw the rubber portion of the heel had come undone, and and a few of the nails had pulled right out!
I contacted Thursday's customer service. They told me to take it to my local cobbler, get it fixed, and they'd reimburse me the cost.
With that said, a shoutout to Thursday's customer service. But…really?
Beckett Simonon Review
This is the Durant model from Beckett Simonon. It's a quarter-brogued captoe oxford with an Adelaide accent- a U-shaped line of decoration swooping upward from the vamp and around the laces.
This is an unusual shoe. It's an Oxford. It's a brogue! It's a…Broxford? Either way, it's gorgeous to look at.
The is in their “Bordeaux” colorway. It's a deep, deep burgundy- almost purple, with shades of black mixed in.
The waist is crazy narrow for a non-custom shoe in a standard D width. That contributes to a very streamlined look. but may cause some problems for you if you've got a wider foot.
The cone and the toe are also quite narrow in comparison to the Thursday and Moral Code models. I find this works really well for my aesthetic and what I tend to go for in my shoes. Again, streamlined- but not spearlike or aggressively pointy.
Unlike Moral Code and Thursday, these guys use a Blake rapid-stitch construction. This differs from a Goodyear welt in that the stitching is on the inside of the shoe- not the outside.
This is a simpler and cheaper construction method, but also allows for a little more flexibility in the shoe. These can be resoled as well.
Build quality is right on point for these brogued dress shoes. I don't find any loose threads. The stitching is even and close together, though I note the upper uses one row of stitching and not the dual layer Thursday uses. They seem to be holding up just fine despite that!
I received what was a model they had in stock as there was a scuff on the right heel. However, that's not especially concerning. I've recently received a pair of Beckett Simonon's wholecuts that didn't have any defects.
This is full-grain Argentinean calfskin. The scent out of the box is, like the Thursday model, fantastic. Actually, the scent on the Durants reminds me of my Strands from Allen Edmonds.
The leather is a touch thinner than the other two. But, it's far from paper-y or plastic-y. It's pliable, but still nicely holds its shape. It's stretched and molded to my foot over the number of wearings.
The polish was very well done when I received them, but I thought I'd take a leaf out of Kirby Allison's book and give them a little more with some Saphir neutral Pate de Luxe.
However, when I did this, quite a bit of the oxblood color came off- leaving the shoes duller instead of shinier! Even with this, they're still the shiniest of the bunch.
I may need a little more practice to really shine my shoes, or the leather may not take a polish as well as we'd hope.
Some creasing on the leather, but nothing out of the ordinary.
A 10D is what I measure on a Brannock device, and 10D is I take here. There's enough room in the toe box, and the last is really well balanced.
These also tightly hug my ankles, even with my flat feet. I have employed the thin inserts they include, which gives me a little more lift- but it's rare I can find a shoe that doesn't gap out around the ankle.
These brogued dress shoes fit quite snugly out of the box. Actually, I had to leave them fairly loose for the first few wears until the leather began to mold to my foot..
The leather lining and footbed are pretty soft, but definitely thinner than Thursday and Moral Code. I'm not sure if they use cork or something else. But, they're surprisingly comfortable and I can work a full day
I used the shoe inserts to compensate for my flat feet, but if you've got a normal-to-high arch, you likely won't need them.
Design: Huge fan of these things. Everything from the toe shape to the Adelaide broguing is hitting all the right notes for me.
Narrow Waist: This shoe works hard for its curves, and I'm feeling it. Again, if you've got a wide foot, it may give you a little trouble. But, I've been digging it so far
Blake stitch: Many gents prefer the Goodyear welt, but the more I wear a Blake-stitched shoe the more I like it.
Room for Improvement
Leather: I was a little surprised to see so much of the polish come off. That said, I have a feeling it's just me and the leather will be just fine longer-term.
Shoe inserts: I've found I need them for the lift, but they'll be superfluous for many guys. Additionally, companies like Undandy make much better inserts.
Wait time*: This comes with the territory, and you do know what you're getting into when
So, Which Brogued Dress Shoes To Get?
Each of these brogued dress shoes shoes have the stuff to take on any of the big guys in the sub $200 category, and each of them have their own merits. But, let's consider the top in each category.
If you value styling in your brogued dress shoes, I'd go for the Beckett Simonon. The profile on not only the Durant, but their entire line, is absolutely stunning. I get excited to put these on.
Here's what they look like in action.
If build quality and construction is what you value most, I'd go for the Moral Code, with Beckett Simonon coming in a close second. Moral Code isn't using the best stuff, but they are built impeccably well.
Beckett Simonon is also quite well made, with even stitching and an even finish. As for Thursday- I may have gotten a fluke here, but it's hard to give these a passing grade when the heel falls off.
If you want the best leather, I'd give it to Thursday by a nose. There's something so appealing about such buttery softness and a wonderful scent. Beckett Simononisn't far behind, and you really can't go wrong here either. Again, from my civilian read, Moral Code is using ‘okay' stuff- but building it really, really well.
Fit goes to Beckett Simonon. For a guy with hard-to-fit flat feet, a 10D fit like a 10D should. The heel is nice and narrow and there's enough room in the toe box. Most importantly for me, it hugs my narrow ankles.
Thursday will fit well if you remember to size down a half size from your normal dress shoe you size, and I found I had to go down a full one in order to get the right fit for Moral Code.
All of them! Once you break everything in, you're in great shape with any of these brogued dress shoes. Thursday and Beckett Simonon were the quickest and best, but Moral Code breaks in well.
So, What Would I Go For?
I've had the opportunity to spend a few months with all of these brogued dress shoes and wear them in all types of situations.
If I needed a pair of shoes for an event next week, I'd probably go with Thursday, simply for the sake of convenience. Shipping is quick, the $180.00 is a great price, and I more than likely ended up with a fluke on that heel. However, I don't fault you if you're frightened off.
I also don't fault you if you don't consider the wait time on the Beckett Simonon to be worth the $20.00 you'd save over Thursday by getting you down to $160.00 with a regular 20% off code.
However, I believe the best things in life are worth waiting for, and I believe a gentleman should always be prepared. I consider the better fit and superior styling of the Beckett Simonon to be worth it.
But, that's just one guy's view.
What do you think, gents?