The Search for Casual, Minimalist Leather Shoes
Several years ago, I started shifting all my footwear to flat shoes with plenty of toe room in order to allow my feet to move naturally and provide a stable base (more on my reasons for that change here). Many companies make running and cross-training shoes that fit these criteria—I’ve owned Vivobarefoot, Vibram and Inov-8 shoes, and Xero Shoes and Altra are other popular brands.
But it’s been harder to find dressier shoes that fit these criteria—especially something in the casual to business casual range. So when Birchbury offered me a free pair of their Bramfords men’s minimalist leather shoes, I was eager to give them a try. Although I received a free pair of shoes to review on this site, but that does not affect the content of my review.
Here’s what I look for in all my shoes and how my new Bramfords measure up.
1. I want my shoes to be flat (“minimalist” or “zero drop”).
As far as I can tell, the soles of Bramfords are flat. There doesn’t appear to be an elevated heel, and the soles are flexible through the entire footbed.
However, Bramfords come with an insole with an elevated heel. These insoles are easy to remove, but I was a little disappointed to see them there in the first place. Without the insoles, the lining and interior stitching are exposed. I didn’t have any issues after the first few days of removing my insoles, but I’ll want to monitor how the stitching holds up over weeks and months of constantly rubbing under my feet.
That said, Bramfords feel just as comfortable without the insoles as they do in their original condition. The reduced cushioning is noticeable, but shouldn’t be an issue for anyone used to wearing thin-soled shoes.
2. I want my shoes to have enough room for my toes.
Bramfords really stand out in this regard. Their toe boxes are wide enough that I have to actively spread my toes to get them to touch the insides of the shoes. And unlike many other wide-toed shoes, that extra room is scarcely noticeable from the outside. Bramfords are naturally rounded; they don’t have some odd shape like other wide-toed shoes. One of my co-workers actually mistook them for Converses (equally flat-soled but with much narrower toe boxes).
Removing the insoles also provides even more breathing room. The result is that my feet feel as close to barefoot as possible. Wearing a pair of Bramfords feels like wearing a pair of flip flops—except that Bramfords look better and don’t have a tight strap across your foot or thong between your toes.
In addition to comfort, Bramfords also look good. The leather is rich and pliable, allowing these shoes to work for a business casual occasion while also giving your feet a chance to move naturally.
The elastic shoelaces are another nice touch. They offer the classic look of laces without the sloppiness of stray loops and hanging laces. This design means Bramfords are slip-on, a feature that balances convenience with a slightly looser feel. On the first day I wore them, I could feel the shoes rubbing against the backs of my ankles, but I had no issues after a few wears. And Bramfords come with a pair of heel cushions that you can insert for a snugger fit. I haven’t felt the need to use them, but it’s nice to know I have the option.
In addition to the slightly looser feel of a slip-on shoe, removing the insoles makes for an even roomier fit. If you’re between sizes and do plan to remove the insoles, consider going with the smaller size. And if you’re uncertain about your size, you can print an outline of each size from the Birchbury website and step onto the printed sheets to find the right fit.
All told, I’m extremely satisfied with my Bramfords. Since they were free, it would be easy for me to discard them if I had any issues, but I don’t plan on doing that any time soon. Instead, I expect these shoes to have a place in my wardrobe for the foreseeable future.
If you want to give these minimalist leather shoes a try, take advantage of a limited-time $50 discount at birchbury.com.