Review: Jay Butler Milbank Navy Suede Bit Loafers
Disclaimer: These shoes were sent to The Peak Lapel for free for this review.
Lots has been written on this blog about finding a pair of gorgeous black loafers at an affordable price. So, we figured it’s time for us to move on to find some other high quality shoes. First up, Jay Butler’s “Milbank Bit Loafer.” If you haven’t heard of Jay Butler, then I suggest you take a gander over to their website to check out some really classy shoes. The founder, Justin Jeffers, launched the company only three years ago after quitting his full-time job as an accountant at Deloitte, and he named the company after his grandfather and great-grandfather — both men who served this country with great honor. Solid stuff. (We here at TPL have also been long-time fans of Justin’s excellent blog, The Fine Young Gentleman.)
Quality and Construction
Right off the bat, and before we get any deeper into this review, it’s important for you to note that Jay Butler shoes are not on the level of shoes like Allen Edmond’s or Alden (or similar shoemakers). Think of Jay Butler more in the M. Gemi or To Boot New York category — i.e., one step below somewhere like Allen Edmonds. But that’s not a knock on Jay Butler! When considering price, and many other factors (like Allen Edmond’s Factory Seconds which are cheaper, but have a few scratches or imperfections), there is no right or wrong per se when it comes to shoe quality. As long as they are solid quality, and a good value. And that, as we shall see, these shoes most definitely are.
These shoes were made in Mexico. I know what you are thinking: “high-quality shoes cannot be made in Mexico.” But you’re dead wrong. Like everything in life, it depends. Yes, lots of cheap, crappy shoes are made in Mexico. But there’s also an amazing shoe culture in Leon, Mexico. To quote the Los Angeles Times, “Shoes are to this industrial city what cars are to Detroit.” (That quote was from 2008, so view the quote in context). And Jay Butler sources its shoes from Leon, so there’s no reason to doubt the quality based on the fact that it’s made in Mexico. In this case, to the contrary.
These shoes have got a suede leather (yes, suede is a leather), hand sewn upper, a Blake stitched leather outsole and genuine moccasin construction. The fact that the upper is hand-sewn to the last definitely makes this shoe higher quality than the typical fashion loafer. They are also fully leather-lined with a padded insole that gives some nice arch support. The leather itself is not stiff nor is it super soft. It definitely doesn’t feel like calfskin level leather, but it’s not super cheap either. This shoe personified that happy medium. Not too stiff. Not too supple.
The suede is pretty light-colored, which means that it will be slightly more susceptible to damage from rain or dust. But this suede is solid quality and much closer to Nubuck than the typical suede. It’s slightly more thick and strong than I’m used to seeing, which is a good thing. (Tangent: I’ll be honest. I almost never buy suede shoes or boots for fear of the suede getting ruined before I get a chance to get good use out of them. This is a fairly stupid pet peeve I am told, since with some minor effort and good care, suede shoes can last you a very long time. Be this as it may, these suede shoes are worth the effort.)
I almost forgot to mention that the shoes come along with a really nice shoe bag and a shoe horn! Yes, it’s certainly not a super high-quality shoe horn (it’s a small plastic one), but still, I love the effort and the extra touch.
Style and Design
The second I saw this shoe I thought of the classic Gucci bit loafers. For those who don’t know, a “bit” loafer is a loafer that has some sort of metal design going horizontally across the vamp of the shoe. The reason why this style is associated with Gucci is because, well, Gucci invented it! And you know what? I love that Jay Butler copies that style here (as so many other shoemakers have since Gucci pioneered the look). After all, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel sometimes, when the existing wheel is so damn fine. That is definitely true here.
Now, the tough question with loafers is always whether they are more on the casual side or the dressy side. Suede is usually the perfect material for loafers to be able to do both. I would say that these shoes are a tad more dressy than casual, but they no doubt would look great with casual wear as well (think chinos and a button-down shirt). In fact, when I tried on these shoes for the first time, I was wearing a casual outfit (grey jeans and a flannel shirt), and it looked awesome. Thus, these shoes are a great, versatile shoe to have in your collection.
For starters, and like we have said a couple of times before, “it’s very important that loafers be just a bit more snug than lace-up shoes, since otherwise there will be some heel slippage and there are no laces to tighten to keep your foot in place. Thus, it is very common to go down half a size (or sometimes even a full size) when buying loafers. This way, although in the beginning it may be a bit tight, after a few wears it will get a bit looser while still staying snug. So, although I am an 11E shoe for my lace-ups, I have always gone down to a 10.5E for loafers.”
In their style guide, Jay Butler states that their shoes are generally true to size and have a medium (D) width. “For gentlemen who wear a wide (E) width shoe, we recommend sizing up a half size. Unfortunately, we have found that our shoes do not fit men who wear a EE or EEE width shoe.” (I love the honesty here and smart move to avoid unhappy customers. Play the long game. Always.) Now, considering that I am usually an 11E, for loafers I go 10.5E, so if I size a ½ size up then I’d be somewhere between an 11 and an 11.5. The shoe I got was an 11.5 and the second I put on this shoe it fit me perfectly! I’ve spent a couple hours wearing it since I first tried it on and it still fits me just right. This is awesome for me. I usually have a very difficult time finding shoes that fit me well, since the middle part of my feet are pretty wide while the rest of my foot is normal sized. This is usually even more difficult for me when searching for loafers, since the right fit is even more difficult, as discussed above. Luckily, these shoes are perfect for my sort of foot, it seems.
The one thing to be careful of in terms of fit is how it fits around the toe. Jay Butler’s shoes “are designed to have a snug fit around the toes and ball, this helps keep the shoes comfortably on the foot.” And this is definitely true for my foot. But for many other people, the snug fit around the toes can cause the toes to bunch up and make the shoe uncomfortable, while a larger size would fit fine in the toe box, but slip in the heel. This is all especially true if you have wider or thicker toes.
In summary, the fit on these shoes is very similar to the Allen Edmond’s “D” fit, and you can even get a well-fitting pair of Jay Butler loafers if you are an “E” by sizing up just a bit. However, if you are wider than the E, or if your toes are a bit wider than the norm, Jay Butler will not fit you comfortably.
Price, Value and Conclusion
Accountants are best known for their attention to details and Justin has brought that skillset to Jay Butler in spades. Jay Butler truly lives up to its mission statement, so I’ll let the statement do its own talking: “It is not difficult to find loafers that are inexpensive. Nor is it difficult to find ones that are well crafted and well styled. It is difficult to find loafers that are all three. In fact, I found it impossible to find that loafer so I set out to create it. The result of that mission is Jay Butler.” True, true, and true.
In terms of price, the full price for their loafers range in price from $145 to $195. But, like many brands, if you sign up for their news and updates, you get a 10% discount on your first order. So, let’s call it $130-$175. Yes, that’s not super cheap, but for the quality and style that you get with these loafers, it’s a steal. Moreover, shipping is free for anything above $125 and if shipping is free, then returning is free as well. You also get 30 days to return the item “if you are not satisfied with your purchase” assuming that the shoes are not worn, which is a very solid return policy.
Bottom line, I would without question buy a full priced pair of shoes from Jay Butler in the future, and at these prices you are getting more value then what you pay for. Well done, Justin. Well done. Folks, buy yourself a pair. You won’t be disappointed.
P.S.: I mentioned once before that I strongly believe that every respectable shoe company should also sell belts that match each of the shoes they sell. Guess what? Jay Butler does exactly that! Check it out here. I got to say, I have a pretty hard time finding anything to criticize Jay Butler about. Okay, I found one thing: their website design is very average. Nothing else.