GREATS The Royale Review: My Thoughts After 2 Years of Wear

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by  William Barton | Last Updated: 

The battle is on for the best minimalist sneaker, but with so many options, it’s almost impossible to tell which is the best. GREATS are regularly in the conversation, but what are they actually like?

In this GREATS Royale review, I’ll give you the pros and cons of this sneaker from my experience of over two years wearing them, plus how they stack up against other popular brands.

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The Adult Man Image/Icon Image source: GREATS

GREATS The Royale

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Bottom line: The GREATS Royale is a decent sneaker, and while they became popular during the minimalist sneaker boom of 2016-2020, the quality of the sneaker has dropped since being acquired by Steven Madden. I find myself reaching for my KOIO and Oliver Cabell sneakers more often because of their slimmer design and better quality leather. Guys with wide feet will like the roomier, more bulbous toe of the GREATS. The perforations and larger style are a bit reminiscent of Jordan basketball sneakers, which is a bit more casual than I prefer when slipping on a sneaker.

Ratings:

The Adult Man Image/Icon  Design The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon
The Adult Man Image/Icon  Quality of Materials The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon
The Adult Man Image/Icon  Value for Money The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon
The Adult Man Image/Icon  Craftsmanship The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon
The Adult Man Image/Icon  Packaging The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon The Adult Man Image/Icon

Pros:

  • Wider fit than many other similar brands, so guys with wide feet will like the extra room in the toes
  • Half-sizes available, which is relatively uncommon among comparable brands

Cons:

  • The perforated toe and more bulbous look are a bit casual for my tastes
  • I had a very difficult time breaking in the grey sneakers (but not the white for some reason)
  • The leather has a stiff, plastic-y feeling to it that you don’t get with competitors---it’s not as high quality as less expensive competitors

The battle for the best minimalist sneaker has been heating up over the past few years.

GREATS, Oliver Cabell, KOIO, Beckett Simonon—those are just a few of the brands that have made a name for themselves by crafting high quality sneakers and undercutting designer brands like Common Projects

It’s been awesome for you and me, because high quality sneakers have just gotten more and more affordable. 

But it’s also so hard to choose which brand to ultimately go with. You can end up more confused than when you started. 

Wait, before you slip the Crocs on—I can help.  

I went through the same crisis a few years back: which sneakers do I get? 

And after two years of wearing my GREATS Royales, plus a few years of testing other sneakers like Oliver Cabell and KOIO, I’ve got an idea of the pros and cons of each brand. 

GREATS The Royale Overview

Greats royale lining detail

GREATS was founded in 2014 and was one of the major brands to arise out of the “Common Projects are overpriced and we can do it better” era of 2016-2020.

Almost every brand carries a white minimalist sneaker made with full grain leather now, but that wasn’t always the case.

Unfortunately, the same quality that made GREATS a contender for the best minimalist sneaker isn’t really there any more. In 2019, the public company, Steve Madden bought out GREATS and plugged the design into their massive shoe-making empire. 

GREATS used to be made in Italy, with Italian leather, Margom soles, and high quality flat waxed laces. All of those things have changed.

model wearing Greats sitting

I don’t think country of origin is actually as important as some brands make it seem—some of the best boots and shoes I’ve ever worn were made in China. There are factories everywhere that are capable of crafting top-quality footwear. 

But the GREATS that was once dominating the minimalist sneaker game is a different brand now. I’ll dive into the details in subsections below, but ultimately, I recommend the Beckett Simonon Reid as a budget pick, the Oliver Cabell Low 1 if you want all that Italian goodness, and the KOIO Capri if you want the best quality possible. 

GREATS The Royale

The GREATS Royale is a decent sneaker, but I believe the quality has dropped since the brand was acquired by Steven Madden. I find myself reaching for my KOIO and Oliver Cabell sneakers more often because of their slimmer design and better quality leather. Guys with wide feet will like the roomier, more bulbous toe of the GREATS. The perforations and larger style are a bit reminiscent of Jordan basketball sneakers, which is a bit more casual than I prefer when slipping on a sneaker.

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Things to Consider Before Buying the GREATS Royale

Greats royale white
Rocking my GREATS The Royale

The two biggest considerations you should make before picking up your new pair of sneakers are: how often are you going to wear them, and what level of quality are you looking for?

There’s a low, middle, and high tier to minimalist sneaker pricing, and I personally believe there’s a champion in each category.

If you’re only going to wear your sneakers once a week, or possibly even less often, and you don’t need something that’s going to last several years, the New Republic Kurt is worth looking at: it’s usually well under $100, and it’s a decent sneaker. 

Best Under $100
New Republic Kurt

This minimalist dress sneaker is an effective weekday-into-weekend shoe thanks to its cushy insole. While your break in mileage may vary, go for the New Republic Kurt if affordability is your priority.

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For guys on a strict budget, it’s a solid pick, but if you can save a bit more, you’ll get a much better value-for-money buying something in the mid-tier.

model walking in Greats royale 1

The middle-tier—which is where I consider GREATS to be (between $100-$250), has a few other contenders. 

I like the Beckett Simonon Reid for its overall quality and construction, and its price is phenomenal. The biggest downside to Beckett Simonon is that, because they make their shoes to order, it can take up to two months for you to actually get them. But they’re the best value-for-money pick you can get in the minimalist sneaker arena. 

Best Value for Money
Beckett Simonon Reid Sneakers

I like the Beckett Simonon Reid for its overall quality and construction, and its price is phenomenal. The biggest downside to Beckett Simonon is that, because they make their shoes to order, it can take up to two months for you to actually get them. But they’re the best value-for-money pick you can get in the minimalist sneaker arena.

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And if you want to ball out and get the best quality possible, I recommend the KOIO Capri. They’re pretty much at $300 (at the time of writing), but they’re so comfortable and the quality is outstanding. I definitely wear my KOIO’s more than any of the others, and I think the price is justified. 

Best Quality
KOIO Capri Triple White

The KOIO Capri Triple White is as loud as a white dress sneaker can get without leaving the minimalist realm. Go for these if you're all about quality in your footwear. They're super comfortable with outstanding build quality and an aesthetic that sits in between the dress and athletic sneaker worlds.

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GREATS The Royale Review

Style

model wearing Greats royale sneaker 1

While several of the components may have changed with GREATS sneakers, the style hasn’t.

I appreciate the look of the GREATS Royale—it’s a minimalist sneaker, but they’ve done a few things to make it look a little different than everything else you see on the market. Of the minimalist sneakers, it’s the least minimalist.

The biggest difference is the wider, more bulbous toe. This helps a lot if your toes tend to spread out more than average and many brands feel tight in the toe box for you. But from a style-perspective, I think the GREATS look better with straight fit and non-tapered pants. 

If you wear slim tapered jeans or skinny jeans, I think the more rounded shape of GREATS won’t match as well as the narrow look of the other brands I’ve mentioned. 

Greats royale grey profile view

But with a slim straight or straight cut pair of jeans, I think the GREATS look awesome. 

I picked up my GREATS in the Blanco (all white) and the Ash Grey. I love how the natural leather lining contrasts with the upper leather—for whatever reason, that gets me. It’s something I wish my Oliver Cabell and KOIO’s had. 

On the spectrum of dress sneakers, the Royale is the most casual. The perforations on the toe box are reminiscent of Air Jordans, and there’s an interesting overlapping leather pattern on the sides of the shoes. 

Leather Quality

Greats royale blanco on steps

The leather for the GREATS Royale took a dive in quality in 2019. 

Instead of the buttery soft Italian leather the brand was using, they swapped it out for something much stiffer and more difficult to break in. 

I haven’t had so many issues with my white Royale’s but for whatever reason, the Ash Grey pair destroyed my right heel for several weeks. It was one of the most difficult shoe or boot break-ins I’ve ever experienced (which is saying a lot, because I’ve broken in multiple pairs of Pacific Northwest boots like Nicks and Whites). 

I can’t judge them on the break-in—that could just be something specific to my foot and isn’t necessarily a problem with the brand. 

model sitting wearing Greats royale

But what I can do is compare how the leather of the Royale feels compared to my Oliver Cabell and KOIO sneakers, and the difference is obvious—both in how they look and feel. 

I’m not sure exactly where the leather is from now (it used to be Italian). It’s a full grain leather, which is generally thought of as the highest quality, but it has a sort of plasticky feeling to it that doesn’t have the same luxury touch that other DTC brands offer. 

It just feels like a mall-shoe. 

Sole Quality

Greats royale sole 1

The sole has performed well over the past two years. GREATS were originally made with Margom soles, which is an Italian sole-brand known for their ability to make soft, comfortable, and durable outsoles. 

My Oliver Cabell Low 1’s have Margom soles. The GREATS Royale is fitted with a custom rubber sole. 

Margom soles are a bit heftier, but ultimately, I can’t say that I’ve noticed a huge difference in the sole quality. 

It’s not like I’m hiking up the side of a mountain in these sneakers and need something high-performance. The soles get the job done, and as you can see, there’s only a little more wear on the GREATS sole compared to the Oliver Cabell Margom sole (I’ve worn each roughly the same amount). 

I think the sole is plenty comfortable and durable to where I wouldn’t think of it as a deciding factor. 

Fit and Sizing

model wearing Greats white sneakers

Because GREATS has a more spacious toe, you might find the fit of the Royale to be exactly what you need from a minimalist sneaker. 

Most other brands I’ve tried tend to bunch my toes together a little—it can be slightly uncomfortable with such a narrow shoe, but often I’ll deal with it because I like the slim, narrow style. 

I also like that GREATS offers some half-sizes (between 8-12), which is surprisingly rare among the competition. 

As for comfort, I think the GREATS Royale beats out the Oliver Cabell Low 1 (the Low 1 is the narrowest of the bunch), but isn’t as comfortable as the Beckett Simonon Reid or the KOIO Capri due to the stiffer leather. 

What do Other Reviewers Say? 

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GREATS has over 2,000 5-star reviews on their site, so it’s clear that people are happy with their sneakers. 

Most of the professional reviews I found were written in 2018 or earlier, so they’re based on the GREATS made with Italian leather, Italian soles, and made in Italy. 

GREATS Royale Alternatives

minimalist sneaker toes compared 1

Beckett Simonon Reid

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I think the Beckett Simonon Reid is the best value-for-money minimalist sneaker you can get. But that comes with a major disclaimer: it can take anywhere between 6-12 weeks to actually get them.

Beckett Simonon crafts their shoes to order and make them in batches. Because they don’t have to make a bunch of extra stock, they don’t need to charge as much. 

What you get is extremely high leather and construction quality, but for a fantastic price. At the time of writing, the Beckett Simonon Reid is both less expensive and much higher quality than the GREATS Royale. But you have to wait a few months to actually get them. 

Best Value for Money
Beckett Simonon Reid Sneakers

I like the Beckett Simonon Reid for its overall quality and construction, and its price is phenomenal. The biggest downside to Beckett Simonon is that, because they make their shoes to order, it can take up to two months for you to actually get them. But they’re the best value-for-money pick you can get in the minimalist sneaker arena.

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Oliver Cabell Low 1

Model wearing olivers passage pant and oliver cabll low 1 minimalist sneakers

If you don’t want to wait that long for Beckett Simonon and you’re willing to pay extra for getting your shoes soon, then check out the Oliver Cabell Low 1.

Oliver Cabell is usually running some kind of discount that leaves the Low 1 at just a little pricier than the GREATS Royale. The sole, leather, and construction quality of the Oliver Cabell Low 1 is better than GREATS, so it’s certainly a better value for your money. 

Model Adjusting Oliver Cabell Low 1 sneaker

One issue you might run into with Oliver Cabell though is that they don’t offer half sizes and the toe is quite narrow. The brand recommends sizing down if you’re a half size (i.e. I’m usually a 10.5 in sneakers, so I got the size 10 Low 1’s). I think you should choose the next size higher (so I should’ve gotten the 11). 

If you have wide feet, then your best bet would be to opt for the KOIO, which actually carries EE-width (wide) sizes. 

Holiday Discount
Oliver Cabell Low 1
(Get 25-50% off with code BFCM)

The Low 1 is Oliver Cabell's most popular shoe. It boasts a classic low-profile silhouette, with color options that are expressive, but not overly trendy or unprofessional.

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KOIO Capri

KOIO sneakers on model with sunglasses

The KOIO Capri is the most comfortable and best overall minimalist sneaker in my opinion. From the suede leather heel grip to the thick, smooth leather, it’s a fantastic sneaker. I reach for my KOIO’s more than any other sneaker. 

KOIO capri triple white walking down stairs

They’re one of the most expensive, but they’re definitely not over-priced. What’s interesting about the Capri is that it appears just as slim as the Oliver Cabell Low 1, but there’s a lot more room in the toe. I have a size 10 for each (because KOIO also doesn’t offer half-sizes), and the KOIO is much more comfortable. 

If you’re able to drop the extra cash on a pair of KOIO’s, I think you’ll be happy you did. 

Best Quality
KOIO Capri Triple White

The KOIO Capri Triple White is as loud as a white dress sneaker can get without leaving the minimalist realm. Go for these if you're all about quality in your footwear. They're super comfortable with outstanding build quality and an aesthetic that sits in between the dress and athletic sneaker worlds.

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My Thoughts Overall On the GREATS Royale

What I Like

  • The GREATS Royale has a wider and more spacious fit than many other brands, so if you have wide feet or your toes spread ever feel cramped in other sneakers, you’ll feel more comfortable in the Royale. 
  • GREATS offers half-sizes, which isn’t so common with minimalist sneaker brands.

What I Don’t Like

  • Because the toe is more bulbous, the sneaker has a more casual look than other brands, and I prefer a slimmer style.
  • The grey sneakers were one of the most difficult break-ins I’ve ever had (but not the Blanco, or white leather for whatever reason). 
  • The leather is more stiff and feels less luxurious compared to other brands that are similarly, or even less cost. GREATS cut the quality of their sneakers considerably in 2019. 

Who is the GREATS Royale for?

The GREATS Royale is a decent sneaker if you wear straight cut jeans and want something that’s very laid back and casual, but still looks nice. If you have wide feet and have found that other minimalist sneakers cramp your toes too much, you might have luck with the Royale.

The Verdict

The GREATS Royale isn’t what it used to be. 

Since 2019, cuts to the quality of the leather, laces, and construction put the Royale out of contention for the best minimalist sneaker in my opinion. 

You can get the Beckett Simonon Reid for less, and it’s a much higher quality shoe—especially with the leather (which is pretty much the entire thing). The main issue with Beckett Simonon is that you’ll probably be waiting 6-12 weeks to actually get them because they handcraft them to order. 

The Oliver Cabell is another attractive option—the quality is similar to what GREATS used to be. However, the Oliver Cabell Low 1 is a bit narrow and they don’t have half sizes. While the brand recommends sizing down if you’re a half-size, don’t: get the next size up (i.e. I’m a 10.5. I got the O.C. Low 1 in size 10, but I wish I got the 11).

But if you really want the best sneaker in the game, check the KOIO Capri. Yes, it’s more expensive by about 40%, but you’ve already committed to getting high quality, so why not go all the way? 

That’s the way I think about it anyway: KOIO uses materials that are about as high quality as you can get, they have the narrow slim style I like on the Oliver Cabells, and they’re more comfortable than all the brands I’ve mentioned.

GREATS The Royale

The GREATS Royale is a decent sneaker, but I believe the quality has dropped since the brand was acquired by Steven Madden. I find myself reaching for my KOIO and Oliver Cabell sneakers more often because of their slimmer design and better quality leather. Guys with wide feet will like the roomier, more bulbous toe of the GREATS. The perforations and larger style are a bit reminiscent of Jordan basketball sneakers, which is a bit more casual than I prefer when slipping on a sneaker.

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FAQs

Do GREATS run big or small?

GREATS run true to size. You should order your standard sneaker or dress shoe size when picking up a pair of GREATS.

Where are GREATS Royale shoes made?

GREATS used to be made in Italy, but since the company was bought by Steve Madden, production was moved to Portugal. However, due to supply chain issues, Steven Madden has reorganized their factories and now manufactures a lot of their shoes in Mexico. So it’s hard to say where GREATS are made, but they’re not made in Italy. 

What is a Margom sole?

Margom is an Italian rubber manufacturer that makes soles, so the term “Margom sole” refers to a brand, not a “type” of sole. Other popular sole brands you might hear of are Vibram and Dainite. Margom soles are known for their comfort and durability.