Johnston & Murphy Shoes Review: What Does 170+ Years of Experience Get You?

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by  David Martin | Last Updated:  Feb 23, 2021

It’s a classic problem for men. You’ve got a fancy date planned, you’ve got the makings of an outfit in mind, but your shoe game is lacking. Even worse, you remember the last time you bought a slick pair of dress shoes, your feet felt about as bad as your bank account.

In this Johnston and Murphy Review, we put a classic pair of loafers, dress shoes, and sneakers to the test to see if we can keep our dogs from barking without breaking the bank.

The Adult Man Image/Icon Image Source: Johnston & Murphy

Johnston & Murphy

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Bottom line: Johnston & Murphy design their shoes with the purist in mind. Their comfort and durability exceed other similarly priced mid-range brands, but they can lack the support, construction, and finer detail of their higher priced competitors.

Ratings:

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The Adult Man Image/IconQuality 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/IconComfort 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/IconPackaging 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/IconValue 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

Pros:

  • Comfortable shoes out of the box
  • High quality materials used in construction
  • Excellent customer service
  • The brand has a proven history
  • Affordable pricing

Cons:

  • Need to order a size down
  • The dress shoes lack support
  • The construction quality is lacking for some models---no Goodyear Welt

Heads up: J&M just kicked off its rare Final Clearance Sale where you can get up to 60% off plus free shipping on all orders over $50.


Until several years ago, my dress shoe acumen didn’t extend beyond $35 derby shoes from H&M. 

As expected, they came with all the bells and whistles: shoddy construction, pleather uppers (at best), a neat trick where they basically disintegrate upon getting wet, and complimentary blisters. 

My footwear journey has seen many brands come and go. From Florsheim derbys, to Cole Haan loafers, to Aldo Chelseas, I can’t get no satisfaction (cue The Rolling Stones). Paying premium prices consistently yielded discomfort with a handsome shoe, and cheap prices also yielded discomfort, but with less durability. 

I love the classic, formal-yet-casual wearability of loafers, and was recently in need of a new pair. Johnston & Murphy was a brand I always associated with Gap, Men’s Wearhouse, and the like. (“Be better than the Gap.”) 

However, given their storied past and longevity, I decided to throw them a bone and see what their loafer selection had to offer—specifically with the Breland Kiltie Tassel Loafer.

Our team also reviewed a pair of dress shoes (Conard Cap Toe in tan) and a pair of sneakers (XC4 Prentiss in black) back in 2019 to get a feel for J&M’s more casual offerings—and I’ve listed those below my loafer review.

Let’s dive in.

What Is Johnston & Murphy?

Founded in 1850, J&M is one of America’s oldest shoemakers.

The brand is arguably best known for its classic styles like derbys, oxfords, and wingtips, which it has specialized in since its inception. (Fun fact: J&M has created custom shoes for many U.S. presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Ronald Raegan, and Barack Obama.)

Clearly, their age is a fact they’re proud of because it’s ever-present across a lot of their marketing.

And hey, I get it. If I owned a shoe company that custom designed shoes for Lincoln (check out the above video), I’d be telling you about it.

J&M have since widened their product range to include other leather goods and transitioned to crafting goods for women as well.

Things to Consider Before Buying Dress Shoes from Johnston & Murphy

Among formal footwear brands, Johnston & Murphy is sympathetic to your wallet. Cole Haan and Allen Edmonds average footwear prices between $250 and $300, while Johnston & Murphy sits more comfortably in the $150 to $200 range. 

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For guys, the decision to buy Johnston & Murphy comes down to individual preference. 

Those with a more modern palette for monk straps or square-toe shoes of any kind will have to look elsewhere. 

Those who want classic styles from a proven, 170+ year-old company with options that won’t break the bank will find an ample selection at Johnston & Murphy

Johnston & Murphy Review

Breland Kiltie Tassel Loafer Review

Johnston and Murphy Breland Kiltie Tassel loafers at angle

Modern fashion has established new rules for classic footwear. Where the loafers of my youth were only worn by old guys with baggy suits, today it can be “dressed down” and worn with jeans or chinos.

I appreciate this versatility. I have the option to emulate my elders, but with a suit that actually fits. 

Breland Kiltie Tassel loafer in front of white wall full body

Or, I can add an extra zing to an otherwise casual outfit, achieving the this guy knows a thing or two about a thing or two look. Allow me to explain with a simple formula:

Loafers + adult man with clean, modern taste in fashion

  • Probable whiskey connoisseur. 
  • James Bond-level confidence.
  • Excellent conversationalist with high levels of wit. 

It’s simple math.

With this in mind, I picked up a pair of Johnston & Murphy’s Breland Kiltie Tassel Loafers

Breland Kiltie Tassel loafers from front

Leather Quality

The Breland Kiltie Tassels are a sleek pair of loafers with classic elements. The Kiltie style describes the fringed tongue that is tucked under the strap, or saddle, of the upper portion of the shoe. 

Made from genuine calfskin, these loafers are soft to the touch yet clearly durable. Since calfskin is, well, “young” skin, it has a higher collagen content than older leathers. 

A higher collagen content means the leather will be more soft and durable than normal leather, which makes it more desirable. 

Breland Kiltie Tassel loafers from side single shoe

The interior is lined with sheepskin and a microfiber felt patch at the heel that drastically reduces the chance of blisters. Combined with the cushioned insole, this shoe is like a comforting hug for the irritable dogs you call your feet. 

Since the leather is supple, it bends and creases easily to the stride of your walk. As expected, the creases stay in the leather, but the kiltie style helps to cover up unsightly wrinkles and keeps your loafers looking new. 

Sole Quality

The sole of the Breland Kiltie is made from sueded leather, and features a combination leather and rubber heel for extra grip. 

Johnston and Murphy loafers coming down steps whole outfit

I find this inclusion essential. New shoes with a sueded leather sole are slippery. It felt like I was out there on skates before the sole was sufficiently roughed up to increase friction and traction. 

Without the rubber heel, I’m certain I would have tasted the pavement. For visual reference: 

Ice Slipping GIF by Fargo

A notable inclusion, or lack thereof, to the Breland Kiltie is a Goodyear Welt. 

Goodyear Welt refers to a style of shoe construction that increases the longevity and functionality of the shoe. 

Most shoes are constructed by gluing the leather upper directly to the outsole. This is simple and cost effective, but makes it difficult to have your shoes resoled or repaired.

Goodyear Welt construction adds a third element to shoe construction—the welt. This is a long, thin strip of leather that gets adhered first to the upper, and then stitched to the outsole. This makes it easy to slap a new sole on the shoe and also makes the shoe largely waterproof. 

The Breland Kiltie Tassel does not include Goodyear Welt construction. Although the early days of Johnston & Murphy shoes were riddled with Goodyear Welt construction, the style is only included in their “Aristocraft” line currently. 

Like most loafers, the Breland Kiltie has a low heel stack which makes for comfortable walking over extended periods. 

Breland Kiltie Tassel loafers profile view

Fit and Sizing

J&M shoes run big. 

I’m typically a men’s size 9, so I ordered as such. If I had done my due diligence and read some reviews, I would have easily seen the majority of reviewers say to order a size down.

That being said, the fit isn’t horrible. The loafer has a comfortable toe box and fits snug but not too tight.

Johnston and Murphy Breland Kiltie Tassel loafer detail

I once had a pair of running shoes that had a snug toe box, but turned out to be a little too snug once I ran in them. I was the proud owner of a shiny black toenail for the next year. 

The insole is comfortable and breathable, but a bit shallow on the arch support. Then again, I have feet so flat they may as well have opposable thumbs like our evolutionary ancestors. 

Since the shoes run large, my heel lifts out slightly as I walk. This is annoying, but not unbearable, and could likely be fixed with thick socks or some kind of shoe insert. 

Or, you could continue to do what you’re doing and read reviews before pulling the trigger. Do as I say, not as I do. 

Break in Period

The first time I wore the Breland Kilties, I kept them on for four hours straight. Surprisingly, my feet weren’t sore, nor were they heinously sweaty. 

Leather shoes and long periods of time are usually a recipe for what my wife likes to call “cheese feet.” The leather has a way of sealing in the juices and creating smells no one should have to smell. 

Breland Kiltie Tassel loafer sitting on steps

Been there more times than I’d like to admit. 

After about two more outings with these loafers, I’d say they were sufficiently broken in. The calfskin offers a relatively painless startup, and the microfiber felt keeps your heel comfortable on long walks. 

I look forward to wearing these shoes to outdoor, semi-formal, and casual gatherings.

What do Other Reviewers Say About the Johnston & Murphy Breland Kiltie? 

Johnston & Murphy Breland Kiltie Tassel Loafer

If you’re looking for a slick pair of shoes to complete your outfit, save a little cash for your date and check out the Johnston & Murphy Breland Kiltie. They’re a great option for anyone not looking to dive too deep into the labyrinth that is men’s formal footwear.

Check Best Price Read Our Review
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My review is one thing, but what do other Johnston & Murphy patrons have to say?

With regard to the Breland Kiltie, reviews trend overall positive. On Shoes.com, the loafer has a 4.4/5 star rating.

I did find some negative reviews that were consistent in regard to a hole quickly developing in the toe.

Despite the issue, I can also confirm that multiple reviews cited Johnston & Murphy as having incredible customer service. I haven’t worn my loafers for long enough to judge the validity of the above claim, but I’m due to find out.

My Thoughts Overall on the Breland Kiltie Tassel Loafer

What I Like

  • Comfortable out of the box

  • High quality materials used in construction

  • Affordable pricing

  • The brand has a proven history

What I Don’t Like

  • Need to order a size down

  • Not the best construction—no Goodyear Welt

The Verdict

If you’re looking for a slick pair of shoes to complete your outfit, save a little cash for your date and check out the Johnston & Murphy Breland Kiltie. They’re a great option for anyone not looking to dive too deep into the labyrinth that is men’s formal footwear. 

The brand offers classic styles go toe-to-toe with other competing brands, and typically win out on the combination of quality and affordability. 

Johnston & Murphy Breland Kiltie Tassel Loafer

If you’re looking for a slick pair of shoes to complete your outfit, save a little cash for your date and check out the Johnston & Murphy Breland Kiltie. They’re a great option for anyone not looking to dive too deep into the labyrinth that is men’s formal footwear.

Check Best Price Read Our Review
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Conard Cap Toe Shoe Review

Johnston And Murphy Conard Side On Right Shoe

The J&M Conard Cap Toe is an interesting take on the classic Oxford.

The shoe features a hand-burnished calfskin leather upper with brogue detailing. Along with traditional lacing, it has a soft breathable leather lining on the inside with lots of cushion in the footbed.

It has stacked heel with a rubber outsole that is colored at the back. These come with two pairs of laces, which I think is a cool touch. One matching in tan, and another more of a contrasting blue color, which is great for some added versatility when dressing down.

The support is where I’m a bit iffy on the Conard. The curved heel cup is comfortable and supportive, but the insole is fairly thin.

What I Like

  • Very breathable thanks to precise airflow throughout the design.

  • Traction pads along the heel work excellently on a slick sidewalk or staircase.

  • The collar and supportive curved heel cup make for really comfortable wearing.

  • Strategic cuts along the arch are lined in black, so scuffs and scrapes won’t show up.

What I Don’t Like

  • Laces are stiff leather strips, which are nice, but it takes a week or so before the Conard feels sufficiently tight on your feet.

  • Rubber outsole (I wish it was leather).

  • The insole is a little thin which affects support slightly.

The Verdict

The Conard looks great and I’ve received several compliments already after just a couple of wears. The wood finish on the heel looks fantastic, and the extra contrasting colored laces add a unique touch.

Are they the most supportive? No. Are they going to last? No doubt. After wheeling around in my Conards for a few weeks, I can attest to their durability.

The Conard adds a delicate flair to your outfit without going over the top. You get that classic J&M traditional style and a high level of comfort.

While I have a few gripes about the rubber outsole and the support, dollar for dollar, they’re one of the best value for money dress shoes you’ll find in the sub $200 range.

Johnston & Murphy Conard Cap Toe

While I have a few gripes about the rubber outsole and the support, dollar for dollar, J&M's Conard is one of the best value for money dress shoes you’ll find in the sub $200 range.

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XC4® Prentiss Plain Toe Shoe Review

Johnston And Murphy XC4 Prentiss Plain Toe Shoe Side On By Itself

With the XC4® Prentiss, J&M has blended high-quality leather with a full rubber outsole, and I have to say, they’ve executed it well.

As an added touch, I enjoy the extra laces which feature a white stripe down the middle. This kind of unexpected extra always adds a positive feeling to an unboxing experience.

And I like that I can now easily diversify my style.

Support is the name of the game with Prentiss. Between the cushioned sock liner and sturdy insole, I’ve enjoyed walking around in these. Much like the Conards, they’re super comfortable.

These come with natural waterproofing thanks to the solid leather exterior. I took them out on one of the saddest, rainiest days yet this winter, and yep—the verdict is in:

My socks stayed dry.

I wouldn’t use these as trainers, but they do mimic the breathability of a quality running shoe.

What I Like

  • Supportive insole helps distribute pressure throughout the whole shoe, not just the heel.

  • The sock liner is top-notch and provides serious comfort for your entire foot.

  • Spare laces that actually earn style points.

  • Brown leather accent in the heel is both supportive and stylish.

  • Waterproof to properly combat rain without issue.

What I Don’t Like

  • Though it doesn’t look it, the grips on the bottom are fairly weak.

  • The pull-on loop can be irritating when it finds its way into your pant leg.

The Verdict

The traction isn’t outstanding, but they feel great to wear. The Prentiss is seriously comfortable.

And the leather itself is quality. I can see these shoes lasting for four or five years. Overall, I enjoy wearing them and I like their simple yet classy style. They’re versatile—they pair nicely with both chinos and jeans.

Johnston & Murphy XC4® Prentiss Plain Toe

Overall, I enjoy wearing mys XC4s and I like their simple yet classy style. They’re also versatile---they pair nicely with both chinos and jeans.

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7 Things to Consider When Buying Any Pair of Shoes

Johnston And Murphy XC4 Prentiss Plain Toe Shoe Top Down
  1. Cost: It doesn’t matter how high-quality something is, the price (and your budget) will always be a defining factor.
  2. Quality: This refers to durability, average expected lifetime, and the associated materials.
  3. Comfort: If the shoe fits, it doesn’t mean it’s comfortable. You can look good and enjoy wearing them.
  4. Sizing: Usually brand-specific. If they run large, small or narrow, you need to know before you order.
  5. Design & Style: Style refers to aesthetics. Will it work for the look you’re going for? Design dictates function, such as breathability or fit.
  6. Sock Liner: Sock liners wick away sweat and reduce wear-and-tear to the shoe interior. If they’re removable, they’re easier to clean.
  7. Traction: Dress shoes are traditionally slick, but a bit of traction is a must so you don’t go slipping around in wet conditions.

Are Johnston & Murphy Shoes Worth Buying?

Johnston & Murphy shoes are built to last and look stylish. They do take some time to break in, which I see as a testament to their durability.

Overall, I rate them as a slight step-up from the other mid-range dress shoes and sneakers I have in my collection.

Even with the few issues mentioned, the value for money makes them a worthy buy, particularly if your budget is within the $150 to $250 range.

If you’re looking to make a long investment, you may want to consider a shoe that features Goodyear Welt construction, either from Johnston & Murphy or elsewhere.

This will drastically increase the longevity of your shoe, and make it easier to keep your dogs from barking.

Johnston & Murphy

Johnston & Murphy design their shoes with the purist in mind. Their comfort and durability exceed other similarly priced mid-range brands, even though they can lack the support and finer detail of their higher priced competitors.

Shop Johnston & Murphy Read Our Review
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Are Johnston & Murphy shoes comfortable?

Johnston & Murphy shoes are very comfortable, just make sure to order a full size down as the shoes tend to run big.

Are Johnston & Murphy shoes real leather?

Johnston & Murphy shoes are crafted from genuine, hand-selected European leather.

Can you resole Johnston & Murphy soles?

Johnston & Murphy shoes can be resoled. It’s easiest to do on shoes with GoodyearWelt construction, but most shoes can be resoled at least once.

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