J. Crew Kenton Chelsea Boot in Chromexcel Leather – $178.80 w/ GOBIG ($298)
Note: The 40% off code GOBIG expires today, Monday 10/18/21. Also know that sizes at post time are limited since there was a rush on these during the big 40% off sale, and they’re also back-ordered to late October.
About the Author: Adam Terry is a thirtysomething salesman in the HVAC and hydronics industry. He enjoys bourbon, boots, sneakers, raw denim, and working on his
dad bod father figure.
Is it just me, or does it feel like J.Crew has turned another page and is now steaming forward? As I’ve said before, the design team has been churning out a lot of solid looking clothes, shoes, and suiting over the past year. I’ve been overall impressed with the new lines and designs – lots of big wins like their garment dyed sweats, slub cotton tees, and my perennial favorite flannels. Of particular note, their footwear game has been stepping up a lot. I’ve reviewed their Kenton Pacer and Cap Toe boots this year and they’ve all been OK for the money, especially when on sale. Now they’ve finally launched their new Kenton Chelsea boots in a fantastic leather choice. How do these stack up to the others, and are they worth your hard earned cash? Maybe!
A boot in the hand is worth two in the container ship that can’t seem to get to port.
The Adam Review Scale of Excellence (A.R.S.E.)
- 5 – Excellent! No issues and highly recommended.
- 4 – Good. Above average, but not perfect.
- 3 – Average. Minor issues, might be good at the right price.
- 2 – Fair. Below average due to defects, flaws, or imperfections.
- 1 – Poor. Significant issues, not worth purchasing at any price.
- Brand: J.Crew
- Style: Chelsea Boot
- Size: 10.5 (EU 43.5)
- Last: N/A
- Construction: Goodyear Welted
- Upper: Horween Chromexcel in Color #8
- Sole: Vibram “Tuscany” Mini-Lug Rubber Sole with Gumblock Heel
- Details: Fabric Pull Tabs and Tonal Elastic Gores
- Extras: Shoe bags!
- Country of Origin: El Salvador
- Price: $298 USD
A side by side with the recently reviewed R.M. Williams Gardener Chelseas.
My pair was ordered on a Tuesday in late August 2021 with a known two-week backorder. Unfortunately, my pair was delayed for a full month and finally arrived on a Wednesday in late September 2021. J.Crew did update the delivery date ETA via email, but the world’s internet economy is barely hanging on right now. Everything is in flux due to material backlogs, shipping delays, and skilled worker shortages worldwide. If you’re planning for any sort of major event – a wedding, baby shower, family photos, etc. – be prepared to order everything in advance or plan for an extended backorder or shipping delay. Have patience and give grace.
FYI: J.Crew has a fairly standard 30-day return policy, but you’re on the hook for $7.50 if you choose to use their return label. Returns or exchanges can be made in store at no charge, should you have a brick and mortar store near you and don’t mind venturing out to the mall.
Score: 4/5 Stars – Simple ordering, simple returns, but an extended delay could suck. Be careful with what you’re ordering and be prepared to deal with a lengthy delay.
Shoes bags included, but the packaging is just ok.
This pair arrived in J.Crew’s standard black boot box which has minimal branding on it. Inside, you’re greeted by a folded pair of cream colored, brushed cotton shoe bags that are silk screened with the J.Crew script logo. Underneath, the boots were simply wrapped in a few layers of tissue paper. Each boot had a handful of tissue paper stuffed inside, too, to help keep the toe box and boot shaft from collapsing during shipping. All in all, nothing too fancy going on with this unboxing experience.
At this price point, it’s hard to feel thrilled about the package when direct-to-consumer brands like Huckberry, Grant Stone, and Gustin are hitting a grand slam with theirs. For an outstanding experience, I’d like to see J.Crew up their packaging quality and/or include a few related extras like a plastic shoe horn, a small vial of neutral conditioner, or a pair of branded shoe trees. Conversely, they could just drop the price by ~30-40% and be in the right ballpark.
Score: 4/5 Stars – The shoe bags are always nice, but the overall experience is just OK.
Fresh out of the box, I’m loving the overall aesthetic of these new Kenton Chelsea boots. This upper is done up in Horween’s famous Color #8 shade which is a dark burgundy shade that leans into a deep brown tone. It’s a bit shiny in finish, a bit flat in depth, but looks great in person. I own a few pairs of shoes and boots in this shade and it’s way more versatile than you may imagine. Depending on the specific boot or shoe, I regularly pair this color with outfits ranging from super casual white t-shirts and blue jeans to full on navy business suits with a matching burgundy knit tie and tipped linen pocket square. Speaking specifically to Chelsea boots, they’re fast becoming some of my favorite footwear options. They’re easy to wear, simple to pair, and are routinely more comfortable than some of my other boots and shoes. As a parent to a toddler, my wife and I are always chasing down the kiddo and rushing to get out the door. When I know I’m short on time, I default to Chelsea boots because they’re so easy to wear.
Another R.M. Williams comparison shot… for comparison.
The Kenton Chelsea boots we have today were designed to min-max the look and feel of a high quality boot without actually spending your whole paycheck on them. As mentioned above, the upper is made from Chromexcel, or CXL. This is a combination chrome and vegetable tanned cow leather that, per Horween, goes through at least 89 separate processes and takes almost a full month to process completely. The best of the best Chromexcel batches have tight and firm grain surfaces with a lovely depth of color. The worst batches of Chromexcel contain hides that have noticeable scars, scratches, and loose grain wrinkles that can’t be covered up with some extra polish and an hour of elbow grease. This particular pair has a few dents and dings from shipping, a bit of loose grain and puckering around the elastic panels, and a noticeable fault on the right boot that’s been dyed over. Not the best lot of CXL I’ve seen, but also far from the worst. Perhaps it’s just my pair, but maybe J.Crew is getting some A- or B grade leather to help save on costs.
Overall, they’re not bad. I’m being especially nit picky because J.Crew has priced these in the MSRP $300 price tier. There are quite a few worthy competitors out there around this price tier:
- For ~30% less money, Thursday Boots has a similar boot that will achieve the same look and feel without the name brand leather or medium to long term durability.
- For similar money, Grant Stone has a slightly dressier boot made with higher quality materials and better quality control checks. I recommend these boots to friends.
- For ~50% more money, R.M. Williams has a similar boot that’s made to a much higher overall quality. RMW uses a wholecut Kip leather upper and better interior materials.
Moving on, you can see from the side profile that the elastic gores are done in a medium to dark brown “coffee” shade that blends in very well with the overall tone of the boots. The fabric pull loops were done in a similar shade of bronze nylon or some other sort of durable twill fabric. I appreciate that the pull loops are sewn into the boots, not simply tacked on to the front and back like a lot of fast fashion brands. This means you shouldn’t rip them out anytime soon.
Elastic gores in a nice coffee shade. Sturdily attached pull loops in a bronze shade.
Peering inside, you see what looks like a hodgepodge of parts; a real Frankenstein’s Monster. Starting at the heel and working our way forwards to the toe, the rear half is lined in pigskin, There’s an exposed vertical seam going up the back, but the stitching is flat and I see no issues with it. The front half is lined in three separate pieces of the same pigskin leather – one for the toe cap area, one for the left half of the boot, and one for the right half. I can’t say that I’ve seen this method done before. I’d assume that it’s a cost savings measure; it’s easier to cut out smaller pieces from less than ideal hides than it is to die-cut one entire piece from a good quality hide. While I don’t notice the seams when the boots are on my feet, I can imagine the horizontal seam at the toe cap could cause odd creasing to occur across the boots.
The insole is a slab of what looks to be open cell foam. It’s topped with a thin layer of leather that’s gold foil embossed with the J.Crew script logo at the heel. Overall the insole feels comfortable, but as we know, these open cell foam insoles tend to break down and flatten out over time. I’d love to see a genuine leather insole used here, especially at this price point.
Goodyear welted. Vibram rubber sole that should be easy to replace if needed.
The Kenton Chelsea boots are using an OEM Vibram “Tuscany” rubber sole, which is identical to their laced Kenton Cap Toe brothers save for the difference in color. I’m a fan of these soles as they serve to both increase day to day grip as well as maintain a low profile aesthetic. A big bonus here is that most cobblers have access to Vibram sole catalogs, so should you wear these down to the rubber midsole, you can have them replaced in a timely manner. Finally, the leather Goodyear welt strip and stitching is well executed and looks great with the medium to dark brown color dye job. This pairs very well with the brown and burgundy hues of the upper.
Score: 4/5 Stars – Overall solid, but materials are barely above average fashion brands.
Comfort, Fit, and Sizing
In terms of fit and sizing, I recommend trying your true-to-size Brannock measurement. If you typically take a 10.5 in Converse or Vans, you’ll want to try these in a similar size. Some brands ask that you size down for dress shoes and boots, since they are usually designed to be worn with either thin dress socks or thicker boot socks, but you may want to go with your normal Brannock measurement for these Kenton Chelsea boots. If you’re in between sizes or regularly need a wider width, you’ll definitely want to size up as they fit very tight on initial try-on. I tried my Brannock measurement size of 10.5 and, while the length was correct, the instep area on top of my foot felt like it was being hugged to death by a less-than-friendly Anaconda. For comparison, my R.M. Williams Chelsea boots are snug, but are “blocked” and shaped to allow for a bit more room at the instep. These J.Crew boots are not. Ouch.
Don’t be surprised by a tight hug to your instep to start.
Comfort is always subjective, but given the right size, I could see that these boots would be very comfortable. The leather-topped foam insole feels squishy enough and the leather lining, while pieced together like a puzzle instead of being die-cut from one hide, seems nice to the touch.
For size reference, I am a 10.5 D on a Brannock device and usually take a 10 D in most roomy dress shoes, including Alden’s Barrie last and Grant Stone’s Leo last. I take a 10.5 E in Allen Edmonds 65 last, as that last runs too narrow for me. I also take a 10.5 in Converse/Vans and an 11 in most Adidas/Nike/Jordan/Yeezy sneakers. Have a size question? Email us!
Score: 3/5 Stars – Instep is way too tight for me, but may be fine for you. Overall OK.
Once again, J.Crew has hit a line drive up the middle of the fairway. They’re showing how well they can min-max the look and feel of their boots by spending a little extra on the things you can see, while skimping on the things you can’t. The Horween Chromexecel leather is a well-known, well-made leather and it certainly brings some cache with it. The Vibram sole is also a big plus over cheaper foam or PVC soles that will wear out prematurely. On the flip side, they’re definitely skimping on internal components as compared to other brands like R.M. Williams, Grant Stone, and even Thursday boots. For most people, this may be OK as perhaps some prefer a sexier boot and don’t necessarily care about maximizing durability or comfort.
Overall, I do like these Kenton Chelsea boots. They’re a solid choice and they definitely serve a niche in the market. If you’re shopping for a versatile pair of boots that goes with just about anything, try these for yourself! As always, try to score your pair with a hefty discount. Cheers!
Avg. Score: 3.75/5 – Overall solid, but fit can be risky and MSRP is too high for my taste.