What you need to know right off the bat is that these are minimalist dress shoes. That means two things:
Of course, it looks like there’s a heel. But your foot actually goes inside the heel, which keeps your foot level all the way across. They call this zero drop. If you’re looking for a shoe like that, you’ll have a hard time even finding a real competitor to the Carets Fer Cap-toe Oxfords. But let me take you through a few of the details.
The company is branded as “Carets Co.,” but the bottom of the shoe is branded “The Primal Professional,” which I wish were the company name, or the shoe-model at least. (I just think that logo is sweet!) Carets is a small startup, and they keep their production runs limited to manage costs and warehousing. Because these shoes aren’t a mass-market item (in fact, they’re practically bespoke), we unconventional-shoe enthusiasts have to pay a little extra.
Carets is run by a guy named Mountain, and I’ve been impressed by his company’s attitudes. For one, they send 1% of all their sales (which is greater than profits) to organizations focused on protecting the planet. With each pair of shoes, they send you free shoe-trees, which is a courtesy many upper-end companies offer. They’re also surprisingly generous with returns–more so than I’ve seen in any shoe company. They have a 365-day guarantee, and it’s just like what it says. You can actually wear the shoes outside (but keep them pretty clean), and Carets will still let you return them for a full refund. That means if you’re curious but not sure you’ll like them, you can just order a pair and try them out.
The team iterates like an software company. So, for example, the current Fers are version 4 (you’ll see this referenced on the site). And Mountain himself sends out a newsletter which details the changes he’s making with each version. As a writer, I’m a huge fan of the feedback-revision process, and it’s cool to watch this happen with a shoe. If you’re considering a pair, you should subscribe.
Wearing the Shoes
The Fer Oxfords are 10.78 oz., which is incredibly light for a shoe. Wearing mine makes me feel fleet of foot. (The weight is about like a pair of slippers.) That also makes them easier to carry along when you travel. The weight is shaved off primarily through the polyurethane soles, which are exceptionally lightweight (plus, as I said, the heel is hollow). But the leather itself (and thus the walls of the shoe) is also quite thin. Incidentally, I wore these one sunny Sunday and noticed that, like any dress shoe, they weren’t too breathable.
The feature that drew me to these shoes is the fake heel, which allows your heels and toes to remain at the same level, as if you were walking barefoot. Aside from being an ergonomic, hippie sort of thing, it’s also healthy for your spine and gait. With no heel to catch, the bottoms are smooth and slide easily across carpet. The soles are flexible too, which adds comfort.
My pair seemed to be the right length and width, but the upper still fit a little loose, leaving them sloshy on my feet, so Mountain sent me a pair of tongue pads (a pad with adhesive on one side). As a side note, he sends these to any of his customers, another generous gesture. After I got those fastened on, the shoes fit better. (Although now the tongue pads catch my socks when I’m pulling the shoes on–so it’s a tradeoff.)
Aesthetic and Build
As you’ll notice in the picture above, the shoes look like they have a heel even almost directly from the side. It really is a clever design. I’m certain no one will notice the fake heel as long as your feet are on the ground. But if you rest an ankle on a knee, the jig is up. Still, it’s a good conversation starter.
These shoes are made with chrome-tanned leather, which is soft, uniform, and resistant to water damage. This sacrifices a little of the leather’s natural feel (and you don’t get that nice leather smell). But the tradeoff is that they’re more durable.
The soles are cemented on (which is fine, but I think actual stitching looks nicer). And on mine, the air-blown soles show some bubbles around the welt. It’s not noticeable unless you scrutinize them pretty closely, and yet for the price I expected a little more refinement. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of these issues smoothed out in later versions though. Carets also offers resoling services.
These oxfords are excellent from the minimalist perspective. The question is simply whether they’re adequate aesthetically. The closed-lace balmoral oxford design makes them a more formal style, while the cap-toe makes them a little less (they do have a plain-toe alternative though called the Zetone). The toe doesn’t follow the popular pointy trend, but I personally think a shoe should match the shape of a foot anyway. (I’m guessing you disagree though, ha ha.) Either way, I feel confident wearing mine. My photos should be enough for you to decide. And if they aren’t enough, you can always do a test drive.
Another innovative feature is the elastic laces. They’re awesome for slipping the shoes on. Mine were too long though, and I didn’t like the loops hanging down, so I traded them for a traditional lace. I like the look better now, but it’s less convenient. Not sure which way I’ll go in the long run. (By the way, Mountain told me they’ve already shortened them in the next iteration!)
I love the fake heel. It definitely keeps my feet and spine feeling better. I’m not, however, in love the soles otherwise. They’re acceptable, but nothing to rave about. The leatherwork is high quality, lightweight, and nicely done. Overall, I feel quite satisfied with them.
If you’re looking for a caveman dress shoe, the Carets Fer Cap-toe Oxfords are a remarkable choice. I’ve enjoyed mine.
I’m excited to see what Mountain and his team do in subsequent versions as well.
P.S. Mountain has offered our BestLeather readers a $35 discount too. Use this code when checking out: 1804-bestleather
UPDATE: 31 DEC 2019. After a year and a half of giving this generous discount, Carets has discontinued this code due to an inordinate number of people googling it and getting a free ride. Not to worry: the Carets return policy is still in place, so you can try out the shoes and see if they’re the product you’ve been looking for.