Through Damien Tougas at ToeSalad, my path crossed with that of Mountain Evan Chang, the entrepreneur behind The Primal Professional, a minimal dress shoe. It immediately struck me as a clever idea: a dress shoe that would pass muster for business wear with suits, yet be true to barefoot principles. Since Mountain happens to live in the San Diego area, he stopped by on his way out of town recently and (after much discussion on ultralight backpacking), dropped off a pair of size 12 shoes for me to try out. These don't have the cosmetic heel added, but were otherwise a finished pair of shoes.
While I run exclusively in Vibram five fingers (Spyridon), hike in zero-drop barefoot style Altras, and spend leisure time in a pair of Stem Origins (now Lemming/Lems), my feet spend the majority of their time, at least half of every weekday, cooped up in traditional business shoes. I work in an environment where I am in suits and wingtips for 12 – 16 hours a day, every day. I don't work on Wall Street, so I'm not wearing bespoke John Lobb shoes with an $8,000 Anderson & Sheppard suit. My shirts and suits are custom, but my tailor drives down from Los Angeles instead of flying in from Venice. I have worn a number of brands of wingtips over the years, but am currently wearing Johnston & Murphys. I have several pairs, so they can rest with shoetrees in them between wearings, and I never have to wear the same pair on consecutive days. I buy quality in business clothing, which pays off because it lasts longer.
I was eager to see how the Primal Professionals stacked up against my regular wing tips, both in looks and in comfort. I was initially concerned that due to the lack of heel, my trouser legs would drag on the floor.
As you can see from the pictures, the PriPros are quite handsome and professional-looking shoes. The workmanship and finish are excellent. The toe box is obviously wider than in traditional shoes, and it is noticeable in the shoes, but the overall result is not strange-looking. Wearing them in a work environment, I never got a single comment that anyone noticed them, even though the pair provided didn't have the cosmetic heel added.
As the comparison photos show, my trouser break is different wearing the PriPro than the J&Ms. With the younger, hipper set (I'm 54), wearing skinnier pants, this would not be an issue. Even for me, I find it an acceptable trade off. While my J&Ms have more extensive detailing, I find the PriPros perfectly acceptable as a business shoe. I did find, at least during this initial trial period, when I had a particularly ‘big' meeting, I would sometimes choose my J&Ms for their slightly fancier look.
Due to their shape, the PriPro shoes are slightly shorter overall than traditional shoes, which could be helpful for people with large feet. While it is not a consideration for me at 6'4”, I did notice being slightly shorter in the PriPro shoes due to the lack of a heel.
I wear a size 12 in my Johnston & Murphy wing tips, with thin dress socks. Typically for the trail runners I use for hiking, I go up half a size. The Primal Professionals provided were in a size 12. My first impression of the PriPro shoes was that they fit quite loosely. It was somewhat disconcerting at first, as it felt like my feet were slipping back and forth in the shoe. Because I spend so much time in traditional business shoes, I don't use any toe spacers, and my toes don't have time to assume a more natural configuration. With wider feet, the PriPros might fit a little more snugly. The funny thing was, after the first week, I came to love the feel of the looser shoes! It was like I was wearing slippers, but nobody knew it. I found myself reaching for the PriPros more and more, and they became my favorite shoe for a long day at the office. My feet didn't feel as sweaty at the end of the day. I'm not attuned enough to notice any difference in posture, and am not plagued by any pains that might have been eliminated by the shoes and resulting posture shifts. They are just fun to wear, and are my most comfortable dress shoe. They make me lighter on my feet, and make me feel, and this will sound corny, like I'm a skilled hunter, stalking prey in the halls, just because they are so quiet and stealthy.
I like these shoes a lot, as they allow my feet the luxury of barefoot-compatible shoes covering the last piece of my life for which I had not yet found a suitable solution. For someone who either has to spend significant time in a business setting where professional looks is still important, or for someone who just wants a dressy solution for occasional use, and can afford to buy a nice pair of shoes to maintain a barefoot configuration, the Primal Professionals deserve serious consideration. The Primal Professional's first production run has started and is projected to finish April 12th, plus a week or two for distribution. Save $20-$40 (equivalent to at least a 6.25% annualized return) on pre-orders before ship date at http://theprimalprofessional.com.