Review: New England Outerwear Company Boat Shoes
For those who don’t know, New England Outerwear Company (NEOC) is a small and pretty young company based in Maine that started out making outerwear and quickly moved into traditional handsewing. Their shoes and all of the components used are either entirely or almost entirely Made in the USA. All construction is done in their workshop in Lewiston, ME by veteran craftsmen of the handsewing business.
They pride themselves on locally sourced components, including locally tanned leather and locally spun thread used for handsewing. The only thing I don’t think is locally sourced is their supply of rubber soles for the relevant shoes (they use amazonas, a top of the line rubber moc sole, same as quoddy and rancourt). NEOC produces more esoteric makeups as well, such as mocs with hair on leather used for the plug, sneaker mocs, etc, but I decided to start out with a pair of their boat shoes. Enjoy!
I do a lot of beach/water/boating type activities over the summer, with one of my favorite pastimes being going down the Jersey Shore. In my current arsenal, I have a pair of LL Bean Jackman blucher mocs and a pair of Sebago campsides (the garden variety, not the MiUSA line) which I have enjoyed this fall, but to me nothing says spring/summer like throwing on some comfy boat shoes to lounge around for the day. I find the 2-eye lacing to me makes them much more loafer-like than bluchers, which feel more like sneakers
I therefore decided that it was time to upgrade the old beaten down pair of sperries that I had loved, but destroyed, over the course of the past 4 Summers. I was doing some late night browsing when I decided to hit NEOC’s website just for the heck of it, and they had their 2-eye boat shoe in their proprietary tan Acadia leather on clearance. It was almost meant to be.
This was a stock make up from NEOC, nothing fancy or custom. The day before I ordered, as I was mulling it over, I shot an email to NEOCs customer service address to ask for some sizing advice. I measure to 11.5B on the brannock with low arches and low overall volume, so I actually took 10.5D in both the beans and the sebagos, with a snug fit that loosened up over time. Given that the NEOCs are lined, I wasn’t sure whether to go for a 10.5 or an 11. I’m pretty certain both sizes were available when I originally emailed the company. The next day, I still hadn’t gotten a response, but the 10.5 was listed as out of stock. That made the decision easy. I prefer a slightly more generous fit to my boat shoes anyway just because of how I like to wear them, so I pulled the trigger on the size 11 boat shoes.
I received an order confirmation email immediately. My order then spent the next 3 days under a “pending” status. To be fair, I did order them on a Sunday. With no movement to “processing” or any change in status by Wednesday, I sent another quick message through the website to check in and see what was happening. I never received a reply, but about an hour after sending the message I got a shipping confirmation. Sent by FedEx ground, the shoes made it from Maine to my doorstep in Northern NJ in about 24 hours. I know that email communication was sometimes an issue for NEOC in the past. To be honest, I would have preferred to have actually received a response to either (preferably both) of my email inquiries. I will say that I did not send any follow up emails after each of the non-responses, and did not pursue either email thread beyond the first attempt. I think maybe on the second inquiry, whoever was reading the email may have just shipped the shoes and figured that was good enough, but an actual response would have been nice. The end result was great though, all in all very quick and easy.
The shoes arrived in an unmarked FedEx box with the standard NEOC box nestled inside. On opening the inner box, the shoes came in a single linen bag with an embossed leather swatch serving as the NEOC tag. Nice, clean presentation which fits the character of the company and the shoes.
This is a well executed example of a staple, classic shoe. Tan leather, 2 eye, rawhide laces, brass eyelets, and a littleway stitched white boat sole. The machine stitching is fairly clean, with an occasional hint of a loose end at the end of the run of stitching. The handsewing is also very clean, with my only nit pick (and it’s really a nit pick because this really doesn’t actually matter) being a slight variation in stitch length near the top of the toe and at the heel counter, both areas of which I would imagine are very difficult to stitch.
There is an extra spot of glue at the end of each run of handsewing at the heel counters on both shoes, doesn’t really bother me though. The goatskin lining is unreal – incredibly comfortable. The leather is nice and thick. Sometimes it can be hard to tell with a lining, but it’s evident at the tongue that the guys at NEOC weren’t skimpy with the leather. Speaking of which, these shoes are made of tan Acadia, a leather proprietary to NEOC. Co-developed with Wood and Hyde tannery in upstate NY, Acadia was intended to be a great handsewn leather, and I agree with that assessment. It has an interesting pebbled/grained texture that, according to NEOC, is neither printed nor assisted; it is 100% natural. That adds some intrigue and detail to an otherwise very conservative makeup. The leather is very soft out of the box in spite of its thickness and the lining – there is absolutely no break in required for me here.
While it does have a supple feel and a bit of a waxy hand, it’s definitely different from chromexcel. The latter feels oily to the touch and, while it’s very pliable, almost seems like it would stretch and stay in the shape that you leave it, as though it were putty. I think that contributes to it’s infamous creasing properties. On the other hand, acadia is very pliable and easy to wear, but it does not have that oily, putty-like malleability. As such, in the few hours I’ve been wearing them around, this pair has of shoes has yet to exhibit a single crease. I’m not saying that one is better than the other, I’m just saying that they’re different and I think that each is worth a try in it’s own right.
I was debating between a 10.5 and an 11 here, and I’m very happy that I ended up with an 11. As I mentioned earlier, I’m an 11.5B with low volume. Due to my narrow, flat feet, I usually size down 1 full size to 10.5 for handsewns to ensure a good positive fit. In these NEOCs, 11 is as small as I can comfortably go. My toes come to a point maybe 1/8″ behind the handsewing line, and the instep is snug but not tight. The vamp was low out of the box, which fits my low arches well. For people with normal width feet and normal arches, ordering true to size is probably the way to go on these.
NEOC is well known around these parts as a small company that offers some very unique options you’ll be hardpressed to find elsewhere. These have included waxed flesh leather on handsewn chrompak soles, lazy mocs, sample sales with handsewn sneakers, hair-on leather on their plugs, and the list goes on.
However, in my opinion, to be a great company doing cool, out-there production, you need to get the basics down first, such as the classic boat shoe. This is a bread and butter shoe for a handsewn moccasin company, and NEOC hit it out of the park.
A unique leather with clean construction and all of the details done right are going to make me a very happy customer this Spring and Summer. Their email communication might still be a little bit of a weak spot, but they make a great shoe and the rest of their customer service is excellent.