Review: J. Crew Gemma Leopard Flats.

J. Crew Gemma leopard flats

J. Crew Gemma leopard flats. Available in sizes 5-12.

The main issue I have with leopard-print footwear is that most are made with calf hair. Don’t get me wrong– the calf hair creates a luxe effect when it’s done well. But over time, the hair inevitably starts to get mangy, sheds, and then I’m left with funky bald spots on my leopard shoes. Not a good look. I’ve tried taming calf-hair “flyaways” with a little hairspray and a toothbrush, concealing bald spots with a black Sharpie pen. It’s a pretty effective (albeit temporary) solution. However it’s a bit more upkeep than I’m used to. To be honest, the whole thing drives me nuts.

All this to say, I’ve been wanting to replace the super scuffed, calf-hair leopard flats I’ve sported since last fall with something requiring less maintenance. These Gemma leopard flats caught my eye when I stopped by the J. Crew brick-and-mortar store last weekend. A pointed-toe ballet flat? Interesting. I had to give them a try.

It’s been a couple years since I last bought a pair of ballet flats from J. Crew. For reference, I wear a pair of old (circa 2012ish) Cece ballet flats in size 6.5. I gave the Gemmas a spin in sizes 6.5 and 6. To my surprise, size 6.5 was quite large– my heels quickly slipped out while walking. Size 6 was a more comfortable fit without socks, with just a little room around the entire foot (i.e., the slightest bit of space to spare for inevitable swelling). I found the toe cap to be on the narrow side, but not overly snug. With some breaking in, I would expect this part of the shoe to stretch out a bit. Note there isn’t really any cushioning in the sole and there is zero arch support, so don’t expect these flats to be comfortable for long city walks. The interior is fully lined in leather, and the heel is about 1/4″ with a leather sole.

The leopard print colorway is called “Dusty Cedar.” This equates to a muted mix of dark/medium browns and tans, which are much easier to match to outfits compared to some leopard prints that fall more on the black/brown/yellow side. (Come to think of it, that color combo sounds more like cheetah than leopard print… but I digress.) The subdued tones are very office appropriate, especially if you don’t like calling too much attention to your footwear from Mondays through Thursdays. I’m generally not a fan of leopard print fabrics because they tend to look unnatural and cartoonish, but I think this particular print was pretty well-done. It’s a smooth cotton/poly blend and from close up, there is a very faint sheen to it.

It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I like the pointed toe on this ballet flat; I think it helps to elongate the leg line. Black grosgrain runs along the topline of the shoe, and there is a matching strip of grosgrain ribbon running down the back. The topline just barely covers my toe cleavage (yay). Speaking of toe areas, there is a bow at the vamp that looks to be made of knotted, thin twill cord. As you can see, the bow is dainty and almost blends into the shoe.

The Upshot: The Gemma is a cool take on the classic ballet flat– the pointed toe is sleek and the overall comfort is decent for everyday office use (just make sure you size down). Personally I think the leopard-print fabric upper is a nice alternative to more high-maintenance, leopard-print calf hair. However, the $145 price point is hard to swallow for an “imported” quality fabric shoe. It’s definitely more palatable with a discount or promo, which is bound to roll around soon and SURPRISE SURPRISE as of today (9/15), they’re 25% off online with the code SHOPNOW. I’m very tempted to try out the rhubarb red color and the even more fun glitter version!

– j.

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