Lems Nine2Five Minimalist/Barefoot Dress Shoe Review
Lems Shoes rounded out their 2013 line-up (Previously from Lems on BirthdayShoes: the Primal 2, my personal favorite, The Mariner, and the Boulder Boot) with a solution to the age-old barefoot/minimalist shoe wearer's quintessential conundrum: what "barefoot shoes" can I get away with wearing to work? I'm talking about their aptly named "Nine2Five."
UPDATE 6/10/2014 &MDASH; In mid-2014 Lems released the black Nine2Fiveis and upgraded versions of the Coffee & Cream Nine2Fives. Basically, they're shinier and a bit more premium-looking than the photos below may lead you to believe. You should be sure to check out the new photos here. Teaser:
Back to the original review: Lems sent me a pair of the brown or "coffee & cream" Nine2Fives to try out and review for BirthdayShoes, so I've been wearing my pair fairly regularly now for the past 2-3 months and below are my thoughts (and photos!).
Meet the Nine2Five
The Lems "Nine2Five" -- an obvious reference to the typical 9:00AM to 5:00PM workday, which is the minimalist dress shoe niche the Nine2Five angles to fill -- features the same 2013-introduced Lems sole as you'll find with the Lems Boulder boot and the Mariner. That sole is 9mm thick, injection-rubber and the "9to5" also has a removable 3mm foam insole. The upper is 100% leather.
I'll talk more about the sole below in "barefoot feel and function" and more about the leather in the section on "Aesthetics." For now, take a visual tour of the Lems 9to5 below:
Barefoot Feel and Function
The Nine2Fives are "barefoot"-minded and take into consideration many important characteristics of minimalist shoes. Probably the most outstanding aspects of the Nine2Fives revolve around them being roomy in the toe box and zero-drop. Like the Mariner and Boulder, the Nine2Five's sole has a total stack height of 12mm. While thicker than comparable Vivo Barefoots, the Lems Nine2Five/Boulder/Mariner sole is very flexible in all directions. You can see it's flexibility action via an animated GIF in the Mariner review.
I haven't had any negative experiences with a natural walking gait in the Nine2Fives. Though the 9to5s aren't athletic shoes, I'd have no problem running in them, either. Given the total thickness, you're not going to get as much ground feel with the Nine2Fives as you'd expect from any pair of FiveFingers, Xero Shoes, or other sub 10mm minimalist shoes, the Nine2Fives still deliver a reasonable amount of feel.
You're likely going to be wearing Nine2Fives with socks. I ended up going back and forth between wearing them sockless and with socks (What can I say? I hate socks!). There was as break-in period for the leather in the Nine2Fives and initial sockless wear rubbed one foot a little wrong (not raw!) over by the first metatarsal where the leather creased on dorsiflexion (inside of the foot, behind my big toe).
As all-day minimalist foot wear is concerned, the Nine2Fives are a solid choice and your feet won't be crying to take them off after a long day's work. Overall, while there was some break-in on the leather uppers, it's not much. By comparison, the Primal Professional (review pending) has a longer break-in curve (I'd guess due to the manufacturing style of the upper).
One thing of note: the tongue on the Nine2Five really wraps the top of your foot. I suppose this is because it's fairly wide for a tongue, which likely helps the Nine2Five accommodate higher volume feet. As far as how this affects the feel on the foot, it just makes the Nine2Fives feel secure on your feet.
A dressy minimalist/barefoot shoe? Aesthetics.
The Lems Nine2Five borrows on the style of a cap-toe Oxford. Offered in the brown seen here and also in black (though you'll have to wait until 2014 for those to be restocked!), the Nine2Five's goal is to be at home in a dressier, business casual work environment.
I work at Google, which is just casual, but I wore the Nine2Fives in various contexts as photoed below. I'll talk more about each context alongside each gallery!
To my eye, the Nine2Fives look great with a "chino" or khaki-style pair of pants. If you wear these types/style of pants at work I think the Nine2Fives will work just fine for you.
In the case of the coffee & cream Nine2Fives, the leather has a slightly weathered look to it with what I'll describe as a toasted nut color to it. It's rustic but nice. NOTE: the leather used in the current batch of brown Nine2Fives is not the kind you can polish. If you want Lems 9to5s you can polish, you'll want to wait until 2014. Lems has informed me that the next round of Nine2Fives will feature a different leather for the upper that is similar in color but polish-able.
The one "con" around the Nine2Fives from a style standpoint is that the cream-colored rubber sole adds a level of contrast that makes the shoes stand out, which may not appeal to you if you're simply trying to "blend in." This actually may have less to do with the color and more to do with how the Lems' sole wraps up on the side of the shoe (which makes the sole look thicker than it actually is -- you can see what I mean via this photo of a bisected Boulder boot).
The silver lining to this "con" is that it arguably broadens the applicability of the Nine2Fives ... you can wear them with jeans!
While this wasn't necessarily the intended application of the Nine2Fives, I find they work really well with jeans. Never thought I'd say that about a cap-toe Oxford-styled shoe, but I think the photos speak louder than words.
And if you're like me and work in a more casual office environment, you may find that Nine2Fives fit in perfectly.
The ultimate question most will want answered for the Nine2Fives is said thusly: could I wear these shoes to work? That's because the Nine2Fives clearly satisfy (to me) on being barefoot-minded. They're comfortable and have been easy to wear-test over the past 2-3 months as I've worn them work multiple times a week with jeans and pants and with or without socks.
The thing is: everyone's office culture is a little different, and business casual at one office could be casual at another office. Google offices aren't great use-cases for "typical" dress environments!
If the current round of Nine2Fives are borderline for your office environment as far as "dressy-ness," you might wait until 2014 for the next round with the polishable leather to show up. I'll be sure to update on the next round once they're available (also update on the black Nine2Fives).
If you like what you see here and want them now, you can pick up a pair of Nine2Fives for $125 over at Lems' website.
If you've already got a pair of Nine2Fives, I'd be eager to hear your take on them in the comments below!
Note on Sizing
I continue to wear a 45 in the Lems Boulder/Mariner/Nine2Five. Mind, mine's a 10.875" foot, 10.5 generally, a 43 in all FiveFingers, and a 44 in Vivo Barefoots. If you're looking to pick up the Nine2Five, use Lem's sizing guide (PDF).