Barefoot Shoes

Lems Nine2Five Minimalist/Barefoot Dress Shoe Review

Want a cap-toe Oxford shoe that fits to your minimalist/barefoot shoe needs? Dress shoes making you uncomfortable at work all day due to over-narrow toe boxes, hard inflexible soles, and stiff arch support? You should check out the Lems Nine2Five! They’re business-casual “barefoot” dress shoes that let you walk/move/stand naturally and still look good at work.

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 — 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!). Read on!

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). The Nine2Fives are leather-lined on the inside (Seen best here and here) though the insole is fabric (and removing it exposes a fabric, stitched base). 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 worth with two types of pants and also with jeans.
The Lems Nine2Five worth with two types of pants and also with jeans.
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.

Concluding thoughts

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).

By Justin

Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad of three, working from Atlanta. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.

15 replies on “Lems Nine2Five Minimalist/Barefoot Dress Shoe Review”

I’m sure there are good bunch of noble reasons why but 125 bucks for a pair of casual shoes, a little bit disappointing. Great looking shoe but the price is a deal breaker at this juncture

I’m seriously confused by this review. There is NO ground feel in these shoes. The color is not brown, it’s baby sh*t, and it’s truly awful with jeans, tan pants, blue pants, green pants–I haven’t found a color it goes with yet. However, I used kiwi shoe polish just fine to make them medium-brown, but they’re still a little baby sh*t, and I’m looking for dark-brown shoe polish (which doesn’t seem to exist).

These shoes are NOTHING like the Primals that Lems did so well with. These are tall shoes that will rub blisters for 20+ miles of break-in that are an awful color. And the price is crazy high.


– “No ground feel.” For a subjective statement about a very gray subject, that’s a fairly black/white conclusion. That said, the Nine2Fives don’t offer a ton of ground feel but it’s reasonable given their stack height.

– Re: the color — looks fine per my experience. I really didn’t have any problem matching these with numerous styles and colors of jeans (more than the three pairs photoed above, which I guess you don’t like either?)

– Interesting to know about the shoe polish. Might have to try that.

– What do you mean by “tall shoes?” Where did you get blisters? I never got blisters in mine even in the break-in period wearing them sockless. I did have a crease point on my right foot instep on sockless wear that went away quickly. Again, no blisters.

The Lems Primal sole is certainly more minimalist than the Boulder/Mariner/Nine2Five. They’re different animals and for more feel and flex, you gotta go Primal(2). That said, I don’t dislike this newer sole. It serves a separate purpose.

Nice review! I’ve owned the Nine2Fives for about a month now, and I really like the look, especially considering it is barefoot style.

I was surprised to read that you said the leather was unpolishable. I’ve actually polished mine with Kiwi brown shoe polish, and I really adore the look. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have liked the shoes in their original color as I prefer them to have a more richer brown tone. Anyway, in my experience, polishing the shoes has been a great move and they look far better to me (they shine well and have a darker brown tone).

Wow. These look good. The price is a little steep, but a promo code makes them very enticing. I’ve gotten a few ‘comments’ on my Softstar moccasins so I think I need something a little more traditional looking for work. They’ve also made us start wearing ties, but thankfully khakis are still okay.

btw, I recognize that skyline. (I think you even got my building in one of the backgrounds. 🙂

I am so looking forward to owning a pair of Lems (the Boulder Boot) and I’ve been recommending Lems to my customers who are looking for minimalist shoes with a wider (read: normal) toe box. While they are expensive, the price is not unreasonable when compared to other quality shoes. However, since I get vendor deals on most of the shoes I buy, I’m struggling to pull the trigger on them. But, as someone who sells shoes for a large retailer, I think they are priced reasonably for quality shoes produced by a small, young company that probably doesn’t have the capacity or market share to manufacture in quantities that significantly reduce cost. To those that consider the price too high, I wonder how much they usually pay for their shoes and if they recognize that buying cheap shoes just externalizes the costs on society in the form of lost jobs to off-shoring production, corporate welfare in the form of tax incentives that shift the tax burden to individual taxpayers, all while creating a society that values cheap prices for cheaply made crap over quality goods.

That said, although I love the styling of these shoes and I think they’d work in more casual office environments with khakis and dark jeans, I still don’t see guys in suits wearing these to the office without getting a few cross-eyed looks from his peers. I agree with you that the lighter colored soles are what really dresses this shoe down and I hope Lems considers expanding the color selection to something more muted in the future. Not too mention, if Lems can ever figure out how to create a dressy feminine shoe that doesn’t turn us chicks into gimps with deformed feet, I’d be eternally grateful.

I wish the best to this company because I do believe they got it right. Western society has been mistreating its feet for far too long and it’s great to see new companies creating a market for healthful footwear. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve suggested to people that the shoes they are wearing are creating all the maladies they are complaining about and then hearing the response that the shoes that would relieve all those issues are “too ugly.” Well, it’s all I can do to refrain from asking them how they like the look of their hammertoes and bunions. *shudder*

Keep up the good work, and Lems! I’ll keep spreading the word about both of you!

“Not too mention, if Lems can ever figure out how to create a dressy feminine shoe that doesn’t turn us chicks into gimps with deformed feet, I’d be eternally grateful. I wish the best to this company because I do believe they got it right.”

WELL SAID! I couldn’t agree more. I don’t necessarily need “ground feel” but I’m in dire need of zero drop heels and normal (i.e. wide) toeboxes. I cannot for the life of me understand why it is so hard to design such a shoe that is cute and normal looking.

Lems is the only company I know getting it (though still a little more feminine would be nice). It sort of reminds me when electric cars first came out and looked so freakish. No functional reason other than to look different I suppose. They are finally coming around and looking more like a “normal” cars. I can only hope for the same in the “minimalist” shoe area as well. Lems is definitely on the right path and I will continue to support them! (LOVE Primal 2 shoes too — I live in them)

I am wondering- is there a way to peruse this site (or another) and find the barefoot shoes that are just dressy shoes? I have merrills and five finger shoes- and due to flat feet and a hip issue, really want to get rid of any non-minimalist shoes… these shoes you’re blogging about look ok, but they’re really not that dressy. I don’t mind the price… but would really like to find a complete list of dress shoes. is there a list on the site? I didn’t see that, but probably missed it somewhere here.

thanks. since i’ve started wearing minimalist shoes my hip and feet have been much happier…. thanks for making this easier.

My biggest problem with these shoes is how easily the leather scuffs up. I found within the first day or two the leather surrounding the toes quickly became discolored. As I continued to wear them this only seemed to escalate. I have had them for about 2-3 weeks now and they look so awful, I no longer deem them work appropriate. I am extremely disappointed that my $125 “work shoes” are no longer appropriate for work. I work in a very casual office and my coworkers have already started asking me when I was planning on getting new shoes.

I had the same experience as Austin above. Other than the durability of the leather, I am quite satisfied with them. I also dig their new fitting system, and realized I should have sized up. Perhaps my feet are enjoying the room their getting and I’m a half size larger than before.

I see the new versions, and it appears that they have changed leathers and manufacturers. Hoping that the new leather will wear better. Will we get an update soon?

Just wondering..are the Nine to Five’s waterproof?

(I currently own a pair of True Linkswear Tours for rainy work days,which I love..but they’re wearing out the tread faster than I thought possible-only had them 3 months..)

I just received mine from LEM’s and am trying to decide if they are too large and if I should return them for one size smaller. I need to decide before I wear them enough to fail their returns inspection. I have the 44s with a measured standing foot length of 10.25-10.5. I tried them on with my Correcttoes and they fit just barely in width. If I tried the 43s, they might be too narrow for use with the Correcttoes.

When you stand in yours, do you have a little more than a thumb’s width out front between tip of shoe and tip of toe?

As to the quality and design, I like them. This is my first pair of minimalist shoes and I agree that I’m not feeling much through the soles – not much ground feel. They’re for work, though, and I think that’s OK for that application.

The rest of the fit is good, except it rubs the outside of my left (smaller) foot’s ankle.

I want to get Primal 2 Lem’s next. The sizing chart on Lem’s site has those as slightly wider, which is good. I think on those I will get size 43. Is there more ground feel with the Primal 2s?

I have a pair of the 9to5 and I never wear them because the sole is way too thick. I think the thickness of the primal 2 is better. If you like the sole on Vivobarefoot you will hate the 9to5.

One good thing about this shoe is the toe box, it’s very roomy. Lems has the best toe box on the market, much better than Vivobarefoot. They just need to make their sole thinner. Are you listening Lems?

There is not a shoe on the market that has a THIN enough sole AND a WIDE enough toe box….with style. I’m waiting.

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