Archives for April 2009

My Left Foot: An Afternoon At Lodger

Nathan Brown has seen a lot of feet. He has worked at Nike, Adidas and Puma, and now has his own formal-shoe shop, Lodger, just off Savile Row.

But my feet still surprised him.

I recently tried out the Lodger measuring system, which features a 3D laser scan to build up a virtual model of your foot. You insert your foot into a machine about twice the size of a shoebox, and several little cameras map its contours. That electronic picture is then used by a CAD (computer-aided design) system that suggests lasts, sizes and widths.

Fitting shoes is as much an art as a science, though. The CAD fit that Nathan showed me was perfect across the ball of the foot (the widest part of the foot – from the joint where the little toe joins the foot to the equivalent with the big toe on the other side). But it left too much room behind the heel.

Part of shoe fitting is also psychology. Men with wide feet tend to wear shoes that are a little too narrow for them. Initially, this is because they can’t find shoes that are wide enough. But over time, they become used to that fit – so anything that is the correct width will feel too big. The same goes for men with narrow feet: they feel most comfortable in shoes that are a little wide.

With me, the laser scanner showed that the right foot was a centimetre shorter than the left – almost half a size difference. Lodger can provide men with two shoes that are different sizes through its custom ordering service – which is what makes it unique. But as with narrow or wide feet, men with differently sized feet have got used to wearing shoes the same size. Put them in differently sized shoes and it feels very odd.

Nathan is discovering all of this over time. He set-up Lodger, and started applying this new technology from the world of sportswear, just over a year ago. One customer did order shoes that were different sizes, but it felt too strange after years of shoes that were either slightly big or slightly small on one foot. So Nathan no longer recommends that.

What surprised him about my feet was another measurement the scanner made. It showed that I was very wide across the ball of my foot (indeed, the smaller foot was slightly broader here) but I was also very high across the top of the foot. As regular readers will know, historically this has led me to buy shoes that are slightly too big, as nothing else would accommodate the width across the ball.

However, when we tried some shoes on, it quickly became apparent that my feet weren’t quite as high across the top as we’d thought. The lacing on each shoe was tight all the way up on the size I required to fit my width. It turned out that the arch was rather low, so even though the foot as a whole was tall, it was lowered by the shallow arch.

I understand if this level of detail is dull. But for me it was great. I’d discovered why I normally buy big shoes and why in-soles don’t normally help (they lift the whole foot up, restricting the width across the ball where I need it most).

Nathan quickly reached the same conclusion as I have (though it took me a lot longer and a lot more money). Tongue pads. By filling out the tongue of the shoe, these allow me to push down the back of the foot while keeping the ball free to use the full width.

As regular readers of this blog will also know, tongue pads are not easy to find. Most cobblers in London (and cordwainers for that matter) don’t stock them. But just like the self-professed shoe dork he is, Nathan wanted to find a solution. So he cut the heel off the in-sole we had been using, trimmed it down and tried wedging that underneath the tongue of my shoe.

It worked perfectly. Nathan gave me the cut-up insole and instructed me to stick it underneath the tongue of another pair of shoes with rubber cement (available at your local DIY shop). Any excess should dry and be able to be rubbed off, and if it didn’t work there would be no damage to the shoe itself.

I plan to try it on a pair this weekend. Nathan is keen to hear the results and I will report back here as well.

It is worth pointing out that at Lodger I experienced the best customer service I have ever had in a shop, as well. As I reported here, Berluti treated my problem with derision and John Lobb (Jermyn Street), though very interested and keen to help, did not know anywhere I could buy a pair of tongue pads.

Pet Peeves

”There’s nowt so queer as folk” they say. I would disagree – “There’s nowt so queer as trends” I would riposte. For some trends are so inexplicably unattractive, so incredibly low on aesthetic value or grace that their existence is physically shocking. I last wrote of my sartorial prejudice in relation to summer clothing; this ‘outing’ of personal taste (and indeed distaste) has no excuse. It is an outburst, a volcanic eruption, likely caused by the bottling of emotions; bottle and carry anything effervescent around for long enough and it tends to explode.

Low slung jeans

I was launched into a state of exasperation and despair when I happened to see a considerable number of young men walking around with their jeans secured (barely) not at their waist, or even their hips or even halfway down their buttocks but at the very top of their thighs; the effect was that virtually all of their underwear was visible to any person walking behind them, especially when walking up the stairs. The jeans themselves are generally denim of an ordinary blue but, due to their odious wearing position, are utterly shapeless and overly full. They make the wearer look slovenly, even though he is likely to have taken considerable pains to maintain the jeans at this position and even more pains to keep his snow-white training shoes ‘splash free.’ The worst thing, a complete reversal of the logic of fashion, occurred when I saw one of the young men, self-conscious about the height of his jeans compared to his companions, push them down further – such conscious effort to make oneself look like public masturbator! Bizarre.

Puffa jackets

If there is one thing I can credit myself with, maturing from the age of brand-lust and trend obsession, it is that I finally began to recognise the importance of shape and silhouette. Puffa jackets are an abomination; the notion of wearing an overstuffed duvet has long baffled me. I do acknowledge that there is a practical purpose to filling the interior of a coat with goose down, but there are more elegant and better-looking ways of keeping the cold away. The lumpy puffa, with the squeaking sleeves, is one of the most disappointing sights; that it covers a human torso, a design of nature that should be accentuated and complemented, is a tragedy.

Trucker caps

Trucker caps, which an acquaintance names as “white trash toppers”, are one of the most irritating trends ever to dominate the accessories departments of clothing stores; that there are scores of better designed items of headgear, from talented, dedicated and tasteful milliners, that have never received the reassuring popularity of the humble baseball cap is bad enough but that the bastard child of the classic baseball cap the ‘trucker’ should figure so prominently, under tiresome, drolly named brands like Von Dutch is frankly mindboggling. The aesthetic itself is cheap and greasy and the value added to any ensemble is at most infinitesimal; but that we have come to this, the wilful worship of trashy personalities who pair overtly expensive French luggage brands with such fripperies of the most meagre irony is far more worrying.

Look at Me! I’m a Banker

The G20 has revealed a lot about bankers’ sartorial taste. It has shown uniformity and a complete lack of awareness of what ‘normal’ people wear.

As protests were announced for the day before the G20 meeting in London, City workers were warned to “try and look inconspicuous” and “dress down to avoid being targeted as bankers”. Protests were scheduled for everywhere from Grosvenor Square to Canary Wharf, the Bank of England to Trafalgar Square – so a large number of people was threatened with disruption and possible attack.

Unfortunately, bankers aren’t very good at disguise. As a columnist in local paper City AM put it: “What a feast for the eyes the streets of the City were – colourful, vibrant and loud. I am, of course, referring to the sartorial elegance displayed by bankers.” Not the protestors.

“Predictably there were some who believed the streets would be transformed into a country club for the day, and opted for the traditional chinos and tweed. At least, if nothing else, they fitted in with each other.”

Which was rather the problem. A man in a suit can be a clerk, a security officer, even a waiter. But a man in chinos, a tweed jacket and loafers is definitely a banker. Fortunately, there were no reports of bankers being targeted with violence. But if protesters had been so inclined, their targets could not have stood out more.

It got worse. “Reports soon started to come in regarding all manner of attire unlikely to go unnoticed by your average anti-capitalist protestor. On one end of the spectrum there were three-quarter length trousers, Louis Vuitton soap bags and St Tropez polo club-branded rugby shirts. On the other was the very well-groomed gentleman who was conspicuous as much for his reeking cologne as for his tassled brogues, pressed jeans and cashmere top,” said the columnist.

A colleague reported similar sightings. “It was hilarious seeing all the bankers in disguise on the train this morning,” she said. “With their perfectly ironed blue shirts, cufflinks and loafers you couldn’t really miss them.”

There were an admirable few that refused to be bowed, however (my father among them). Many cited the IRA bombings in London and said “I didn’t sneak and hide from that so I’m not going to do so now.” It was almost freakish how often that reference came up.

Equally, some bankers deliberately scaled up the traditional dress. City veteran Justin Urquhart-Stewart of Seven Investment Management proudly wore a pinstriped suit, bright red socks, red braces and no less than two red handkerchiefs. Even he conceded he couldn’t get away with a bowler hat, however.

Give That Man a Job

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a gentleman in possession of good style should be in want of an appropriate career. However, it is not always that gentlemen of taste end up in the most fitting positions; some labour away in environments and with schedules that seem inconsistent with their particular perspective on the world. Though he might toil, such toil might seem fruitless and alien. Through his determination and strong imagination, he might chance upon an opportunity; from this opportunity, he might contrive a new position and he may be called upon to present himself before an individual, or perhaps a panel of judges, who will not only listen but also observe his manner, his character and inevitably, his appearance.

Most men of style may be fairly confident of maintaining a manner appropriate for the expectance the individual or panel judge might hypothesise, they might also be rather bluff about the scrutiny of their character, reasoning that a man of idiosyncratic style necessarily possesses lashings of character. On the final, superficial matter of appearance, the man of style may wave away caution and counsel with a hearty and slightly disbelieving chuckle; “Good Lord, the one area I should be relied upon to dazzle!”

However, it is this cocksure dismissal of guidance that represents a man most in need of restraint; the way one wears clothing is not only considered a positive expression of talent, flair and knowledge. It can also be considered merely decorative, distracting and denoting a man lacking direction. Smartness is one thing, but intimidate possible employers and you might scupper your chances.

A flair for restraint

One of the things I have always been told by employers is that focus and drive are two of the most important traits interviewers search for when inspecting prospective employees; “After basic qualifications” a lawyer once told me “we observe and question looking for potential.” Anyone too precocious in knowledge or dress might be considered, in equal measure, a poseur or a swellhead; few jobs require Narcissi so even if your self-tutored style is aesthetically appealing and artistic, it’s time to play ‘out of character’ – but not fully. If you are prone to pocket squares, by all means wear one but avoid posy pretensions; fold or scrunch it neatly and inconspicuously. Ties should be darker, and with plainer more conservative patterns; psychedelic paisley may be wonderful, but it can distract an employers eyes, and therefore mind, from your ingenuous ramblings on working with charities in Africa.

Good but not your ‘best’

Some people might believe I would wear my ‘best’ suit to a job interview – to create the best impression, to be ‘remembered’; however, being remembered as the lad in the ‘lovely tailored suit’ may not go down well when the selection procedure is furthered. Whilst others might be remembered for their earnestness, wide vocabulary or attractive self-confidence, you might only be remembered for the beauty of your costume. The suit should be a good suit, no question. I would frequently favour a single breasted medium-grey suit – black looks cheap and, should there be nervous scratchings of the head, shows up snowfall-dandruff on the lapels. Whilst I have many unique shirts such as French collared pinks and lilacs, interesting checks and stripes, a light plain shirt is versatile and lacks the distraction-factor.

Best foot forward

The one sartorial area to really captivate the employer by revealing a caring and dedicated character is in footwear; men frequently wear ghastly shoes, at least they do in London, and in an interview, wearing incorrect, scruffy or badly kept footwear can sometimes be a deal-breaker. “Women really do judge a man by his shoes – it shows whether he cares or not” a friend once told me, and it seems to be true; the first thing female colleagues notice on me are my shoes and when I asked one of them if they could remember five or six pairs that I owned, they reeled through eight or nine from memory. This is not only an area to excel in if the interviewer happens to be female, it is also advisable for the inevitable comparisons with other prospective employees; well cleaned and polished black Oxfords with neatly tied, non-fraying laces (make the bows small) make a serious statement, especially when they are flashed in a confident crossing of the legs.