Archives for June 2009

Ha! You Think These Are Golf Shoes?


Golf shoes are the living memory of classic footwear. Within them the traditions of the past live on in a way not possible in any other walk of life (apologies for the pun).

This is because golf retains the twin features of social propriety and gentlemanly sport.

It used to be the case that one’s dress was driven by strict social mores. The proper attire for work, play and formal events was minutely prescribed, the punishment social ostracism.

(To an extent, this is one reason that royalty or celebrities often drove new fashions: they had the prominence to make something popular, but also the position to get away with it. Beau Brummell learned this social power of royalty to his cost when he famously snubbed his erstwhile compatriot, Prince George.)

Golf clubs are one of the few places in today’s society where similar rules and a sense of propriety can still be found. Formal day events such as weddings and Easter Sunday lost that a long time ago. Equally many aspects of conducting business.

This is one reason that golf shoes still retain such similarity to the ‘sporting’ shoes that were worn when the activity first became popular. Brogues were initially worn, because they were more casual than the undecorated shoes worn for business. Over time, other more casual shoes – spectators, saddle shoes, shoes with tassels – became part of golf clothing.

But while the rest of society’s dress went hurtling towards informality, golf moved very slowly. Other shoes, those more resembling trainers, were gradually allowed as the club rules softened. But society had sped past – pursuing jeans, t-shirts and flip-flops. So the shoes that, ironically, were originally worn for golf because they were casual, became some of the most formal worn outside the office. The became a residue of past convention.

The other reason that golf has retained traditional footwear is that, let’s face it, it is not a very active sport. In the twenties tennis shoes were leather-soled and made of nubuck. But then tennis was a social diversion where the objective was to hit the ball to the other player, not away from him – like playing bat-and-ball on the beach. As the sport became more competitive, its clothing became more flexible and athletic.

Golfers are sportsmen and they get injuries. But they don’t run around a lot. So the tasselled spectator has survived – it provides support and can have spikes screwed into the sole; what more do you need?

That’s why I find it funny when people see my spectators (pictured) and ask how the greens were that morning.


Cheap Bespoke Part 2

My post just over a week ago on the possibilities of finding cheap bespoke shoes by separately arranging for a personal last and a maker has drawn a lot of comment, both on the sites and privately through email or meetings.

To respond to one point quickly – I do not mind commissioning an independent worker rather than a bespoke company in London (that has invested “in bricks and mortar”) as small artisans need as much support as any manufacturer, no matter how small. I have also invested enough (indeed, many would say, too much) in the English shoe industry over the years.

Now to the main point: commissioning your own shoes. Those that responded to me agreed with my conclusion that simply sending a scan of your foot to Springline and then sending that to an independent shoemaker would not produce a well-fitting shoe. Bespoke is about process and about trial-and-error.
However, many people do go to the effort of producing their own lasts and then commissioning shoes. This takes more time and effort. You have to talk to the lastmaker, have him examine your feet and, if possible, see the imprint of your foot on the insole of shoes you have worn for a while.

Then you need to have a trial shoe made. This is best if it is at the stage where the shoe is ‘braced’ – an earlier stage than that at which the London firms tend to do the fitting, which is usually when the shoe is ‘in welt’.

And then return to the lastmaker for adjustments, which is easier if you have a personal relationship rather than just giving him a sheet of measurements. There will always be little things to discuss as well, like the allowance made for space at the end of your toes. This plus the length of your foot is the total length of your last – the ‘stick length’. (A hundred years ago the rule was ‘three sizes’ (one inch in total). Today most firms go shorter: two or two-and-a-half sizes.)

As with the process of having a bespoke suit made, it is as much about personal preference as about the measurements of the tailor.

Once the fit is good, the last can be altered for every subsequent order of shoes, as long as the heel pitch (height of the heel) and the toe spring (distance of the tip of the sole to the ground) remain constant.

As I said, many go to this effort and made. Some have a last made and then even buy their own leather and commission separate closers and makers. But that is the proper way to get the best-value bespoke shoes.

A couple of more points to clear up. Cliff Roberts uses lasts that are similar to those of Edward Green 888 and 202 – not the same, as this would be illegal. The guidance is largely for American customers that are ordering from further away but need a point of reference – and many have Edward Greens.

Cliff’s soles are attached by machine, but many do this (old firm Peal & Co is said to have attached all its soles by hand-cranked machine, even bespoke). The welt, however, is hand-sewn and the threads for that sewing and all handmade and hand-waxed. The heels are also built by hand.

My First English Bespoke Suit

My tailoring is taking a step up in the world. I’m having my first English bespoke suit made.

The tailor is Graham Browne, whom I have written about on this blog previously. They are located on Well Court, just off Bow Lane in the City. I had originally gone in there for alterations but decided to take the plunge with bespoke as well.

All my previous bespoke suits had been made by Edward Tam in Hong Kong but, while entirely satisfied with Edward’s work, I liked the fact that I would be able to get more of an insight into the bespoke process at Graham Browne.

Edward’s English is very good, but it is not always easy to have conversations about the finer points of jacket construction – the communication level is just not high enough. And, more importantly, I have never seen Edward’s suits being made. At Browne, the cutting is done on the premises, so I can witness that, and the sewing is done by a group based in north London, which again I will be able to visit. This will both enlighten me and, hopefully, provide some interesting reading.
I wanted an investment suit, one that is conservative enough to last me a long time and get value out of the extra money spent on bespoke. But I was also keen to have a double-breasted suit – because it is so much harder to get a good fit off the peg.

So I went for mid-blue cloth, to be made into a 6×4 double-breasted suit. I always like to have some surface interest to the material – some texture, essentially – so I looked for herringbones with some variation in the blue. Pictured are two I decided between, eventually going for the Botany merino.
I do like buttons. Probably for similar reasons to the surface texture in the wool: I like little, subtle points of individuality. Not wearing my watch over my cuff, but having brown horn buttons on a blue suit, with a nice pattern to them. Again, pictured a few I picked between, with the final decision being number 4 on this picture.
Other style points: I like a relatively built-up shoulder on a jacket, as I have sloping shoulders myself; I like a slight rope to the sleevehead; and I like the gorge (where lapels and collar meet) set a little bit higher to give a longer, fuller sweep to the lapel – in this case 2.5 inches from the shoulder rather than Browne’s standard 3.5.

One last point to consider is that I will, obviously, never undo my jacket, even when sitting down. So any ways to make this more comfortable (possibly for hours on end) are a boon. Therefore the armholes will be cut rather small and high, to give maximum reach without pulling at the back of the jacket, and the sleevehead will be fuller for similar reasons – though with a roped shoulder there is already a little bit more material in the sleevehead anyway.

Next post at the first fitting, in two weeks.

Surviving Summer


I was once asked my favourite season and responded promptly that although a rather predictable fan of summer, I adored the fact that I could wear more clothes in the colder seasons. As much as I moan about the weather in Blighty, there is invariably a time of year too warm for waistcoats, too sweaty for sweaters and even too toasty for ties; this is the time of year at which even great arbiters of elegance loosen their damp collars, at which trussed up dandies seem to vanish and, in the haze of the boozy weekend afternoons, we all seem to let ourselves go. Ella was right; “It’s too darn hot.”

In the midst of all the shedding, the cacophony of flip-flopping and the positively gruesome slime of sweat that drips onto the summer streets, there is still room for regal rebellion. It all seems rather hopeless on what one might call a ‘belter’ of a day; when the sky, irrepressibly blue, suggests temperatures that make the maximalist wince in premonition of discomfort. Stiff upper lips be damned – no one in their right mind would dress in more than they need on such a day. And why would they? Dressing well is noble, but dressing appropriately is always preferred. Anyone crass enough to brave the beating heat in a woollen suit needs an extraordinary excuse. I myself can feel rather uneasy in seeing a more than adequately clothed gentleman on a blisteringly hot afternoon.

Style, then, makes no attempt on such days? Well, for many, it certainly takes a back seat. However, to depart from style considerations entirely, to beat a complete retreat at such flimsy adversity, is rather disappointing. Real style always finds a way around minor inconveniences like temperature. Simplicity is Style’s aide-de-camp when Summer begins to singe. Material needs very careful consideration; linen and light cotton are lightweight and heat friendly, wool should be avoided. Also, thickly lined jackets and trousers should be set aside – summer scorchers are ideal days to wear unlined jackets (if jackets are desired or necessary).

How to cover the torso (for the torso should always be covered) is a quandary for many men; is a t-shirt enough? Is a polo shirt acceptable? Is a shirt too much? Generally, it depends on personal taste, and the occasion, but I do not believe shirts are any ‘warmer’ than cotton polo shirts. Particularly if the polo shirt is ‘fitted.’ T-shirts are at least more dignified than ghetto ‘tank tops’ but they are hardly fitting for anything other than sports/casual wear at the beach. Polo shirts are much more appropriate for those who seek casual elegance, but shirts – with a maximum of a two buttons undone – are still the best choice for those wishing to retain some sort of style distinction.

I have written on summer shoes before, frequently advocating espadrilles above the irritating and rather revolting flip flop. If foot-ventilation is required, there are some interesting brown and black leather sandals, some of the ‘Jesus’ type, some of the rather Gallic looking basket-weave fashion, that are far better for the man of style. At no point would any man of style wear the horrible Velcro, sports ‘technical’ sandals.

Shorts should not be of the excessively pockety ‘cargo’ variety, as seemingly useful as those pockets may be; they should be above the knee, of the tailored (i.e. smart) style and made of cotton or linen.

To conquer the flair-killing nature of summer heat, gentlemen should adopt colour in place of layering as the style mantra. Bright colours, like banana yellow, fire engine red and apple green, with complementary accessories such as belts, are brave but sophisticated choices when the weather forbids over-layering and trussing.

Keep Your Jacket On


Takizawa Shigeru makes beautiful suits and jackets. But while the style details of his tailoring stood out to me in a recent communication (particularly his emphasis on a very slim edge to the top of a jacket’s waist pocket), it was the philosophy that was unique.

Says Shigeru: “A gentleman must not take off his jacket too easily.”

“Even if you sweat, working at your desk, sitting at a bar or having a dinner with your sweet heart.

“Not even while you are driving.
“When men wear a suit or a jacket, he must not take off his jacket too easily.

“That I think is the man’s dignity.
Though at the same time we must not forget that this theory becomes true only if the clothing is graceful and comfortable enough for his movement.”

Allowing for Mr Shigeru’s English, it is a beautifully made point. And I don’t know whether the positioning of the text (reproduced here) was deliberate, but does add some poetry to the sentiment.

It is not easy wearing a jacket all day while sitting at your desk. It is particularly difficult if your arms are constantly stretched forwards at the keyboard. Perhaps most of all, there is little incentive to wear your jacket when air conditioning makes it unnecessary for warmth.

There are several things that a man can do to make his bespoke jackets easier to sit in – without, of course, just making them bigger. A smaller, higher armhole adds flexibility, as does a relatively large sleevehead that has been edged into that armhole. (Also, if you have slightly roped shoulder, as I prefer, the sleevehead is that little bit bigger anyway.)

You can also have pleats put into the back – either one in the middle or two at the sides (an ‘action back’). These were originally designed to make it easier for a man to point a gun for long periods of time. The same function almost applies to typing. Lastly, you can have the jacket half-lined only, which makes the back more breathable for those long hours sitting against a chair. The only disadvantage to this is that the back will lose its shape more easily.

For those without access to bespoke, these things may not be available. One solution is The Logical Waistcoat Theory, which I have written about enough to bore anyone, including me. But even if you don’t have any of these solutions to hand, you know you could wear your jacket a little bit more during the day. And if you do it will flatter your figure, add purpose to your shirt and tie, and most of all give a point to buying suits in the first place.