About Andrew Watson

Andrew Watson is the editor of men's style blog www.makethman.com. He lives in Tokyo, Japan.

The Five Minute Shoeshine

There are an awful lot of “how to polish your shoes” videos floating about the ether these days, and all of them seem to recommend a different routine. Some recommend conditioning before polishing, others suggest using nothing but cream, and you might even find videos that recommend using rendered down bits of mustelidae to waterproof leather soles.

Being inherently lazy I will, unless there’s a damned good reason for it, opt for the easiest possible method. In the case of polishing shoes, I make do with the following kit:

Cleaning brush x1

I use this for quickly cleaning off dried-on muck on the uppers and welt. I’ll also give leather soles a quick brushing down if they need it.

Old rag x3
These are usually old t shirts. I keep one for applying cream and conditioner, one for wet wiping and one for dry wiping.

Shoe cream x2
I usually only use two types of cream: black for black shoes and natural for all the others. I keep a number of shades of brown cream in reserve, just in case I need to touch over any scratches. Saphir is my brand of choice. Their creams contain a smidgeon of beeswax to help waterproof the uppers.

Leather conditioner x1

A bottle of leather conditioner goes a long way towards keeping shoes supple. They can be pricier than creams or polishes, but one bottle tends to last for quite a long time.

Polishing brush x1
Some people like to have separate brushes for brown and black shoes, but I stick with using just the one. I’ve not found that the brown wax residue transfers on to my black shoes, or vice versa.

The polishing method

Use conditioner one week and cream – or wax, if you prefer – the next. Either way, the polishing procedure is the same:

1. Clean


Ensure that your shoes are dry, then brush them down do remove any hardened on muck, dust and whatnot. Make sure you get those bristles into stubborn bits like the welt. If your shoes are particularly hacky, wipe them down with a wet rag, wipe the excess water off with a dry rag, and then brush them down again. Soles can be quickly scrubbed down with a brush if necessary, as well.

2. Apply


Rather than a brush I recommend using rag-wrapped fingers to apply cream or conditioner. This enables you to actually feel which parts of the shoe are the most dried out and apply accordingly. Wrap a rag firmly around your index and middle fingers and lightly dip it into the cream, then rub it into the leather using circular motions. Use a corner of the rag to get deep into the crack between the welt and upper. The whole applying process shouldn’t take more than a few minutes per shoe.

3. Leave to dry


Or, to be more precise, clean and then apply cream to your other shoe: by the time you’re done the first shoe should be dry. If it isn’t, then you’ve probably splurged on more cream than is necessary.

4. Polish


Grab your polishing brush and give it some welly. Work from the wrist, rather than the elbow, to get your shoes polished off with speed (now there’s an instruction that could be easily be misconstrued). I usually find that a brush provides enough shine, but if you really want a mirror-like finish give your shoes a final going over with a taut rag.

How often should I apply leather conditioner?
Applying conditioner and cream each week is unnecessary unless your shoes have undergone a traumatic event of some kind, such as being soaked through and dried out more than once over a five-day period. Use conditioner one week and cream – or wax, if you prefer – the next. Either way, the polishing procedure is the same.

Buying a Pair of Shoes for £300: Church’s, Crockett & Jones or Tricker’s?

Picking out a good pair of shoes is something that I’ve wanted to do for a while. That’s not to say that my current crop of dress shoes is terrible – I’ve got a small but solid collection that served me very well for the past few years – but I’ve long fancied a pair of solid, Northampton-made jobbies that both look the part and can stand up to the elements. After long periods of lurking and reading through old StyleForum threads I narrowed down my search to three manufacturers who produce a reasonable range of quality shoes at around the £300 mark: Church’s, Crockett & Jones and Tricker’s.


I started by looking at Church’s, whose mid-market collections seem to be, at full price at least, the most expensive of the three, though it’s not hard to find a pair on sale for around £300 from any number of retailers. A common, largely unsubstantiated, view that I came across in my travails is that the quality of Church’s shoes has gone down in recent years, especially since they were bought by Italian fashion giant Prada. This opinion seems more due to the fact that they now have a fairly large, modern(ish) production line, and are therefore not quite as “handmade” as some of the other Northampton-based manufacturers, than for any real decline in standards. From what I can gather, most long-term Church’s wearers continue to be very happy with the quality of their shoes, especially in terms of fit and comfort. A number of people said that they weren’t particularly hard wearing, but as they gave no indication of the model of shoe, nor the kind of activities they were doing while wearing them, I could neither confirm nor deny these claims (and let’s not forget that James Bond wears Church’s!).

Crockett & Jones
Crockett & Jones’s reputation has soared in recent years. The prevailing view seems to be that, in terms of quality of leather, design and value for money, their shoes are hard to beat. Excepting their country range, C&J’s tend to be sleeker than Church’s or Tricker’s, which makes them a good match for Italian-made suits. Their general narrowness may be a concern for the wide-footed (C&J’s standard fitting is E, Church’s is F), but it really depends on the type of last used during construction (a StyleForum search for “’Crockett and Jones’ + lasts” will provide you with all the info you’ll need on the subject). As always, try on a number of pairs before you buy to avoid disappointment.

Unfortunately for consumers, Crockett & Jones’s current surge in popularity and relatively small production capacity has resulted in a backlog of orders. This might be bad for those wishing to get their hands on a pair ASAP, but it is a plus in other ways: they don’t have the kind of massive financial backing that will allow them to increase production without sacrificing quality and, thankfully for us, have decided that the latter is more important.


Finally we have Tricker’s, who are most famous for their range of hard-wearing, thick-soled country boots and shoes. The boots, especially, come in a dazzling array of limited styles and colours and are immensely popular with the Harajuku kids here in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the general clamour for Tricker’s heavily-brogued boots seems to have blinded many to their two very good dress shoe collections: Jermyn Street and 1829. In terms of quality and value for money these lines are favourably compared to Crockett & Jones’s. Most of their leather-soled shoes have channel stitching, and some even use oak-tanned leather, which is something that you’re unlikely to find on full-price shoes costing £300.

The decision

Image courtesy of Andersons of Durham

In the end I decided on a pair of black Crockett & Jones’s Swanseas with Dainite soles (I plan on doing a lot of walking in these babies, come rain or shine, so rubber soles was a must). As is my terrible luck, the very last pair in my size sold out about a day before I placed my order, and with C&J’s current production backlog it would be at least several months before I could get my hands on a pair. Needing some shoes before autumn and winter hit, I decided not to wait and found a couple of online retailers who had a plentiful stock of Tricker’s Newburys (pictured above) for almost exactly the same price as the Swanseas. I’d already tested out a pair of Tricker’s that used the same last and felt confident enough to buy them “untried”. Hopefully in a few weeks’ time I’ll be able to report back on the fit and quality of these shoes, and on the service of the online retailer who provided them. As for a pair of Crockett & Jones’s, well, maybe next year…

Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was Twenty-Two


While checking through the latest posts from men’s fashion blogs it struck me that the vast majority of my favourite writers are younger than me (I’m thirty), often by a good five or six years. Looking back at how much I knew about style when I was their age is a rather humbling experience. When I was twenty-two the most stylish suit I owned – or so I thought – was a ventless chocolate brown number that I had made by a Bangkok tailor. I used to wear it with black loafers and walk around Tokyo thinking I was the daddy. The shame, the horror…

But I guess we all have at least one regrettable clothing episode from our younger days to contend with. Knowing what I do now, I’d love to go back in time and tell my younger self a thing or two. It would probably be along the lines of:

“Get those trousers hemmed”
Unless you’ve got real fashion nous it’s always best to have your trouser legs hemmed long enough to cover your ankles. However, there’s no need for them to rumple up over your laces, as mine used to.

“Buy some decent ties”
Having lots of ties isn’t necessarily a good thing. I used to have a lot of ties but 70 per cent of them were cheap and, to be quite honest, pretty disgusting to look at. In those days, when money was tight, quality and versatility should have been my priorities, not variety. Just three ties – a good solid navy, a grey, and a repp stripe – would have seen me through most occasions.

“Wear your work clothes with pride”
When the time comes to enter the world of work men either embrace the smartness that wearing a suit and tie can provide, or rebel against it by permanently leaving the top shirt button undone and purposefully yanking the tie knot down in a dishevelled manner. I was one of the latter. One thing that time has taught me is that few – if any – people appreciate an unkempt shirt and tie. I have to admit that I find it hard to resist the urge to tell scruffy oiks to sort their ties out, especially when the knot is halfway down the chest and the tip is floating somewhere south of their crown jewels.

“Think about colour”
God knows what possessed me when I decided that my first tailored suit should be brown. In fact I’m surprised the tailor didn’t smack me over the head with his heaviest swatch book and throw me out by my ears. The same goes for shirts and shoes, which I mixed together with little regard for whether they would compliment the rest of my outfit. I’d direct my younger self to a copy of Alan Flusser’s Dressing the Man.

“Buy one pair of dark brown brogues”
If I’d known how versatile brown brogues are it would have saved me an awful lot of money in the long run. If I’d bought one good pair of Crockett and Jones when I was twenty-two I probably wouldn’t have spent anywhere near as much on poor quality shoes, and I’d still be wearing them now.

“Remember that you’re not playing American football”

Either I’ve lost a lot of weight in the past eight years or my shoulder pads were way too big back then. I’d recommended that my younger self buy suits and jackets with barely padded or natural shoulders. I’ve found that, for me at least, they look and feel far more comfortable and “right” than more structured ones. If you haven’t got big shoulders then just go with it – big shoulder pads don’t fool anyone.

Buying Ready-to-Wear Shirts in Japan: Beams

Here at Men’s Flair we frequently discuss that most essential item of men’s attire: the dress shirt. One aspect of it that we repeatedly mention, like Howard Hughes on a bad day, is the fit. Even a $300 shirt can make you look bad if it’s baggy and ill-proportioned, and with so many options available these days, men really don’t have an excuse for wearing something that looks like it once hosted the Cirque du Soleil.

Finding that perfectly-fitting shirt can be a long, difficult process. The best solution is, of course, to have shirts made to your body’s proportions. But even going custom won’t guarantee a good fit if you can’t try it on during the construction process, and it’s sometimes impractical for busy chaps to find a decent tailor and then make the time to visit him for sizings.

While traipsing around various parts of Tokyo I’ve looked through many a menswear shop in search of the ideal ready-to-wear shirt. As you would expect, most ready-to-wear shirts here are designed to fit the standard profile of Japanese men, who tend to be smaller in the chest and shoulders – and shorter in the arms – than westerners of similar height. Nevertheless, I’ve found that in terms of fit, as well as price and quality, Beams’s shirts are among the best of any country.


All of Beams’s own-brand shirts are (to my knowledge, at least) made in Japan. In general, their collars are a great deal softer than most English-made shirts, giving a more relaxed feel. The semi-spread is the most prevalent collar type (and arguably the most practical, as it looks good with ties of varying widths), but I’m quite partial to the button-down variety, especially during summer.

Flat, rather than placket, shirt fronts are the norm. I was a bit unsure about this at first, but have actually grown to prefer them. The yoke is sometimes (but not always) seamed in the middle, and the back panel is almost always darted. The darts serve to suppress the fabric around the chest and midriff, giving a more fitted look. I haven’t found my arm movement restricted in any way by the lack of pleating, but their absence might make the chest area a bit tight for the barrel-chested.

Beams’s shirts are made from a variety of cottons in different weights. Most of the ones I own are made from lightweight 2-ply cotton, but I do have the odd heavier-weight Oxford cloth that’s a bit more casual. I’ve found that, regardless of type, the fabric is of good quality and able to withstand the weekly wearing-and-washing routine without any special treatment. I’ve had the pink one (pictured top left) for at least four years and it still looks very respectable.

It’s traditionally been quite hard to find Beams gear outside Japan. Inventory magazine’s Vancouver shop sells quite a few Beams-branded items, but they tend to be more casual shirts and whatnot for “urban rambler” types. Zozotown – a vast online clothes shopping mall that caters to young Japanese and offers virtually the entire inventory of Beams, United Arrows, et al – might one day start an international shipping service, but right now you’ll have to go through a proxy shopping service like FromJapan.co.jp, or find someone in Japan who will buy and ship the goods on your behalf.

The Smart-Casual Dilemma


I’m a big fan of polo shirts. Their pique weave makes them perfect for wicking away sweat during the long, hot summer months from July to September; they’re low maintenance; they suit almost everybody; and their collar serves to make them that bit smarter than crew or v-neck tees.

On weekends, the polo shirt is without doubt my most essential “go to” item – I have at least six or seven in various colours. However, I’ve never quite been able to pull them off in the workplace. I often see guys wearing polo shirts in a smart-casual setting and think “Yeah, that looks okay,” but when I try it I look like a thirty-something golfing dad who’s got lost on his way to the clubhouse. It is, in a word, perplexing.

Finding the right balance between weekend and weekday wardrobes is essential to pulling off smart-casual. I often veer from one to the other without finding much common ground in between. With polo shirts, I just can’t seem to reconcile them with anything particularly smart. Perhaps it’s my subconscious’s way of saying, “Andy, this is not a road you want to go down. Many have been there before – the hosts of Top Gear, Jay Leno, David Hasselhoff – and have failed miserably in the great amphitheatre of men’s style. You will fare no better.” Or perhaps I’m just over-thinking the whole thing. After all, I live in a city where people go around dressed like gothic Bo Peeps and people act as if it’s the most normal thing in the world (apart from my mate Jeff, who pokes them with shitty sticks until they run home with watery black mascara streaming down their crimson cheeks).

For me, smart casual still implies wearing a proper, buttoned shirt. The shirt might be cut from a different cloth than usual – a linen/cotton mix, bright check pattern or even a dose of chambray (hmm, maybe not chambray) – but it is still a shirt. A t-shirt and suit/jacket combination is not something that I’m particularly comfortable with. If you can pull it off, then great, but it’s very easy to come off as a Z-list, ex Big Brother contestant at a supermarket opening. Attitude might be the key, here, methinks. The same goes for trainers and suits… in fact it’s best not to start on that one. Life is too short.

So, what do you think reasonably constitutes smart-casual? How do you deal with those invitations with “smart casual” boldly printed in the dress code section?