My recent article on my expansive, though scarcely expensive, shoe collection revealed that, in the balance between quantity and quality, I lean more towards the former. Deborah Carre from Carre Ducker made a good point that if I had less greed for variety, I could have purchased maybe one, two or three pairs of some outstanding handmade bespoke shoes of superior quality that would last many more years than the ready-to-wear, predominantly ‘high street’ collection that I possessed.
Whilst this is true, it is indubitably based on how long a shoe lasts for the average person. The average person, as far as I can see, does not have twenty odd pairs of shoes to rotate through, thus maintaining the ‘fitness’ of the shoes through less-than-average use. Average use, from the cursory research I conducted, is wearing a shoe every other day. My black punch cap New & Lingwood Oxfords, purchased in 2003, have lasted seven years and are far from finished; they have only been resoled once and, due to shoe rotation, look a great deal better than many others of the same vintage. Whilst the collection looks gluttonous, it is as much a lesson in longevity as in variety – and if you can have both, for a reasonable price, then what is the issue?
The same goes for suits. A large suit collection, of say 20-30 suits, sounds like gross extravagance but if you wear one everyday, proper circulation should ensure greater wear. No matter how well made a suit is, how thick a fabric, if you plonk yourself down in it, type in it, drink in it and dine in it every damn day, it will soon wear out. There is no doubt that a well-made, tailored suit will last longer than a mass-produced suit, but should you be throwing your entire collection of high street suits on eBay to purchase a single bespoke? Absolutely not. Not only is owning a single suit rather dull, no matter how beautifully it is crafted, it will not outlast you if you subject it to 365 days of wear a year. Holes will appear, fabric will fray; suits, like shoes, need a break if they are expected to last.
This is why I advocate the sustained increase, rather than decrease, in the variety of a gentleman’s suit wardrobe. By all means aspire to greater suits but consider living within your means above lofty expectations of quality. I recently spoke to a gentleman who purchased one Henry Poole suit in his early days as a stockbroker in the 1960s. His elders and betters, similarly attired by equivalent Savile Row tailors, were rather unimpressed, believing that they alone were entitled to march through their Bank offices in bespoke English suits. The lesson came when, his salary frozen, he was unable to purchase any other suit; his savings were gone and his profligacy a point of regret. “I couldn’t afford the suit” he said “and I ended up buying more, of course, at great expense.”
He informed me that it was only a doting father, himself a Savile Row account holder, who backed future purchases. Others, in straitened circumstances, might not be so lucky.