My philosophy has always been to buy classic items that will last me a long time, in the best quality I can afford. Over time, I will upgrade the clothes I have and give away the old ones, rather than merely accumulate. There’s nothing wrong with variety, but I want my clothes to be worn regularly. Buying something cheap that will rarely be used is not value for money.

Buying extremely high-quality clothes that won’t go out of style, and looking after them well, is almost a form of miserliness. Though I do seem to spend more and more money on clothes over time. Hmm.

I was pleased to prove loyal to this theory in the January sales. Having saved up a few hundred pounds in the preceding months, I was on the lookout for one of two classic items: a navy, double-breasted overcoat or a pair of black Oxfords. My only overcoat is not that suitable for business and I really need more than one pair of black shoes.

My luck struck at George Cleverley, one of England’s oldest and arguably best bespoke shoemakers.

It’s not the easiest place to find, or even to get into. Tucked half way down the Royal Arcade off Bond Street, it’s a small shop that requires a doorbell summons. I had been in once out of curiosity, but was lured in this time by the ready-to-wear shoes that were going for £225 down from £400.

Something much better was in store for me, though. (No pun intended.)

The sales assistant Andy pointed out to me that Cleverley was selling off a few bespoke and semi-bespoke shoes that had either not been picked up by clients or were ex-display. In the case of the bespoke shoes, that meant a reduction in price from £2000-£2500 to £300-£500.

The shoes are made by hand; the difference between the bespoke and semi-bespoke being that, with bespoke, the sole is also sewn on by hand. Apparently this adds up to £1000 to the price.

Of course, they were made specifically for someone else’s feet, not mine. But then any pair of ready-to-wear shoes is made for another pair of feet as well – the mythical average or standard proportions that no one actually conforms to.

Of the three pairs on offer, two were too wide and had too much arch support. The third fit very well. A little big across the bridge perhaps, but only a little.

Interestingly, I didn’t have my normal problem with any of the bespoke or semi-bespoke shoes. For those who haven’t read all about my feet and their oddities on this blog, the “normal problem” is that a narrow shoe crunches my little toe while a broad shoe, or a bigger shoe, leaves too much room at the back – there isn’t enough purchase to stop my heel from lifting out.

Bespoke shoes are generally made with narrower heels and higher backs. The heel can afford to be narrower because there is no risk of preventing some men from actually getting their foot in (a similar dynamic to suit sleeves always being a little too long – few people notice if they’re long but everyone notices if they’re short).

The back can afford to be higher for a similar reason – it can curve more to the shape of the client’s heel and not risk being too tight on anyone else.

This is one reason shoe horns have fallen out of use – it is almost impossible to get into a bespoke shoe without one, even if you’re in a hurry and don’t care about ruining the heel’s structure.

(In the book “Spies” by Michael Frayn, he describes life during the Second World War in England – a time he lived through. The hat stands in the hall are remembered as being “littered with shoe horns, clothes brushes and the like”. How many houses are like that today?)

Of course, the most noticeable thing about a bespoke shoe is the shape of its sole – particularly the waist. As the picture shows, the waist is far narrower than on a ready-to-wear shoe. The sole also does not mirror itself as it curves around the rest of the foot, turning outwards earlier and much more sharply on the instep. This reflects the actual shape of the foot more accurately.

Bespoke shoes are also a lot lighter (I don’t know the reason for this, if anyone does please tell me) and are rounded or “bevelled” across the whole sole. Sit them on the ground and they can rock slightly from side to side.

The reason ready-to-wear shoes have wider waists, flat soles and symmetric sides is economics – just like everything else in the manufacture of clothes. It takes longer to do it, so it costs more, so they don’t do it.

(As a side note, it does not do to follow this rule absolutely. Things that take more time and are therefore more expensive are not necessarily better. A seven-fold tie, for instance, is harder to construct but is arguably of no greater quality – different types of tie construction are largely a matter of taste and personal preference.)

Anyway, back to the shoes. I bought that third bespoke pair, as you have probably guessed. On the way out, one of the craftsmen (there is still work done on the premises) congratulated me on the purchase, mentioning that the shoes were originally made for a hedge fund manager whose fund went bust. Apparently he lost £80 million.

The craftsman also mentioned that the shoe trees alone normally cost £200, yet they were thrown in with the price. A pretty good bargain, and true to my philosophy of upgrading rather than merely adding to a collection. I may never be able to afford real bespoke, but having shoes made with that quality of craftsmanship is a significant step up.

The only problem now is I only get to buy one thing in the sales. No more browsing for the rest of January.

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Dmytro

Simon,first of all thank you a lot for your blog posts-as a young professional who just started working here in the UK I find your advices really helpful, especially these about basic wardrobe items- like shoes, suits etc.

I have a question to you considering sales in London shops- many of the more expensive ones (like Ralph Lauren, Reiss, Hackett etc) have 30% sales on their items max. Do you think the price can still go down on them, or should I accept the one they offer me today? Because I have already found some nice, but still quite expensive pieces.

Thank you and keep going 🙂 By the way, an idea for the next blog entry- giving a couple of your best choice brands for different clothing types (the way you did it with slim-fit shirts). Would like to read about pants/cardigans/etc.

Ian

Hi Simon,

A big thank you.

I’ve recently got into high-end shoes and have been following your posts on Berluti and Corthay. I find your posts fascinating and I can’t wait for your Corthay post.

Phil

For what it’s worth, here is something I have learnt the hard-way! If you see something in the sales, it should
be something that you set out to buy, something that you would have paid the full price for (if you could afford it) and something that REALLY fits. If it’s a piece that you really love and something that will become a core part of your wardrobe for years to come then it will be worth whatever you pay (within reason). It’s better to secure it at 30% off, than wait for the 50/60% reduction and find it’s been sold! However, if you are buying it simply because ‘it used to be this price’ then it’s better to save your money. I’ve lost count of the number of items of clothing that have ended up in the charity shop bag because ‘it’s a little too big on the shoulders, but it’s 75% off!’ I recently purchased a silk and cashmere pocket square which was reduced from £45 to £30, I thought that I might wait in case it was reduced again to £20 because I thought that it was too much for such a small item, especially in a climate of such ‘economic doom’. However, I knew I loved it and imagined how sad I would be if I returned and found they had all sold out, so I tried to forget that you can buy nice shirts in the sales for less and bought it. It’s an item of real quality and sits in the pocket without any need for maintenance because it’s slid down or ridden up. I treat it carefully and fold it when not in use and would be amazed if I am not still using it in 30 years time.
There has been a lot written recently about the ‘inevitability’ that luxury items will be heavily reduced. I just don’t believe that it will happen. Luxury companies will just shrink their staff and concentrate on classic design that will last many seasons – they are classic iconic luxuries for a reason, because they are out of the reach of the many. If Tesco started stocking Chanel, Hermes and Rolex etc they would loose that cache and in turn their quality and desirability. More and more I believe that quality and classic design will remain the DNA of style. The harder times get the more valuable people will find classic, quality design – owning something like a Rolex or Hermes bag transcends fashion, it’s craftsmanship and attention to detail that comes with a price, and that price cannot fall, because it’s price IS it’s value and it’s value IS it’s price, the two are linked, one without the other and the very nature of their existence is shattered! A Ferrari will never fall in price to compete with a Ford! Enzo Ferrari would always insist that they made an odd number of each car. For example they would produce 1246 of a particular model because Enzo said that there would be at least 1247 people who wanted one! If you could look out of your window and see that every other car was a Ferrari, then the very desirability and aspiration factor would evaporate overnight. Discounting a Hermes bag is like saying, if this boom economy keeps going Next and Primark prices will rise to match those of luxury labels like Gucci and Chanel. As long as you can focus on real quality and craftsmanship above fashion, the price you pay becomes almost irrelevant, something which costs £500 and is worn for 15 years is more of a ‘bargain’ than three items which were reduced by 80%, which you wear once and then leave at the back of the wardrobe until they eventually finds their way into the charity bag. Gianni Agnelli had his suits made by Caraceni since the 1950’s and when he died a collection of 20 were passed down to his Grandson lapo Elkann. Despite having a more flamboyant style than his Grandfather, the suits that form the nucleus of his wardrobe ensure that he is voted one of the top 10 best dressed men of the year, every year. There are great adverts for Patek Phillipe watches that use a black and white image with the tag line “you don’t own a PP, you simply look after it for the next generation”.

Sorry, this has turned into a rant from an intended small piece of advice learnt the hard-way!

Phil

Ian

Thanks again, Simon. I’ve found your Corthay post. It’s another good read. By the way, have you heard of a Florence based Japanese bespoke shoemaker called Hidetaka Fukaya? His shoes are quite sublime.

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1WjOPiQV8Q

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cn3xBG6k9U&feature=related

Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DsIcF5U-e8&feature=related

Finally, what is your view on putting thin rubber “protector” on leather soles? Despite the obvious benefit, brands such as Berluti, Church’s and Santoni discourage the practice. I think the main reason is that it would make resoling difficult, and that one should allow the leather room to breathe. But some have suggested that it is part of marketing and that resoling is a revenue generator for shoe manufacturers.
It would be great if you could share your view on this.

Warm regards,
Ian

Dmytro

2Phil:

Phil, I fully agree with your post and the idea, that luxury and expensive things last forever because of their outstanding design and quality.

However, the sales thing for me is that I have just started building up”the proper”wardrobe, and unfortunately just can’t afford doing that only from luxury pieces (even if this is a good investment- it is still unaffordable for me).

That’s why I’m looking for quality brands on sale- having Church’s shoes at the price of 2 pairs from Clarks(but not 5), the coat from Reiss at the price of GAP only two months ago etc. And of course, not forgetting about the right fit (since I read Simon’s blog carefully :)))

Phil

Dmytro – I have always found that the right top quality shoes and accessories can lift an outfit of simple clothes. If you are lucky enough to be able to find that M&S off the peg suits fit you well, you can normally pick up some of their high-end material suits in the sales at really low prices. Wearing them with a Zegna /Loro Piana tie and Tod’s / Church shoes and a simple white pocket square can give the impression that the whole outfit is of a much higher quality. A lot of the M&S suits have working cuffs and use very good quality material. These are the suits which tend to be heavily reduced because I think that there are a lot of people who would not pay £300 plus for a M&S suit, so they often get reduced down by 75%. The other place that is good to try for quality clothes is the Bicester Village outlet centre near Oxford. I have picked up Loro Piana cashmere ties for £30 (£150 in Bond Street) and scarfs for £50/70 (£300 in Bond Street) – I recently got a LP linen shirt for £60 reduced form £270. The Ralph Lauren store there often has big reductions on the Purple label line, possibly because most people seem to want something with the logo on. My grandfather always used to say ‘buy cheap, you’ll buy twice’. Stretching to buy an item of real quality has very often proved to save me money. In the early 80’s I bought a Rolex Oyster and it’s never left my wrist since, if I hadn’t I would probably have bought a series of more and more expensive watches over the years and ended up spending far more. As it is I have a vintage Rolex that is worth more than the current models. It’s funny how in time you forget what you paid for something and only really think about the quality and how much use you have had from it.

tintin

I spent a wonderful afternoon in Cleverley a couple of years ago. I was shown the workroom and the two last rooms upstairs and had a long discussion regarding the craft, shoe porn, shell cordovan, London rents and passion for things hnadmade with John Carnera…a nicer man I have yet to meet. I bought nothing but was treated like a long time customer.

When I pull the trigger it will be with Cleverley. If Sterling would move just a tad more south… Thanks for visiting the Trad.

Dmytro

2 Phil:

Thanks a lot for your style and shopping suggestions- I find them all very useful. And I like the idea of nice quality accessories being worn with ordinary suits or whatever- thank you.

That is what I am basically wanting to do now- having three cheap, but still well-fitting Zara suits, I want to add some nice shirts and ties to them, as well as nice shoes of a good quality (I liked the ones from Church’s very much).

Do you (and you, Simon, and all you guys reading this blog) think the same scheme goes on well with casual clothes? Like buying well-fitted, but not expensive pants or chinos from Banana Republic, Gap etc., and mixing them with nice Ralph Lauren or Lacoste polos, for example?

Phil

Dmytro – I think that the basic key is always going to be the fit. A £20 pair of jeans that really fit will always look 100 times better than a £300 pair that don’t suit your frame. I don’t actually own a single item with a visable logo, somewhere in the price you are paying for it so I always prefer to find a shirt, or jumper in a real quality fabric, at least you know that you are paying for the material and workmanship and not the logo. It’s worth taking time to try all sorts of high street shops in the hope that you will find one that really suits you. I always try something on without looking in the mirror first, that way you can concentrate on how it feels. If something doesn’t feel comfortable and sits well on your shoulders etc, it really doesn’t matter how it looks, you will just spend time fidgeting around trying to get comfortable in it. I always notice that my wife will have a totally different way of standing if she feels good in something, her whole posture is totally different if she emerges from the changing room in something that she doesn’t feel right in. If you’ve got confidence in what you are wearing you can get away with almost anything. Agnelli proved it for decades! Good luck in the sales!

Justin

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Geoff

Simon, I live in the US and have the same foot problem as you.

I have a pair of C and J handgrades but the little toe gets pinched. A wider shoe does not fit in the heel.

Are there any RTW shoes that you think I should try or should I save up and try Bespoke?

This is a frustrating problem. I have tried tongue pads as well but they do not help too much.

I greatly enjoy your blog and would apprciate any suggestions.

Thanks

kissouyin

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rnssnc

i’m glad to find so many like minded shoe people, again, congratulations on the purchase, lovely shoe… although cleverley is not really my style, especially their house style that everyone seems to love… maybe i’m just weird.

those corthays that you posted though, wow… just wow.

Bruce

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Anonymous

I have the same problem as you Simon regarding wide feet and narrow heels.

What should one do if you can’t afford bespoke?

Demitri

Just stumbled upon this post and I know it’s seve years old (was 09 really that long ago?!) so I’m not hoping for the best but how did you find out about the sale, did you just wander in or did you find it online, for me it seems like companies at the higher end are notoriously difficult at finding out about sales

Sandy

Hi Simon,
I am a regular reader of your blog and I stumbled into this piece. When you wrote this piece, you were saving pounds (literally) for buying items on sale – you have stated you will never be able to afford a bespoke shoe !! Yet, all your regular readers now know about your wonderful collection of bespoke shoes and suits that you have managed to acquire – paying the full price for it.

So just curious to know how you managed to do it – did you win a lottery ? 🙂

Nikki

Simon, perhaps it is time for a “how good things age” sort of post for these Cleverleys? Curious how they are after 10 years. Cheers.

Sergey

Hi Simon,
Which company/bespoke-maker you can recommend for a first pair of bespoke shoes with a traditional round toe shape like Edward Green last 202 ?