Last month, a reader asked for some recommendations of “affordable luxury”. By this, I think he meant items that weren’t necessarily that expensive, but were nonetheless luxurious. The best (a little) money could buy.
Buying the best you can afford is a founding principle of this blog. Spending that little bit more often leads to acquisitions that look better and feel better, and do both for longer. Things that age well and reward investment every day.
Here is my top five of “affordable luxury”. Depending on your wallet and generosity, it could even be a Father’s Day list.
A gold-nibbed fountain pen – from £200
This is my number one. The difference between writing with a good fountain pen and any other instrument might be greater than any other comparable upgrade. Literally every time I write with my pen (a Dunhill Sidecar) it produces a conscious pleasure, in the smoothness of the action and the flow of the script. A good fountain pen, of course, should have a gold nib. It’s what produces that smoothness and it adapts to your writing style over time. An ebonite feed is a nice extra. Read my guide to buying a fountain pen here.
Perfume – from £80
Given the effect that a beautiful fragrance can have on your mood, it’s incredible that you can buy the best in the world for less than £100. I’ve become increasingly obsessed with perfume in recent years for just this reason. It’s like hunting for the perfect capsule collection of shoes: you don’t need many – just a few for different occasions. But perfume is a lot cheaper. Check out Byredo, Frederic Malle, Creed, Etro, Bois and (yes) Tom Ford. Guide to how to wear fragrance here. And how to buy it.
Silk/cashmere socks – from £50
After a while, you don’t need more socks. Good ones last a good while, and unless you’re into pink or paisley, they are pretty versatile. The lovely thing, then, is to very occasionally upgrade to something truly luxurious. A silk and cashmere mix is wonderful for hosiery: the warmth and comfort of wool, the durability and smartness of silk. A few places stock silk/cashmere socks, but my favourites are from William Abraham. A huge step up from everything else in the market, which is reflected in the price (his start at $120).
Horn shoe horn – from £50
You use it every day (or should). And while the upgrade might not be quite as high as a fountain pen, for example, there is a definite pleasure in using a slice of buffalo horn to put your shoes on every day. Hang it on the door handle, use and replace, and watch it age nicely. For my money, it’s worth investing in the longer variety, 14 inch at least, but not attaching the stag-horn handle. Sold by most of the sartorial retailers that advertise with Permanent Style.
Hand-rolled linen handkerchief – from £15
Just on the off chance that you don’t already have one. By far the most versatile of handkerchiefs, dresses anything up and a slice of luxury for the price of a few drinks.
Great post Simon. With fountain pen brands who offer you a choice of nib (e.g. fine, bold, oblique etc), I would encourage those buying their first £200+ pen to make a sensible and conservative choice. Although nibs can be changed subsequently, this can cost 50%+ of a new version of the same pen . I am still struggling to get to grips with the triple bold oblique nib I picked with my Mont Blanc Meisterstück – everyday use has been rather hindered by a naive nib choice several years ago. Wish I’d gone for a Sidecar instead! I actually prefer the very solid, well-engineered feel of Dunhill pens to the lightweight resin of some other manufacturers.
Interesting post, thanks Simon. I think fountain pen choice is, as with bespoke tailoring, very subjective. As a lifelong, exclusive (and daily) user of a fountain pen I have to say my beloved Pelikan M800 is the best I have ever had. I trialled out lots of other candidate pens including Faber Castell but found that the ink flow was not consistent enough for my writing and sketching style. As I am left handed and use a triple broad oblique nib I am not positioning this as a universal truth but I don’t think you should call out Pelikan pens in the article for inferior construction. I very much doubt they would have omitted ebonite feeds in the interests of saving money.
Hello Simon, agree very much on the fountain pen and Frederic Malle. Where do you get your linen handkerchiefs in a workable size? I got the set of three Irish from Drakes, but they are almost like a mini tablecloth. At least none of my breast pockets can reasonably hold them. Thank you!
Simon I’d also be grateful if you could recommend somewhere to buy linen handkerchiefs from – I agree that drakes are unusable due to their large size.
hi, i’m getting married next year and i wondered if you might have some insight on, what style of suit and type of cloth would to recommend for a summer wedding?
Have a search on the blog for wedding posts…
Simon – I’m really intrigued by your comment about the “perfect capsule collection of shoes”. Sounds like you’ve done some thinking about that! I’d love to hear your thoughts on which few pairs you’d go for?
Good idea JH
My tuppence worth.
Montblanc are obvious and leak, sorry Baron Verdigris.
The best I have found for writing with, rather than displaying, are the Japanese brand Namiki, also branded as Pilot. The Vanishing point collection are fun, but the mainstay are Namiki falcon. For ink the american company Noodler do smooth flowing inks that have body.
Very useful, thank you simon, great for you to follow up on my request. Please do add in other tidbits if you find them, anything sartorial to writing, to homewares even! there is something beautiful about a well designed affordable object that will last the years!
Yes, the first point is important: we need a writing utensil which gives us satisfaction when we see the result. My choice is Pentel EnerGel. Liqid Gel 0.5. The second point is very true, but unfortunately, Weleda stopped lavendel water production and I haven’t found an alternative. Creed is expensive, but super. Socks get holes. You don’t wear boots. I like Scot-Nicols with 10% or more synthetic, chunky. You are right about horn and hankie.
Simon–You have done us a favor bringing these products to our attention. I have become an avid fan of William Abraham as well as Mes Chaussettes Rouge—-Thanks to you
No problem at all John, it’s a big pleasure
What about luxury undershirts? Smedley sea island undershirts have nice colours and the cloth is wonderful, but who wants holes at the seam joints of the short sleeves? Sunspel T-shirts may be the sturdier durable alternative?
PS: I just discovered that on this page in the right upper corner is a Sunspel ad featuring that exotic word Woad for the interesting, but forty quid more expensive T-shirt which might be the right alternative to Smedley and disintegration.
PPS: I mean the Woad Sunspel T-shirt is priced forty quid higher than the other Sunspel T-shirts, which all might prove the best alternative to the Smedleys, who ibevitable develop holes. The Woad looks exotic and is exotic, but inaffordable.
I should say Peter, I’ve always had Smedleys and never had holes
I guess I’m just brutal – my hypothesis is the cause is washing by wash machine at thirty degrees. Do you wash your Sea Island cotton by hand? What about Sunspel cotton – do you have sny T-shirts?
Usually on a delicate cycle, and in a pillow case to prevent stretching.
Do you wear undershirts simon? if so in all weather? and how do you stop overheating, even in a suit i seem to overheat going up stairs! (for reference i am slim and fit, not overweight!)
Nope, I don’t wear undershirts. I’ve mentioned before how odd I find this American habit. No one in Europe feels the need…
Dear Simon, I am surprised by your reply to the question about undershirt you claim it an American habit. How do you explain that numerous European firms manufacture undershirts? By the way, was not the T-shirt originally an undershirt?
They do, though only a minority of men wear them, in places like Switzerland and Italy. And mostly older men.
Yes, the T-shirt was originally an undershirt. But all such practical pieces have moved far beyond their original uses.
As a Brit living in America, I’ve wholeheartedly adopted the undershirt custom and can safely say it’s a huge upgrade. Your expensive tailored shirts last much longer and won’t get nasty pit stains (I imagine scrubbing them by hand with every wash would also prevent this but who has time?) Plus, when it’s hot, you won’t get big wet armpit patches.
(That’s probably more about armpit sweat than anybody wants to hear, but it’s amazing how noticeable it is whenever I travel back to England!)
Two key things to bear in mind are to always get v necks so no t shirt is visible when you go tieless, and to get them in grey so they don’t show through your shirt (sounds counter-intuitive but grey seems to blend better with skin tone under a light coloured shirt.)
Rapha’s winter collar – i got one for my sister who runs, in the purple. I got mine for my winter cycle commute, in grey. Considering that full Lycra snoods will cost you £20, getting Rapha design, 98% merino for £25 is a steal, imho.
Great call. I put their arm warmers or indeed any base layer stuff, in the same category. Great winter t-shirts
Another gem of an article !
It appeals to every ‘pocket’ and the link-to pages , particularly on perfume, are very informative.
Thanks very much for taking the trouble to confide both conditions why your Smedleys don’t develop holes at the lowest seam joint between trunk and sleeve. Yes, 30 degrees as wash machine setting is a failure, so delicate must be a setting perhaps at 20. The pillow to constrain the Sea Island or Sea Island quality (I forgot which Smedley claims) cotton weave from expansion in water turbolence is a good idea! But it’s too late. The Smedley undershirts are too damaged. I do not intend to buy more. My feeling is Sea Island cotton is great, but takes too much trouble. Why not Sunspel Egyptian (?) cotton T-shirts instead?
Unrelated question. Just started my first grad job and will be looking to build up a collection of good shoes. I am thinking the first pair should be brown and versatile. My office is casual and I often wear jeans but sometimes cords and will be looking to buy flannels at some point. What style of shoe would you advise? I’m thinking dark brown, brogues perhaps? I want them to look contemporary rather than classic. In terms of brands, do you have any ideas for around the £200 mark, other than Cheaney, Barker, and the higher end Loake ranges? Don’t know if I can stretch to C&J yet.
Similar quesiton with regards to watch… I know there’s no getting around how expensive good ones are, but are there any brands up to around £200 that will do me something respectable?
Hey Alex – I think this might be one for a reader question post at some point. What do you think?
I only have brown boots, so I endorse brown – which has variations, all beautiful – and half-boots, boots! Brogue is the ornament, correct? I don’t know brands you don’t, but your budget corresponds to when and where you buy.
Sure, that’d be great. Thanks Simon.
I know you often feature fairly aspirational items but I can’t be the only one trying to dress well on a budget!
Absolutely not. Always try to help out when I can
I believe I’m confused: Brogue is the construction, Budapest is the ornament?
Broguing is ornament – the punching of holes in the upper leather
Thanks, Simon! If I would know the etymology of brogue, I’m sure it would make sense.
That wouldn’t really help. It’s to do with Scottish bogs and letting water out through holes…
Dear Scholar Simon,
Thanks, I’ll check that! Sounds like perspiration of Mother Nature (rain) for which clever and practical shoemakers found solutions. Undershirt wear can help absorb sweat, so that beautiful cornflower blue lightweigh flannel jackets are protected from dancing sweat in hot disco temples.
Great post, Simon. I have one problem with applying your fountain pen wisdom, though. You say:
“The other, secondary indication of quality is the feed, which sits underneath the nib and funnels ink into it from the cartridge or pump. Better feeds are made of ebonite, a form of hardened rubber. The alternative is plastic, which cannot stay wet in the same way as the rubber and therefore does not feed ink as efficiently”
Gold nib, no problemo, but how do one know about this one? It does not seem to say even when you look at specification whether it is ebonite or just plain plastic. How do one get that info?
For example, no such info on the Faber site: http://www.graf-von-faber-castell.com/writing-instruments/guilloche
Same with Caran d’Ache: http://www.carandache.ch/en/4-varius-plume-laque-chine-ivoire-plor-b.html
No, you’d have to ask a good assistant. Some brands do say, but not all. It’s far less important than the non though
thanks for the useful post, just two comments:
as a user of fountain pens since I was a little kid, and owner of several, from cheap to expensive, I’d like just to say that the things are a little more complex than what have you written, if someone wants to understand a little more about this wonderful world I’d suggest to surf http://www.fountainpennetwork.com, which is full of passionate and knowleadgeable people willing to help any newbie. Quite often an expensive pen is not really worth all the money and on the other side cheap pens can perform as good as the upper class sisters.
The other comment is that I’m from Italy and just in my forties but I always have been wearing undershirts, in winter they keep better the temperature, in summer it keeps armpits from staining too much, as someone already noted.
Anyway, thank you very much for your articles and the beautiful website.
How about a really good shaving soap?
Look no further than D.R. Harris; Arlington is my preference.
Not my favourite I’m afraid. Santa Maria Novella
Hello Simon and thank you for your fantastic site!
One of the top daily luxury in a man’s life is a proper shave: A classic Gillette or a morden Edwin Jagger DE razor (or a straight razor for the adventurous), a Simpson badger shaving brush, D.E. Harris shaving soap and aftershave is the perfect start of a day!
Great post Simon. I was on the lookout for new fountain pen and would like to add the brand S. T. Dupont to the hat. I have tried lots of different pens such as Montblanc, Pelikan and also Dunhill and have to say that for me the Dupont are above any of those, for the quality of construction, lacquer and also for the writing. Yes it is all very subjective but I never had such a beautifully engineered pen that writes so smoothly out of the box. Well worth the cost, the one I have is the Line D Grande wth 14 carat gold nib. A joy, if you are looking for one around that price bracket do have a look at it.
Today, I received a very beautiful and, in my opinion, a vital sartorial accessory… A coin & key purse made by the leather goods firm Visconti.
This, IMO is affordable luxury. This is the GINO Model. It has two zipped compartments, one containing two keyrings.
I now have my car and household keys in one zipped compartment. I feel that the zip could be stronger but, hey, it will prevent car keys puncturing trouser pockets!!!