Gaziano & Girling alligator shoe

 
A tailor commented to me recently that the problem with people today is they are too materialistic. I think this misses the point slightly – and an exploration of it highlights an important aspect of the approach we advocate on this site.

Materialism has come to mean greed and avarice. But at its heart, it is about a desire for material things. For physical objects – things that can be appreciated for their texture, line and colour.

Also, importantly, things that we use and are part of our everyday lives. That can be a chef’s knife, an antique table or a racing bike. As well as a well-made shoe.

We interact with these things physically. We touch and feel them, often bodily. They make aspects of the way we conduct our lives easier, more pleasurable, or simply more beautiful.
 

Gieves & Hawkes horn buttons

 
There is depth and richness in their appreciation, and it should not be undermined by an association with sheer volume.

I’d suggest that is better thought of as consumerism. This pleasure, of pure consumption, is one we all experience – the retail high, whether associated with shopping bags, swiping a credit card or clicking a ‘confirm’ button. It releases adrenaline, quickens the pulse (and can often lead to poor decisions as a result).

We all know the thrill of it, but its pursuit is very different to the enjoyment, over time, of the object itself.

I appreciate the craft, the engineering, of my Gaziano & Girling shoes almost every time I put them on. I look down, at the way the welt is hidden as it runs under the waist, and smile at the illusion of delicacy.

Every time I oil my horsehide leather jacket there is a double helping of material pleasure – in applying it myself, by hand, and in the anticipation of how it will feel across my shoulders.

There is similar joy in the sharpness of a shirt collar, the softness of a cashmere overcoat, or the life of a delicately pressed silk tie. Few people appreciate these things. We need more materialism, not less.
 

Tweed texture

 

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Anonymous

I think that it should certainly be noted that the investment of money in clothes and objects that stand the test of time is much better for the environment, our surroundings and the soul. Perhaps not for people’s egos and companies bottom lines but then that is the noble battle that quality and craftsmanship must face.
How would you, Simon, try and fight that battle? As has been mentioned before this battle is much easier to fight if you are wealthy. What can craftsmen, consumers and bloggers alike do to encourage the healthy consumption of quality objects throughout the economy, at all price ranges?

Anonymous

Hear, hear, Simon.

Gustaf

that is a good distinction, but there’s also a subtler trap here: that of seeking a perfect “ideal”. When you are writing about your (beautiful) suits or shoes, you are also creating a desire, a longing, in your reader. I desire the high-end craftsmanship you describe, and become more aware of the limitations of my current possessions. Though at the same time more appreciative of the craftsmanship… The hedonistic treadmill of connoisseurship is real, and I haven’t yet wrapped my head around its consequences.

Mac

There are clothes that we want and clothes that we actually need. Most people here were probably enamoured with designer clothes and brands at some point. To those brands, design detail is key, no matter how pointless or silly. They produce collections twice-yearly and in fashion there’s nothing so unfashionable as something ‘last season’. Rabid consumerism. That’s fashion.

Bespoke clothing is wholly unconnected with fashion and requires a different mentality. It is the exact opposite of fashion in mentality, in fit, in construction and in marketing. Some people have trouble understanding that. Bespoke is (ironically) fashionable right now.

The fashion interlopers bring with them the ‘must have it today’ mentality, the five button cuff with bright red button-holes, the DB with notch lapels and patch pkts, the extra-extra cutaway shirt collar and low-waisted trousers. I can spot them a mile off. Still, they are a source of amusement.

suffolk

I read recently (I forget where, if on here – I apologise), that clothes should cost a good deal more, and houses a good deal less.

Sam

Gustaf is right, there are further subtleties to consider and I am expecting some interesting commentary on such a thought provoking blog entry.

For myself, this is a timely article as it was only yesterday that I came to the firm realisation that I had become overly materialistic to my overall detriment. I am still in the early stages but already have a modest wardrobe that brings me great pleasure in its use – yet nevertheless I am always worrying about my next acquisition! Your points on the appreciation of fine creations are very valid but I am struggling to put this down to some sort of benign materialism.

Materialism to me is that pervasive but ultimately hollow (and occasionally actually quite unpleasant!) pursuit of earthly things which are not yet realised or possessed. It is a concept that is inextricably linked to the value of money itself and all of its associated evils, given this is the primary limiting factor to the immediate satisfaction of an individual’s materialistic urges.

To summarise, having read the above, my question is: Can one reach a point where the (arguably) noble epicurean pleasures of fine clothing and living well while satisfactorily minimising the associated materialistic desire (can we say greed?) to acquire such possessions in the first place? For me it is currently in the balance…

Cheers,
Sam

Scott

Simon,
Are you familar with Bontoni shoes? I’ve checked the archives and didn’t see any writeups about this shoemaker. I’d love to see a piece on this very small, but fascinating italian company.

Scott

Hey Simon and thank you sir, I really appreciate that. I think these people are what Permanent Style is all about; artisan craftsmanship, beauty, and understated style and elegance.

DE

Style & philosophy… nice!

BespokeNYC

Great article and some very interesting discussion points. Completely agree on the difficulties of balancing a love of fine clothing with more hollow consumerist urges. I’ve by no means been entirely successful in this regard but I have found that focusing on the way quality things improve with age (as Simon has written about extensively) helps bring me back in line. It’s a surprisingly challenging shift in mindset in a world with so many cheaply made products that are designed to wear out and be discarded but ultimately gives a much deeper pleasure. Only the other day I was thinking that my Steven Hitchcock tweed jacket is finally starting to acquire that lovely, lived-in look that makes tweed look so appealing.

Chris

Brilliant post. I’m increasingly finding your blog more and more addictive. I thank you for my recent obsession over the last couple of years in regards to my work wear, typically business suits, quality shirts, ties and shoes. Considering my first bespoke at Graham Browne soon.

Now wanting to overhaul my weekend and smart/casual evening wardrobe I would love to have some pointers of the basic staples. Having brought Albam jeans last week due to your recommendations I know anything you recommend would be of nothing short of perfect!

Perhaps you have an existing post(s) you can recommend?
In particular when starting out what fabrics and colours for smart/casual jackets, shirts, trousers and ties. Which could be suited to an evening at a London resturant or a summer lunch. Being in my mid to late twenties I don’t have a ideal budget but always buy investment pieces overtime.

Any thoughts are welcome.

Jason

These are all interesting points and can also be seen in the context of comments about wealthy clients ordering 20 pairs of bespoke shoes and of events focusing on HNWI individuals. We can all appreciate the lack of taste and discernment that goes into ordering dozens of bespoke shoes that can never be properly appreciated; on the other hand, without these kinds of commissions could the high-end bespoke industry survive? Similarly, one might be disturbed by the fact that many HNWI individuals in London pay very little tax due to non-dom loopholes, but also appreciate that their money in some cases contributes to supporting tailoring houses, shoemakers, chefs, artists etc. Some might say that one justification for wealth is that it can be used to supports the arts, and craftmanship – the Medici family might be the best historical example of that.

Jason

ps apologies for the repetition involved in HNWI individuals, given what the acronym stands for – HNWIs, I should say.

Mac

Hi Jason,
If the bespoke industries relied on the nouveau riche show-offs they’d have all closed long ago.

What pays the bills, are the not those types nor the rich pop stars, but rather the business men who wear suits every day and are both loyal and regular (i.e. 3-6 suits per year, every year). A pop star by comparison swans in and orders 5 suits in one visit. He thinks he can have them in a week. Once his suits are (eventually) finished and collected, you never see him again.

Large individual orders are actually a pain in the neck because it causes a huge backlog in the workshop. Deadlines get missed. So hard to say no, of course!

Scott

I’ve really enjoyed this discussion immensely. Simon has regularly made the point that purchasing high quality goods is the best approach,even if it means buying fewer items. Unfortunately, the scourge of conspicuous consumption always raises its ugly head. The example of the individual buying 20 pair of shoes at one time indicates a complete lack of good taste despite cultural morays. Quite frankly I find such behavior vulgar no matter where it occurs or how wealthy the perpetrator.

Farfalla

Very cool. It’s a topic I think about a lot these days. For years, I was trying to grind my way down to a minimalist mindset. I think all a guy ever hears is that materialism is simply bad. We all do it but no one should ever feel good about it. So my enjoyment of life diminished due to a vague guilt over valuing my possessions so much and coveting some others. I did it but there was a shade of guilt over it. What a shame though because I love my stuff.

I’m somewhat new to this world of dressing well. I was never a slob but just a casual American. Now, when I step out with a tie, cut clothes, leather oxfords, I get a steady, day long mild hum of pleasure. So it’s not a shallow thing at all. I would bet a lot of money that there are significant physiological benefits to fitted clothes along with satisfying silk and leather on you as well. A good watch and a high end pocket knife. These things are a hell of a lot more dependable than people as far as making me feel good, day in and day out. The key is to do it wisely, carefully, thoughtfully with some efforts towards planning and research. A quality item that was purchased prudently is an incredible addition to a person’s life. I’ve shaken off those “you should be a minimalist” mental sets and have decided to always have something on the horizon. It adds all kinds of energy to work too–to know it’s for that prized next bit for your wardrobe or home.

gary

The need to have things is never positive it is purely freudian , show me most Dandies and I will show you someone who has had a personality problem somewhere in their childhood. That said you can dress in two ways , pretty boring or someone with a bit of style . Dressing with style also says who we are but that can easily be done with the minimum of fuss and does not have to cost very much at all.

Stephen

Great debate, thank you for the article Simon, articles that touch upon the philosophical seem very popular. Michael Moore suggested that consumerism at its basic level, is driven by fear (driven in part by the illusion of constant disaster and violence often displayed in the media). I believe the modern incidence of hoarding is a reflection of this. As many comments here state bespoke, is of course, the opposite. Consumerism, buying for the enjoyment of buying, results in regret…unless of course it turns into the hobby of ‘collecting’. An article on thinning out the wardrobe to follow?

AO

Well done.

Daniel

Hi Simon,

Having listened to a few Handcut Radio podcasts including your own/ Stòffa and Patrick Grant, the consumer culture issue arises more and more. With the dreaded “Black Friday” almost upon up I turned to this post and and the “I hate Christmas “Jumpers” piece. I suspect this subject resonates especially with your readership and would love to read any further thoughts in future posts.

Love your blog..

Karol

Simon, that’s an interesting article, but I have something I’d like to ask After reading many, many, many posts I have started to question the point of having so many clothes. I wasn’t counting, but it seems that the number of your suits and sportcoats has surpassed three digits. And given that there are only so many days in a year, would you consider making another post in style of the “Best/Worst Commissions”, but roughly listing which colors and materials of tailoring get the most use, and which are the “cool, but inefficient” type? I’m not talking about the purple jacket – that seems pretty obvious. It’s just that with wardrobe of this size, even the most conservative choices will be used less or more. Correct?