When it comes to menswear history, it can be challenging to separate fact from fiction. The two are often intertwined in vanity books and marketing pamphlets, and these stories persist because they help companies sell clothes. The best accounts are rooted in primary sources, such as newspaper articles, archival records, or oral histories from reliable voices. Housed within the four brick walls of the London Metropolitan Archives, a public research center specializing in the history of London, are the dusty archival order books once owned by Peal & Company.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, Peal & Co. was the largest bespoke shoemaking operation in the world. Their salespeople traveled to various continents to take orders from kings, queens, captains of industry, authors and actors, poets and pioneers, and the otherwise well-heeled. Upon meeting each client, a Peal salesperson would crack open a large leather-bound ledger—charmingly known as a Feet Book to people within the company—and trace an outline of the client's feet on the two blank pages. They would then write the person's name and any necessary notes about the order.
While flipping through Peal's Feet Books, you can see storied names from the 19th and 20th centuries: Henry Ford, Condé Nast, Anthony Eden, John F. Kennedy, Barry Goldwater, Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, and Gary Cooper, among the many. Since Peal's sales associates typically recorded these names in full, there's no doubt who ordered what. But buried on page 142 of one of the earliest books is a mysterious entry for "Mr. Marx of Berlin." It's estimated that this record was made sometime in the 1870s, which matches when Karl Marx lived in London. A notation on the order says the finished shoes should be delivered to Dr. W. Smith in the intellectual Hampstead area, where Marx was known to ride donkeys and picnic at the time.Keep reading