Sole Survivors: How the Internet Is Saving Bespoke Shoemaking (Pt 1)

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.

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More Black Friday Sales

I rounded up every Black Friday sale for Put This On and will update the list through Cyber Monday. But as I do every year, I'm also highlighting some special sales from that list here. Perhaps most notable is the blowout over at LuxeSwap. I didn't include it in this list below because it's not technically a sale. But friend and menswear writer extraordinaire Bruce Boyer is clearing out some things from his wardrobe, and these items are up for auction on eBay. This is not only an opportunity to own something from one of the great menswear writers of our time, but also a chance to own some incredible menswear that may not be available elsewhere. Bruce uses world-class bespoke tailors such as Liverano & Liverano, Cifonelli, and A. Caraceni (the third of which also made for Gianni Agnelli). I handled some of the tailoring, and the workmanship is the best I've seen anywhere. The suits and sport coats fit between a size 38S and 40S, depending on the house style (I found the Liverano to fit slimmer than the A. Caraceni, the second of which has that Golden Age drape). There are also some handsome shoes from labels such as GJ Cleverley, Edward Green, and Stefano Bemer, sweaters from O'Connell's, and accessories from Drake's. You can find the entire collection by searching for the "Bruce Boyer Collection." Now to the other Black Friday deals:

Canoe Club: 30% Off; Code BF22

Canoe Club represents a new approach to casualwear, where stores aren't just carrying things with a singular point of view, but reflect the eclectic taste of their customers. Twenty or thirty years ago, most casualwear stores specialized in a "look"—the minimalism of Helmut Lang, the ruggedness of Levis, or the smart-casual looks of Loro Piana. But as more men have become comfortable dabbling in different aesthetics, and building wardrobes where rare Nikes sit comfortably alongside shell cordovan Aldens, stores such as Canoe Club have gained a lot of ground. 

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Excited To Wear This Fall

For the past few years, I've been doing these posts every season where I talk about what I'm excited to wear for spring/summer and fall/winter. I usually do these at the beginning of the season. This one comes a little late, but on the upside, I get to talk about some new things I've purchased and have been wearing. There are also more links to in-season options. 

Flamborough Marine Guernsey

Daniel Day-Lewis once said he hates to be "dressed." By which he means, "dressed by others." He rejects the conventional photoshoot routine as an artifice—photographers and stylists carefully dress their subjects in clothes borrowed from fashion labels, often those advertising on the pages next to the celebrity being featured. So when DDL was photographed for the cover of W Magazine a few years ago, he brought with him a small duffle full of his own clothes. His wardrobe that day included a thoughtful mix of styles: a bespoke three-piece Harris tweed suit made by a tailor in New York City, a blue plaid shirt, a white tee, some rugged jewelry, a pair of slim-straight selvedge jeans, a striped Breton pullover, and some rugged work boots he designed himself. "I want to wear soft, comforting, plain things," he told the interviewer. When the article was published, a small line was printed below each photograph, taking the place where brand names would usually appear. Each line read: "All clothing his own."  

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Black Friday Sales Start

Every year, I round up menswear-related Black Friday sales at Put This On and then highlight some of my favorites here. Black Friday always comes a little earlier than most expect—an example of how retailers push back their sale season to capture consumer dollars earlier. And so, today, many stores have already kicked off their promotions. I'll list a few today and then publish the rest later this week.

Mr. Porter: Up to 30% Off; No Code Needed

The most notable, of course, is Mr. Porter. I like their selection of Blackhorse Lane jeans (the original Drake's jean was based on the NW1), Inis Meain knitwear, Castañer espadrilles, Derek Rose dressing gowns (imagine sauntering into your kitchen in the morning while wearing this), Valstar outerwear, and fragrances from brands such as DS & Durga and Timothy Han. Their in-house Mr. P line offers a lot of value. The designs are stylish, "basic but not too basic," and work well for a smart-casual look. As usual, the best way to tackle Mr. Porter's massive selection is to filter for brands and sizes so that you can narrow in on what interests you. I tried to create a link to brands I think are interesting, but at the time of this post's publishing, the click-through is a bit wonky (it may work later).

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Taillour Comes to the US

Over the summer, I emailed Fred Nieddu, the skilled cutter behind the independent bespoke tailoring house taillour, to see if he would be willing to extend his US trunk show schedule to include California. After a bit of emailing back and forth, I'm delighted to report that he agreed. Next month, he and his business partner will be visiting San Francisco and New York City to meet with clients and take orders (subsequent trips will happen once every three or four months, as usual for traveling tailors). 

I became interested in Fred's work at the end of 2020, when I wrote a piece for the Vulture about how the Netflix series The Crown used Barbour jackets to represent each character's relationship with power. Although the article was about waxed cotton field coats, it was the tailoring in the show that truly captivated me. Josh O'Connor's Prince Charles wears the three-button, narrow-lapel suits that the real-life Prince favored as a youth before switching to drapey double-breasted numbers later in life. I remember thinking that the silhouettes were more faithful to the Golden Age of tailoring than the bespoke sport coat I commissioned from Anderson & Sheppard in 2016. 

I later learned that Fred made all of the menswear in the series. He's also made bespoke clothes for Ralph Fiennes in Bond and all of the lead actors in Murder on the Orient Express (along with countless other films and TV shows). This, combined with the fact that he teaches pattern drafting to third-year tailoring students at the London College of Fashion, makes him a rather unique tailor. Most tailors are known for a specific house style they've perfected over time, such as Anderson & Sheppard's soft drape cut, Huntsman's padded look, or Edward Sexton's strong, angular lines. While Fred has a signature style, he's much more adaptable, as evidenced by how his clothes fit like puzzle pieces into the worlds depicted in these shows. 

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No Man Walks Alone Weekend Sale

No Man Walks Alone is an advertiser on this site, but also one of my favorite online shops. I've always felt that guys can build an excellent wardrobe if they simply set aside some money to shop here every season. The store carries everything from classic Italian tailoring to Japanese workwear to even some avant-garde. And from now until Sunday night, you can take 20% off all full-priced items with the checkout code FALL20. Note, since No Man Walks Alone is an East Coast retailer, this promotion runs until 12 midnight Eastern Time. Some things that I think are particularly worth checking out: 

Kaptain Sunshine Traveler Coat

If I had a reduce my outerwear wardrobe to just three staple pieces, I'd keep my Lee 101-J, Margiela five-zip, and Kaptain Sunshine Traveler. Actually, I have two Travelers. I bought one in navy Melton wool a few years ago, and found that I wear it so much, I purchased a lighter version for autumn (the Melton can only be worn in the wintertime). For me, this is the Ultimate Long Coat (ULC). It's the one piece you can always grab from your wardrobe and feel confident about how you look. The coat's power is all in its cut. Kaptain Sunshine's Traveler is roomy and voluminous, comes down to your knees, and has an A-line silhouette. When worn, it covers almost your entire body, effectively making it your whole outfit. I wear it with everything from chunky Inis Meain sweaters and tailored trousers to stained J. Crew sweatshirts and repaired RRL work pants. It's literally impossible to look bad in this thing. No one can do it, not even me. 

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How To Develop Good Taste, Pt. 4

Bespoke tailoring and the restaurant industry share something in that they both use the terms "back of house" and "front of house" to describe how their businesses are structured. "Back of house" refers to the behind-the-scene activities that customers typically don't see, such as the cutters, tailors, chefs, and line cooks who prepare the things that are eventually given to customers. "Front of house" is a little different. In the restaurant industry, this term refers to the customer touchpoints, such as the waitstaff and host who work to create a pleasant experience. The front of a bespoke tailoring house, which can consist of salespeople and fitters, also provides those things. However, they also offer something more important: a sense of taste.

George Wang, the founder of the Beijing-based bespoke tailoring company BRIO, works the front of house. When you commission something here, you're not just paying for the skillful craftsmanship that goes into each garment, but also George's sense of taste. He's the one who created the company's overall aesthetic. He's also the person who will guide you through decisions such as fabric choices and stylistic details. George tells me that each customer is different, and it's important to be sensitive to a person's needs, lifestyle, and even personality. A conservative businessman who needs a winter work suit has very different requirements than a young creative who wants something to wear to summer parties. It's easy to trivialize this service now that there's so much information on the internet, leading people to believe they can do everything independently. But over the years, I've come to appreciate how useful it is to work with a tailoring house that has both "front" and "back" staff persons (tailors, while wonderful, are better thought of as technicians than stylists). At Rubinacci, Mariano does the vital work of ensuring every client walks out of his shop looking "right."

I often ask George for his opinion on things, such as the right fabric to use for a project, what color the lining should be in a folio, and what watch best matches a certain kind of wardrobe. He always gives me an answer that feels like a step above what I would have initially considered. Instead of the usual recommendations for linen, wool-silk-linen blends, and Fresco for warm-weather garments, he recommended to me slippery Super 150s wools in colors such as light blue, coral, and citrus yellow. He also turned me on to London Shrunk, as well as world-class makers such as Sartoria Corcos, Sartoria Marinaro, The Work, Saic, and Masahito Furuhata. In a word, I find his taste to be sophisticated. So, for the last entry in this series, I'll start with George's thoughts on how to develop good taste. 

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How to Develop Good Taste, Pt. 3

It has become fashionable to discuss classic clothing with the same cynicism once reserved for topics such as capitalism or the media. Across menswear message boards, posters frequently type out terms such as classic or timeless with alternating caps (cLaSsIc) or recurring spaces (t i m e l e s s) to signal that they're above such simple ideas. To be sure, traditional clothing has had a difficult decade. During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the first companies to file for bankruptcy were suit retailers, Brooks Brothers among them. Additionally, men who invested heavily in soft-shouldered sport coats ten years ago have since traded their Aldens for Nikes, as they've found that tailoring is too formal for their environment. Looking back, many of the things championed as timeless, classic, and trend-resistant ten years ago—slim suits, cutaway collars, and double monks—barely lasted more than a few seasons. Meanwhile, designer labels such as Margiela, Rick Owens, and Engineered Garments have been selling the same styles since the early 2000s, as their clothes are too niche, conceptual, or expensive to ever reach mass consumption and thus over-exhaustion. 

Timelessness is often oversold, but in recent years, I think the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. It's a mistake to think that terms such as classic don't mean anything. Certain styles, such as trousers made with moderate proportions or oxford button-downs that fit and flatter the wearer, are relatively resistant to trends. Classic tailoring also holds a special place in our culture because it's the lingua franca of menswear—a language everyone understands, regardless of their background. Many designer aesthetics require specialized knowledge to appreciate, such as the shabby look of Kapital or the sculptural quality of Issey Miyake's futuristic creations. But almost everyone can appreciate how a man looks in a well-tailored, moderately proportioned suit because of what it represents in our collective memory.

When it comes to matters of taste, few people have a better record than beloved menswear author Bruce Boyer. I first saw Bruce online when Scott Schuman posted this photo of him on his site The Sartorialist around 2007. I was struck by the tastefulness of the outfit—a brown checked tweed with taupe trousers, a green striped tie, a light blue shirt, and a tan mac raincoat that reached Bruce's knees. The thing is, Bruce dresses the same today as he did back then, and in every other photo ever posted of him. On the inside of the dust covers for his books Elegance (1985) and Eminently Suitable (1990), you can find black-and-white author photos of a younger Bruce not only wearing the same things—a semi-spread collar shirt with rep striped tie and either a navy double-breasted blazer or houndstooth tweed—but even clothes in the same proportions. In a Permanent Style feature, Bruce flipped over the in-breast pocket of one of his sport coats to reveal an Anderson & Sheppard label typeset with his name and the date "9/5/83." Imagine never bricking a single fit for nearly forty years (possibly ever). So I asked Bruce: how does one develop good taste in clothes? His answer is below. 

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How to Develop Good Taste, Pt. 2

Style is still something of an art and has not, in Bruce Boyer's words, "descended to one of the sciences." The process of developing taste is akin to developing a worldview or personal philosophy—it's a highly subjective process not easily given to hard rules. But over the years, I've noticed that people who've been able to develop tasteful wardrobes in a short period of time often rely on the gentle guidance of tasteful merchants, tailors, and friends. So for the remainder of this series on how to develop good taste (part one was published a few weeks ago), I'm surveying stylish people on how they think others can develop a similarly keen sense of aesthetics. Consider these entries like gentle advice from a friend who has the kind of high taste that almost seems unreachable.

When I first considered who to include in this post, I immediately thought of Mark Cho. Mark is the co-founder of The Armoury and someone I occasionally turn to for wardrobe recommendations. But it was his interview with WatchBox Studios a few years ago that made me want to get his views on the broader subject of taste. In the interview, Mark discusses his watch collecting journey, which started many years ago with an affordable Omega Chronostop he purchased at a second-hand watch store in Hong Kong. He was drawn to the watch for two reasons: he liked the shape of the case and had never seen a gray watch before. That purchase sparked in him a horological passion, and he was soon obsessed with collecting the milestones and classics in watch-making history. But as he's chopped and changed his collection over the years, he's found that almost none of those iconic pieces have remained. Instead, his watch collection is just a reflection of his taste, which is threaded together by nothing more than his emotional connection to objects. Having seen and handled thousands of watches since that initial Omega purchase, Mark has also developed what art dealers call The Eye—“that irrevocable power to discern art from trash, real from fake, inspired from derivative."

There's no better representation of what it means to have taste than Mark's tantalum and steel Royal Oak. Originally made to celebrate Nick Faldo's 1990 Masters and British Open back-to-back championships, Mark purchased it in 2013 because he wanted a baby version of the jumbo-sized Royal Oak 5402. But the only way to achieve that smaller, thinner profile was to get a quartz movement, which the Faldo version houses. High-horology purists would probably frown on the idea of spending thousands of dollars on a quartz movement, but Mark didn't purchase his Royal Oak as a flex or an "anti-flex"—he simply wanted a smaller version of that design. "The Royal Oak used to be the watch no one wanted, and the quartz even less so," Mark told me. "In the US, many people considered that watch too small, almost like it's a ladies' watch." True style means dressing like you know yourself, and having the confidence to wear things others might dismiss as uncool. At the same time, it requires cultural awareness and sensitivity to the social meaning of your aesthetic choices. I love that Mark's Royal Oak captures all of those things, so we'll start today's post with his views on how to develop good taste. 

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How To Develop Good Taste, Pt. 1

Marcel Duchamp once noted in a 1968 interview with Francis Roberts, “If your choice enters into it, then taste is involved—bad taste, good taste, uninteresting taste.” For those fortunate enough to live in post-industrial societies, where choices are now nearly limitless, taste is everything. Taste shapes what we purchase, the cultural artifacts we consume, how we dress, and how we decorate our living spaces. In the 19th century, standards for taste were passed down through aesthetic curricula conceived in formalized education systems. To have a certain type of taste was to show that you were educated and cultivated. Those standards have not been culturally relevant for over two generations, and thus, debates about taste take place everywhere. They happen in public spaces such as public transport, cafés, and boutiques, where people speak in hushed tones about other people's consumer choices. They also happen on social media and online forums. On Hacker News, a message board for tech workers, people discuss what constitutes a tasteful wardrobe. On subreddits and Facebook groups dedicated to topics wholly unrelated to fashion, such as motherhood and accounting, people post fit pics for feedback. Godwin's Law asserts that all online discussions, no matter the topic or scope, eventually result in someone comparing their opponent to Hitler. There should be a similar adage for how all discussions eventually lead to matters of taste. 

Yet, despite all the interest in taste, few people ask the more fundamental questions: What is good taste? How do you cultivate it? If you’re just starting to build a better wardrobe, how do you adjudicate between the different and often contrasting styles prescribed by hard-nosed traditionalists, Hypebeasts, gothninjas, workwear enthusiasts, and the avant-garde? Discussions about taste frequently take too much for granted, as though the laws governing aesthetics were chiseled into stone tablets. Or they fade into unhelpful aphorisms, such as “to each his own,” at which point participants all quietly drop the subject, not wanting to ruffle feathers. 

I've been thinking about taste a lot in the last few months. Fifteen years ago, if you were interested in classic tailoring, online debates about taste were settled with a scan from Apparel Arts or a photo of how an Italian industrialist dressed during the 1960s. Today, few people care about classic tailoring, and such specialized source materials hold little authority. In recent years, the scope for what we consider "legitimate taste" has widened to include a broader cross-section of society (a good thing). However, it has also become harder to critique ugly outfits (a bad thing). It's also harder to discuss aesthetics, as menswear has become balkanized, and The Discourse is increasingly about how to shop, not dress (a frustrating thing). So, I wanted to write a multi-part series on how to develop good taste. The first part is about theory; the second part is about practice. To be sure, this series will not settle any debates. But hopefully, it will give people better footing when discussing what lies at the heart of menswear: our taste in clothes.

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