Diamonds on the soles…


What’s a ‘poor’ boy to do? Ain’t no overtime will add diamonds to the soles of his shoes…

But the fact that you weren’t born wealthy, and never landed a job with a telephone-number salary, won’t stop you appreciating fine things, if that’s your inclination. You can write it off as class- or money-envy, but it needn’t be. Neither need it be about fashion-victim-hood or the desire to show off. Fine things are considered fine for a reason, and that is often more to do with their aesthetic (and sometimes practical) qualities than the social snobberies that come to be attached to them. The possession of money is not a prerequisite for the appreciation of such things.

It’s true that desirable objects often command high prices, simply through the mechanism of supply and demand – but there are still plenty of ways to exercise reasonable discrimination in how one parts with one’s cash without trashing one’s credit-rating.

Before I get lectured at, I am well aware that poverty can be crushing, in ways that those who do not experience it rarely appreciate; but my purpose here is to debunk the myth that stylish menswear is only accessible to those who are so wealthy they take it for granted that everyone else is too. I acknowledge that am fortunate enough that the the approach outlined here brings some such items just-about into range; what can I say that would placate those still enraged by my attitude? I can only explain that my own work and (former) income as a teacher hardly put me in the super-rich category…

It’s worth remembering for a start that while wealth might make style affordable, it doesn’t guarantee it. I would guess that the majority of the world’s wealthy (starting with The Donald) spend their money demonstrating their grotesque lack of taste, not the converse. Good judgement is more or less free, if you choose to develop it.

And yet it is all too easy to fall prey to the mindset of buying on price rather than quality, something that I think British culture is still remarkably prone to.

Then there is the long-standing advice to buy the best you can afford rather than the cheapest you can find, and to buy less but better. It has stood the test of time for a reason – as more likely will things that you acquire using that maxim. On a cost-per-use basis, cheap stuff may be a false economy; we are considering things here that ought to last a decade or more.

Flashy labels add a premium to not always superior products. But this is not a competition (which you will never win anyway) nor about impressing others, but principally about pleasing yourself by looking and feeling good. If others happen to appreciate your efforts, then that’s a bonus. So while big labels are worth considering, so are others that may be much less well-known. Indeed, part of the pleasure in working on one’s dress comes from the chase and the knowledge and judgement that it requires. The appreciation of good clothing is no different from that of good food, wine, art, music or any other aspect of aesthetic craftsmanship. In some ways it’s too easy just to resort to the best-known brands.

I’ve pretty much given up on the British High Street. Unless you want jeans, chinos and sports-wear, the rewards are generally not worth the effort. It seems to me that unlike in many continental countries, what is deemed adequate by and for the average Brit is too dull to be very pleasing. Sad to say, for anyone even moderately choosy there is far better quality and choice available elsewhere.

Neither do I see the point in the fake brands that mainstream chains use to differentiate their better lines. Even House of Fraser is guilty of having a fake Italian ‘name’ – though to be fair at least the clothes are Italian-made. Why not just stock the real thing (the prices are not always so much different, though the quality often is) – or better still simply produce good-quality clothes that can be sold for what they are? Anyone who is seeking quality is not going to be fooled by such compromises, particularly on fabrics: synthetic fibres will never substitute for good naturals.

Another way of saving is to eschew the service of the boutiques. While there is inherent pleasure in the attention of a knowledgeable tailor, if price is a big issue it is something worth forgoing. You can find the same clothes elsewhere, cheaper. Although some brands now manufacture lower-spec goods specifically for factory outlets, the quality may still be acceptable if you are careful – and this practice is by no means universal. There are some great savings to be made by discerning shopping in such factory outlets – and no one will be any the wiser over where you obtained your clothes, even if that matters to you.

And above all, the internet means you can now shop wherever in the world you choose. One substitutes time for money, both in terms of rooting out the bargains, and in waiting for deliveries (and returning unsuitable items) – but it means you can effectively access desirable clothing no matter where you live, even if your local shops can’t be bothered to cater for you.

In either case, one needs to alter the approach a little. Instead of aiming to purchase a particular item as needed, one needs to be more opportunistic. Buying items that fit and that you like when you see them becomes more important than buying for immediate use; buying them end of- or out of season also makes them cheaper. I would not generally recommend the use of credit as interest can push costs back up, quite apart from the other risks involved – but the ability to draw on extra resources does make this approach easier. PayPal’s four-month interest-free credit works for me on the odd occasion when a particularly desirable item appears at the wrong end of the month…

So here, to conclude is a directory of some of the best sources I have found on my virtual (and real) travels; the list is inevitably Italy-weighted, but you can shop electronically in France or any other country equally well. I do feel a tinge of guilt about what this is doing to British retail, but I can hardly go naked just because it doesn’t deign to cater for my tastes…

If it is quality that matters, continental retailers tend to be better further down the price range than in Britain, where I suspect manufacturers cut corners safe in the knowledge that the average punter will be none the wiser.

I realise that the prices will still draw gasps from some: if you really are into bargain-basement-wear, this is not for you. But for good dressing on a relatively small budget, careful use of these resources works. Possibly the largest online outlet of all. Yoox seems to have access to old-season stock from a vast range of suppliers, including some that one cannot buy over-the-counter in the U.K. I gather the founder is well-connected… It is necessary to keep a close eye on what is on offer as stock changes frequently. Ignore the terrible photos in which the clothes often don’t fit the models, and remember that shipping and returns are often free. Yoox has had some bad press but apart from the odd sizing error, I have never found it to be less than efficient. If you are prepared to sift and/or wait for their ‘action’ offers, there are some stunning savings to be made, with some items from top-notch manufacturers being reduced by 70% or more.

I would recommend looking at Pal Zileri, Armani Collezioni, Caruso, Canali and Corneliani; if you chose your moment, the prices are little different from what one can easily pay on the High Street for much-inferior goods. Zegna and Loro Piana are there too, but still at a hefty price. There are plenty of attractive items by makers not known to most in the U.K.  A vast range of shirts and other clothes from respected Italian manufacturers such as Bagutta and Xacus. Typical reductions from around £90 to nearer £40 but some nicely-designed cheaper marques too. Sale prices not infrequently dip below the £20 mark. Classic shirts most likely to fit the average British figure. Free postage and returns.

Kamic I have already reviewed the made-to-measure shirt I ordered from this company – excellent quality for the price of €55 for their standard fabrics; higher priced fabrics also offered. I shall be returning. Beautiful clothing, but not often found in bargain outlets. Much of their range is tailored in slim and very slim cuts, but their accessories are well-worth the money during their extended sale periods. Hand-made shoes that retail around the £190- £220 mark. While that is hardly cheap, the quality is excellent for the price. 10% discount if you are prepared to be bombarded with emails and other substantial markdowns on a regular basis, bringing them nearer High Street prices. Sharper than British designs, but hardly avant-guard. French company which has a small chain of lovely shops in most cities there. Their socks are excellent value for money with a wide range of colours and three sizes rather than the now-dominant two (currently £8 a pair, Aug 2017). Good quality shoes as well; I am not familiar with the shirts. They do not have sales, but all products in a given category are priced identically all year round. Another way to lift one’s dress without vast expenditure is to focus on accessories, in this case socks. One can purchase high-quality, distinctive socks without breaking the bank (around £8-20); again there is a world of difference between the dull/comic/overtly branded socks that dominate the mainstream British market and something much more interesting. Bresciani are especially worth a look. Newcastle-based clothier which offers a wide range of labels. Markdowns are often not huge, but good items can be found in their sales. Excellent, high-quality ties from a little-known manufacturer in Como. They don’t have their own website, but products can be obtained from Amazon Marketplace, in reality Cravatte Avenue in Lyon, France, which also has its own website   £30-£40 for excellent quality without a ‘label’ premium; wider range on C.A.’s website, but slightly higher prices.

S&D2   Dutch company that sources most of its products in Italy. Slightly off-beat range at less than sky-high prices. Not quite my taste so I have not shopped there, but mid-range Italian styles with some good markdowns in sale periods.  Made-in-Italy knitwear. I have yet to investigate but they look very promising. Gran Sasso is a brand that is well worth buying. Good quality leather goods at not-extortionate prices. I have only purchased a wallet, but it is very acceptable with good workmanship. Small chain based in the Veneto; rather too trendy for me as a rule, but I have had some lovely cashmere knitwear from them at sale times, with tremendous mark-downs. Another retailer I have yet to shop from, but think I will have to investigate next winter. They operate batch-manufacture as and when they reach a threshold of orders, so there may be a wait for delivery.

MC01 Interesting-looking shirts and accessories from Paris boutique. Mid-range French chain, with shops in most cities. A little sharper than their English counterparts. Will deliver to the U.K., even though the website is currently monolingual. Perhaps a surprising addition, but the quality of their knitwear is excellent, and comparable to others of higher price. Irritatingly low on stock for much of the time, but you might get lucky. Probably my favourite British brand at the moment; one of the few British tailors to be rivalling the Italians for style.  It is by no means cheap, though selective shopping on their website can occasionally reveal good reductions, and they are stocked by House of Fraser, likewise. If you are within striking distance of their outlet shop at Freeport Braintree (Essex), it is an absolute treasure-trove. The fact that it is within easy striking distance of my home is not good for the bank balance… I wrote to Tyrwhitt some years ago asking them to produce a sharper, more modern range. They have eventually obliged, even though, annoyingly, some of the results are only available in slim fits. Nonetheless good quality shirts though fabrics tend to be thicker, in the English tradition. Prices are good during sales, down to the lower £ twenties. Their knitwear is acceptable, but the quality of their other goods tends not to live up to their shirts. I see that certain other Jermyn Street firms seem to be following their business model.

This list will be archived and I may well make additions from time to time.


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