Somewhere between a Tricker’s Keswick,Bourton, and Ilkley, you’ll find the quintessential English country shoe. Tricker’s may not be the veryfinest shoemakers in Northampton (although they’re certainly up there), but they can certainly lay claim to producing the most iconic English brogued Derby shoe and boot. The super round toe of the 4444 last, the overly heavy graphic broguing of the wingtips, the chunkiness of storm welted soles, and the iconic colours of C-Shade, Acorn, and Marron Antique: these all add up to a shape, colour, and style that many produce, but none quite match for the overall feel of sturdiness and robustness that the Tricker’s option offers.
The pair photographed here belong to the man who first introduced me to Tricker’s – my Dad – and were a 70th birthday gift to him from my Mum, Wife and myself. He chose the style himself on a trip to sunny Doncaster’s Shoe Healer. There he was sorted for a “6” width fitting which The Shoe Healer carries in stock in both this style and an attractive Matlock. It’s worth noting that the 4444 last is pretty generously sized and my Dad had to size down from an 8 to a 7 to get the right fit.
The differences between the three styles are small as they all feature identical uppers and a storm welt, but are offered with differing options on the sole, leathers, and colours. The Shoe Healer explains the differences here. This Keswick features a Commando Sole which is the chunkiest sole on offer, but is very robust especially for the Winter months.
As always Richard, Michelle, and the team at The Shoe Healer offered sound advice and help along the way. You really couldn’t ask for a better customer experience and I’d encourage anyone fancying a pair of bench made shoes to make the trip to Doncaster in person to check out what The Shoe Healer has to offer. My Dad was so impressed he was back buying a second pair of shoes two days later. You can’t get a stronger recommendation than that.
Some people call him the loudest person in Wobbletown, but I would call the man a purist. They say any great structure starts with a solid foundation and an outfit is no different. A strong footwear choice should set the tone for any outfit.
When it comes to Mr. Noisy, his unwavering belief in his choice of footwear* is so strong that he sees no need to dress the look any further. Why complicate matters with clothes when shoes alone can do the job? This obviously requires supreme self confidence in one’s body, but for those of us who don’t share this quality, we can take inspiration from an approach of simplicity. Let stand out items do the work and dress simply around them, because if everything is talking at once, things can get a little… noisy.
* I would identify Mr. Noisy’s shoes as a C-Shade Tricker’s Keswick with a Storm Welt; ideal for tramping around the Fells and Munros of Happyland.
I thought I’d start this year by making a post about a subject closest to the heart of this blog: enduring quality. Tried and tested clothing. The majority of the garments featured have been worn week in, week out in the autumn and winter months for the best part of six years.
The pieces here are what I’d regard as ‘timeless’; a term thrown around far too frequently in the menswear field in the last few years. It’s hard to find contemporary makers that will deliver on that word, but the brands featured here I feel have offered it over the course of their existence. For me, ‘timeless’ is about the right size of lapel. The right depth of collar. The right cut of shirt to suit the style of shirt. The right choice of materials to suit the piece. The fit that is fitted. Not skinny. Not baggy. The pattern that is always relevant. The right width of tie. Never too far in fashion, but never too far out. ‘Timeless’ walks the line.
Many of the items below are still made today in varying forms. Many have been developed and improved upon since I purchased mine. Which is another quality I love of the brands featured here. No dramatic changes or redevelopments, but incremental improvements and tinkering, each season, all in the pursuit of making something better; not more fashionable.
So I guess think of this as a tried and tested recommendation list. I’d love to know people out there are getting the same amount of joy out of this garb as I have over the years.
Engineered Garments Bedford Jacket
I purchased this on holiday in NYC in 2007 and it has scarcely been off my back since. I own two other Bedford jackets for Summer, but I’ve never bought another for Winter as this is so versatile. It can be dressed up or down: super casual and warm with a hoody underneath or nicely formal with a shirt and tie. With four patch pockets on the front, a single vent, and useful internal pockets, it’s one of Engineered Garments most practical, but simple jackets. The Melton wool on this version – a fabric Daiki Suzuki is always revisiting – is such a forgiving and durable cloth that it is yet to show any real signs of wear. This one is also special for me as he included leather elbow patches on this version, which to my mind, he hasn’t done since on this model of jacket. Daiki has produced some outstanding jackets for both Engineered Garments and Woolrich Woollen Mills, but I regard this as one of his finest moments. There are new versions every season and some are in the sales now.
Nigel Cabourn Authentic Four Pocket Vest
This is perhaps my most worn garment over Autumn and Winter. It was included in Nigel Cabourn’s first Limited Edition collection and has consistently reappeared in the authentic line since, although in many different materials and colours. Along with his Cameraman jacket I’d also say it’s one his most copied pieces. It’s an extremely useful layer that can look as good with a plaid Workshirt as it can with a BD Oxford shirt and tie. Superdenim currently have some of the latest versions on sale here.
Engineered Garments Workshirt
Arguably the cornerstone of Engineered Garments shirting and perhaps Daiki’s most referential piece, this shirt features every season in many different materials and patterns and always in a selection of chambray. The fit can change slightly depending on material and season, but it always features the same tough chain stitch construction, pockets based on a vintage Reliance Big Yank Cigarette Pocket shirt, and the iconic use of an odd cat’s eye button for the last fastening on the placket. Another nice detail is the choice of contrasting colour for the placket trim. This particular shirt was the first Engineered Garments piece I ever bought and it’s probably seen more wear than any other item in this list as its worn all year round. It has accompanied me on many hikes as well as day to day wear too. It’s robust and tough and after nearly six years it’s showing no signs of wear, tears, or fraying. It just gets comfier.
Engineered Garments Workaday 19th Century BD Shirt
The Engineered Garments 19th Century BD shirt is my absolute favourite shirt. It’s pattern is taken from a vintage Gitman shirt and is very similar in style to a modern Gitman shirt, but with the addition of large curved overlapping plackets; a detail that really sets it apart. Daiki exercises some of his more playful fabric choices on this piece from season to season in the main E.G. line.
You can read in further detail about this shirt here. The one pictured here is from the Workaday line and is made in classic Oxford stripe. As with many items here it gets dressed up and down. Casually, it looks great untucked, showing off the odd plackets; formally, it looks great tucked in as the curved placket stops the shirt from splaying open at the waist line. It’s all about the details with this piece.
Engineered Garments Workaday Fatigue Pants
These are a pretty new addition to my wardrobe, but have already become a regular wear for me. These are fairly loose fitting and in a great colour. They’re always in the Workaday line and feature each season in the E.G. mainline, but in differing cuts and fabrics. The fabric here is reverse sateen and is nice and hard wearing. These are a great alternative to regular jeans, trousers, and chinos, but their simplicity also keeps them nicely away from the combat pant. I like to often wear these with a shirt and tie for that ‘business up top, but me legs are already in the weekend’ look.
Woolrich Woollen Mills Upland BD Shirt
Sadly, this is the only garment here that’s no longer readily available although a few keep popping up on Yoox at good prices. This was Daiki’s second attempt at this shirt; the first version (which I have, but don’t wear nearly as much) didn’t feature the iconic billowing chest pocket that this version has and was made in a heavier, but less appealing chambray. For me this shirt epitomised Daiki’s approach to his WWM collections: outdoor pursuits meets the classic and wearable. Reinforced shoulder detailing and elbows give this a hardy feel, while the button down collar makes it feels a touch more classic, striking a nice balance between casually smart and relaxed workwear. Along with the Workshirt here, this is my most heavily worn and washed shirt as it’s another great garment for all year round. It’s wearing nicely now with the chambray fading like denim around the collars and cuffs. I’d certainly recommend trying to get your hands on one as it will do you proud for many years.
Nigel Cabourn Mainline U.S. Clip Jacket (pictured right)
A constant in the Nigel Cabourn Mainline collection (made in Japan), I struggle to recommend this due to it’s absurd overpricing, but it’s worth hunting around for one in the sales and on eBay because it is an incredibly constructed super versatile piece. I managed to pick up a half price sample version in Present some years ago and it’s proved to be an indispensable layering piece ever since. Based on a U.S Gym/training jacket it features a breast pocket and two hand pockets. This simple and useful jacket is given that Cabourn twist with the addition of the metal clip fastenings that have become somewhat of a signature for Nigel. Versions have definitely improved since I purchased mine with a higher grade clip fastening now on the jacket (same as the Cameraman jacket). There’s many replicas of this jacket around (most notably Heritage Research’s USN clip jacket), but if you’re going to buy one, don’t get the poor man’s version, hunt around for Cabourn. It’s worth the time.
Nigel Cabourn Authentic Cameraman Jacket (pictured left)
I’m yet to see a parka I love more than Nigel Cabourn’s iconic and mighty Cameraman Jacket. I was first shown it in Oi Polloi years ago and I was utterly blown away by the details. The jacket features a marriage of two of Britain’s most celebrated and cherished fabrics – Mackintosh and Harris Tweed – and includes Nigel’s signature clip fastening on the upper portion. Appearing every season in the Authentic line since it was launched as part of the Limited Edition collection, this is quite possibly the most copied jacket of the last decade of menswear. Many have had a pop, but all have completely failed to understand what makes this jacket: the quality materials and the build. It doesn’t feel like you’re putting on a jacket; the Mackintosh makes it feel like you’re getting into a protective shell. It’s featured in other fabrics down the years including summer versions in Beeswax cotton and linen. If you’re going to get one, please don’t buy them at the extortionate full price. They always make it to the sales every season. You may have noted I have a problem with Nigel’s pricing. While his clothes are among some of the most exceptionally constructed I have seen, they are not worth the money – unless you’re having a completely bespoke suit made to your own specifications by a team of highly skilled individuals – no clothes are! Hit the sales for this stuff.
A.P.C. New (& Old) Standards
Like fine wine, you can go crazy with denim. But my own sensibilities do not carry me far enough into that world and I’m happy not to go there, because quite frankly; I can’t taste the difference. Denim is the work horse of the casual man’s wardrobe and in my opinion should be purchased, worn, and washed as such. I currently have four pairs of New Standards in rotation. Photographed here is my latest pair and my second pair, now a good five years old. All four still get regular wear. These jeans are decent denim, at a decent price. Simple and classic, they remain an amazing colour throughout their tenure; from their bluey grey beginnings to their stone washed end. And I can’t argue with half a decade (plus) of constant wear. All still going strong.
Steven Alan Woolrich Plaid Tie
I probably wouldn’t buy a Steven Alan tie anymore as I deem them a little too slim nowadays, but this purchase from a few years ago is just about my most worn tie and I still wear it with monotonous regularity. And it’s all down to the material. The Woolrich fabric used on this tie is just about the most versatile plaid I’ve seen as it seems to be able to slot into just about any outfit with ease. I buy ties from Engineered Garments and Drakes now as the quality and shape is perfect, but I wanted to include this piece as its just been so good down the years. Subtle pattern and texture is what I’ve looked for in a tie ever since I realised exactly why I like this one so much.
Trickers Stow Boots
The classic English country boot; Tricker’s Stow. This is a colour that goes with just about everything, a commando sole that will tackle just about anything, in a style that looks appropriate just about anywhere. The scotch grain adds an aesthetic hardiness to the already tough calfskin and does well to hide many creases that would be showing up a lot more prominently on smooth leather. Going on four years with a lot of wear these need a minimal amount of looking after as this colour and finish seems to hold its shine so well. If I had to reduce my shoe collection down to one choice for winter, this would be that choice. I’d always visit Richard at The Shoe Healer for my Tricker’s these days. Even at full price these are worth every penny.
I’m a big fan of the blog A Suitable Wardrobe. Although my own sartorial interests lie on the casual side of menswear, I find Will Boehlke’s musings about classic and bespoke tailoring very inspiring. Many of his ideas and principals regarding colour, pattern and texture are applicable across every gentleman’s wardrobe.
One of my favourite regular posts from Will has been his Suit & Sock installments. I start pretty much everyday with an idea to wear one thing in particular and then dress the rest of the outfit around it. More often than not, that item is either shoes or socks. Socks often dictate an outfit as it can depend on what’s available on that day (i.e. not stuck in the laundry). I never don a pair to coordinate with anything else I’m wearing, but rather to compliment another garment (co-ordination being one of Will’s biggest no-nos. A man should look like he took care to look good, but didn’t try too hard).
You’ll notice there is a lot of Fair Isle in this particular collection of shots. It’s obviously a great winter pattern, adds a flash of visual interest to the ankle (make sure what’s going on up top isn’t too brash as well – don’t want to over cook your ‘look’!) and it often has plenty of colour to work with for the rest of the outfit.
So with this post – rather than a total rip of an idea – please think of it more as ‘Stitched & Stitched after A Suitable Wardrobe’. A casual man’s whimsical and light hearted homage to the serious business of classical menswear and colour matching. There’s more to come down the line – I’m already looking forward to Summer so I can break out some socks and sandals combos. Regardless of my missus wincing every time I mention it, I’m convinced they’re going to be the way forward.
Us Brits haven’t really had a lot of exposure to Cordovan compared to our friends over the pond. Many people over here still think it’s simply a colour of leather. I did a lot of research before purchasing my first pair of Cordovan shoes recently and I thought it would be good to share the information I compiled for those who are thinking about buying a pair. Below is what I regard as the essential knowledge for a first time buyer to be aware of. I’ll keep adding to this list anything further I find of interest and think might be useful as well as anything I experience with my own pair (especially in regards to the Comipel Cordovan). I’m happy to add anyone else’s comments, thoughts and experiences of Cordovan to this post in order to make a well rounded guide.
THE SHELL: Cordovan is horse leather cut from the horse’s hind. Three pieces known as ‘shells’ are taken from each horse suitable for making shoes, hence one of the reasons Cordovan shoes are so expensive: one horse equals one pair of shoes (well, one and a half technically).
CREATION AND COLOUR: The creation of Cordovan is a long, painstaking process over a period of six months. It’s a very difficult leather to colour as the dyeing is done by hand. A common complaint about Cordovan is often the poor colouration of the material, either from the outset (it may be uneven or patchy) or fading over time. The difficulty of the colouring however is no excuse for poor colouration upon purchase as Cordovan customers are charged a high premium for the material and should accept nothing less than perfect.
LIMITATIONS: Cordovan is a tough and resilient leather, but due to its thickness it’s difficult to stitch and sew by hand and limits the amount of styles available in the material. For example the ‘beefroll’ on a beefroll penny loafer would prove too difficult to bend and sew for most shoe makers, thus making the style too hard to create.
WEAR: Cordovan is softer, more pliable, and comfier than calfskin and it ripples rather than creases. Cordovan shoes require regular rotation and shouldn’t really be worn more than once before being given a rest. It’s worth keeping shoe trees in your Cordovan shoes in between wears.
THE SHINE: The natural oils, fats and greases ‘stuffed’ and ‘curried’ in to the leather during the tanning process (as well as its generally thicker, oilier make up compared to that of calfskin) means that Cordovan naturally remains glossy and shiny without adding any polishes or creams. In fact to use anything such as this may actually ruin the surface and cover up its beauty. Buffing with a soft cloth and brushing with a stiff horsehair brush is all that should be needed to maintain the shine. A little polish paste spread very thinly over the shoe may be needed every once in a while.
CLEANING: To clean, only a damp cloth should be used. I’ve heard rubbing Cordovan with a very slightly damp cloth and then buffing over and over (for 30 minutes or so) is also another great way to bring out the shine.
SPEWING: White marks can form on new Cordovan at creasing points. This is called ‘spewing’. This is totally normal and can be wiped and buffed away.
WATER: Despite being harder wearing and more water proof than calfskin, water can cause problems for the surface of Cordovan. Small ‘welts’ can appear where water has made contact. These are normal and should disappear when the leather is totally dry. If they don’t disappear the marks should come out with buffing and brushing. Persistent welts can be removed with the back of a teaspoon wrapped in a soft cloth.
PRODUCERS: As mentioned in my M.T.O post, Horween (based in Chicago) is widely regarded as the best manufacturer of Shell Cordovan. They supply many of the finest shoe manufacturers with Cordovan, Alden being perhaps the most famous maker of Cordovan shoes with the Horween product. Many English shoe brands use Horween Shell Cordovan for their M.T.O shoes (and some R.T.W models) such as Alfred Sargeants and Crockett & Jones. Brits and Europeans can expect to pay a large premium for Horween however, which may explain why Tricker’s use Italian manufacturer Comipel to supply their Cordovan. My own Cordovan boots are Comipel Cordovan and I’m very happy with how they’re wearing so far. I’ve seen complaints that the surface isn’t as splendid as Horween and that it has a metallic odour. In my short experience I have not found this to be the case at all. The Mogano colour material looks to be every bit as nice (if not nicer) than some Colour 8 Alden’s I’ve seen in person and when compared side by side with Horween’s Whiskey Cordovan I would take Comipel’s Mogano everytime (however it’s only really fair to compare similar colours). Comipel’s colour range is more extensive and unusual than Horween’s, but Horween has the iconic Colour 8 which I think is the finest Cordovan colour of all. To the best of my knowledge Tricker’s do not and will not produce shoes in Horween Shell Cordovan.
FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE: People have good and bad experiences with bench made shoes in any material. They are hand made products and are open to human inaccuracies. People are of course hyper critical when paying a higher price on rarer materials which is why Cordovan often comes under scrutiny. My advice would be to take as much as you can onboard from forums and blogs, but nothing beats handling the leathers in the flesh to decide for yourself if it’s worth the extra expense. Many people think not, but I fall on the other side and think it’s a leather with a shine like no other and worth having at least one pair of shoes in this special super-durable material.
RAIN REACTIONS: I’ve noticed that a complete soaking in a heavy downpour is actually better for the leather than a brief splashing in a light shower. The reason being that when individual droplets hit the material they cause it to ‘welt’ (as previously noted). However, when it’s evenly soaked it swells evenly and dries smooth. An even soaking from a downpour yesterday has somewhat ‘reset’ the material and has gotten rid of any previous persistent ‘welts’. Finding this has put my mind at rest about one of my biggest concerns over Cordovan. ***Added 06 01 2011***
COMIPEL VS HORWEEN: Now with a pair of shoes in Cordovan from both manufacturers I feel I can give a better comparison. Here’s some notes on the differences I’ve noticed between my pairs:
Comipel is thinner than Horween’s product and has a definite difference when creased. Comipel ‘ripples’ much more than Horween Cordovan which has a sharper crease (whilst still not a crease like calf skin).
The Comipel has an almost ‘satin’ finish to it whilst the Horween is pure gloss. The Horween leather on my particular pair far out shines the Comipel, although I think I’ve got a particularly shiny example of Alden Longwings. Some of the Color #8 Alden’s I tried on at Browns the other week had a pretty dull surface (duller than my Comipel’s infact). It goes to show it’s total swings and roundabouts. Choose wisely.
Whilst not the same, the Color #8 Cordovan creases a lot lighter than the Comipel Mogano Brown (probably Comipel’s closest match).
One thing I will say in favour of the Horween Cordovan is it’s much more evenly coloured. The Comipel Mogano Brown, although a slightly lighter colour is a little patchy.
There has been very little difference in wet weather performance. Both have ‘welted’ in exactly the same way and frequency. The only way I really got rid of the welting on my Comipel leather was when it got saturated in a storm. The material swelled evenly and dried evenly to a dull finish. They shined up with a cloth and some elbow grease right back to normal. I would say (from a few wet weather performances) that the Horween leather retains its shine much more effectively. I need to buff the Comipel back every few wears (regardless of whether they get wet or not).
In terms of the actual leather performance and wear I couldn’t make a clear decision between the two – for me it’s simply the iconic Color #8 that swings it in Horween’s direction in this comparison. ***Added 22 02 2011***
A NOTE ON TRICKER’S USING HORWEEN. A couple of weeks ago I made an enquiry at Tricker’s Jermyn Street regarding a pair of MTO Short (5 hole) Stow Boots made in Horween Cordovan Color #8. Tricker’s informed me the DO NOT use Horween Cordovan. The reason they told me they gave it up was because they were not satisfied with the supply coming from Horween as not every piece was suitable for making shoes. They would however make a pair if I supplied the Horween Cordovan myself. The exercise would have proved too expensive and too big a risk considering Tricker’s reluctance to touch the stuff, so I gave up the enquiry. For those who would be interested you can buy Horween Cordovan direct from their UK agent A&A Crack (based in Northampton). The price to supply enough Cordovan for a pair of boots was around £170 (two pieces of Grade II Cordovan). I still might buy a piece myself as I’m interested in perhaps making a wallet out of it at some point. ***Added 22 02 2012***
I found out an interesting fact about Color #8 during my visit to New York’s Leffot. Alden apparently stain their Color #8 a slightly ruddier colour than the original material Horween provide. Alden’s treatment also adds a glossier sheen to the leather. Having seen a few examples of the original Color #8 it is much closer to Comipel’s Mogano than I originally thought. This goes to explain some of the inconsistency I’ve witnessed between certain brands using this shade. ***Added 16 05 2012***
As it’s getting close to autumn, I’m about to once again be stepping out in my first pair of custom made Tricker’s, ordered through Stitched & Stitched favourite; The Shoe Healer. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as wearing a pair of shoes you’ve ‘created’ yourself and, at the time, this model was only a fraction more expensive than ‘ready to wear’ options.
I ended up looking at a custom made option as I’d missed out on a pair of Tricker’s Scotch Grain Allan boots with a red dainite sole that I’d longed after for a while from The Bureau Belfast. When I went to order them at last, they’d sold out of my size. So with that style in mind, mixed with a long term want for a simpler pair of Tricker’s in black, I went about designing my own pair.
Rather tragically, and to satisfy my own curiosity, I chopped up The Bureau’s product shot of the Allan boots in Photoshop to make the shoe I was after. It was my first time buying custom made shoes, so I figured if I had a clear visual reference for Tricker’s to match to then nothing could go wrong. I realise this was totally excessive as I would now be completely confident consulting with Richard (The Shoe Healer) on shoe style and materials with his expertise as a guidance (kind of how men have been ordering bespoke shoes for centuries really).
The chopped up image I gave to Richard to match to resulted in a classic Tricker’s Matlock in Black Scotch grain with natural leather and black dainite sole with brass coloured eyelets to highlight the natural leather of the sole.
After nearly three years of pretty solid use one of my favourite pairs of Trickers was looking a little worse for wear. The shoe in question was a classic brogue stow boot in Marron antique. Over the course of their use the double leather sole had started to delaminate slightly and spread at the front the shoe. The rubber heel component had also worn away well into the leather.
Rather than take them to Trickers who tend to have long lead times for resoling and would no doubt recommend to unnecessarily replace the welt (which was in decent condition) I took them to my man in Doncaster; The Shoe Healer.
I’m going to write in more depth about Richard and his excellent team at The Shoe Healer in the coming weeks, but first I wanted to mention about the excellent job he did resoling these particular boots.
For the resoling I chose a red Dainite sole (due to their excellent durability and striking colour) mixed with a natural coloured leather. In order to achieve this Richard and his team took the edge off the Marron antique painted sole, cutting it back to the leather’s natural finish. Then they stripped the old heel and outsole away, retaining the welt and added a new leather outsole, the Dainite rubber, and added the new heel. The original Marron antique colour is retained at the top of the welt which makes for a pleasing, crisp colour change in to the edge of the natural leather.
Richard also replaced the stitching on the welt to the sole, which a lot of cobblers won’t do as not many have the machinery and skills to carry this out. On my brogues they’ve replaced it with a matching brown thread, but they mentioned they’d been tempted to finish it with a contrasting cream thread which I’ve seen them do on other examples to great effect. I kind of wished they’d gone for it and next time I might specify this.
The result has transformed an unremarkable, shabby pair of Trickers in to a fresh and unique pair of boots of my own creation and at almost a third of the cost of taking them directly to Trickers (who in my past experiences are always unpleasant and awkward to deal with).
More on The Shoe Healer soon, but in the meantime check out their website and their gallery of custom made Trickers they’ve produced for an international customer base.