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Why you buy bespoke suits first

20 September 2009

bespoke-shoes-not

After four bespoke suits made in Hong Kong over the past few years, and now embarking on my second British bespoke suit, I find it hard to see how I could ever stop getting a particular thrill out of it. But it will be a while before I pay for bespoke shoes.

Ignore for the moment that I can’t afford bespoke shoes. (I can buy bespoke suits off Savile Row or in the City from £800 and up, but I’ve yet to find a bespoke shoe maker who is as proportionately affordable.) Even if I was spending the usual £3000 or so for a Savile Row suit, I’m not sure I’d be spending £2000 on bespoke shoes.

Equally, when you read the experiences of older men they still buy ready-to-wear shoes even though they never buy ready-to-wear suits anymore.

I think the reason is that a bespoke suit is both more comfortable to wear and flattering. Bespoke shoes are pretty much just about comfort.

A bespoke suit is more comfortable because it hugs your contours and your proportions. It ensures that the waist doesn’t restrict you when you turn or reach for something. And (more impressively, since that last aspect of fit could be achieved by just buying a bigger suit) it allows your arms to move independently without dragging the body of jacket wherever it goes.

So, it’s more comfortable. But that comfort also produces flattery and beauty. If you are relatively slim, the jacket is likely to be more pinched at the waist, giving you broader shoulders and a sharp silhouette. The shoulders will follow yours exactly, creating a smooth, sculpted body of cloth. Overall, as the Dictionary of English Trades (1804) describes the work of a cutter, it will “create a good shape where nature has not granted one”.

But shoes look beautiful no matter how badly they fit. OK if the fit is really terrible the leather might be distorted and bulge (if too small) or crease in the wrong place and leave an awkward curl at the toe (if too big). And a bespoke shoe does follow the lines of your feet better, making it look a little daintier and sculpted.

But generally, being a little big or a little small makes no difference aesthetically. Most of the aspects of shoes associated with bespoke, like a slim and bevelled waist, can also be found on high-end ready-to-wear (like Gaziano & Girling, for example, or Lodger’s English contemporary last).

So for now, I’ll be sticking with ready-to-wear shoes.