Getting a Good Leather Belt
Belts are one of those things you can skimp on without looking too much worse for it. I wrote a post a few months back about how you can find a serviceable (even if not terribly well-made) belt for about $20-30. If you’re willing to spend a little more, however, I thought I’d cover some of my favorite places to get something better.
Ready-to-Wear Belts
If you purchase most of your shoes from one company, it can be wise to source your belt from the same manufacturer. Companies such as Allen Edmonds, Alden, Crockett & Jones, and Edward Green make belts in the same leathers they use for their shoes. In this way, you can easily follow that rule of thumb that the color of one’s belt should generally match one’s shoes.
For other nice, off-the-shelf options, check some of the more traditional American clothiers, such as Ben Silver, Paul Stuart, and Brooks Brothers. Brooks discounts theirs by 25% or more once or twice a season. I liked the buckle on this one so much that I bought three in different colors. And though I don’t personally own any, people have written good reviews of Traflagar and Martin Dingman’s offerings.
Online, you can find some beautiful belts at A Suitable Wardrobe. Their lightly textured hides – made from 20-month old French calves – is a nice balance between the more boring, plain variety (which I admit I mostly have) and showier exotics such as alligator, ostrich, and crocodile. For something more affordable, Austin Jeffers supplies nice, basic designs for about $50. 
Custom Belts
The world of custom belts is vast, but I’ll only cover four. The most affordable I know of is bridle belt maker Narragansett Leathers. Bridle leather is a thickly cut leather with a high oil content, which makes it both harder wearing and water resistant. This is the kind of belting leather that will indeed last a lifetime. Narragansett makes their belts quite simply – leathers are cut, holes are punched, and buckles and keepers are then attached. A basic, durable belt starting at about $35.
Another bridle leather belt maker is Equus Leathers, who I like a bit better for the details they put in. The edges have a nice scored line, the keepers are squared off, and the edge burnishing is done a bit more nicely. I also like their very well-executed handsewn saddle stitching. Charlie, who runs Equus, used to make a living in bespoke saddlery, but the market for that has been destroyed by foreign imports. So now he just does belts, and knows the craft quite well.
The robustness of bridle leather makes it appropriate for chinos and jeans, but for suits and any worsted material, I like dressier, edge stitched belts from companies such as James Reid. Theirs are made from an all-leather, two-piece construction. There’s no inner layer or non-leather filler, which makes them much softer and smarter than bridle leather belts. The backing strap is made from full-grain, oak-tanned, harness quality cowhides from one of the last remaining tanneries in America, Herman Oaks. This strap is beveled along both edges, so that when the top layer is laid down, a contoured cross-sectional shape is produced with a feathered edge. Should you need an affordable buckle to go with their belts, you can contact Charlie at Equus. 
Lastly, there’s Herve N. Sellier, a French maker of fine leather goods that was introduced to me by a friend of mine who knows more about quality clothing than anyone I know. I’ve never tried Herve N. Sellier’s goods, but the company’s founder and craftsman used to produce exclusively for Hermes for twenty years, which alone should probably say something about his craft. Remarkably, the prices he charges for his belts aren’t too much more than those from the options mentioned above.
(Pictured: my belts from James Reid, Narragansett Leathers, and Equus Leathers)

Getting a Good Leather Belt

Belts are one of those things you can skimp on without looking too much worse for it. I wrote a post a few months back about how you can find a serviceable (even if not terribly well-made) belt for about $20-30. If you’re willing to spend a little more, however, I thought I’d cover some of my favorite places to get something better.

Ready-to-Wear Belts

If you purchase most of your shoes from one company, it can be wise to source your belt from the same manufacturer. Companies such as Allen Edmonds, Alden, Crockett & Jones, and Edward Green make belts in the same leathers they use for their shoes. In this way, you can easily follow that rule of thumb that the color of one’s belt should generally match one’s shoes.

For other nice, off-the-shelf options, check some of the more traditional American clothiers, such as Ben Silver, Paul Stuart, and Brooks Brothers. Brooks discounts theirs by 25% or more once or twice a season. I liked the buckle on this one so much that I bought three in different colors. And though I don’t personally own any, people have written good reviews of Traflagar and Martin Dingman’s offerings.

Online, you can find some beautiful belts at A Suitable Wardrobe. Their lightly textured hides – made from 20-month old French calves – is a nice balance between the more boring, plain variety (which I admit I mostly have) and showier exotics such as alligator, ostrich, and crocodile. For something more affordable, Austin Jeffers supplies nice, basic designs for about $50. 

Custom Belts

The world of custom belts is vast, but I’ll only cover four. The most affordable I know of is bridle belt maker Narragansett Leathers. Bridle leather is a thickly cut leather with a high oil content, which makes it both harder wearing and water resistant. This is the kind of belting leather that will indeed last a lifetime. Narragansett makes their belts quite simply – leathers are cut, holes are punched, and buckles and keepers are then attached. A basic, durable belt starting at about $35.

Another bridle leather belt maker is Equus Leathers, who I like a bit better for the details they put in. The edges have a nice scored line, the keepers are squared off, and the edge burnishing is done a bit more nicely. I also like their very well-executed handsewn saddle stitching. Charlie, who runs Equus, used to make a living in bespoke saddlery, but the market for that has been destroyed by foreign imports. So now he just does belts, and knows the craft quite well.

The robustness of bridle leather makes it appropriate for chinos and jeans, but for suits and any worsted material, I like dressier, edge stitched belts from companies such as James Reid. Theirs are made from an all-leather, two-piece construction. There’s no inner layer or non-leather filler, which makes them much softer and smarter than bridle leather belts. The backing strap is made from full-grain, oak-tanned, harness quality cowhides from one of the last remaining tanneries in America, Herman Oaks. This strap is beveled along both edges, so that when the top layer is laid down, a contoured cross-sectional shape is produced with a feathered edge. Should you need an affordable buckle to go with their belts, you can contact Charlie at Equus. 

Lastly, there’s Herve N. Sellier, a French maker of fine leather goods that was introduced to me by a friend of mine who knows more about quality clothing than anyone I know. I’ve never tried Herve N. Sellier’s goods, but the company’s founder and craftsman used to produce exclusively for Hermes for twenty years, which alone should probably say something about his craft. Remarkably, the prices he charges for his belts aren’t too much more than those from the options mentioned above.

(Pictured: my belts from James ReidNarragansett Leathers, and Equus Leathers)

The Charm of Tassel Loafers
I really like tassel loafers. I’m wearing a shell cordovan pair now with brown sharkskin trousers, a dark green v-neck sweater, light blue oxford cloth button-down shirt, navy over-the-calf socks, and a dark reddish-brown alligator belt. With clothes that are a bit too fully cut, tassel loafers can look a little fuddy duddy; with clothes that are too tight, they can look overly hip. Somewhere in the middle, I think, is where they look best.
Tassel loafers came into being in the post-war period of the 1940s, right when tweed jackets, Shetland sweaters, and penny loafers dominated prep schools and Ivy League campuses. As college students graduated, they wanted something as comfortable as their slip-ons, but were a bit dressier and more sophisticated for their new life in the business world. It was around this time that an actor named Paul Lukas came back from Europe with a pair of oxfords. They had little tassels at the end of their laces, which Lukas thought made them look more lively. So he took them to a couple of New York shoemakers to see if they could make something similar, and they in turn took the job to Alden. The company’s president at the time, Arthur Tarlow, came up with tasseled loafers and they were an instant success. That makes Alden’s model the original, and Paul Lukas the first man to wear this style of footwear. You can read more about this wonderful history in this article by Bruce Boyer.
Tassel loafers come in a variety of colors and leathers. The most common is brown calfskin, but the ne plus ultra is the reddish-brown shell cordovan that comes from Chicago’s Horween Tannery. Shell cordovan has the particularly good quality of holding the color burgundy well. In calf, burgundy can sometimes look cheap, but in horsehide leather, it absolutely glows. 
As for where to get them, there are probably a dozens of versions on the market. I’ll only cover a few. As mentioned, Alden’s is the original and its history as the classic makes it hard to beat. They also make a similar model for Brooks Brothers. The main deviation is the piece of leather that’s added to the heel cup. From England, we have Crockett & Jones’ Cavendish and Edward Green’s Belgravia. Crockett & Jones also makes a shell cordovan version for Ralph Lauren called the the Marlow, and it has a slightly more unique shade of shell cordovan brown.
My own pair is Allen Edmonds’ Grayson. It’s quite similar to Alden’s, but it has a higher vamp, which is the part the shoe that covers the top part of your foot. I thought it looked slightly better this way, so I bought a pair in shell cordovan. I couldn’t be happier with the purchase and recommend them highly.
If you’d like more affordable options, consider Loake’s Lincoln and Meermin’s 101381. Both come in around $175, but Meermin has the added advantage of being able to do special orders. If you’d like to get a pair in shell cordovan or suede, or made from a different last or sole, they’d be happy to make you a pair for a small surcharge. I have a pair of their made-to-order shoes and couldn’t be more impressed with their value. To order, read this buyer’s guide and then go to Meermin’s website. My only comment on that guide is that you should ask Meermin for sizing advice; don’t just assume. 
Tassel loafers aren’t anything I’d call “an essential,” but they’re certainly very enjoyable to wear. If you work in an environment that lets you get away with more casual footwear, try wearing a pair of these with a wool sweater and corduroys, or maybe a checkered tweed and flannel wool trousers. Both will carry a great sense of American style that’s both casual and sophisticated. 

The Charm of Tassel Loafers

I really like tassel loafers. I’m wearing a shell cordovan pair now with brown sharkskin trousers, a dark green v-neck sweater, light blue oxford cloth button-down shirt, navy over-the-calf socks, and a dark reddish-brown alligator belt. With clothes that are a bit too fully cut, tassel loafers can look a little fuddy duddy; with clothes that are too tight, they can look overly hip. Somewhere in the middle, I think, is where they look best.

Tassel loafers came into being in the post-war period of the 1940s, right when tweed jackets, Shetland sweaters, and penny loafers dominated prep schools and Ivy League campuses. As college students graduated, they wanted something as comfortable as their slip-ons, but were a bit dressier and more sophisticated for their new life in the business world. It was around this time that an actor named Paul Lukas came back from Europe with a pair of oxfords. They had little tassels at the end of their laces, which Lukas thought made them look more lively. So he took them to a couple of New York shoemakers to see if they could make something similar, and they in turn took the job to Alden. The company’s president at the time, Arthur Tarlow, came up with tasseled loafers and they were an instant success. That makes Alden’s model the original, and Paul Lukas the first man to wear this style of footwear. You can read more about this wonderful history in this article by Bruce Boyer.

Tassel loafers come in a variety of colors and leathers. The most common is brown calfskin, but the ne plus ultra is the reddish-brown shell cordovan that comes from Chicago’s Horween Tannery. Shell cordovan has the particularly good quality of holding the color burgundy well. In calf, burgundy can sometimes look cheap, but in horsehide leather, it absolutely glows. 

As for where to get them, there are probably a dozens of versions on the market. I’ll only cover a few. As mentioned, Alden’s is the original and its history as the classic makes it hard to beat. They also make a similar model for Brooks Brothers. The main deviation is the piece of leather that’s added to the heel cup. From England, we have Crockett & Jones’ Cavendish and Edward Green’s Belgravia. Crockett & Jones also makes a shell cordovan version for Ralph Lauren called the the Marlow, and it has a slightly more unique shade of shell cordovan brown.

My own pair is Allen Edmonds’ Grayson. It’s quite similar to Alden’s, but it has a higher vamp, which is the part the shoe that covers the top part of your foot. I thought it looked slightly better this way, so I bought a pair in shell cordovan. I couldn’t be happier with the purchase and recommend them highly.

If you’d like more affordable options, consider Loake’s Lincoln and Meermin’s 101381. Both come in around $175, but Meermin has the added advantage of being able to do special orders. If you’d like to get a pair in shell cordovan or suede, or made from a different last or sole, they’d be happy to make you a pair for a small surcharge. I have a pair of their made-to-order shoes and couldn’t be more impressed with their value. To order, read this buyer’s guide and then go to Meermin’s website. My only comment on that guide is that you should ask Meermin for sizing advice; don’t just assume. 

Tassel loafers aren’t anything I’d call “an essential,” but they’re certainly very enjoyable to wear. If you work in an environment that lets you get away with more casual footwear, try wearing a pair of these with a wool sweater and corduroys, or maybe a checkered tweed and flannel wool trousers. Both will carry a great sense of American style that’s both casual and sophisticated. 

If you’re in London, this sounds pretty great.

If you’re in London, this sounds pretty great.

For those of you in the UK, Edward Green is holding a Factory Sale on Saturday.

Please be advised that Edward Green is having a Factory Sale on 15th October 2011 from 9.00am to 16.00pm (Personal Shoppers Only)
Cliftonville Road, Northampton NN1 5BU

For those of you in the UK, Edward Green is holding a Factory Sale on Saturday.

Please be advised that Edward Green is having a Factory Sale on 15th October 2011 from 9.00am to 16.00pm (Personal Shoppers Only)

Cliftonville Road, Northampton NN1 5BU

DC Lewis Footwear: A New Shoe Company on the Market

Two well-respected StyleForum members (distinctive and rebell222) recently started a new company called D.C. Lewis Footwear. I was asked to review one of their shoes, so I agreed to have them send me a pair of their Claytons.

DC Lewis’ Clayton is single monkstrap that looks very reminiscent of John Lobb’s Vale. My impressions of the styling are very positive. The asymmetric last is elegant and sleek. It’s balanced in a way that gives the shoe a kind of rakish sophistication without crossing over into rudeness. I was a bit concerned that the vamp was going to be too plain for my taste. For single monkstraps, I general prefer models such as Edward Green’s Oundle to John Lobb’s Vale, where the vamp has stitching that meets the quarters on both sides of the shoe. However, having tried these on, I think the cleaner vamp is actually better for a design like this, where the strap cuts back this high.  

Construction wise, these are Goodyear welted on a single sole. The sole is made from a chestnut tanned leather; upper from a vegetable-tanned French box calfskin; and inside is a full leather sockliner. There are no fiberboard or reconstituted leather products here, which is good. The only possible “downsides” are the gemming and synthetic toe puff. I put downsides in quotations because the arguments against these features have been (in addition to insane) largely inconclusive. In any case, if you don’t know what they mean, don’t worry about them. Unless you’re in the position to buy Vass, Saint Crispin’s, Stefano Bemer, Scafora, or Cleverley, you will be mostly living in a world of gemmed shoes and synthetic toe puffs anyway, so it’s somewhat of a non-issue. In short, the construction on these is exceptionally good, at least on face value. 

My only hesitation with DC Lewis is that they’re made in Laos and Taiwan. For shoes that cost around the low $400s, I’d like to know more about how they wear, and given that there’s not much information about the manufacturing houses, I think this matter is still undecided. However, I really like their styles and lasts. Both their Clayton and Porter models look like sleekly styled shoes that you’d normally only expect from more expensive European manufacturers. I also like that you can customize your order by choosing from fourteen different materials, and get their shoes with a fiddleback waist (a handmade detailing that’s typically only found on much higher-end shoes). In the end, while the jury is still out on how these will age, I think DC Lewis offers a good option for people looking at quality shoes. They’re especially nice for those who appreciate sleeker, more elegant styles, and enjoy a bit of high end detailing. For those interested, you can order the shoes directly from DC Lewis through their StyleForum page, or buy them from Kent Wang

The Uptown Dandy’s unreal vintage Edward Green collection. In honor of my own first pair, recently eBayed.

The Uptown Dandy’s unreal vintage Edward Green collection. In honor of my own first pair, recently eBayed.

Jesse made a comment yesterday about how we shouldn’t conflate heritage and quality, and I completely agree. Too many consumers, I think, use a company’s heritage as a proxy for quality, and then become enchanted with buzz-phrases such as “will last you a lifetime,” even as they go about buying shoes that are essentially glue jobs. In the end, to learn about quality, you really just have to begin developing an understanding of the manufacturing process. 

As such, I thought I’d post this video of Edward Green’s factory - a company that both has incredible heritage and produces amazing quality shoes. Here you can see the incredible craftsmanship that goes into a pair of Edward Greens. These shoes feature more handwork than almost any ready-to-wear shoes on the market. For example, the closing stitches are done by hand, with pig bristles since they’re finer than needles, and polishes are hand applied in order to create a strong sense of depth in the leather. Any machine work done on the shoe is also still guided by hand. This all helps maintain a level of attention to detail, at each stage of the manufacturing process, that machines alone can’t achieve. 

The materials on a pair of Edward Greens are also some of the best in the world. For example, the soles of the shoes are made from oak bark tanned leather, a type of hide that has been tanned exclusively from vegetable agents made from barks and fruits. The process takes place inside of an oak-lined pit that is ten feet deep. The hide sits in the solution for about a year. There are no mechanical movements, no chemical catalysts, and the solution isn’t heated; the hide just sits for a year. It’s a slow process, but the leather that comes out is very lightweight, very hardwearing, and very flexible. It is also highly water-repellent, but very breathable. This makes it perfect for soles.

If this level of quality isn’t enough for you, Edward Green also has their Top Drawer program. In their normal made-to-measure program, the company allows clients to choose the last, leather, and sole for the shoes they want. Top Drawer better than that, however. Here, models feature hand-carved fiddleback waists that have an added piece of leather for additional support. The heel is slightly tapered, the sole’s edge is hand shaped into a spade, and the bottom of the shoe features the client’s initials in the form of a nailhead design. Top Drawer shoes also get more attention at every stage of the manufacturing process. 

Of course, there are still things to quibble about. The welt, for example, is attached to a canvas ribbing (a process called gemming), which is the white thing at you see in the video at around three minutes and twenty seconds in. Canvas, of course, isn’t as sturdy as leather, and can become brittle over time. As well, many say that a cork filled insole isn’t as good as a full leather insole. However, outside of a few manufacturers such as Stefano Bemer and DW Fromer, very few manufacturers offer fully hand welted shoes made in the most traditional manufacturing techniques. That kind of process is very laborious, and thus incredibly expensive. For ready-to-wear shoes, Edward Greens still represent one of the best shoes you can buy on the market.

The key here is to not assume things about quality just from the heritage of a brand, or even the price, but rather understand how things are made, and be serious about appreciating craftsmanship. 

(As an aside, you should thank GW this post. He posted this video over this weekend, and after I laughed about how I was planning to use it this week, he took his down so that I could include it here. The guy is seriously a gentleman - and an owner of Edward Green’s best model, the Dover, I might add. There is a man who knows about quality.)