Here’s a surprise. Apparently Karl Marx bought his shoes from the famous bespoke shoemaking firm Peal & Co. He had them made when he moved to London, which was in the mid-1800s, shortly after The Communist Manifesto was published. Marx was quite poor at the time, mostly surviving on donations from friends and supporters, but custom shoes were considered less unusual in Marx’s age. Ready-to-wear shoes didn’t really appear in the UK until the 1850s – right around when Marx bought his Peals. The spread of ready-to-wear would later make custom clothing a luxury.
If the name Peal & Co. sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because you might have a pair in your closet. The company started in 1791 and eventually grew to be the largest bespoke shoemaking firm in the world. At their height, clients included leading Hollywood men (e.g. Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, and Steve McQueen); industrialists such as Henry Ford; and politicians such as John F. Kennedy. Unfortunately, by the mid-20th century, the company struggled to find suitable replacements for their craftsmen, which led to longer delivery times and sadly, the eventual closing of their factory. In 1965, the name was sold to Brooks Brothers, who now sells their higher-end shoes under the Peal & Co. banner (although, since the Peal factory closed, this is just in name only).
Today, Peal mostly lives on through Foster & Son, another renowned bespoke shoemaker. When Peal closed, their last maker, Terry Moore, took many of their lasts with him to Foster. Those lasts are still being used today as reference points for Foster’s riding boots and slippers. You can also see Peal’s original “boot and fox” emblem – which they picked up from Bartley & Son when they acquired them – in Foster & Son’s logo and Brooks Brothers’ Peal & Co. stamp.
Anyway, who would have guessed that the shoe company most famous for dressing the bourgeoisie also dressed the man who tried to eliminate the bourgeoisie?
You can read more about this history at the City of London’s website. There’s also a fantastic video on YouTube with some rare footage of Peal’s operations. Pictured above is a tracing of Karl Marx’s foot, taken from Peal’s original order books.
(hat tip to CrimsonSox)