In my younger, more vulnerable years (to paraphrase The Great Gatsby), a wise man gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. I was curious about serious sartorial matters and interested in which rules should be followed, bent or even broken. And, as many young men do, I found an older man of style and substance and put these vital questions to him.
His name was David, as it happens, and he worked at the Barneys on Madison Avenue (RIP) in the tailoring department on the top floor. Then he moved to a very smart Italian store right across 61st Street. I could barely afford to shop there (I think I bought a shirt on sale once), but I loved to admire the clothes – seven-fold ties, grey flannel trousers. He seemed to sense that and never rushed me as I coveted elegant plaid sport coats that cost as much as the old Saab I faithfully drove at the time.
Occasionally, if the store was empty, David and I would discuss theories of dress. One day I asked him if a man could wear suede shoes in the summer. He paused, looked at me over his glasses with a glimmer in his eye. “Not only can he wear suede shoes in the summer,” he replied. “He should.”
These words shook me like a lightning strike. This was mischief on Madison, rebellion in real time. This was the power of confidence and the knowledge to know when you could operate outside the sartorial law. Now of course I take this specific rule for granted and applaud the principle in general. I love brown suede shoes and feel a kinship for those who wear them.
They were made to go with grey flannel trousers in the winter, but with summer-weight greys in the heat they are an undeniable source of power. Were my first pair Crockett & Jones cap-toed Oxfords? They were. Did I wear them until they were destroyed? I did.
Now suede shoes, reverse leather, as they were once known, have already been through their own history of progressive ideas. Originally a shoe for the country they migrated toward the metrop when seen on the feet of the Duke of Windsor, making the dangerous statement safe.
I’ve always responded to the fact that they are elegant without formality. Recently, I’ve added the narrower Westfield in Tobacco Suede that’s even more forward looking to my own collection. Allegiance to the right shoe in the right material knows no bounds, they should be celebrated always and can be worn – and should be – year-round.