The clothing discount available to staff at Selfridges was not the only reason I left my job at a suburban bank to work in menswear, but it was certainly a strong influence on my decision.
As a clothing-obsessed youth, I had been spending most of my income on fashion for years, but now I was in my early twenties I was keen to upgrade to better quality clothes – moving away from vintage and hand-me-downs towards the wardrobe of a young professional.
The first wardrobe category to be upgraded was my footwear collection. Shoes have always been important to me and I remember my first pair of penny loafers from when I was still at primary school (we called them ‘college loafers’ back then). My early teenage years were all about wearing the ‘right’ trainers, but I’d returned to classic footwear by the time I reached Sixth Form.
Traditional styles were much easier to purchase on the High Street in the 1980s than they are now, with most shops offering Oxfords, Brogues and Chelsea boots of sorts. By the time I started at Selfridges, I had a serviceable collection of shoes but I wanted better. Even with a generous discount, a pair of good shoes was still a significant outlay for a junior shop assistant in the shirt department; so I did some research.
This was, of course, before the days of Google so I asked the older, experienced salesmen in the shop which brand I should invest in first. I knew I wanted Goodyear welted and that the best shoes were made in Northampton, but that still left options. The endorsement of these old hands meant a lot in those days too – this is before the age of digital influencers and websites – the sharply dressed salesmen on the floor only spent their clothing allowance on the pieces that they really valued. They knew the score.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the overwhelming response was to treat myself to something from Crockett & Jones. In all honesty, as a green young shop assistant, this wasn’t the brand I had expected to come up top – but the general opinion was that C&J offered the best value English shoes on the market, so I took a closer look.
Crockett & Jones’s shoes were indeed sensibly priced, but their greatest appeal lay in their overall feel and aesthetic; they were robust without being rustic and refined without being precious. The toe boxes and lasts were conservative but stylish, and they just looked ‘cleaner’ than most of the other brands.
Moreover, C&J's Tobacco Suede semi-brogues just called out to me. Similar to the brand’s Westfield model today, they just oozed quality. The colour was (and still is) absolutely perfect and I have it on good authority that other makers use this colour as a benchmark in their own collections.
I planned to wear my new purchase with chinos and cords at the weekend, but the best combination was always with grey flannel trousers and a proper blazer. I took to wearing long (always, always long) yellow socks to draw attention to my well-shod feet, and I didn’t stop there.
Having seen how pleasing flannel was with Tobacco Suede, I started to wear them with my dark blue, double-breasted chalk-stripe suit. This provoked a variety of responses from nodding, approving smiles and favourable comparisons to Edward VIII, to sneering comments about ‘no brown in town’. I noted that the negative comments often came from the type of person who keeps a pen in the pocket of his double-cuff shirt and wears a matching tie and pocket square…
Twenty-five years later, I still wear Crockett & Jones’s Tobacco Suede semi-brogues with flannel suits and it passes without comment. This is a shame, I enjoyed annoying people.