If I have to weigh in on one more story predicting whether humanity will return to dressing up to the nines or stick with tracky-b’s and pyjama shirts in 2021, I’ll give up on fashion journalism and go and live in a cave. Men’s lifestyle media has obsessed with this quandary for the past 12 months or so, and it completely misses the point.
If you can find me the guy who’s honestly sat at home under lockdown thinking “oooh, I just can’t wait to get my starched collar and three-piece suit out again”, then I’ll cover myself in goose fat and swim the Channel nude. Likewise, I don’t believe we’re all going to regress into perpetual student-hood and scowl about our bedsits in whiffy sweatpants with egg on our vests forever more.
The answer to the question of where style is heading is far more nuanced, more so than these trifling 500-or-so words can cope with, but there are some truisms I’d like to throw into the ring. For close to a decade before the pandemic kicked-in last March, men wanted to be more comfortable – and gravitated towards clothes that were relaxed, even at the formal end of the spectrum. In tailoring terms that meant unstructured, breezy jackets with natural Italianate shoulders, and washed jeans, chinos and boxy work jackets on the weekends. Really, most of us haven’t ‘dressed up’ for decades – but we’ve not exactly been what you’d call scruffy, either.
In other words, the markers of formal menswear have simply relaxed over time (much as you’d expect them to in the modern world), and brands have found ways for traditionally ‘dressy’ garments to relax into a contemporary context. COVID-19 has accelerated this change, and I don’t see a world where we’ll all go back to chalkstripe suits and ties for the office, but smart clothes aren’t going to disappear. If I were a betting man, I’d say that lightweight, smart-casual garments like unstructured blazers, overshirts, raglan coats and utility jackets are going to be the calling cards of the next few years.
Of course, this trend also reflects in men’s footwear. According to the boffins at C&J, boots and loafers have grown in popularity over the past decade, while formal lace-ups have levelled off. Certainly, this chimes with my own wardrobe; I don’t remember the last time I pulled on a pair of lace-ups that weren’t derby boots, and yet I’ve got six or seven pairs of loafers lined up at home.
Evidently, Crockett & Jones is on board the smart-casual train. The brand’s new, hotly anticipated Unstructured Collection launches this month, and is a deft exercise in making classic English shoes that are entirely relevant to today. The capsule’s three pairs of loafers are smart-looking, yet relaxed – perfectly in-line with this long-running trend towards refined comfort and our ‘new normal’ sensibilities. As the name suggests, each loafer is unlined and unstructured, with just a little bit of support in the toe box and heel to maintain their shape.
This trio of new loafers do what classic Goodyear welted shoes often struggle with; they combine good looks with forward-thinking engineering. The SUPERFLEX soles are a first of their kind, genuinely flexible slim leather soles that are both supportive and forgiving (sure, almost every English shoemaker claims to offer a flexible leather sole – this is the first one I’ve been convinced by) and despite their unstructured uppers, they still support your feet properly. They’re comparable to Belgian loafers or espadrilles in terms of lightness and comfort, but they’re an infinitely wiser investment.
I very much hope we’ll see more shoes like these from C&J over the next few years – they feel like a logical direction for an on-the-pulse shoemaker to take, and a logical direction for all our ‘new normal’ wardrobes to move forwards – smart-looking and yet low key. Just don’t wear them with your sweatpants, okay..?