December 13th, 2018
My family has been making traditional English shoes for longer than anyone can remember. My great-grandfather John opened the first Loake factory with his brothers, Thomas and William, back in 1880. Today, five generations and more than 130 years later, the Loake association with fine, handmade shoes lives on.
Chelsea boots, also known as jodhpur boots, first appeared in Victorian times and were used for horse riding. Their distinguishable feature was an elastic insert that allowed them to be easily pulled on and off. By the middle of the 20th century, London’s ‘Chelsea Set’ had adopted the style and the name Chelsea boot was born. The design soon became synonymous with the Mod and Beatnik generation of the 1960s.
Here at Loake we are big fans of David Evans, cult menswear writer and author behind Grey Fox, a fashion and style blog offering sartorial guidance to men over 40. During his search for style, David has discovered and become a big fan of British menswear. We were recently fortunate to receive him at our Kettering factory. Here is his account of the visit.
I recently visited Kettering to see the Loake footwear factory. As a blogger, I’ve had the privilege of visiting several factories around England and Scotland. All were similar in many ways: the smell of oil, the sounds, the ordered but well-worn furnishings and machinery, the quiet focus of the workers, their enthusiasm and care and the breathtaking expertise shown in those quick, deft movements used by those totally familiar with their work.
Northamptonshire is the spiritual home of the brogue. No English gentleman’s wardrobe is complete without a pair of handcrafted Goodyear welted brogues from one of the county’s traditional shoemakers. However, the brogue did not originate in the Midlands. Originally it was worn in the wilder reaches of the Highlands and Ireland, the punched holes designed to allow water to drain from the shoe after walking through boggy terrain.
Meet Brendon Drage-Dawes, the Manager of our factory in Kettering, Northamptonshire. Brendon is a highly-experienced and very valuable member of our management team. He has worked in the shoemaking trade for nearly three decades.
We invited Craig Langdale, editor of men’s fashion and lifestyle site MenswearStyle, to choose the key shoe styles that should have pride of place in the discerning gentleman’s wardrobe. The selection and styling advice that follows is by no means exhaustive, but it explains why there’s more to men’s shoes than having a signature pair.
Named after Oxford University, even though the shoe was originally found in Scotland, the Oxford shoe style is great for everything. With this style available in so many different materials and colours, you won’t be hard done by to find something that suits you. Using leather for suits and suede for smart-casual means you’re good to go before you’ve even decided what outfit to wear. Just make sure to look after them.
The Chelsea Boot was originally a women’s shoe style. More recently this has been trickling into men’s fashion and rightly so. The boot has an elasticated side to help pull them on which allows easier access but also keeps the shoe tight around your foot. As the boot has this elasticated cut out, working these into an outfit with skinny jeans will sharpen up your bottom half by keeping it tight and defined.
The rustic design which features on the Brogue shoe gives an intricacy to your style that provides the impression that you spend time thinking about what you wear. The style is a lace up type with a solid shape that a shoe-tree would be great for maintaining. A slim pair of jeans rolled up to allow the shoe to be fully shown is a great way to display them, and a tan or brown option would look great with denim of any colour.
Monk Strap Shoe
Double strap, single strap or a low topped buckled boot are some of the options of a Monk shoe. With a technical design that uses no laces, only buckles, they look great under a pair of suit trousers. In terms of formality though, the Monk shoe style is less formal than an Oxford but more so than the tan Brogue. The slight heel that some of the shoes have will give you a little extra subtle height, but also the range of colours available gives you the versatility to round off your style for any occasion.
Desert Boots are almost posh high-tops, worn by the British Forces in World War II. The Desert Boot (such as our Sahara style), used to be made with calfskin leather, but more recently the use of worn suede has given the shoe a smart sandy look. Finding the right boot for the mood is a little harder here as they’re predominantly a smart-casual uniform wear shoe. Using darker colours with some fitted suit trousers, making sure to not clash the colours too much, is a great way to style them.
Pull-on shoes could bring back memories of horrible, wrinkled faux leather shoes you were forced to wear back in Primary school. But a well-made, smart Penny Loafer is a good option for easy, comfortable wear. The shoe has no buckles or laces, a solid shape and is one of the most versatile formal shoes you can own. The Penny Loafer isn’t a smart-casual shoe by any means, but if you’re feeling a little brave then wearing slim light trousers or formal chinos and no socks will bring the shoes into the outfit.
This is the section where we like to highlight English craftsmanship in all its forms – an opportunity to revel in the wonderful skills of others, not necessarily linked directly to the shoe trade. Our first choice was Andrew Richie and the story of his remarkable folding bicycles, which are made in London; this time, we want to focus on Robert Thompson’s Craftsmen Ltd., who make extraordinary oak furniture in North Yorkshire.
These wonderful craftsmen are making things that are both useful and beautiful and, like us, they are doing it from a natural material that is, by its very nature, difficult to work with. We know that no two pieces of leather are the same and each piece will react differently to the various stages of the shoemaking process – and behave differently when it comes to the finishing stages too. The trouble that we go to in order to acquire the best leather available would bore most people outside of the shoe-trade rigid. But, I’m sure it’s every bit as hard to find the very best English Oak, especially considering that the wood for one of Robert Thompson’s tabletops will take about four years to dry (naturally, with air of course – not kiln-dried), and the lengths to which they will go to get this material are astonishing.
Recently, they purchased an exceptionally large burr oak tree that had stood for over 450 years on farm land in Cumbria. The tree was starting to show signs of die back and root rot, so it was important that it should be felled, rather than leaving it to rot and decay. The log has now been converted into planks of varying thickness and these planks have been laid down for between 4-6 years to enable them to season naturally. When fully seasoned they intend to make the planks into some of the most amazing burr oak table tops that have ever been produced.
In all forms of art and craft, it’s right that we celebrate the special skills, knowledge and expertise of those who do really extraordinary things.