When I was 16 years old I bought my first pair of suede shoes. My feet had already stopped growing (at a size 6 it wasn’t a long journey) and a friend of mine had just gotten his first pair of shoes that weren’t trainers. They were a pair of full brogue, dark brown, suede oxfords. I was so impressed by them that I simply had to have a pair of my own. I did, however, opt for something a little more on the safer side, going for a pair of tan desert boots from Fred de la Bretoniere that I’d saved up for. What stayed with me from those shoes was the utter disappointment I felt after they’d had their first outing in the rain. After drying they’d just lost their luster and sheen. Instead, they now looked a mottled mess. Granted, I hadn’t taken the necessary precautions or given them proper treatment; I didn’t own a protective spray or a suede brush. To me, the shoes were now ruined. I still wore them, though. At that age, I always prided myself on only owning one pair of shoes and wearing them until they’d disintegrate and these boots were no exception.
It’s taken me more than ten years to get over my fear of suede. From a maintenance point of view, going with plain leather for dress shoes and boots seemed like an easy way to avoid heartbreak. However, the problem wasn’t the material, but most of all my approach to how I dress and my general view on clothing. Clothing is going to be worn and lived in and I find it looks better when it reflects that. Nowadays, whenever I’m considering a purchase or thinking about items in a collection, I ideally want it to pass a test, of sorts. When buying a new car, one of the common nuggets of wisdom is that its value depreciates the moment you drive it out of the dealership, and will continue to do so as it’s used, especially in the first year. To me, good clothing should have the opposite of that effect.
When it comes to gracefully aging garments, there are a number of no brainers. Denim’s been hailed as the undisputed champion of it, and for good reason. Stone washed, pre-stressed and even ripped; denim’s been peddled in a plethora of ways to seem well worn. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s only done for aesthetic purposes after all, but I think it’s generally much nicer when the well worn-look is created by having been well loved. Buying vintage is one way to achieve that. Simon Crompton wrote a lovely ode to his vintage Levi’s on his website Permanent Style, going over the many details and the stories behind them. Alternatively, you can create those stories yourself.
This principle is certainly not limited to denim. Leather goods (yes, even suede) have always been known for getting better with age. Plain leather develops a lovely patina and the mottled, nappy look of worn suede is something that, after more than a decade, I’ve really come to appreciate. My current pair of Velasca’s, pictured above, are beginning to the shows of that. Thick, heavy cottons fade around the edges, oxford shirts soften and the seams will develop that signature puckering, linen rumples in the way that you wear it, and as things inevitably rip or tear, mending them turns them into something truly unique. It’s no coincidence that the qualities of clothing that ages well—heavier, marled and slubby fabrics—also makes them play together very nicely.
Of course, producing clothing that lasts or promoting mending is not always seen as being in every clothier’s best interest, nor does the principle work for every intended look. It will, for example, not work as well with garments from brands or manufacturers that lean towards a cleaner and sleeker aesthetic, something that’s become increasingly common in recent years with the rise of (often Nordic-inspired) minimalism. Regardless of whether or not it works for a certain aesthetic, it’s certainly the more sustainable option and, in my view, one of the few ways a brand can promote sustainability in a way that comes off as genuine. Andreas Larsson, creative director for Berg & Berg, said in the podcast Handcut Radio, that high-end menswear talking about itself as something that’s good for the environment is “kind of bullshit. Nothing in this business is good for the environment, it can be less bad.” With that in mind, looking for clothing that can stand the test of time, and even look better as it ages, can mitigate some of the damage you’ll inevitably do when you’re into buying clothes. Luckily, there brands that carry this into their products in a genuine way.
Ethan Newton of Bryceland’s & Co. is a clothier that, paradoxically, dislikes consumerism. While that statement can be grounds for a whole different article, it does embody his collection very well. The clothing that Bryceland’s carries strikes a perfect balance between looking rugged and refined, while clearly having been built to last without the more tailored pieces losing any of their elegance. Bryceland’s does have a very specific style, one that might be a little too retro for some, but there’s definitely more accessible pieces in there, like their immensely popular sawtooth westerner. Ethan himself stated that he wants the stuff to last a long time and not be something you’d want to discard at the first signs of wear and tear. In fact, the clothing and the branding have done such a good job at that, that Ethan’s had offers from clients for the jeans he’d been wearing for several years, rather than the brand new ones.
No, investing in clothes that last isn’t a sustainable practice in and of itself, nor does it discredit clothing that isn’t designed with this in mind, but as an aesthetic choice that comes with somewhat sustainable perks, it’s definitely gaining traction. More and more retailers are starting to sell vintage stock in addition to their newly produced items. One of the more notable shops to have adopted this practise is Levi’s, which makes sense given the product they sell. In a lot of cases, and this mostly concerns denim brands, they offer a financial incentive to existing customers to return their used goods. It’s an obvious win-win, but without combatting the underlying issue of excessive consumerism. As with so many things clothing, there are perks and pitfalls, but the bottom line for me is that few things look as good as something that’s well loved.