#29: Alligator Pumps

Dear Ralph,

For someone who claims to love clothes, I sure have a hard time writing about them. It is easy enough for me to approximate history, to make false connections between whatever I happen to be reading and whatever I happen to be sartorially obsessed by, easy enough to sound the depths of my irrational impulse purchases as I try to bolster my collapsing look books with an autodidact’s furious rage. But I haven’t really written you yet just about clothes.

So let me share with you these:

cof

Do you remember making them? What were you thinking? Who would wear them? What would the circumstances be? We’ve talked before about clothing telling a story, and part of the reason I have selected these alligator pumps as just an article of clothing, no philosophy, no bullshit, is because I cannot conceive of any story that might make them make sense. There is no narrative, no occasion, no obscure bit of menswear history that could ever make these pumps plausible. (Well, technically there is. Men wore pumps with aplomb up until the Great Male Renunciation. So there you go.)

Of course there is a story about the bad decision I made to buy them, but I won’t bore you with that. And even though every six months or so I pull them out, thinking I have found a pair of socks or pants that just might make them work before once again realizing I will never ever wear them, I don’t regret it because they are beautiful.

They look like the goods, but the sad truth, Ralph, is I couldn’t tell you why. For someone who spends an unhealthy amount of time thinking about clothes, I have never bothered to learn even the basics of what makes good clothing good. The pony player and the ‘Made in Italy’ label give me a false sense they are quality, but despite the myriad number of wonderful service articles online about how to read workmanship, I could tell you almost nothing about these shoes. I am only calling them alligator pumps because the Internet told me that alligator is more expensive than crocodile. It is with sad candor that I let you know I cannot tell the difference.

Nor can I tell whether the soles are a Goodyear welt, nor anything about the material of the uppers. The stitching remains a total mystery to me.

Everyone’s obsessions form to suit their needs. Technical information has never interested me. My mind will simply not hold information of this type. So I tend to see clothing in black and white, on the backs of people marching through history. It should look a certain way, of course, but how it gets to look that way I leave to the masters. I leave to you.

Having a precise knowledge of craftsmanship is itself a sort of fashion. In the same way I want people to know my Edwardian-inspired clothing comes from having just binged on Merchant-Ivory films (and what that says about me – slightly eccentric, intellectual, film buff) the impression you get from the technically minded menswear wonks is that they’ve spent the money required necessary to gain the information. Sure, I’ve watched videos about the difference between fused and canvassed jackets, but until I’ve paid for the difference I’m not going to wax about it. There’s the problem. Knowing, and yes even wearing clothes of a certain construction is all well and good but most people won’t know it unless you talk about it. And, just like being able to do a hundred push-ups or having read Proust, by the time you talk about, it the effect is ruined.

There is one concern though; I think I have seen and touched enough clothing at this point that I could at least determine whether something is quality or not without knowing the details, but I waver. Without labels would I be like those blindfolded master sommeliers unable to even determine if a wine is red or white? Even if we aren’t quite sure what it is, we all get drunk on something.

Best,

S

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