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At the B&Tailor workshop


May 22, 2015 by Ville Raivio

A history of opera pumps/court shoes


May 22, 2015 by Ville Raivio

Opera pumps (or court shoes) are the plainest formalwear shoes for men. Their archetype dates back to at least the 1730s when the European noble and gentlemen wore delicate, low, often silken, and laceless footwear in court and society gatherings. A particular vogue were leather soles or heels dyed red. As contemporary pumps have changed little from their forefathers, they are men’s oldest classic shoe type still in use. In the England of Regency days, gentlemen wore graceful, tasseled Hessian riding boots in daylight, and patent leather pumps with knee-breeches during evening occasions and opera performances.


Before Beau Brummell’s time, the pumps had decorative and expensive silver buckles that were replaced with silky bows due to his influence at the beginning of the 1800s. The change was seen more fitting for the times, likely due to the violent rumpus in France just a decade before. True to its name, the pump has no laces. It is constructed with soles as thin as possible to make the foot look smaller and formal. The sole unit is usually glued on and made from leather so that dancing is easier with a well-gliding material, and feet will not sweat as much. The shoe rarely has a welt.

The upper leather in opera pumps is lasted with the wholecut method so it only has one seam behind the heel, and this seamlessness makes the shoe type seem ever daintier and cleaner. The fit cannot be adjusted with laces so the shape of the last is key for keeping the shoe on, and avoiding heel slip. The natural colour for pumps has been black, but coloured velvet models have been made for house slippers or rare Casual Black Tie affairs. The only decoration for pumps is the pre-tied bow on the instep, usually made from grosgrain, silk, or velvet. The topline may also have piping made from these materials. The traditional toe shape is round.

Pumps are usually made very low and open, in keeping with the historical shape, to better display the foot and the gleaming silken formal socks usually worn with black or white tie. Some pairs also have a decorative quilted lining, while most are leather-lined. The heel is usually lower than the average 3 cm height of benchmade pairs. Patent leather, or very well-polished calfskin, opera pumps remained the formalwear shoe of choice for gentlemen into the 1930s, when laced models began their world conquest. Later on, the pump has diminished, albeit with some exceptions. The style icon Frank Sinatra, for one, was a friend of the pump and gently dubbed his pair Mary Jane.

Opera pump shunning is likely due to its feminine look and the overall decrease of formal events. These pumps are only seen on the feet of the braver dressers in black or white tie occasions. Whatever the reader’s view on the style, pumps are the most laborious form in occasional dressing because they are not made by too many factories, the fit must be exact, and the shoe cannot be appropriated to everyday wear. The opera pump is simply too formal for this.

If one does find a good pair, this partywear can only be worn with a dinner jacket or white tie and tails. A smoking jacket set is debatable. An added nuisance is patent leather as it forms deep, permanent creases quickly, and makes the shoes look crinkly. This problem can be easily avoided by finding a calfskin pair, and managing to shine a parade look on them. In addition, the pump is so light and open that it will make a poor walking shoe or protection for the feet. In celebrations, though, it will outshine all others because a finer shoe has not been invented yet.

Translated from my new book, Klassikko: Jokaisen miehen tyylikirja (The Classic: Each Man’s Style Book).

Photo: Edward Green

A definition of the young fogey


May 14, 2015 by Ville Raivio

“It is difficult to define the Young Fogey. The most obvious trait in him however, is that he likes to pretend that the modern age does not exist and that he is living in another era. Any era will do. The Young Fogey knows that such fondness for past times has nothing to do with weakness and little to do with mere nostalgia or escapism. The Young Fogey is tired of consumerism and of the giant shopping mall world; the Young Fogey rebels against the constant search for ‘the latest thing’. The Young Fogey believes in Pleasantness, Civility, Music, Art, Literature, gentlemen doffing their hats to ladies… and gentlemen having hats to doff in the first place. The Young Fogey knows the importance of grammar and punctuation; generally dislikes modern architecture, enjoys walking and travelling by train, and laments the difficulty of purchasing good bread, cheese, kippers and sausages (see Alan Watkins’ defintion of the Young Fogey for more details).

The Young Fogey knows that a vinyl record is better than a CD, that a book is better than a laptop, and believes that the telephone worth sleeping outside stores for is a 1935 model in deep black – not a small, silver mobile. The Young Fogey has been known to wail: what has happened to the BBC?”

- the pen name Jeeves

Om Malik’s interview with Brunello Cucinelli


May 13, 2015 by Ville Raivio

Om Malik, an American IT-journalist, has shared a wonderfully thorough interview with Brunello Cucinelli. The text has BC elaborating on his roots, people-friendly production, his company Ethos, the case for cashmere, passion for philosophy, and capitalism on the 21st century as well as making sure it contributes to the well-being of all. Highly recommended.

Hadrian in quote


May 13, 2015 by Ville Raivio

“I feel responsible for the world’s beauty.”


Cobbler’s Web on Instagram


May 6, 2015 by Ville Raivio

Jun, the mystery man behind the famed Cobbler’s Web, has joined Instagram, and delights his readers with glimpses of the wardrobe that has no peers. The hands of the artisans seem close to Jun-senpai’s heart.

Samuel Pepys on style and clothes


April 19, 2015 by Ville Raivio

Up and by coach to Mr. Cole’s, and there conferred with him about some law business, and so to Sir W. Turner’s, and there bought my cloth, coloured, for a suit and cloake, to line with plush the cloak, which will cost me money, but I find that I must go handsomely, whatever it costs me, and the charge will be made up in the fruit it brings.”

– Samuel Pepys in his famed Diary of Samuel Pepys, October & November, 1664

At the Swaine Adeney Brigg factory


April 19, 2015 by Ville Raivio

Shakespeare on fashion


April 15, 2015 by Ville Raivio

“All this I see, and see that the fashion wears out more apparel than man…”

– Conrade in William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing

The History of Tailoring: An Overview


April 14, 2015 by Ville Raivio

The History of Tailoring: An Overview
by G. Bruce Boyer

The knowledge and art of tailoring, of cutting and sewing cloth — the two basic aspects of constructing clothes from a pattern — developed slowly and gradually in Europe between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first reference to the word “tailor” gives the specific date of 1297; and certainty by that date tailoring guilds, as well as those of weavers, and cloth merchants, were well established in Europe.

During the Middle Ages clothing had been regarded as a means of concealing the body. But with the Renaissance came the accentuation of the human form. The loose robe, that standard uniform of the medieval period so easily constructed from a single piece or two of cloth, was shortened and tightened, and eventually cut, pieced, and sewn together in attempts to bring into prominence the contours of the human form. This was the birth of tailoring and, in fact, of fashion.

These attempts at re-constructing the human body in fabric called for a growing expert skill and division of labor. Soon the cutter (the one who makes the pattern) and tailor (the one who does the sewing) joined other craftsmen as important members of the community.

Until this time the cloth had been the distinguishing feature of garments, and the wearer took most of the responsibility for the design — and, in most cases, the actual production — of his own clothes. But little by little, the tailor took on equal importance with the wearer, and gradually came to overshadow him. Master tailors in the growing towns eventually became responsible for the clothing needs of society, and the art and science of tailoring became a highly specialized, complex, and jealously guarded craft.

As towns became cities, then city states, and finally empires of power, fashion followed. First Italy, then Spain and France became the center for fashionable dress in concert with the power, wealth, and influence of those empires. Italy reached its great flowering during the age of Michelangelo, followed by Spain early in the 17th century. France reached its fashionable peak for tailoring during the long reign of Louis XIV (1643 – 1715), when foppish young men from all over Europe flocked to Paris for their wardrobes. Almost every comic play written in the second half of the 17th century includes the character of a Paris-dressed fop, perfumed and beribboned, with powdered wig and silver-buckled shoe in the latest French mode. But by the time of the French king’s death in 1715, there had already begun a shift in power, and influence — and fashion.

Even during Louis’ long lifetime a great shift in masculine costume was occurring. In the middle of the 17th century men began to give up the doublet, hose, and cloak that had been the staple items of their wardrobe since the 1500s, and began to wear coat, vest, and breeches, the three components we can begin to identify as modern dress.

Across the Channel, the English had not only turned away from the doublet and hose, but quickly moved through the phase of embroidered ostentation decreed by the French court. They had just survived a bitter but democratizing civil war (l642 – 1649) which, among other things, called into question the brocades and velvets, the silk and pastel satins and powdered wigs and other ostentations of aristocratic French court dress. Over two centuries later, Oscar Wilde would quip that the Puritans and Cavaliers who fought that war were more interesting for their costumes than their moral convictions.

The English moved away from the highly decorative and delicate court style, and took up a more practical form. The costume of both the landed gentry and the newer mercantile class became progressively less gorgeous and exquisite during the 18th century, and far more somber and sober. By the early decades of the 19th century, sobriety (in dress at any rate) had begun to penetrate even the court circle itself, and kings, consorts, and princes were seen to dress in a manner almost identical with their subjects. By mid-century the age of stovepipe hats, umbrellas, and frock coats — each in glossy black — was firmly in place.

English tailors, particularly those in London, now came to dominate the fashion scene. First, the English had evolved a style for masculine clothing that was a subtle blending of landed gentry, sporting attire, and bourgeois business wear produced in the tremendous wake of the Industrial Revolution. Secondly, aristocratic court clothing had not been constructed so much with a concern for fit as it had with concerns for decoration, fabric, and color. But when the shift away from ornamentation and ostentation began to occur, fit became the criterion of dress for men. We take it for granted today, but the idea of “fit” as a criterion for men’s clothes is a fairly recent one. It is an idea calling for great skill in execution.

The English tailor was trained to use woolen cloth, and over years of experimentation and practice he developed techniques for “molding” the cloth close to the body without exactly duplicating the true form of the wearer. In short, the tailor could now actually develop a new aesthetic of dress: he could mimic the real body, while at the same time “improving” and idealizing it! It was no longer a question of voluminous yards of flowing silken brocade. Men became “gentlemen” (itself a 19th century term) and frowned upon gaudy display in favor of discretion, simplicity, and the perfection of cut. It was, in terms of fashion, the culmination of that radical turn taken in mid-17th century: the Modern had finally arrived! And the Modern was the tailor’s art.

There have been tremendous innovations in these past hundred years in fashion and the art of tailoring: sewing machines now do the work on straight seams better than could be done by hand; new fabric technology has produced more comfortable cloths; fashions have adapted to more leisurely, climate-controlled lifestyles. But tailoring is still, and likely to remain so, an art. It has not been brought down to the level of a science. The tailor still believes in making personalized clothing, statements of fashion for the individual, as he always has done.

Ever since the invention of ready-made, cheaply-produced clothes in the middle of the last century, the demise of the tailor has been predicted. Like the panda and the whooping crane, it has been said, the march of modern life is against him. Mega-international corporations seem to own everything, calculatedly obsolete gimmickry abounds, and Coca-Cola now sells clothing as well as soft drinks by the millions of units. But craftsmen have indeed managed to survive in this age of the mass-produced and quickly thrown away, even to prosper. There is still a clear need for the uniquely personal and individual in our lives. In this age of the shoddy and the quick, the vulgar and the mass-consumed, tailors can still be counted on to champion uniqueness and quality. It is the hallmark of their tradition.

Today, skilled tailors can be found in Rome as well as Richmond, VA, Paris and Pittsburgh, Hong Kong, Kansas City, Rio and Dallas — as well of course as Milan, London, and New York They are the fitters and pattern drafters, the stitchers of the handmade buttonholes, the cutters of the fine worsted and cashmere and heathery tweed. And they are all standing in the long shadow of tradition and craftsmanship that is the art of tailoring.

Copyright © 2013 Ville Raivio

Only a beautiful life is worth living.

"If John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed; but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable".
~ Beau Brummell