Durability vs Fashion – Which one would you chose?

There has always been a dichotomy in regards to shoes. On the one side you have the practical, foot protecting and durable footwear for which it was traditionally designed for and, on the other side, you have the fashionable, bon vivant, and frivolous shoes that fill our numerous shopping centers and malls. It has been that way, for centuries, ever since shoes were transformed from simple leather foot coverings to became status symbols in the Royal European courts in the 1400’s,  with their pointed, curled up toes and added appendages. The same could be said of clothing as well.

Dress Before The Loss of Formality Era

Shoes have stayed that way – practical versus fashionable- up until the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in the United States, a period that I refer to as the Loss of Formality Era. Prior to this time, people had certain types of dress: 1) dressed up – good shoes, nice dress pants and oxford shirts or dresses for the ladies; 2) casual dress – hush puppy type shoes, fabric pants, buttoned shirt and dresses or nice blouse and fabric pants; and 3) work clothes – at that time, many people wore uniforms and work shoes, for hospitals it meant white hospital shoes, for construction, it meant steel toed construction boots, for farmers, it meant boots. Jeans were worn by farmers or when families were together in an informal setting – out of public view. Tennis shoes were only worn for physical education.

The shoes manufactured at that time were 90% American made. They were made for durability. They were made of fine leather, stitched together and/or nailed together on a wooden sole. They were expected to last for years. If they got scuffed, you polished them. If the laces frayed, you replaced the laces. If the stitching unraveled or the shoe started to come apart, you would take the shoe to a cobbler who could repair them.

There were fashionable shoes at that time as well. They were usually made in Italy or France. They also made of fine leather, fine stitched and could be repaired as well. But they were more delicate. They were not practical for environments full of rain or snow, unless you wore boots to work and changed into them once you were at work. They were designed to last for years, but only if great care was taken.

Dress After The Loss of Formality Era

With the cultural shift of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, clothing standards were relaxed and have continued to become more relaxed as time passes. Jeans, T-shirts and tennis shoes were not only okay for wear in public settings but, also, in schools. People find less and less reason to dress up, whether it is a concert, fine restaurant, church or a work setting. The loss of formality has changed our thinking about many things. Among them (non-clothing-wise), the things we have lost were: the respect of authority, the respect towards elders; the respect working one’s way up the ladder/seniority; traditional values regarding family; and loyalty towards anything. Clothing-wise, we no longer value the clothes that we wear. We abuse our clothes by constantly washing and drying them after briefly wearing them, since they are not made to last. Especially in today’s time, where 98% in slave labored produced. The clothes are made to fall apart, but who cares because they are so cheap. And you no longer have to iron these clothes because they have been impregnated with some possibly toxic chemical that makes them ‘permanent press’. Permanent Press used to be treated using Formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), but now, more often, the manufacturers use a derivative of Formaldehyde called Dimethylol dihroxyethylenurea, (DMDHEU), (unknown health effects). Clothes have become disposable which I suppose is the height of fashion. Get rid of all of “last season’s” clothes, so you can buy the newest “In” clothes. Fashion would like it if you wore a new wardrobe every time you went out. Fashion would like you to wear something only once, so you could buy something new more often. The clothing designers must change things every season, so that you will spend more money. The same thing applies to shoes. Shoes have become disposable. They are made with fabric, plastic and glue. If they do use leather it is so thin that it wouldn’t hold a stitch or a nail. There is no sense in taking these shoes to a cobbler. Now, there are three types of shoes: Durable, Fashionable and Disposable.

Fashion vs Durability

So, what is it going to be? Fashion or durability. It is your choice. Don’t let me influence your decision. But, as for me, I have chosen durability. I want durability in all that I wear, and it should be (sort of) in style. it doesn’t have to be direct from the model runways in Paris, but it can’t be a white collared, blue Oxford dress shirt either. As for men’s shoes, I have bought some very durable shoes and boots made by Wolverine, and made in the U.S.A. They are both from the 1000 mile collection. Another great American made shoe company is Allen Edmonds. Shoes made in Wisconsin since 1922. The are both fashionable and durable. They also make golf shoes. I purchased a pair of ‘1 up’ golf shoes in black. Allen Edmonds has hired an additional 120 employees since January, 2011, thanks to people supporting “Made in USA’. Another U.S. shoe company is Alden. I went to the Alden shoe store in San Francisco, CA last month. I was prepared to spend $300 on a pair of shoes,  however, that was not even enough. But, that wasn’t the disappointing thing. The selection wasn’t great for me personally. First, I don’t like slip on shoes, so that narrowed it down a bit. The one pair of shoes I did like, looked exactly like a pair of black Italian shoes I already have. So, maybe, sometime in the future, I may own some Aldens. At this time, if I can’t find American, I will buy Italian.

Taking Care of Clothes

In regards to clothing, American made clothing is very rarely Permanent Press, which means more care needs to be given. I have had to drastically alter the way I wear dress shirts. Now, I wear V neck T-shirts underneath the dress shirt. The reason for this, as in olden days, the T shirt protects the shirt for wear and tear and from underarm stains and smells. The reason for the V neck, is so you don’t see the tell tale T shirt collar underneath your dress shirt (for me growing up, exposed T shirt collars underneath your shirt meant Nerd).  I do not wash the shirt every time I wear it. But I do iron them after each wear. So, I have learned how to iron. I have had to take more clothes to the dry cleaners as well, especially dress pants usually after a couple of wears. If the accumulation of clothes that needs ironing is too much, I will take those to the dry cleaners just to be ironed. For jeans, I will wear them for months, unless very dirty before dry cleaning them (I have the original denim, no wash jeans, that still need breaking in.) What I have noticed with this change of practice away from washing and drying after each use is these clothes still look new, unlike the permanent press clothes that fade and gets pill balls and looks terrible after a couple of washings.

In conclusion, you may have to pay more initially for U.S. made clothes and you will have to take more care of your clothes, but they will look much better for a longer period of time. These clothes should last for years. For shopaholics, switching to buying American made clothes could cause extreme withdrawal, because you do not have to shop as often. So, beware. Happy shopping.

“Fashion is something barbarous, for it produces innovation without reason and imitation without benefit.” – George Santayana


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January 2012
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