Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Buying, and caring for, Highland brogue shoes.

"The greatest economy lies in buying the best you can afford"

I know that I keep repeating that, but it's true - and SOMETIMES....'the best you can afford' comes cheap!

The British firm of 'Sanders & Sanders' makes the best brogue shoes in the world. I bought a (used) pair in 1978, have put many hundreds of miles on them, and they are STILL going strong.

S&S has a website ( http://www.bdec-online.com/bd-cat32/c320224.htm) but doesn't sell retail. As a 'sole artisan proprietor' I am too small a shop to keep a selection of these in stock.

You can, however, buy a good used pair for about fifteen pounds sterling - with the added advantage of having had the brogues smoothed and polished by their previous inhabitant! (These brogues have a 'pebbled' finish when supplied new.)

There are many reputable firms to choose from , but I put my trust in The Outdoor Store
http://www.the-outdoor.co.uk/. Tell them I sent you, and remind them of my kickback (Just kidding)

Note: now that I've told everyone where to go for these shoes the surplus stores have trouble keeping them in stock - at least in the larger sizes. As of February 2010, only Silverman's (www.silvermans.co.uk/) lists the full range of sizes on their website at 99 pounds sterling the pair.

'Brogue Shoes' ( www.brogueshoes.co.uk) is another source for new Saunders brogues.

A Word about British vs. Canadian shoe sizes: If you consult a shoe size-conversion chart, you will find that British shoe sizes are a nominal 1/2-size larger than their Canadian equivalents - for example, my (Canadian size 10) foot fits comfortable in a British size 9 1/2.

If your feet are anything like mine (beat up from 34 years of 'tabbing' and square-bashing), then select a shoe 1/2 size larger (meaning: order a Britiish size 10 for your Canadian size 10 feet) and then add a quality pair of orthotic insoles.

Now that you've laid out the shekels to acquire a nice new (or good used) set of brogues, you must take care of the things.

Properly taken care of, they will last as long as you will, and perhaps longer.

"Back in the Day" we polished EVERYTHING: the guardroom floor, our brasses and boots, the dustbins, the parade square....most of it with the toothbrush that would be laid out with the rest of our kit at First Parade at "0-dark-early-hundred hours."

Gather the following materials:

-Clean cotton flannel cloth. if it's new, wash and dry it to remove the 'sizing'.
This is MUCH better than pantyhose or T-shirts, as those are more-or-less abrasive. Cotton swabs are OK, but you will use boxes of them and they aren't re-usable whereas you can wash and re-use the cotton flannel cloth for years.

- Black Heelball, aka 'Cobbler's wax', aka 'Black Wax'. A 'Bagpipe Supply Store' is pretty much the only source for this stuff. Buy a couple of new blocks - don't use the lint-covered blob in the bottom of your pipe-box.

-Black Kiwi-brand shoe polish. (extra points if you can find a vintage tin from back when Whale Oil was one of the ingredients)

-A toothbrush, to do the welts and soles with.

-Some drinking water, to keep your spit wet.

-A bunch of friends (or strangers, your call) to sit around polishing with and urge each other on to ever -brighter leather - chiefly through invective and derisive comments.

If your brogues still have a pebbled finish, you need an old spoon to level the pebbles with Better yet, find a clean Beef rib-bone, which is what the old-timers preferred - and why this whole process is called 'boning' your boots.

1. Clean your brogues without scratching the existing finish. When mine get manky, I hold them under a cold tap while lightly brushing with a plastic-bristle brush to loosen the mud.

2. If you have pebbles, heat the spoon/bone over a candle, rub the back of the spoon over the heelball(acts as a lubricant) and then rub the pebbles until they flatten out. This is a suprisingly good workout....

3. Melt black heelball over the areas to be polished, smooth it out with the spoon as best you can .

4. When you have smoothed the heelball out, light it on fire and twist/turn your boot so the (burning) liquid heelball flows evenly across the leather. This will fill those sodding little holes!

Blow out the flames as soon as the heelball has flowed out evenly. Better to blow it out too soon and then apply more than to let it burn too long. The trick is to blow out the flames without spraying hot heelball over everything.

5. When it cools, commence spit-shining. stretch a clean area of cloth over your fingertip, wet it, dip/rub it in Kiwi, and commence swirling circles on your leather. after you've laid a layer down ( it will look 'flat' and maybe a bit frosted), stop and do the other shoe.

The cotton cloth is always stretched over the tip of your index finger, so an old polishing cloth will have many black dots on it.

6.Pick up the first shoe, and repeat step 5, only this time you keep swirling in small circles, occasionally spitting on the area you are polishing, and occassionally picking up more fresh Kiwi onto your fingertip to polish the last layer with. The time to put more polish on is when you feel more friction with your fingertip.

Take sips of water to keep your spit wet and Ph-neutral (drinking coffee will mess up the shine, I can't remember what beer does...)

There is something in most people's saliva that acts as a lapping compound. It works better then plain water except when you've eaten something strange.

Keep shining. switch shoes. Switch to a clean area on your polish rag once in a while. Make nasty comments about the pathetic girly effort of those around you. Smile and say "effin' A-told it is!" when they reply in kind. Explain further that you would use your geaming toe-caps to look up their kilts, but a 'Kiwi' shine doesn't magnify objects and there's nothing effing there, anyway. Refuse to hand back the tin of Kiwi that just bounced off your head. Use the toothbrush to blacken and buff the soles.

Use steel wool to polish the hobnails before inspection. When your hobnails start to flatten with wear, remove them and replace them with Robertson ("Square-drive") pan screws - these stay in your sole yet are easy to remove when required.

Stride about in your glistening black works of art and look down you nose at those effin' bleeders who use spray-on shine.

After a while you notice that the heelball in the holes is developing circular cracks. This is caused by the leather having shrunk, and usually occurs after you've got your brogues thoroughly wet. The only effective cure is to repeat the burning-heelball/shoe-polish treatment.

Friday, March 30, 2007

more about ironing wool

I no longer recommend sending your kilt out to a dry cleaner to be pressed.

I recently took 3 kilts to my hitherto trusted dry cleaners to recieve a 'first press'. The regular person wasn't there and I must have spent 5 minutes explaining to the new employee what was to be done. As I turned to leave, she scooped up the kilts and dumped them on the floor next the steam table!

I explained that that was no way to treat $2100 worth of product, took the kilts back, went home and pressed them myself. I have no intention of taking any more work to them.

I encourage you to iron your own 'kit' rather than sending it out to a Dry Cleaner. You can do a better job at no cost other than the time spent.

If you DO iron your own kilt there are two more things to consider:

1) It's better to lift the iron off the cloth while the cloth is still steaming a bit. With experience you'll be able to safely press wool when it's dry, but the little bit of moisture provides a little bit of insurance. whatever you do, keep the iron moving!

2) Wool is a bit 'plastic' when it's wet - it loses it's elasticity and can be shaped. It is therefore REALLY important that you let the wool cool off and dry out before you start rough-housing with it.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Kilt Jackets

I listed several options on my website concerning the purchase of jackets to wear with a kilt.

These included: - buying 'off the rack'
- 'cutaways' (modified suit jackets), and
-having the jacket made to measure (Mtm).

I still maintain that buying off the rack is a waste of time and money, mostly because every factory-made jacket that I've ever tried on required some tailoring to make it fit me.

The same advice goes for 'cutaways' - if you have a favorite jacket that fits you well, fine -but unless you are lucky enough to match the demographic that the factory tailors seem to plan for (Hint: " '44' chest" and 60" waistline) you are going to spend an AWFUL lot of time shopping for a good jacket to 'chop'.

On a recent "fact-finding trip" to a half-dozen high-end men's shops I tried on nearly 20 jackets and suit-coats. NOTHING under $600 was worth a second look as far as fit and 'hang' are concerned.

The $1k- to $1300- range jackets were beautiful: the intefacing and linings were properly done, the collars were 'art' and the jackets 'draped' well....but each one was going to require tailoring to conform to my cuff-length and posture because 25 years of Drill has had an effect on how I carry myself.

Another factor (that I didn't know) that the in-house tailor at two stores brought up is that if you cut-away a suit coat, the hip pockets then appear too low relative to the hem. I hadn't considered this because after all those years wearing Highland Service Dress (DEU) jackets (which are cut away) I'm used to low flaps and shallow pockets. Look at the right-hand image above to see what I mean - the hip pocket should be about even with the top of my kilt or with my hip-bone, which is a wee bit lower.

The only advice that I can give is that you go to a good tailor (and the only ones worth your consideration are those who do all the work on the premises) and have the jacket made for you. You will save money; both in 'dollars' and in the sense that the greatest economy lays in buying the best you can afford.

There are two reasons why you should take your kilt with you when you visit the tailor :
- to refer to as you select the cloth for your jacket, and
- so that the tailor can accurately measure you. Those 7 or 8 yards of wool make a difference!

One last lesson (that I learned the hard way):

Always pay the down payment by cash or cheque and NOT your credit card!

This is about the only way to apply 'leverage' if you aren't completely satisfied with the final fit and overall workmanship. If a tailor has a backlog or if he doesn't agree with your opinion, and he already has your credit card information then there isn't much to prevent him from ringing the sale through and getting on to the next project.

I must add that I've never encountered a dishonest tailor or one who didn't take pride in his work, but I was unable to convince a certain well-respected tailor that the Eton Jacket (which you see at the top of this article) he had made for me was about 3" to long to wear with a kilt and I wear it to this day as a lesson to myself.
Compare the jacket in the centre with the Black Watch mess jacket on the left. The centre-back of the BW jacket is no lower than the 'swell' of the backside and the hem at the sides is about equal with the top of the hip-bone (not the navel, as I said in my website). THAT is the effect you should be looking for!
Incidentally, the style of Mess Jacket as worn by the Black Watch is very interesting - note that the buttons (and the button-holes as well, although you can't see them in this photo) go all the way up to the 'notch' in the lapel. This is a vesitgal 'echo' of the origin of the mess jacket - a 'fatigue jacket' with the buttons undone and the 'stand' collar folded down.
A version of this jacket done in black Melton cloth with silver buttons would be a spectacular alternative to the mass-produced Charlie jackets that everyone else wears!

Good luck.

Read this one first!

My Webmaster is the most patient of men, but I have started to notice how pale he gets whenever I greet him with "Hey! I just thought of something....".

So as to maintain both our friendship and his blood-pressure, I have created this Blog as a repository for information that might eventually wind up in my main website (www.westcoastkilts.com).

For example, Under "Highland Dress" I have a couple of paragraphs of advice concerning the selection and purchase of 'Kilt jackets'. I did a little more research (ie "Window Shopping") and have some new opinions which will be the subject of my next entry.

"Me being me" - volube ergo suum (I chatter, therefore I am) I shall doubtless also submit to the urge to prose, pontificate and yammer on about whatever crosses that which I choose to refer to as my mind...but you can skip past that bit, can't you!