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November 28, 2013- By Steven E. Greer
Several years ago, I was in the old Lehman Brothers building (now Barclays) and purchased some shirts and shoes in the Charles Tyrwhitt retail space. I bought some black leather shoes for a reasonable price, or so I thought. Years later, the damn things were not aging a bit, and it started to become obvious that they were made of some form of imitation leather with a urethane outer coating.
This was not the first time that I had discovered I had purchased clothes, jackets, or shoes made of imitation materials, so I investigated.
I contacted Charles Tyrwhitt in London via email. After a long delay, the company replied and denied that the shoes were fake leather. A spokesperson wrote, “We source our polished black leather from a Spanish tannery using European wet blue hides. The cow hide surface is buffed on the grain side to remove any imperfections. It is then tanned for longevity and dyed (black in this instance). Once that has dried an additional black overdye is added followed by a nitrocellular top coat spray which allows us to add creams and a canuba wax to create the polished shine look. You should rest assured we use arguably the best polished black leather tannery in the world. I am pleased to confirm that the shoes you own have worn so well due to their high quality, not because they are not real leather. I hope you will continue to enjoy wearing them in the future.”
That top coat they describe is the sign of very cheap, thin, inadequately tanned, leather that is strengthened with a coating of urethane. It’s garbage.
Going back to the fitted dress shirts that I purchased, those too seemed to be made of inferior material, and not 100% cotton. Although, the label claims “100% cotton”. One of the shirts does not stretch, and seems to have synthetic fiber mixed in. The label is misleading, with the word “London” prominently displayed. Upon finer inspection, the shirts are made in Peru.
When I replied to the Charles Tyrwhitt person stating that I did not believe their description of the shoes as being made of the “finest” materials, they replied, “You are welcome to proceed in whatever manner you see fit. We are very proud of the high quality of our products and stand by them completely.”
There are many places where one can buy quality shirts and shoes (Please post a comment on your favorite shops). I recently had a good experience with the nearby Brooks Brothers at 1 Liberty Plaza by Zuccotti Park. When one buys three shirts, the price is $75 a shirt, the same as Charles Tyrwhitt. However, unlike Charles Tyrwhitt, Brooks Brothers shirts are made of American Pima cotton. They feel much more natural than the Charles Tyrwhitt shirts. More expensive shirts at Brooks Brothers are made-to-measure in the U.S.A.
For great quality, American-made, leather shoes that are priced reasonably, Allen Edmonds has been my preferred source. We will have more stories in this series on “How to avoid buying junk”.