As with great food, apparel is only as good as its ingredients. Today, we look at the history of wool and suede, two autumn-ready materials that date back to caveman times yet still look fly as hell today. Read on and get a quick primer on how prehistoric materials turned into modern day treasures.
The Thrill Of Wool
Much like the drum in music, the history of wool reaches all the way back to our primordial past. After “putting down” a sheep from their flock for food, our nomadic ancestors would repurpose their wooly skins into clothing and protection. And who could blame them? The amazing natural properties of wool could keep them cool in the day, warm in the night and even absorb moisture without making them feel wet. It was, and still is, the perfect fabric for durable yet soft natural clothing.
Nowadays, wool can be obtained by far more gentle means: sheep get a yearly haircut, and we get the luxurious wool cruelty-free. This practice is quite literally the global standard. Because sheep can be raised in almost any ecological environment, every nation has its own variety of wool clothing, much like how every culture has its own version of a sandwich. Some cultures, like Ireland’s Celts, continue to make heritage wool clothing today using the same techniques they’ve honed for millennia.
The first “modern” applications of wool date back to the Industrial Revolution, the first time in human history when clothing could be mass produced, shipped, and sold, all within a few short weeks. While there was now more wool than ever, it would take over a century for the material to gain a proper place in the world of style. Wool’s first foray into men’s fashions took place around the 1950’s. Before then, wool garments were considered “working clothes,” like blue jeans and motorcycle boots.
Funny how things turn around. Once the Baby Boom youth started seeing these items worn by their favorite rockers, movie stars and athletes in the post-war era, everything changed. Almost overnight, notions of “high” and “low” fashion were tossed about, with the kids elevating common items like wool sweaters and tweed coats into fetishized collectibles. Sound familiar?
Today, this notion of luxurious utility can be found in our Lardini x Nick Wooster “Wooster” slip on. A riff on the classic Chanel tweed dress, these loafers bring a rakish touch to any Fall/Winter look. Who said tweed was just for professors?!
The Middle Ages may have been a dark time for humanity, but in fashion history, it was a landmark era for leather goods. In between all the plagues and beheadings and brutal warfare and stuff, our ancestors learned how to process animal skins “inside out,” exposing the hide’s inner surface to create a softer, more supple product. The first popular suede products to hit Paris’ fashion streets were "gants de Suède" - in French, "gloves from Sweden." Apparently the Swedes were the first culture to get a jump on the technique. Who knew?
In menswear history, suede has always had a rebellious edge. Back in the day, wearing suede shoes meant you were a man of leisure, free from the dress code of the office. Not only did you have the money to buy casual shoes, but also the time to dress the part and show the world who you were—an outsider.
Elvis Presley’s cover of Carl Perkins’s now iconic 1955 “Blue Suede Shoes” pretty much drew the line in the sand. The message was clear: you can talk shit about me, but you had better not mess with my shoes, because that is how I communicate with the world and make it my own. From that point on, suede became associated with music and counterculture. Decades later, break dancers would make suede shoes a staple of the b-boy look. The reason? They were easily accessible, built to last, and looked dope as hell.
Today, suede shoes convey an easy, charming elegance. Classically cool and extremely versatile, suede shoes can class up a casual kit, or add a youthful touch to a more dapper ensemble. For some fine examples of how to rock suede like a boss, look no further than our Royale suedes, the perfect shoe for well-dressed rebels.