Buy Once, Cry Once

It seems that one of the favorite pastimes of menswear bloggers (myself included) is creating lists of “essentials.” It’s definitely a fun exercise, and helps you really think about what constitutes a necessary piece of clothing. For those types of items, I’ve found that it can be worth saving up a bit more to buy exactly what you want, rather than trying to get something close to it and then not using it to its full potential. The high price of a “perfect” core item may sting a bit, but if you’ve done your research then you already know that it will get used for a long time to come. For me, that purchase recently took the form of a pair of black captoes from Alfred Sargent.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for the perfect black captoe for a while now; I had been relying on an inherited pair of black Ferragamo wingtips for a bit too long after selling off a pair of Grenson captoes I snagged years ago. I wanted something classic enough in shape and design to be versatile, while sleek and shapely enough to be attractive for sharply cut suits and black tie events. My ideal pair would probably be Edward Green’s Chelsea on the 82 last, but some dreams will never be realized. And thus the search began.

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First off, I should say that I found this styleforum thread by user wurger to be immeasurably helpful. To me, this is styleforum at its best – thorough, informative, obsessively detailed, and filled with productive discussion. Wurger’s side-by-side comparisons of eight popular captoe models helped me make an informed and confident decision. After reading and re-reading all of that thread, doing my own research, and managing my expectations, I ended up deciding between the Alfred Sargent Armfield and Carmina’s captoe on the  Rain last. The favorable exchange rate made the Carminas particularly compelling and I was almost sold on them, but I wasn’t able to find them at any European stores (the US ones have much higher prices, and the European ones only had black captoes on the less shapely Forest last). When I learned that A Fine Pair of Shoes had the AS Armfield with free international shipping, free lasted shoe trees, and a 10% off code for styleforum users (AFPOS10), the decision became easy. With the favorable exchange rate, the total came out to around $430 – not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but a good price for what you’re getting.

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As for service, my experience with A Fine Pair of Shoes was exceptional. I ordered from them on a Saturday night and the shoes arrived in my hands on Tuesday at 9am. From the UK. With free shipping. That’s not just fast, that’s witchcraft. Besides coming with the beautiful sized and lasted shoe trees, these came with shoe bags, a chamois polishing cloth, and a tin of Saphir wax polish. All told, it was a great shopping experience and reminded me of how wonderful purchasing can be when you’re not hunting for bargain basement prices.  Sometimes the money is worth it just for the great service, and this is one of those instances.

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Now, on to the shoes. Out of the box, they were beautiful, albeit not perfect; there were a couple of loose threads that I didn’t expect to see, but not enough to concern me. The channeled, beveled, oak bark soles were also stunning, although not as sharply shaped as I saw in other photos (but again this wasn’t too concerning to me).

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One of the first things I noticed was the shape of AS’s 109 last; the last shape was one of the most important factors to me in this purchase, as it is one of only a few things that strongly varies among black captoes. I knew I wanted something sleek and attractive, so for a long time I felt that a slightly chiseled last would be best (this is one of the main reasons I was attracted to Carmina’s Rain last). After staring at pictures of the 109 for an embarrassingly long time, though, I decided that it was the way to go, and my hunch was immediately verified after unboxing this pair. The 109 is hard to capture accurately in photos, but it’s everything a round dress last should be. The round toe makes for a classic, conservative design, but the narrow waist, asymmetrical shape, and low profile make it just as sexy as many more aggressive last shapes I’ve seen. It’s definitely reminiscent of Edward Green’s stunning 82 last, or perhaps somewhere between that and the 202.

The channeled oak bark sole is also a wonderful feature of this shoe, and is one of the things that separates it from a pair of “entry-level” shoes. If you’re not familiar with oak bark-tanned leather, you can read a bit more about it here. I would say that the sole’s shape and construction, along with the level of finishing and attention to detail, are both much higher than you would see on, say, a more expensive pair of Aldens (I do love Aldens, but they’re much more “rough around the edges” than something like this).

As for fit, I’m a Brannock 8.5 D/E with slightly high instep; this means that I bounce between a 7.5 and 8 UK (or 8.5 and 9 US). I nervously took a 7.5UK in the Armfield, but the fit is exceptional. It’s snug in the best possible way, and the narrow waist hugs my foot in a way that I would never get with a brand like Alden or Allen Edmonds. I would say that the 109 fits true to size and that sizing down 1 full size from US is the way to go.

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It’s too early to say how these will fare over the coming years (and hopefully decades), but so far I feel optimistic. And there’s just something so satisfying about checking off a purchase that you’ve been thinking about for a long time. I  might wince when I pay off my credit card this month, but I take pleasure in knowing that I may never need to buy a black captoe again.