Fetch my pipe and slip­pers

With Bri­tish-made slip­pers en­joy­ing an up­turn in sales, Matthew Den­ni­son dis­cov­ers why now’s the per­fect time to slip into some­thing more com­fort­able

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Matthew Den­ni­son slips into some­thing more com­fort­able

IN 1829, the ed­i­tor of The Ed­in­burgh

Lit­er­ary Jour­nal of­fered his read­ers an en­comium on the sub­ject of slip­pers. ‘With­out slip­pers, win­ter would be merely a sea­son of great­coats and sore throats;—with­out slip­pers sum­mer would be noth­ing but a few months of per­spi­ra­tion and white trousers… To win­ter, slip­pers im­part all its fire­side com­fort,—to sum­mer all its re­fresh­ing cool­ness.’ On the ev­i­dence of a re­cent up­turn in slip­per sales re­ported by lead­ing Bri­tish man­u­fac­tur­ers, it’s a view that con­tin­ues to win ad­her­ents.

Hap­pily, both for the sar­to­ri­ally dis­cern­ing and those with an in­ter­est in the well-be­ing of Bri­tain’s tra­di­tional shoe­mak­ers, the slip­pers cur­rently en­joy­ing a par­tic­u­lar vogue are made in this coun­try, from vel­vet, with quilted-satin lin­ings and leather soles and heels, cut and lasted by hand us­ing tra­di­tional tech­niques. And at Crock­ett & Jones and Oliver Brown, there is even a con­sen­sus among cus­tomers about the colour of the mo­ment: navy blue, most of­ten with­out mono­gram­ming or em­broi­dered dec­o­ra­tion.

At Oliver Brown, Kris­tian Rob­son at­tributes the resur­gence in pop­u­lar­ity of this highly tra­di­tional piece of men’s footwear to the con­tin­u­ing im­pact of Down­ton

Abbey, with its fo­cus on lux­u­ri­ous for­mal cloth­ing, but it’s also the case that vel­vet slip­pers have lately made their way on to in­ter­na­tional cat­walks, show­cased by de­sign­ers such as Prada.

As Ja­son Sim­monds of Devon-based shoe­mak­ers Her­ring tells me, the slip­pers in ques­tion—lace­less, pull-on, tab-fronted de­signs—are more ac­cu­rately de­scribed as ‘house shoes’ ‘as they have the same lasted shape, toe and heel shapers that a welted shoe would have, but with a much thin­ner sole and lux­u­ri­ous vel­vet up­pers’.

Their struc­tural re­sem­blance to a shoe, ac­cord­ing to James Fox of Crock­ett & Jones, is also key to their com­fort: such slip­pers hold their shape and sup­port the foot dur­ing wear. This is the style of footwear usu­ally called a Prince Al­bert slip­per, af­ter Queen Vic­to­ria’s con­sort, who pop­u­larised a sim­i­lar de­sign in the 1840s. Ap­pro­pri­ately, given the de­sign’s royal ori­gins, Her­ring’s best­selling slip­pers are the vel­vet Monarch and tweed Bal­moral de­signs.

Through­out their long his­tory in this coun­try, slip­pers have ex­isted as an al­ter­na­tive to shoes, chiefly for in­door wear. Scot­tish Trea­sury ac­counts from the end of the 15th cen­tury record pay­ments made to shoe­mak­ers called Ry­che and Home for both shoes and slip­pers: in 1489, ‘to Ry­che cor­dy­nar [cord­wainer or shoe­maker] for xxx payre of schone [shoes] and xxx paire of pan­to­nis [‘pantofles’ or slip­pers]’, and in 1494 ‘to Home the cor­dinare [cord­wainer or shoe­maker], for schone, brodykin­nis [buskins or boots] and pan­tu­if­fil­lis ‘pantofles’ or slip­pers]’. In his best-known polemic, The

Anatomie of Abuses of 1585, 16th-cen­tury pam­phle­teer Philip Stubbes took a pre­dictably cur­mud­geonly line: ‘I see not to what good uses serve these pantofles [slip­pers], ex­cept it be to wear in a pri­vate house, or in a man’s chamber to keep him warm?’ As the dis­tinc­tion be­tween shoes, boots and slip­pers in the early Scot­tish sources quoted in­di­cates, this was in­deed the point, with shoes and slip­pers serv­ing dis­tinct pur­poses—as has mostly re­mained the case.

A paint­ing from the late 17th cen­tury in the V&A de­picts a tapestry-hung bed­cham­ber in some dis­ar­ray, through which scam­pers a tiny dog, mak­ing away with a slip­per. That the footwear in ques­tion is ap­par­ently made from the same crim­son fab­ric as the bed hang­ings, chair cov­ers and table­cloth re­in­forces their sta­tus as for in­door wear only—all of a piece with the room for which they were chiefly in­tended.

This is not ex­clu­sively the case, how­ever. At Oliver Brown, Mr Rob­son notes vel­vet slip­pers be­ing worn with ev­ery­thing from jeans to din­ner jack­ets and not only at home, given that their leather soles per­mit light wear out­doors.

Nor are such pub­lic out­ings for slip­pers an in­no­va­tion. In the sec­ond decade of the 18th cen­tury, Court gos­sips noted that Caro­line of Ans­bach, wife of the fu­ture Ge­orge II, danced in slip­pers at a ball at St James’s Palace and, in the 1940s, ac­tor Clark Gable matched the colour of his slip­pers to his shirt whether at home or else­where.

‘With­out slip­pers, win­ter would be merely a sea­son of great­coats and sore throats

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