A Lesson in Value from Cary Grant

Cary Grant style,

The modern era etymology of the word ‘value’ makes for a depressing conclusion. In its contemporary day-to-day usage ‘value’ has become synonymous with ‘low-cost’; when one says, ‘that’s good value for money’, too often they mean it was cheap, period. And that is a shame.

Value should mean something very different. If we limit our attitude towards value to a simple cost analysis without the necessary benefit counterbalance – without consideration of quality – we deny ourselves the virtue of true value.

Fortunately, the modern man is showing signs of rediscovering a passion for excellence.

I’m going to deal something of a sartorialist’s low-blow here by evoking Cary Grant’s wisdom in favor of my own argument. That’s a little unfair when arguing the nuances of men’s style since, well, who’s going to argue with him? But he was invariably right; never more so than with the sage advice offered in this pull-out from the 1967/1968 winter edition of GQ:

  I’m reminded of a piece of advice my father gave me regarding shoes: it has stood me in good stead whenever my own finances were low. He said it’s better to buy one good pair of shoes than four cheap ones. One pair made of fine leather could outlast four inferior pairs, and, if well cared for, would continue to proclaim your good judgment and taste no matter how old they become.

Watertight – both the shoe and the argument. Yet, since those words were written, there’s been an explosive proliferation of fashion brands and manufacturers, the majority geared towards mass production and responding to short-lived trends. Sadly, one of the consequences of goods beckettrobb-4_600being made widely available is a reduction in quality; permanence is a rarer objective than it once was in menswear.

The good news is that the industry is going through something of a renaissance period with a new wave of manufacturers focusing on the details that matter. One such outfit, San Francisco-based tailor Beckett & Robb, is committed to what it calls the ‘four Cs’ in its quest for value: cloth, craftsmanship, customization, and consultation. “[You can] get a ‘bespoke’ suit made on a trip to Hong Kong, but it is made of garbage poly/wool with a fused chest in 24 hours and it’s really only worth $199”, say Becket & Robb’s founders Jason Yeats and Derek Bleazard. A temporary fix, but not value.

And here’s where a ‘fifth C’ comes in to the equation: cost. A bespoke suit from Savile Row worn with a pair of handmade John Lobb shoes and a Drake’s tie may be the easiest way of looking a million dollars – but is it any wonder when the price tags are in excess of $4,000, $1,000 and $150 respectively? 99 percent of us would be inclined to clarify the total sum of such an extravagant order before having the cashier ring it up – and as the old aphorism goes: that’s a sure sign that we probably can’t afford it.

Nevertheless, there is a fundamental, inescapable lesson that every modern man should learn, and that is that we mustn’t allow money to constrain us entirely. There is no contradiction here, even when it is considered that one’s obsession with value inevitably peaks when one’s finances are at their lowest: as we’ve seen, to succumb to the temptation of parsimony is to deny ourselves of value altogether.

In many ways this is easy advice: spend more and get more. Nothing to see there. But the trick is for the modern man to achieve a healthy balance by fine-tuning his sense for a good deal. The trick is for the modern man to fine-tune his sense for value.

Loake Shoes,Your quest for value need not necessarily lead to Knightsbridge or Manhattan.  It may lead to a reputable local tailor, on the recommendation of a trusted associate. If your shoe budget is less than $350, it may lead to an esteemed manufacturer like Grenson or Loake. Not many of us can afford to wear an Audemars Piguet on our wrists, so your search for a quality timepiece may end at the doorstep of a brand like Daniel Wellington, with its penchant for preppy elegance, or Claude Bernard, a brand bringing Swiss engineering to the masses.

These options are not cheap. The initial outlay may still stretch your finances. But cheap is not value; don’t confuse inexpensiveness with a good deal. Get into the habit of considering your wardrobe and vigorously planning for its longevity. And make sure that you treasure every item within it – for the quality of its raw materials, the elegance of its design and composition, and for the charm of the brand’s own historical narrative.

Invest in value, not in stop-gaps. If your cost-benefit analysis weighs in favor of the ‘economy’ option, you’ll only have yourself to blame the next time you grimace at the faux leather peeling away from your sole.

And don’t say Mr. Grant didn’t warn you.