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Defining Popular Subculture


The phrase “popular subculture” is a contradiction, an oxymoron, how can something become popular enough to enter the mainstream consciousness of society in general and yet still maintain the definitive nuances of a sub culture, such as esoteric terms which only those “in the know” will understand ? There is no denying that denim, particularly raw, selvedge and repro model denim, is currently riding the crest of a wave in popularity which has seen a veritable plethora of new brands and emerging markets. Even more indicative of how accepted these things are in general is the fact that denim, featuring both genuine and false selvedge seams, can now be found on the shelves of almost every high street retailer, and are almost a certainty for any denim made by a more mainstream fashion brand who wishes to show its quality.


Denim as an interest works in levels, the person buying from the high street may not even notice their selvedge (false or not), just as the guy wearing his Armani jeans may not notice his hidden rivets or carry many thoughts about the cinch back detail, but for the few who do it might lead them to the next level of involvement, and this is where denim blurs the lines between popular fashion and subculture. The divide between mainstream and subculture is reached at the point where the individual begins to care more about what matters to them about a pair of jeans in real terms of detailing, manufacture and ethics of production and supply, rather than approaching a pair of jeans solely from the view of which is the most aesthetically pleasing. Of course we all want our jeans to look great on us, but when that becomes one of a number of considerations rather than the primary focus then you begin to explore what it means to love denim on a geek (or otaku as they say in Japan) level.

As with any scene or sub culture there are those who embrace every facet and eagerly digest every shred of information available in an effort to become a “scene guru”, those who focus their interest on particular aspects, those whose interest doesn’t run too deeply beyond collecting things associated and finally those who like the idea of the scene but don’t really make any attempt to understand it or acquire any knowledge. Those of us who have an interest in things like certain music, movies, motorcycles will recognise the types and perhaps even acknowledge which stereotype best fits us (I know I have), and probably know your own level of interest and involvement, every subculture has its hierarchy of “nerdiness”, where those with knowledge or positions of power are venerated by the rest.

On a personal note, my interest has actually diminished from where it was a couple of years ago, which isn’t to say that I no longer have love for denim but is to say that I won’t sacrifice nights out and social time with friends in order to be able to afford a new pair of jeans….I have been there, sitting in my house in my $400 jeans without the money to go out in them, it’s a sad state of affairs. My interest at the moment is to own and wear a small collection of my favourite denims, which fit well and will see me through a good few years of rotated wear, I like certain brands, I like certain details and I think that I have reached a point where I know what works for me and keeps my interest, which is super important when you’re paying so much for jeans.


There will come a point where denim and work wear is no longer flavour of the month, when high street retailers discard fake selvedge and over embellished military style clothing, when the spotlight of trends moves onto something new and denim is returned back to those who love it, always have and always will. When the popularity is over, it will simply return to being a sub culture, until the next time.


Fine Lines


Over the past few weeks I have read with interest quite a few debates on the internet between people discussing “which is the best…..”? The item in question has been everything from a games console, to a laptop, to a smart phone and obviously our favoured subjects of denim and work wear. What strikes me and intrigues me about the sheer amount of these debates, and the passion with which they are argued is that we all have an inherent desire to have the best “thing” available to us. The problem being that, as with all arguments, there comes a point where it becomes irrelevant, where the margins being compared are so infinitesimal as to not matter in the slightest, and that is the most popular kind of argument which the internet produces.


With particular regards to denim and work wear it is my contention that there is a level reached where something as tangible as quality becomes so intangible that one is indistinguishable from the other except when judged by personal taste or studied to a level of detail so minute as to make no difference. You may feel that the slubby, hairy denim of your Oni’s is preferable to the uniform texture of the Iron Heart 21oz, or you may feel that the over engineered construction on your Iron Heart’s is far more durable that the all-cotton stitch used by Samurai, you may believe that Samurai’s cuts offer more variety and better fits that those offered by Flat Head and so on, in reality this is just opinion and bears no reflection on which is better, they are all simply different.


Likewise when it comes to boots, a lifelong wearer of White’s might scoff at a pair of Viberg as grossly overpriced , whilst the Viberg wearer will point to the neater edging and finishing. A Wesco wearer will say that their boots offer the best of both worlds with a solid construction and superior leather, whereas a fan of more English style boots would probably say that brands like Trickers and Sargent are the true mark of boot making excellence . The reality being that all are absolutely top level footwear manufacturers who offer pretty much the finest boots you could ever purchase, the slight variations are again down to preference, style and budget.

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Unlike technology, clothing cannot be separated by mere specifications, processor speeds or media compatibility, although the truth in modern society is that technology can be just as much of a personal statement as what we wear. The levels of distinction between brands at the highest level actually serve to remove quality from the argument as a general topic, some may disagree due to a personal negative experience, and moves the subject to the simple question of “what is my preference?”

HWDC2 Ends, DWC Begins

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The next few weeks promise to be quite busy for me, the HWDC2 is coming to a close and the DWC is getting ready to launch, all of which means that there will be much excitement in the coming weeks. Anyone who has observed the HWDC2 threads over on Superfuture and the Iron Heart forum will have seen some of the most amazing faded denim around as the HWDC2 draws to a close, there is no doubt that judging will a monumental task for our panel of experts. So what’s going to be happening to bring one competition to a close and launch the next? Let me explain.

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As we wind down the HWDC2 all remaining contestants will be asked to make their final submissions in the relevant forum threads. I will notify our judging panel and ask them to make their selections from both the Heavyweight and Super Heavyweight categories, whoever polls the most selections will win their category. From there it will be a straight fight between the two category winners to find the overall Heavyweight Denim Champion of the world, and announce their victory. I will then contact all the sponsors to send their pledged prizes out to the lucky winners.

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The DWC launch will be a much more simple affair, as it will technically involve nothing other than contestants starting their own thread on the DWC forum, telling us about their jeans and updating regularly. The first three months will see the first challenges for those taking part, as well as the first walking challenge in the BWC and the first “condition statement” pictures from those continuing from HWDC2 into HWDC3 “Last Man Standing”. Those who signed up to use the contest jeans provided by Iron Heart, and the contest boots provided by Wesco will get their wares shortly and I am personally extremely excited to see them.

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The next 24 months promise a whole host of new denim journeys, just as we have seen in the HWDC2. The standard of competition from those remaining as that contest draws to a close is simply incredible, if the DWC can match that then I think that we will all be super impressed.

DHQ Gets Slim Shady With THE Iron Heart IH555-BLK

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I am not a small man, I am 6ft 1 inch tall and weight around 215lbs. I am not a young man (relatively speaking), I will be 39 this year and I look every single one of those years of age, plus a couple more on a bad day. I am not a pretty man, I am bald, have a crooked nose and a ginger beard of varying proportions. These are facts. Skinny, or even slim cut jeans are better worn by slimmer, better looking men than myself, people who know and care about things like fashion and trends, perhaps, men with an interest in artisan coffee and folk music who read books about interior design and walk their pug to the vegan bakery maybe? So why do I find myself wearing a pair of Iron Heart’s slimmest ever cut of jeans, the 555, and loving them?


Recently I sold my Trophy Clothing Blackie jeans, they were great jeans but the cut just did not work for me as they were a little wide for my frame, this also coincided with receiving (by accident) a pair of extremely slim jeans from Sauce Zhan along with my custom cut jeans. I tried these slim jeans on as an experiment and much to my surprise I liked them. I am of the sincere belief that a pair of black denim is a wardrobe essential to balance out the blue, not every day is for indigo, so it seemed logical for me to replace the Blackie’s with a pair of slim black jeans from my go to label Iron Heart. I also take a view of if you’re going to do something then it should be done properly, hence the arrival of the seemingly un-heralded IH555-BLK, an Iron Heart jean which seems to have slipped under the radar of many if Google image search anything to go by.

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The 555 is an even more slimmed down version of the 666 Devils cut. Like the 666 it offers a comfortable top block but it also has a much narrower fit throughout the entire leg, the cut was developed with an Indonesian retailer primarily for the Asian market, but larger sizes fit larger men, including me. The denim is Iron Hearts signature 21oz, exactly the same as used in the flagship model 634S jeans, but is dyed black rather than blue, it is dyed in exactly the same way so fading on the 555-BLK’s should be very possible and the 21oz denim is one of the best denims available for comfort and conforming to the wearers body shape, which is a definite bonus in a narrow cut.


The first thing to note about the 555 cut is that, despite being the slimmest of the Iron Heart cuts, it is certainly not a skin tight, jegging style cut, I would describe it as a slim(mer) tapered cut. The top block of the jeans fits like a standard pair of jeans, the thigh fits in a similar manner to the 66 cut, whilst from the knee down the taper becomes more dramatic resulting in a shape which is in reality far more subtle than the measurement table would suggest, they certainly won’t endanger your chances starting a family or make walking awkward, although crouching can become slightly painful. I guess that the only word of caution here is that it is definitely worth checking the measurement table to ensure that you will have enough room through the thigh, knee and hem. The second thing to note is that the denim doesn’t look particularly black on the internet, without the benefit of comparison it can look more like a grey cast blue. I can tell you that it is most definitely black but with a very definite white weft, meaning that it should fade really nicely. In terms of colour they remind me very much of an old pair of Samurai S5000BK which I owned many years ago.


The real mystery for me concerning these jeans is that they seem to be quite unpopular in the great scheme of cuts and denims from Iron Heart, despite being very reminiscent of the Iron Heart x Self Edge collaboration black jeans, the 7301, which was really popular at the time of release. Indeed the mystery is deepened when you realise that, unlike the 7301, the 555-BLK has a selvedge out seam. I am unsure if the lack of popularity is due to being the fourth of four different denims used on this cut, or if the timing of the release was just a bit off maybe, but I certainly believe that these jeans deserve a little more attention than they have gotten so far. I love that the 555 is a slim cut which is accessible to bigger guys rather than just waifs, and I find this particularly handy as some wider cut jeans in sizes 36 and upwards just look sloppy no matter how you cuff or hem them, whereas the 555 looks sleek and sharp. I would certainly advocate that if you are a larger guy who wants a more flattering shape to his denim then you should perhaps take a look at the 555’s, just be sure to check the measurement table first.

Black Is The New Black – Iron Heart 666SB Review


Popular denim wisdom will tell you that the true wonder of denim is in how it evolves, how it fades and how it becomes unique to the wearer, carrying the scars, triumphs and tragedies of your individual life. This is a wisdom which I fully subscribe to, indeed it is the core foundation to my love of denim in which I obsess on a daily basis, poring every new hint of blue or loss of indigo from whatever is occupying my legs on any given day. Not only my legs either but also the legs of the countless masses of the internet. Every single day I spend a large portion of time looking through forums and blogs at pictures of worn denim, some of the jeans I see through the HWDC2 are so familiar that I know who’s they are before I see the name of the person who has posted them, they have become almost as familiar to me as my own. So a denim which does not fade at all, a denim which is black as midnight and is probably the hardest denim of the planet to yield to your own will, a denim which totally goes against this received wisdom should be completely against everything I love about denim right, I mean it doesn’t even have a selvedge out seam?


The SB (Super Black) denim from Iron Heart has a certain uncompromising reputation amongst followers of the brand which is extremely valid. I have seen many types of denim described as “armour” for its weight and rigidity but when it is said about SB it is not simple hyperbole, this is real, genuine denim armour. The base denim is a projectile loomed version of Iron Hearts signature 21oz sanforised denim, a true classic of the quality denim scene, it is then reactive dyed on both warp and weft which ensures virtually no fade at all and a texture more common to chain mail than cotton fabric, a mere touch of the SB denim is all you need to tell you that it is something totally different. The jeans which I have to review, made from the SB denim, are Iron Hearts most popular slim cut jean, the 666 Devils cut. The very fact that they are a slim cut made from a material as uncompromising as SB makes the prospect of putting them on my legs well… intimidating, I have worn Samurai’s 23oz, I have worn Iron Hearts 25oz, but the 21oz Super Black makes these jeans seem like linen summer trousers, but in the interests of denim journalism I will put my legs on the line and give them a wear test.


As with all of Iron Heart’s heavy jeans buttoning them is a thumb bruising experience, it is when the last button crunches into place though that I finally understand that my fear is not warranted, the devil is my friend and his armour is not to be feared. The cut of the 666 is slim, but not oppressively so, it has more than enough room for comfort whilst maintaining an extremely flattering silhouette with a slimmed down thigh leading into a gradual taper below the knee, it feels like a cut made for rock stars. The SB denim feels substantial and reassuring wrapped around your legs, without a hint of the roughness or abrasion which I had feared, it is most definitely armour, but a comforting armour rather than an unwieldy and awkward experience. The jeans feel great, they look great and they make me feel like I should be heading out for a night out with Keith Richards and Lemmy, not that I would probably return from such an experience.

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It would be pointless for me to espouse the virtue of Iron Hearts quality, their reputation for this is well deserved and established, so instead let’s talk about the elephants in the room, the major reasons why these jeans, and this denim, possibly won’t make it onto most denimheads Christmas or Birthday lists and once again it is all down to that “popular wisdom”. Firstly and most obviously the denim doesn’t fade, you can literally hot wash a plain white tee with these jeans with impunity. I have seen examples of SB denim which is 4 or 5 years old and could pass for new, for most things we buy this would be considered as nothing short of incredible, but as so many like and expect their denim to evolve there may be a perception that SB has no purpose. I would argue that it has the perfect purpose, it is the constant in a world of variation, it is permanence in a field of transience, and let’s be honest and say that there are social settings where your ripped and faded denim is just not acceptable, wouldn’t you like to have that same quality of jeans in a denim which will always look just as good as the day you bought them? I think that has a definite appeal. The Iron Heart SB denim is their equivalent of Willy Wonka’s “everlasting gob stopper” , an immortal jean for grown ups and the fact that it doesn’t fade is its strength, not its weakness.

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The second and probably more esoteric reason that these jeans perhaps won’t feel the same love as their stable mates is the omission of the two red lines on the out seam, and it is a fact that selvedge matters to most. I believe that many see selvedge as a major part of their differentiation, it is what sets our jeans apart from the high street, from the masses, and to a certain extent I do understand this. The facts of the matter though are that the “self edge” of the denim serves no real purpose on modern denim, and does not speak as to the quality of the material. It may well mean that the denim was woven on projectile looms rather than shuttle looms, but the thread is the same, the construction is the same and there is absolutely no variation in quality at all. Therefore the difference between selvedge or not is perhaps one of human particularity, of a certain snobbish association with vintage detailing, but as selvedge is also so common now (even on the high street), surely for a high end Japanese denim jean to NOT have selvedge is a real mark of anarchy, SB denim is original, it is the anarchist and it doesn’t care what you think of it.

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Where Iron Heart succeed with these jeans is in making them from a denim manufactured for practicality, the denim is a huge favourite with Japanese bikers for its toughness and lack of fade, in a cut which simply screams rock and roll. With the 666-SB the devil is truly in the details, such as the super black arcs, the red W mark on the back pocket and the use of red stitching to turn a fairly standard out seam into a feature worthy of attention should you favour a cuff (I do). If you care solely about things like setting creases, roping, honey combs and selvedge, and you are not prepared to open up your mind a little then these jeans are more than likely not for you. If, however, you find yourself staring at your wardrobe full of sick fades and contemplating buying yet more denim to wear to the office or dinner party or night out as your regular pairs have gone past the point of being socially permissible then you really should take a look at these jeans. If having a constant in your wardrobe appeals to you or even if you simply feel like rebelling against everything that you have ever learned or read about denim then these are the jeans for you. It is time to unlearn what you have learned, put away your security in knowledge and embrace anarchy, be a wolf amongst the sheep and do it dressed in black. The Devil needs you to embrace the dark side, and it feels good.

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Denim HQ – The Simple Cafe Racer

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A while ago I wrote an FWA article about my previous leather jacket, a Simmons Bilt Cossack style jacket by Alexander Leathers of Selkirk, Scotland, it was a thing of beauty, a true life time piece, but alas it became apparent that it was not for me. The problem I found with the Simmons Bilt in the end was that it required effort to wear, its distinctive style and short body length meant that I really had to think about what to wear with it, and when to wear it and as a result I virtually never took it out of my wardrobe. The best thing to do with it was to move it on to an owner who would truly appreciate it, and so it now resides in Portugal with a man who is very happy with it, but this left me with a wardrobe void for a leather jacket so once again I turned to Giles Padmore of Iron Heart to see if he could help me put together my ideal jacket.

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Previous to owning the Simmons Bilt I had owned two leather jackets which I really enjoyed, a vintage Schott Police issue jacket in very heavy steer hide, and a café racer from Brooks of Detroit in a much lighter leather. Both jackets were extremely good but both also had things which annoyed me and resulted in me moving them on, the Schott had a collar which I didn’t care for and epaulets on the shoulders which are not my thing either, the Brooks was too light and also had an oversized collar, my perfect jacket would have to lose these features but keep the length and heft of the Schott with the style of the Brooks. I began to compile a list of features and found that the word which kept repeating in my mind was “simple”, the jacket had to be as plain as possible with no unnecessary pockets, no fancy stitch adornments, no contrast stitching, I even wanted the hardware and zippers to be muted against a black background.

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What I asked for, what Giles tweaked and what Alexander made is (in my opinion), a wonderful exercise in less is more, a jacket where not a feature is spare or superfluous, everything is where it should be and it is all required to present a café racer of effortless beauty. The jacket is made from Horween steer hide, and is therefore substantial and heavy, it is lined with twill for multi season use with pockets lined with corduroy for comfort, it is slightly longer than most jackets of this style with the body extending an inch past the end of the zipper and is fastened with brass, Iron Heart branded, heavy duty YKK zippers.

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There is so much I love about this design, it is classic and can be worn with just about anything but obviously looks best with just a tee shirt and jeans. It is super comfortable and easy to wear, despite the weight, mainly due to the fact that in essence it is nothing more than a plain zip fronted jacket which just happens to be made from one of the world’s greatest leathers. What I love most about it however is its total and utter subtlety, every last detail is there to be downplayed whilst retaining its obvious quality and refinement, which is a strange word to associate with a super tough leather motorcycle style jacket but appropriate in these circumstance I think.


In around nine months with the Simmons Bilt I probably wore it about five times, the ALxIH Café Racer has been with me for 4 days and I have worn it every single day, a trend I can see continuing. The secret to that is that I can feel it willing me to break it in, to wear it, to soften the leather and to mould it to me and make it mine because I know that when I do it could quite possibly be the greatest item of clothing I have ever owned, but the element of the unknown is whether it beats me before I beat it, it’s going to be great finding out.

English Heritage – Barbour and Belstaff


As an Englishman it is sometimes difficult for me to find much clothing of the “made in England” variety which is really my thing, though part of me feels that I should, I have always preferred denim (fairly obviously), American style work boots and Japanese styled and detailed work and street wear. The main reasons for this being that American styles have always suited my rather awkward frame better than the English which have a tendency to be a little more delicate in my opinion. Add this to the fact that I favour utility over aesthetics having never really followed fashion to any degree and you will see why brands such as Iron Heart, White’s and Wesco hold such a strong pull for me, I have in the past tried English footwear from luminaries such as Trickers and Grenson, but always found myself going back to my White’s SD’s or Bounty Hunters. There is one particular garment though, which is both English designed and English made (until recently), and it happens to be one of my all-time favourite pieces of utilitarian work wear.

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Call it what you will, a moto jacket, a trials jacket or a vintage styled biking jacket, what the two best known examples are called is the Barbour International and the Belstaff Trialmaster, and they are a different as night…..and later that same night. Both companies have a long a distinguished history of producing tough jackets and trousers for the military, motorcyclists, and outdoorsmen of many a persuasion, both are famed for their liberal use of heavy ounce waxed cotton to provide a breathable waterproof garments and both are genuine English heritage brands. Barbour stake a claim to the patent of the first waxed cotton jacket in 1924, they also supplied deck suits and jackets to the British military in the second World War which bore a startling resemblance to the later itineration’s of the bike jacket for which both brands would become famous.

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If Barbour’s history begins with military hardware then equally it is Belstaff who can claim genuine racing pedigree, producing jackets for such esteemed riders as Trials legend Sammy Miller, still racing today at the ripe old age of 75. Belstaff partnered with other well regarded iconic British brands such as Lightning zippers, and even had their wares produced under license in Australia by the bushman’s brand Drizabone. Both brands lay claim to the man who, perhaps more than any other, personifies real man’s style, the illustrious Steve McQueen. The story goes (and I have seen no actual proof of this), that McQueen wore Barbour jackets to ride in as they had a sponsorship deal with him, but his personal preference was for Belstaff, with the story even going so far that he once failed to turn up for an evening appointment with a Hollywood beauty because he was waxing his Belstaff (not a euphemism). As a result of these dual claims both brands have at one time or another produced a Steve McQueen tribute jacket, with the current Belstaff S Icon being based upon the jacket which they provided for “The Great Escape”.

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Unfortunately the stories of the two companies have diverged in more recent times, whilst Barbour have become the standard for the faux landed gentry in the UK, and come in a variety of colours to co-ordinate with their Land Rovers, Belstaff have declined at an alarming rate to the point where they are now almost exclusively bought by reality TV stars, footballers and minor Hollywood celebrities who are eager to show their love of all things “heritage”. Barbour are now the standard for waxed outdoors wear, Belstaff are owned by a Swiss fashion conglomerate (after a few years of Italian ownership), and manufacture things which would not look out of place in an auction of Michael Jacksons 1980’s stage costumes, a truly sad decline. The beginning of the end for Belstaff came when, feeling the economic pressure of the late 70’s/ early 80’s in England, many of their key suppliers (including Lightning) went to the wall, quality dropped off and so did orders. The original Longstaff plant was closed and moved to a much smaller facility, sensing blood in the water and before the brand name lost all its value, they were ripe for takeover and reimagining into the vacuous fashion oriented brand which they remain today. Barbour themselves have also been through a minor reboot, from being the standard working garment of the agricultural set they now firmly pitch their tent on the well-manicured lawns of the rural middle class, with a price point matching their new ambitions (although nowhere near the daylight robbery which accompany the fashion conscious Belstaff offerings).

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This tale of woe particularly resonates with me as I really love the trails jacket style, it is a perfect piece of iconic British design combined with true sense of practical usefulness, so to see them being poorly made for movie product placement (see Will Smith in I Am Legend sporting the Belstaff Trialmaster Legend edition), or underused by Essex housewives taking young Theodore and Jasmin to their private school in the Bentley really irks me. This is a piece of clothing made to be used, abused, waxed, worn and kept for life. It is not an accessory for your Prada jeans and Gucci bag and I believe that the time has come for this jacket to be reclaimed by people who will use them properly, the only problem being that the new offeringsfrom Belstaff are awful and ludicrously overpriced, and even Barbour have priced their International jacket at about £100 more than it should be for a “proper” version. What this has led to is the creation of a second hand market for well used jackets which can also be priced disproportionately high, but there are still bargains to be had if you have time and patience.

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The main body of the pictures for this article are of a pair of vintage Belstaff Trialmaster jackets which I have acquired in the last 12 months, the first jacket proved to be much too small for me, but as it only cost £35 and I auctioned it for over £300 it certainly proved its worth. The second and most recent purchase is a pre-1974 Sammy Miller edition Belstaff Trialmaster Professional, complete with fully working Lightning zipper, in short it is my idea of the perfect example of this jacket. I paid £89 for it from eBay and have sent it away for some much needed restoration on a few small rips and tears, but when it comes back I am extremely confident that it will continue to perform its job for a further 40 years, probably outliving me.

Not this !