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Englishmen in New York: Part 1 – Tom Cowell

A few weeks ago, to celebrate St. Crispin’s Day (the patron saint of shoes, which you can read more about here), our Cobbler-in-Chief hosted a dinner party in New York City. Intent on keeping the celebrations going however, our Cobbler-in-Chief also went out and about to meet some local, British Oliver Sweeney fans to find out how their favourite shoes go down in the Big Apple. A Londoner born and bred, Sweeney fan, Tom Cowell has been forging a successful career Stateside for nearly a decade as a writer for the likes of The Guardian, the Village Voice and Comedy Central. Here he exercises his sense of humour on his American style pet hates, how much you can get away with in a British accent, and why his Oliver Sweeney shoes are the perfect choice for multi-tasking New Yorkers in the first part of our Englishmen in New York series.

Englishman in New York: Tom, here, wears our Combe Brown blazer with our Barlby Chestnut brogue boot.

Why did you originally move to NYC

My then-girlfriend (and now wife) and I met teaching English overseas. She’s American. I studied in Philadelphia to be with her, and then she got a big important fashion job in New York. I followed.

Where do you live in NYC & how long have you lived there

I’ve lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn for 8 years.

Do you follow the American sartorial rules or play fast & loose with your style

I’m generally very pro-American in my style. I love the US punk aesthetic, and the urban dandy look. I’m a fan of that very American ‘urban woodsman’ thing too: heritage brands like Woolrich and Filson, and vintage L.L. Bean. I’m also a sucker for Ralph Lauren and his mansion on the Upper East Side: it’s Preppy Mecca. There are men called Chad circling it seven times and crying…

What do you love and hate about NYC men’s style

I love the ‘put together, but not pretentious’ accent that NYC men put on their clothes. It’s dignified. But the rock’n’roll guy gets way too much slack in New York. I’m a huge fan of the ripped skinny jeans, gauzy band t-shirt and slight dishevelment look, but I cannot support actual dirt on your clothes. I am sick of grimy Williamsburg musicians stinking up coffee shops with a whole season’s worth of body odour. Some manly musk is acceptable after a long day; smelling like you swam in Eau De Hobo is not!

You can’t deny, as partial as we are to London, the New York skyline is a one of a kind…
How does it stone island 533093 differ from yours as an Englishman abroad

I like blending in; I like the challenge of it. But I like wearing at least one thing that’s English, like a Turnbull & Asser shirt or some Sweeneys (or Doc Martin boots). It’s like a little Easter egg I can wear on my person: a secret code just for people who pay close attention.

Do you play up to the ‘Englishman Abroad’ stereotype

Occasionally. You can lie so easily in a British accent. People just assume you re far more intelligent than them, just because of how we talk. I always want to ask: ‘if we’re so smart, how come in 1783 we lost a war to twelve farmers

How did you discover Sweeneys and when did you make your first purchase

I picked up a pair at Nordstrom.

What makes Sweeneys the right shoes for you

My Saunders Tan Derby brogues are dressy enough to polish up a casual ‘jeans and button-down’ thing, and human enough to feel comfortable in as part of a more fancy outfit. That multi-tasking quality is exactly what most guys want: we like panache, we like looking good, but we don’t want to feel like we blew a whole paycheck on something we only wear once a year.

Do people comment on your Sweeneys

All the time, favourably. I repress a smug grin.

Which ones have you got your eye on next

The Ellerton Black Made in England Oxfords would be a pretty sweet Christmas present to myself.

What do you miss most about England

Other than family and specific friends, I miss pubs. I miss things that are more than 100 years old. I miss certain baked goods. I forget they exist for years at a time, and then, suddenly, out of nowhere, I want an Eccles Cake.

What do you love most about living in NYC

I love the optimism and drive and energy. No one moves here to just sit on their couch. Everyone has a plan and a passion. Also: the street theatre. There’s always a cab driver yelling at a hot dog salesman while an heiress in full-length furs screams obscenities at joggers. Paradise.

Tom’s top sites and picks in New York City:

– The Black Rabbit is the best bar in Greenpoint. Cheap yet civilized drinking whenever you want it, never too busy, never too empty. For singles, they host ‘Smiths Speed Dating’ where couples meet for the length of a Morrissey tune, then move on. How can you not love that Plus every booth has a service call button, so there’s no anxious wait to catch the waiter’s eye. Why don’t all bars do this
– I love the Neue Galerie at 86th Street and Fifth Avenue, for early twentieth-century German and Austrian art. If I’m honest, the paintings are great, but the chocolate cake in the cafĂ© is why I go.
– For a great view, I walk over the Pulaski Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens as the sun is setting. It’s the best view of Manhattan that doesn’t require a helicopter- And place When you get to the Queens side, stop into The Creek & The Cave comedy club. I’ll probably be there, trying to write five new minutes of material.

See more from our time in New York, including an insight into our Cobbler-in-Chief’s Dinner Party in the video below. Stay tuned for the second part of our Englishmen in New York series coming on the Sweeney Blog soon!