People who have never had to buy a walking stick often imagine that there must be five or maybe six different styles. It can be a huge revelation to find that there are over 500 models supplied by Classic Canes. People are also frequently surprised that walking sticks can be so fashionable.
The history of the walking stick as a fashion accessory stretches back to the days when men stopped carrying swords and started carrying canes. Canes are a great way to underline status and sense of style and they remained popular until the motor car replaced the carriage as the main means of transport. Canes, and their companions, top hats, are not as easy to manage in the confines of a car as they are in a carriage. However, they remained an essential element of masculine style on more formal occasions such as weddings, the races and at black and white tie events.
The walking stick as a fashionable accessory for women has a rather shorter history. With the exception of chic women such as Marlene Dietrich using canes as theatrical accessories to their androgynous fashions, canes were rarely used by women of the Victorian, Edwardian and interwar eras, who generally preferred frilly umbrellas and parasols.
When Classic Canes was launched in the early 1980s, women who needed a walking stick usually had to make do with a man's walking stick cut down to height. This was neither comfortable nor elegant so we introduced scaled-down models of more suitable proportions for women. Originally these were wooden crook
and derby handled walking sticks
, but by the 1990s we had our first patterned aluminium canes for ladies
Once the printed walking stick was born, we were able to become very creative about the patterns used on them. To start with, these were chosen from commercially-available pattern books. We selected the prettiest florals we could find and unleashed them on our surprised stockists. Soon, sales of patterned ladies' walking sticks and folding canes became an important part of our market. Women generally buy more sticks than men because they enjoy treating them as fashion accessories. Some women build up large wardrobes of canes to match different outfits and provide a point of distinction to their ensembles.
For women to treat their canes as accessories, the canes have to related to surrent ladies' clothing fashions. At Classic Canes, we therefore keep a close eye on women's fashions, watching the new ideas coming out of the large creative brands such as Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Burberry. These tend to filter down to the more accessible brands and the high street over time. Developing new walking stick patterns takes time so it is important that we are ahead of the trends at the design stage.
Some fashion motifs are fairly timeless: checks, polkadots, rose prints, leopard prints and monochrome styles are always popular. Even so these designs have to be modified regularly to stay up to date...and ahead of the cheap copyists, who plague the walking stick world as much as any other area of design. We often think of the famous words of John Ruskin when we see a knock-off of a Classic Canes design: "There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man's lawful prey."
To this end, we strive to make as many walking sticks in the Classic Canes range as we can in exclusive designs that are hard to copy. I paint many of the motifs we use in our repeating patterns myself, giving us full control over the subject and the colours used. Some walking stick patterns are very contemporary, but modern interpretations of simple, classical designs such as bees
are all extremely popular. Some of these are inspired by the Somerset countryside where we live and work, others by customer requests and others by currently trending subjects.
Of course it is always interesting to see which women choose which walking sticks. Celebrity spotting is one of our office hobbies. Some of our favourite Classic Canes users include Dame Vera Lynn, sadly now deceased, who used a Classic Canes autumn gold print cane (ref 5003A
). The comedian Dawn French has been seen with our Chelsea adjustable cane in dark blue floral (4099D
), the jazz singer Cleo Laine with the same cane in the autumn gold colourway (4099J
), and one of the most glamorous of all, Bianca Jagger, whom we have spotted more than once on her way to the Christian Dior catwalk shows with her black and white polkadot cane (4651D
). They all look fabulous with their choices, which are carefully selected to enhance their outfit. One only has to look at the glorious Emma Stone in the new Cruella film to see how a cane can add drama and distinction to a glamorous ensemble. If you want to elongate your silhouette, a cane is a perfect accessory.
2022 will mark the 40th anniversary of Classic Canes. We have a new trade catalogue and a host of new fashionable walking sticks in the pipeline for launch to coincide with this important birthday for us. We very much look forward to sharing them with our stockists and Classic Canes users worldwide and continuing the development of the much-loved fashionable walking stick.