Ivy Style contributor and Newton Street Vintage proprietor Zachary DeLuca returns after a long absence with this dissection of two vintage Brooks Brothers suits. For additional photos, visit his tumblr The Suit Room.
One of the best things about my job is that every so often I come across a piece so good that I have to take a moment to admire the finer points of hand-tailoring that went into it. In this instance, I found not one but two such pieces, both from Brooks Brothers, both with the black label coveted by Brooks collectors.
The first is a strange bird considering Brooks’ die-hard affiliation with the three-button sack suit: A two-button darted jacket, with an ultra-soft shoulder.
The silhouette is not unlike the jacket found in this 1948 Brooks ad, although this jacket dates from the very late 1950s, 1962 at the latest.
When compared to most contemporary ready-to-wear jackets, this suit contains a serious amount of handwork, with construction details now found primarily in bespoke garments. All buttonholes have been hand-sewn, and the canvassing of the lapel has been pad-stitched by hand, a detail that even some Savile Row makers are now eschewing for the more economical machine blindstitch.
Most notable, however, is the shoulder construction, which seems to owe more to fine Neapolitan tailoring than the Anglo-American heritage of Brooks Brothers. As with the Neapolitan style, the jacket has small, high armhole into which a generously draped sleevehead has been gathered:
The result is a soft, cascading shoulder with the ripples characteristic of an Italian spalla camicia. The shoulder is constructed as a natural shoulder with minimal padding and slight extension, lying close to the wearer’s shoulder and ending slightly beyond his shoulder point.
This type of shoulder construction appears to have been used by Brooks for a brief period of its history; by the late 1960s their natural shoulder features a smoother shape more familiar to fans of the American-style natural shoulder.
Now for the ne plus ultra of American tailoring, the No. 1 sack suit:
From the same period (and owner) as the previous jacket, this jacket contains the same construction details, such as the very unique spalla camicia shoulders, hand-sewn buttonholes and hand-attached collar, and a very high button-stance unique to mid-century Brooks Brothers.
Note the large sleevehead and the high armhole:
The jacket’s high fastening stance, in which the top rolled buttonhole is situated higher than the breast pocket, as seen in the first image.
These details of construction point to an interesting moment in the heritage of Brooks Brothers in which the soft, relaxed aspect of Italian tailoring is combined with the study nature of English-style cloth (this cloth in particular is worsted herringbone, probably about a 12oz weight). It points to a time before the rise of the luxury market, when hand-tailoring was a mark of a garment’s longevity, and when a man regarded the suit as a workhorse staple of the wardrobe. — ZACHARY DELUCA