I went to William And Mary, graduating in 1974, the second Watergate summer. My Richmond, Virginia public high school was a sea of Ivy style dress, as was the city itself, served by incredible downtown department stores and specialty men’s stores in the heyday. As the ’70s arrived, I drifted from the Ivy style I’d grown up with, but was gently nudged back by a favorite professor, who was a Princeton grad. He’d told me that when I got a job, a Brooks Brothers credit card was an easy first card to get.
Nixon’s fall ushered in 75 freshman House Democrats, including the Northern Virginia candidate I’d volunteered for. The House office buildings were a stew of young men and women from every corner of the country — a great place to date, too. (It was a young lady from Connecticut who told me, over drinks, about Jos. A Bank.) Finding Brooks Brothers in Washington then wasn’t easy. The subway was under construction but wasn’t yet operational. I had the address from the phone book — that’s how we googled in the ’70s — but I must have passed it a time or two before figuring out that there was no storefront. Perhaps like the Metropolitan Club nearby, they thought signage was unnecessary and a bit vulgar. There was an inconspicuous door leading to a staircase that took you to the store, which was on the second floor. There was a lot of dark wood, of course, and a lot of people who knew their way around the racks and stacks. I did not. It was Christmas shopping season, and I was clearly not the only man shopping for himself. Being a news nerd, I recognized former Ambassador David KE Bruce, otherwise unnoticed, patiently waiting at the busy counter to pay for a large stack of white OCBD shirts.
When that inner sanctum eventually relocated to street level, I would have my own salesman, Mr. Prakash, but perhaps because the upstairs store was cramped and busy, I enjoyed going through the stacks of shirts unaided, unbothered, and left alone to explore. I find it thoroughly annoying now when I go into my local mall Brooks — infrequently, by the way— where the shirts are behind a counter, where the sizes are unmarked on the shelves, and a sales associate is needed to find anything.
I miss the old store. And the old shirts. — CN