Brooks Brothers, ’77: Listen To The Rustle Of The Tweeds

Although we’ll be examining 1967 throughout the year as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the fall of the Ivy League Look, this post comes from 10 years later. It landed in my inbox a month or two ago, and if I recall it was an archive piece reposted by The Washington Post.

Written by Curt Suplee, entitled “Hung Up On Brooks Brothers,” and published in November 0f 1977, the piece has many fine turns of phrase, including “listen to the rustle of the tweeds.”

Here’s another one:

Outside, in the streets, there in a stubbornly bewildering world of social ills, sexual competition, sudden violence, sporadic doubt. In here, in the cashmere quiet, there is . . . Brooks Brothers.

File this passage under “how times have changed”:

And although that way may not be for everybody, tens of thousands of men find the Brooks style so congenial that the company turns one of the highest profit margins in the industry

And speaking of changing times, there’s this fascinating passage recounting how the company actually thrived in the post-hippie years:

Furthermore, they have done it with increasing success over the past twenty years – two decades in which the spastic upheavals in American style could not have been more inimical to the Brooks Brothers way of life.

First came the denim and tee-shirt Sixties when many clothing houses sank in despair. “Everybody was just unkempt and dirty,” Reilly says of the period. He knew it wouldn’t last. “After all, people get through that stage in their lives. They start to think about getting married and settling down and doing something”

Finally there’s this line:

In addition, the look is American – the strength of the world. I don’t care, the pound or the dollar or the oil or whatever, the strength of the world is in America.

There’s much, much more in this fine and lengthy piece, which you can read in full right over here. — CC

19 Comments on "Brooks Brothers, ’77: Listen To The Rustle Of The Tweeds"

  1. Charlottesville | February 17, 2017 at 1:48 pm |

    Great article, and great memories. I well remember the old, wood-paneled L Street store, about a block from my first job after school. 1977 pre-dates my introduction to Brooks in Washington, D.C., but I don’t think it was all that much different 10 years later. However, I know that those who recall the heyday in all its glory would probably have noticed the beginning of the end even then. By the mid 90s, one needed to work at finding the No. 1 sacks, even if they were still there in diminished ranks. Alas, no longer.

  2. That piece really has some great lines in light of today. Like this one:

    At Brooks you buy clothing which is designed and tailored by men, and whose principal function is a form of communication to other men.

  3. Or this:

    “We are unquestionably the Establishment,” he says simply, “and we have enough customers who believe in us that we will never do anything in bad taste.

  4. I really like this quote: “The strength of the world is in America.” Except, now it’s in Russia apparently.

  5. I googled the writer, Curt Suplee, and found his website bio:

    Award-winning science writer Curt Suplee specializes in making complicated scientific and technical information vivid, comprehensible and exciting to the general public.

    He has authored five popular books and dozens of magazine articles, including four cover stories on complex science subjects for National Geographic. After 25 years as a writer and editor at The Washington Post — where he was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize — and seven years at the National Science Foundation, where he was the Director of the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, he now works at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In addition, he is an independent producer of books, articles, web sites, explanatory computer graphics, photography and videos about the physical sciences.

    Among other honors, he has won the Science Journalism Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society’s Grady-Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry to the Public, and two national prizes from the American Astronomical Society. He is a member of The Authors Guild, the National Association of Science Writers, and the Philosophical Society of Washington, and is a lifetime National Associate of the National Research Council of the National Academies.

    An experienced broadcast commentator and speaker before professional and educational groups, Suplee lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with his wife and two daughters.

  6. I had a chuckle at “…all those Johnny Carson lookalikes.”

    Johnny dressed very well in the early sixties when he first took over The Tonight Show, but slowly started adopting “fashionable” and increasingly garish outfits. By 1977, when the abovementioned piece was written, he often looked like a used car salesman.

    That said, I could never understand why his successors, Jay Leno and David Letterman, dressed so somberly for their jobs, which in effect, were somewhat that of a jester.

  7. G. Bruce Boyer | February 17, 2017 at 4:17 pm |

    “Rustle of the tweeds”. Wish I’d have said that. And I will.

  8. Our biggest problem – and the present day Brooks store exemplifies this – is a failure of nerve.

  9. What I liked about Brooks was that anything you bought there would be correct. You could almost pick out suits, shirts, and ties blindfolded, and you would look great. Everything in good taste. (For me this was the early 1980s in Detroit and mid-1980s in Minneapolis. I couldn’t afford to buy much then, but this was my impression of the place.)

  10. Carmelo Pugliatti | February 17, 2017 at 5:24 pm |

    The naked truth is that for Brooks Brothers the Reagan’s year greed was more lethal that the Hippies and counterculture.

  11. Mr. Suplee deserves a Pulitzer for his piece on Brooks Brothers.

    I love his quote on how clothes are signals: “At Brooks you buy clothing which is designed and tailored by men, and whose principal function is a form of communication to other men.”

    To me Brooks is as American as apple pie. The message their clothing says is that the wearer is affluent, yet tasteful. Unfortunately, a lot of affluent guys want to look “f?ck you elegant.”

    “F?ck you elegant” is the phrase Alan Flusser uses to describe Gordon Gecko’s wardrobe in the movie Wall Street: https://youtu.be/AjqNZEAmfPI

  12. Vern Trotter | February 17, 2017 at 6:29 pm |

    This article was written shortly after I had changed companies in the corporate world back in 1977. A senior executive and a cheap busybody, that I reported to, had challenged an expense account entry of mine for pressing my flannel suits while traveling. He admonished me to wear polyester suits as he did. At this moment I realized I had made a mistake going with this company and began to look for a new job again.

    I can remember having bad dreams about polyester suits, white belts and shoes, lavender shirts, sideburns, wide ties and bell bottoms.

    This piece was a pleasure to read and to recall BB as it used to be!

  13. @Vern

    “Admonished me to wear polyester as he did” I read this as I wait for my daughter to get out of gymnastics class and received looks askance when I laughed just a bit too loud. Sounds like Herb Tarlick!

    Will

  14. Yes, that’s exactly what Brooks was like when I first stepped inside with my father at around age 15 in 1981.

  15. My first credit card post university (1985) was with Brooks. I had a $250 credit limit! I thought I was all that and then some.

    My first step into a Brooks store was in 1989 at City Center Mall in Columbus. As other posters have said it was a rarified world of affluence and privilege. Dark, woody, hunt scene pictures on the walls. Part country club, part men’s club. Good taste that was never obvious. And leaving with your purchase in a box meant you had arrived.

    Sadly the mall closed and was torn down and I think the only store in Columbus is now an express store at the airport.

    A lot has been commented on about Brooks changes over the years. I guess we can leave that for another time. As least we have past memories. But I will say I loved the vintage black and white display windows our Tampa store did a few years ago, complete with ties used as belts.

  16. And, I forgot to mention, wood suit hangers emblazoned with the Brooks name. Of course you didn’t use the hangers for your suits but you put them in your foyer coat closet for your guests to see and say “Oh, he shops THERE!”

  17. MacMcConnell | February 18, 2017 at 3:34 pm |

    Vern Trotter
    “I can remember having bad dreams about polyester suits, white belts and shoes, lavender shirts, sideburns, wide ties and bell bottoms.”

    If it was a lime green poly leisure suit, we called it a “Full Topekan” in Kansas.

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