Brooks Clothes & White Shoes: Harvard Blues, 1941

In 1941, Count Basie release “Harvard Blues,” which opens with the following immortal lines:

I wear Brooks clothes and white shoes all the time

I wear Brooks clothes and white shoes all the time

Get three “Cs,” a “D” and think checks from home sublime

The lyrics were written by George Frazier, close pal of The Andover Shop’s Charlie Davidson, and author of the seminal article “The Art Of Wearing Clothes.” Strange then that when Charlie and Frazier played the duende game, they always placed Basie second fiddle to Ellington. And here’s one more quote on white bucks, which were commonly paired with grey flannels during the pre-heyday Golden Age. This comes from Elizabeth Hawes’ 1939 book “Men Can Take It.” 

At Harvard they have something called “white-shoe boys.” I gather it is okay to be one if you feel that way. It appears to be the Harvard idea carried to its furthest extreme. These are the sloppiest and worst-dressed of all the Harvard men, I was told. They wear dirty black and white shoes which turn up at the toes, black or white socks and gray flannels, very unpressed, tweed coats — and collars and ties, of course… The thing that distinguishes a “white-shoe boy” is his shoes — and the fact he has the guts to wear them and still feel okay socially.

12 Comments on "Brooks Clothes & White Shoes: Harvard Blues, 1941"

  1. An absolute treasure.

  2. Great post, great tune!

  3. Hm…”dirty black and white shoes” …probably referring to black and white saddle oxfords?

  4. White bucks were further immortalized in the song “White Bucks and Saddle Shoes” which was a hit for Bobby Pedrick, who was only 12 at the time, in 1958. Bobby Pedrick would later adopt the name Robert John and had several more hits in the 70s and early 80s.

    The lyrics for that song were written by Doc Pomus. You can peruse the lyrics at:

  5. Christian,

    Sorry to get off topic, but didn’t you have an earlier post that discussed, something like, “white shoe,” “black shoe,” “brown shoe” in terms of college social groups? This post reminded of reading that, but I can’t seem to find it. Any help would be appreciated from you or your readers.

  6. As an aficionado of swing era jazz and a particular fan of the Count Basie orchestra from its inception in 1937, I was particularly pleased to see the post on “Harvard Blues”, one of my favorite Basie tunes, which I’ve been listening to for nearly 40 years. I was pleasantly suprised to learn that the tune contained a trad/preppy reference to “Brooks clothes”. I’d always heard Jimmy Rushing singing “French clothes” in that line, but your recording of the 1941 Columbia disk clearly has him singing “Brooks”. I wondered how I’d missed that.

    I looked online to double-check the lyrics, and found a note on one site that “Brooks clothes” was later changed to “French clothes”. Basie recorded the tune twice more, in 1944, once for V-Discs (recordings made especially for our troops during WWII) and once for a transcription service (recordings made only for use by radio stations, not then available to the general public). It was one of these two latter versions that I first heard, and I believe the line had been changed to “French clothes” by that point. So I always assumed Jimmy sang “French clothes” in the 1941 version. Why the line was later changed, I don’t know, as it seems that “Brooks clothes” is far more appropriate.

    The other references in the song are to inside Harvard lore, which seem mystifying to non-Crimsonites (they were to me). I long wondered what a “Vincent baby” was, and who was “Reinhardt”. I read somewhere that George Frazier suspected that Jimmy Rushing didn’t have a clue about the meaning of what he was singing. For an explanation, Google “Harvard Blues” and go to the article written about it in the Harvard alumni magazine from a few years back. (the article quotes the lyric as “Brooks clothes”)

    I hope this isn’t too much “inside baseball” information, but it was interesting to me to see the link between my favorite style of dress and my favorite music. There was at least a whiff of ivy in jazz before Miles Davis and Chet Baker. Thanks for the post, Christian!

  7. This write up is quite a treat. Blues by Basie was one of my first Basie records, and has been a favorite of mine since. Funny that I never noticed the mention of “Brooks Clothes”!

  8. @Joel Cee

    Harvard students wearing French clothes?

  9. Vern Trotter | December 24, 2012 at 5:27 am |

    Most residences in the 1940’s and 1950’s still had a coal bin for storing coal in the cellar or out building. The coal dust was perfect for making new white bucks into “dirty white bucks instantly.

  10. @Old School

    It always seemed funny to me, too, although, like Cody, I never noticed the Brooks reference until this post. I listened again to the 1944 V-Disc and ET, one sounded like “Brooks” and one definitely was “French”. Go figure!

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