After a couple of posts already on Brooks Brothers, the fodder keeps coming, and discussion points keep popping up, so we may be on this topic for a while.
First off, today on the Brooks website I noticed a plug for the first issue of 1818, its new lifesteyle magazine. The overall feel, as we’ve come to expect, is very much international fashion brand (I don’t think any of you are in denial about that being where the brand is). However, there are some dollops of Americana here and there, including articles about Brooks’ dressing 39 of 44 US presidents. Michael Williams of A Continuous Lean also provides a piece on made-in-America, and Patricia Mears of the MFIT presents a piece called “The Ivy Style” that looks back at the museum exhibit and Brooks’ role in it.
Purists may bemoan the ways in which Ivy style, now often referred to as “preppy” style, have been appropriated by the fashion world. Yet this classic look has stood the test of time and thrived for decades precisely because it is so brilliantly distilled and perfected; elements can be tweaked and even upended without losing its distinctive, spirited essence.
Now if your irony meter just started quivering, better hang on to your seat. 1818 Magazine also includes an interview with Thom Browne, head of the Black Fleece collection and whose ideas on proportion seem to be having an increasing effect on the brand as a whole.
Here’s some of what Browne has to say in a Q&A led by style writer Glenn O’Brien:
I think it will always stay true to what I set out to do at the beginning. That is to be a little bit younger version of what is true to Brooks Brothers. It’s always going to be classically inspired.
As an Ivy-Style.com comment-leaver recently pointed out, “everything is relative.” Perhaps in this case that old cliché is spot on. Point of view will determine whether you find Browne’s creations “classically inspired” and “a little bit younger,” or distortions of once-gentlemanly clothing by a conceptual artist.
I definitely have to be true to the brand. It has to be a little more classic-looking, but still really more youthfully spirited.
On one of our recent posts, a reader asked if anyone has actually seen someone wearing something that is obviously Black Fleece. This illustrates the important point that the kind of person who wears it and the kind of person who asks such a question probably travel in different circles (though both may find themselves walking down Madison Avenue). However, O’Brien sees fit to ask Browne if he still gets excited seeing his clothes walking down the street:
I guess you eventually get to a point that you see it a lot. But I’m still, you know… not huge, so when I do see it, I get a kick out of it. The most important thing is that Black Fleece was really something that I set out to do that really fit within the store and it enhanced what Brooks Brothers had done for the last couple of hundred years.
The last line is the richest one for debate. Has Thom Browne “enhanced what Brooks Brothers has done for the past couple of hundred years,” or caricatured it — like Duchamp putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa — which Brooks has oddly enough endorsed because we live in a postmodern age in which ironic is the new normal?
Finally, O’Brien also asks Browne if there’s any chance he’ll get President Obama in Black Fleece, to which Browne answers he’d love to see it.
I’m not sure how the rest of us would feel seeing our nation’s leader in clothing that would undermine his authority not only at home but abroad. Brooks Brothers may have dressed 39 out of 44 presidents, but it wasn’t in Black Fleece. — CC
When Charlie Davidson of The Andover Shop quips that Brooks Brothers today looks like “an Italian department store,” he knows whereof he speaks. He’s one of the few menswear professionals still around who’s known the brand since the late 1940s.
I attended Brooks’ spring 2014 presentation last week. When it came time to craft a post, I looked over my photos and without thinking it over too much, instinctively decided to show the one thing I thought noteworthy, both for its vices as well as virtues. It was a madras jacket I liked for the dark navy and green (so much madras lately has been patchwork or overly bright; I prefer something more subdued, like that jerk in “Dirty Dancing” wears). It was a jacket that seemed to look back to the Brooks jackets of yore thanks to a button stance of three rather than two, but it came with double vents, which would be a dealbreaker for me on such a casual American classic.
I don’t know what’s more frustrating: that Brooks merchandisers chose double vents to deliberately break with the American tradition, or that they’re locked in such a Continental mindset when it comes to the tailored clothing they don’t even realize it’s a break with American tradition. Most of the jackets in the presentation had nicely rolled 3/2 lapels and soft shoulders, but European-looking fabrics and double vents. Frequent Ivy-Style.com comment-leaver “Carmelo,” an Italian and clothes geek of the first order, pronounced the madras jacket “very Italian.”
There was plenty of American sportswear in the presentation, of course, and Brooks continues to do much of that well. But I think we’re all more interested in what Brooks is doing with its tailored clothing.
This fall Brooks Brothers has brought back its Own Make label, calling it “Inspired by iconic styles from the Brooks Brothers archives and made in the USA.” As with the new Natural Craftsmanship collection, prices are high: a tattersall sport shirt runs $225 and tartan trousers are $395. Of most interest to us here are the Own Make sack suits, sportcoats and blazers. The 101 model comes with a 3/2 button stance, no darts, natural shoulders, 3/8 lining, 5/16″ edge stitching and a hook vent. Own Make sportcoats start at $895, with suits and blazers in the $1,300-$1,400 range.
Although Brooks Brothers says the jacket silhouette is inspired by a 1960s model, don’t expect anything like this one below, from the brand’s book “Generations of Style”:
Own Make jackets seem to trace their lineage to the more recent creations of Thom Browne rather than the relaxed-cut sack suit the brand was known for from 1896-1987.
I asked Brooks the difference, if any, between the Own Make jacket and the Cambridge updated sack introduced last year. The company responded:
The Cambridge fit is a slim fitting version of our iconic sack coat but with a shorter length and more fitted. The Cambridge fit is undarted and is similar in proportion to our Milano.
Own Make is really inspired from our archives and fabrics we used in the 1960s. Jackets are the slimmed down versions of the original No 1 and No 2 sack silhouettes hence the names of the products #101 and #102.
It’s hard to tell from that description exactly what the differences would be when it comes to cut and fit, so let’s just get down to how the jacket felt on me — following a brief disclaimer.
After 800 posts, you readers have no doubt surmised by now that I’m not a tailoring geek. I don’t fetishize clothing, I don’t stockpile multiple versions of the same item, I don’t get tempted by weird items simply because they have a thrift-store price of $3.99, I don’t hang on to things I never wear, and I don’t do blog posts comparing the stitching of different shirtmakers. I like the social history and ideas that spring from man’s need to clothe himself, and I enjoy wearing clothes. This is all to say that I go by feel when it comes to selecting clothing: I go by how something looks to my eye and how it feels when I put it on. If you want to know what the stitching looks like inside of Own Make jackets where the sleeve is attached to the shoulder, you’ll have to go and look yourself, because I wasn’t paying attention.
I checked out Own Make at the Madison Avenue Brooks flagship, formed some impressions, and then went back a second time to see if my initial impressions stood. I also enlisted the help of a friend who’s very much like me in that he really enjoys clothes but isn’t a geek about it. Where we differ, and this is important, is body type. I’m tall and thin and generally take a 40 long. My friend has been a stout 44 but is dropping weight, and is somewhere between a regular and long.
Own Make jackets didn’t seem to fit either one of us.
First off, there is no 40 long, but that didn’t matter as a 40 was so small I couldn’t move my arms. Determining that a 40 wouldn’t work for me, therefore, took merely a matter of seconds. What was surprising, though, was how much of a jump there was in sizing to a 42. The 42 was too big across the shoulders, as a salesman I’ve known for two years immediately pointed out. But strange was that the waistline looked good along the sides when viewed in a mirror, and yet it felt like I could pull the button closure eight inches away from my abdomen. Here’s where we need a tailoring geek, since I can’t explain it other than by saying I had the impression that the jacket was cut in a way that made it fitted in the waist but large in the chest. Perhaps this has something to do with the sort of hybrid quality that comes from making a slimmed-down version of a jacket originally designed to be roomy.
There were no 41s in the store, and later Brooks confirmed to me that the sizing runs like this:
Own Make is offered from 36 to 48 (all even)
Shorts – 38-44
Regs – 36-48
Long – 42-48
So it’s possible that a 41 long would have fit with only minor alterations needed, but again there are no odd sizes. (For the record, last year I purchased one of Brooks’ higher-priced, full-canvassed Fitzgerald models, which did not pose a fit challenge and which quickly improved with each wearing, thanks to the canvassing. The jacket is available again this season with some minor changes.)
Now here’s the experience of my stouthearted friend with Own Make:
The fabrics and the cut both look very nice on the hanger, in particular the chalk stripe suit jacket I tried on. Hook vent, three button, no darts —overall promising. I was told by a candid salesman, however, that the line was “fashion-forward” and cut very short and slim.
Feeling he’s around a 43 these days and having just come from trying on 42s at J. Press, he tried on a 44 long:
The sleeves were long, but the body seemed as if it were from a different jacket, as if a short jacket had been extended at the bottom, but the stance had remained where it was. Most notably, the waist suppression seemed to cinch over my rib cage rather than close to my natural waist. This jacket fit me like no other garment I’ve ever tried on, even Black Fleece or York Street (both in size 44, both of which fit me better).
It seemed to be a well constructed garment, but the cut was puzzling. Perhaps I should have sized up to a 46(!), but earlier in the day I was trying on 42s at J. Press and discussing tailoring down my 43s, so if that is truly the case, Own Make should rethink its sizing.
In conclusion, those of us with narrow shoulders and meek chests or beer bellies and man boobs have no right to complain if a clothier wants to make jackets intended for a man with a no belly fat, broad shoulders and a muscular chest. The thing that leaves me curious, though, is why Own Make is offered in sizes such as 44 short and 48 long. I mean, if Own Make is a tough fit for a tall thin guy, what’s it like with a short, portly guy or a tall, muscular linebacker?
Own Make is not your father’s sack suit, and it certainly isn’t intended to be. The question is — based on price, cut and styling — just whose is it? — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
Pictured above is a madras surprise from Brooks Brothers, seen last week at the company’s Spring 2014 preview. It’s a nice dark fabric with soft shoulders, partial lining, and a 3/2 button stance.
What’s the surprise, besides the fact that it’s mid-September and you were expecting posts about tweed and flannel?
Can you guess?
Today Baracuta, maker of the iconic G9 jacket, announced it has drawn the zipper on a new website with ecommerce features as well as a generous dose of brand heritage. Baracuta was founded in England in 1937 and is currently owned by the Bologna-based company WP Lavori In Corso, which is currently planning a flagship retail store in London, plus Baracuta shops in other major cities.
During the Ivy heyday the Baracuta jacket entertained a certain popularity on campus, as this 1960 ad from the Yale Daily News shows:
The concept of rules, which we’ve been exploring lately, is related to other approaches to dressing that certain men gravitate to.
Some become obsessed with formulas for how items are coordinated. These formulas could be timeless or they could be trendy.
Last month Alexander Aciman wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal called “Succumbing To The Tyranny Of #Menswear.” I’ve only just gotten around to reading it, and since some of you might not have seen it, here are some excerpts.
Aciman makes many of the same points recently offered by comment-leaver AEV, who said that fashion-statement clichés disseminated on the Internet are a far cry from true individual style.
One of the greatest culprits is the fetishization of what the online world calls “individual style”: the purposeful unbuckling of monkstrap shoes, mismatched cufflinks, button-down shirts with only one collar point fastened and, perhaps most absurd, the unbuttoning of jacket cuff buttons (a practice intended only for showing off one’s functioning cuff buttons). These idiosyncrasies are so wildly circulated that they’ve become standard issue: No cuff button is left fastened, no monkstrap is buckled. Individuality has become a uniform.
The second force behind the flattening of men’s style is the notion of “style rules.” Magazines command that a man’s shirt cuff must not extend more than a quarter-inch from his jacket, so I regularly see New Yorkers on crowded trains reach into the sweaty armpits of their blazers to pull their sleeves back—never mind that every James Bond from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig managed not to fret over an inch or more of visible shirt cuff. Men are told to cuff their selvedge jeans to show off the hemmed internal fabric, as though, like some freemason clan, having the right jeans will get you into a secret men’s club.
There are so many photos of men saddling one arm of their sunglasses over the breast pocket of their blazers that Ray-Bans seem as common an ornament as pocket squares.
And perhaps the most laughable of these style rules is the notion that men must match the color of their belts to that of their shoes to Pantone precision. Men seem to equate going out without matching belt and shoes to leaving the house without underwear.
The hunger for belt-matching and the pandemic of cuff-unbuttoning has not only left every man in New York City looking like a salesperson at J. Crew, but it has also prevented men from knowing or learning what they actually want. The “well-dressed” urban man does not have desires or tastes. He rolls up his jeans without knowing why. He does not belong to a club, and yet he wears club ties with fake crests.
The unimaginative paint-by-numbers formula follower and fashion-trend lemming are equally guilty of lacking the individuality that has always marked history’s most stylish dressers. — CC
In our last post we discussed Japan and the concept of menswear rules. Let’s pick up where we left off.
Now I may have been a bit quick on the draw in the previous post, going off on a tirade about close-minded clothes-minded guys obsessed with dressing according to rules and formulas. The concept of correctness is an integral part of the Ivy League Look, and part of what makes its history socially interesting. At the same time, there was constant innovation from its beginnings up until today, and the genre included much more than we commonly think of today. That is why the MFIT chose the term “Radical Conformists” as part of its book and exhibit on the Ivy League Look.
For myself, there are certain traditions I always follow, such as leaving the bottom button of a vest or cardigan undone. Less because it’s some sort of rule, but because I think it looks more relaxed. I also prefer to wear only single-vented jackets with buttondown-collared shirts, even though some menswear colleagues tell me that’s absurd — there’s no reason not to wear a buttondown oxford with a double-vented jacket. But since nearly all of my shirts are buttondowns anyway, it’s not an issue: I don’t currently own any double-vented jackets.
Now on to a specific example of whether or not a menswear rule applies.
The above illustration is taken from the latest issue of Free & Easy and presents (or juxtaposes, some would say) a three-piece suit with loafers. The question is whether or not there’s a sartorial rule being broken here. Some would say the formality of a three-piece suit demands a lace-up. These men would say that the loafers would look off even with a two-piece suit, not to mention a three.
Others would say it comes down to something more elusive, such as the outfit itself and the wearer’s flair for pulling it off. To hell with rules, the guy either looks good or he doesn’t. Also, there’s certainly something Ivy, or at least simply American, about this casual approach to matching shoes and suit.
So let’s see where you guys stand on the matter. — CC