Comfortably Unaware: Brooks Brothers’ New Super Soft Jackets

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The other day I was browsing at Brooks and went to try on a brown herringbone vest. I needed to see how it would look when paired with a patterned tweed jacket, like one I have at home, so I went to the sportcoat rack and grabbed something at random.

What it was I had never seen before.

Turns out Brooks has brought out several jackets in its various fits (Fitzgerald, Regent, etc.) that come with a hang tag explaining that they are a “super soft jacket with natural shoulders and a relaxed but trim silhouette.” They come in lightweight fabrics, are unlined, and have basically nothing in the shoulder. I’ve always liked the Fitzgerald fit as it comes with a three-inch lapel, which is one of my requirements, and a pretty great shoulder. Well I tried on three of these soft-tailored jackets and thought they were fantastic. Prices and country of origin varied; there was one from China and one from Thailand priced in the $450 range, and they didn’t quite drape as well. But the $800 Italian-made one pictured here fit like a dream. I don’t like unstructured slack jackets, and this doesn’t go quite that far, but it’s definitely significantly more comfortable than the average sportcoat. Made of 50 percent wool and 50 percent silk, it hugs the natural shape of my shoulders. For trads who prize shoulder and lapel width above button stance (this is a two, not three) and the dart issue (darts are present), you’ll probably want to check these out.

You’ll also want to do it in person, and here’s why.

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I went home planning to bang out a blog post, but when I looked up the jacket on the Brooks Brothers website, it wasn’t very flattering. Beyond the unattractive outfit, the way the jacket fits the model is nothing like how it fits me. My two Fitzgeralds at home, along with the one in the store, are of standard length, which means a measurement of about 31 inches from the bottom of the collar for a regular, and 32 for a long. The model is clearly wearing a short when he should be in at least a regular:MM00378_TAN_2

In addition, the product description says that the jacket is distinguished by a shorter length, while I don’t believe that it is in fact the case, and yet that’s certainly how it looks on the model. This suggests that consumers are being fed very confusing information as to how Brooks jackets fit. Men who want a traditional length may see catalog and web photos and assume the jackets are cut very short, and not even bother to try them on in person. In fact, it seems plainly clear that what we’ve assumed all along — that models are being given jackets that are deliberately short for them — is indeed the case.

The view of the back of the jacket is even more troubling. I don’t know what that pinching is at the waist, because that’s certainly not how it fit me. Was the model pinched with clothes-pins for the front shot, and when they were removed for the rear shot, this was the result?

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Also note that while the description does indicate that the jacket is single-vented, the photo could confuse some shoppers as to whether they should believe the words or the image. The photo above makes the jacket look unvented. The one I tried on indeed had a stitch closing the single vent, as you often find. Was this stitch not removed from the jacket for the photo shoot? While a single vent should certainly fall straight and not open, it seems like there would be some shadowing visible, but this photo looks like the vent is still sewn shut.

Finally, the website copy contains one genuine error, describing the jacket has having functional buttonholes on the sleveves. It does not. It has faux functional buttonholes, which is to say that annoying stitching meant to simulate working cuffs. Most jackets come from the factory with sleeves that are extra long, and most men who are serious about clothing — the kind who spend $800 on jackets — have their sleeves shortened to show shirt cuff. Faux stitches often make this impossible. Fortunately, this jacket’s sleeves are not terribly long (perhaps owing to the higher armhole); a regular length would require no sleeve shortening for me personally, while a long would require just a touch, not enough to reach up to the faux stitches and look bad. But that doesn’t change the fact that the product copy is inaccurate.

I had to hold off on the blog post and go back the following day with my camera to try and get a better shot. When I told the salesman what I was up to, saying that the jacket didn’t look very good on the website, he rolled his eyes in apparent agreement.

Three cheers to Brooks for introducing these soft-tailored jackets, which lovers of unpadded shoulders will appreciate. The jacket was one of the most comfortable I’ve ever worn, and I’m glad to no longer be unaware of them. I just hope the folks at Brooks aren’t comfortably unaware of how their merchandise is presented on their website. — CC

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25 Comments on "Comfortably Unaware: Brooks Brothers’ New Super Soft Jackets"

  1. Well, the website is in large part for the young&hip, whose girlfriends tell them that “that’s what they’re wearing now”, or who just got the latest GQ, etc. As far as the fit on the model, yes, they do use clips (seen it done), and there is a good chance the clothes were just sent to the “creative people” for the shoot with no one there who knows what men’s clothes are supposed to look like. Thanks for an informed report.

  2. I recently bought 3 regent fit suits that have the same look and feel, with 2 being unlined. 1 was made in Thailand and 2 made in Italy (1 with Robert Noble Cashmere from Scotland). My 3 were “euro vented.” The lined made in Italy coat came with unfinished sleeve buttons. I should have went with the Madison fit as they all fit too tapered and the euro trash vents take away from the amazing feel and lightweight nature of the fabrics and the soft fit of the natural shoulder.

  3. I have some experience with 50/50 silk/cashmere blend. Also unconstructed and soft shouldered, naturally (pun intended). Feels as light as a shirt.

    I have been long desensitized to the way these models wear their clothes. Especially ever since Thom Browne insisted that all his Brooks Brothers models show at least 4 inches on ankle (+ no socks). If you can make it past the website and try it on yourself, you, and it, would be sold.

    I’ve always been confused by the actual function of pure silk. Anyone with experience wearing 100% silk jackets or 100% silk sweaters in either warm or cold weather? Please opine. How does it breath?

    50/50 silk/wool is light, but does doesn’t breath as well as 100% linen (I’m blaming the wool).

  4. Still trying to figure out what “relaxed but trim” means.
    Is this the oxymoron of the year?

  5. This speaks to the utter confusion that’s now the presiding reality at Brooks. It’s a safe guess that the owners want to take the store in the direction with which they’re familiar–Italian tailoring, Italian cloth. Fine. But, well, yuck. The departure from tradition began years back, yet somehow I still find it remarkable.

    Brooks didn’t succumb to the overly sloped, way-too-narrow excesses of the 60s. They remained, well, Brooksy. The Brooks shoulder, while natural, wasn’t Neapolitan soft. One of the better examples of Classic Brooks style–no. 1 sack, exhibit A, if you will–is the photo that takes up two pages of Take Ivy. It features Brooks sack suits (natural shoulder yet neither narrow nor super sloped), button downs (long points!), and dimpled club ties. A front window of one of the stores, best I recall. Somehow Brooks managed to combine the best of British and American elements. The modern-day Douglas (Southwick) shoulder is a good example of natural-but-structured.

    And the straight, long jacket lines. WITHOUT darts.

  6. I thought that I would add this tidbit into the discussion about modern Brooks Brothers. Comment Roger C. Russell II shared this on my blog on Monday,

    “I have to share my recent shopping experience at my Local Brooks Brothers. I asked the salesman for a blue OCBD. He retrieved a pinpoint. As it turns out he did not know the difference between pinpoint and oxford cloth. We then had a discussion about the collars being sized down. The salesman said they were making changes like this to help the bottom line because the company is trying to put itself in position to be sold.”

  7. Very interesting. I’d need to hear some more rumors to this effect before asking them to comment, however.

  8. originalhenry | November 4, 2015 at 11:56 am |

    Chewco,

    I have a 100% silk jacket for summer that I wear on cooler summer days. The colors and pattern are great, but it doesn’t breathe like linen. I’m not sure it’s any cooler than cotton, but that might have more to do with weave and weight than the material itself.

    Henry Contestwinner

  9. Much like ocbds comment re: salesman’s (read: person paid to wield cash register) inability to distinguish b/t pinpoint and oxford, I was in the Georgetown store a few weeks back to have some pants hemmed and while there I asked to see any shirts that were made in USA. The salesman (read: person paid to wield cash register) said “they are all made in North Carolina”…not a shirt on the floor we were standing on was made outside of Malaysia, as evidenced by the tag.

  10. Vern Trotter | November 4, 2015 at 2:14 pm |

    Thanks for this informative piece; I appreciate the effort you put into it. You must excuse me,however, while I projectile vomit!

    I always recall that one of my grandads would simply say, “That is why they make Fords and Chevys.” I guess somebody is buying this stuff or they would not keep hanging it on the rack.

  11. William Richardson | November 4, 2015 at 3:58 pm |

    @Vern

    You must feel very strongly about these things.

    Will

  12. Henry,

    Thanks for the detail. I’m looking into knitted silk blazers myself. But I’m not sure… I’m still trying to grasp “wool.” I just got the hang of distinguishing angora from merino from shetland from cashmere, etc., all of which can be brushed, hop-sacked, knitted, “gabardined,” “doeskinned,” etc., and can be sheared lambswool or sheered sheep wool or combed goat wool. Don’t get me started on blends.

    I like “silk,” but can’t tell the difference between, say, tussah silk and mulberry silk, and like most sommeliers, would fake it if asked.

    Speaking of “salesman (read: person paid to wield cash register)” at BB, I was having alterations made on a cashmere jacket I bought there, and the salesman said (I kid you not!): “Wow! So soft! What is this? Linen?” Aghast, I rudely ignored him until the tailor was done.

  13. Roy R. Platt | November 5, 2015 at 11:30 am |

    A basic difference between silk and wool is the end result of the basic manufacturing process.

    Silk is made by worms and wool is made by sheep. The worm doesn’t survive the manufacturing process but the sheep does survive the manufacturing process and goes on to manufacture more wool.

  14. Henry Contestwinner | November 5, 2015 at 1:02 pm |

    Chewco,

    I think the most important distinction amongst silks is among shiny, matte, and slubbed. Beyond that is for the specialists.

    I find it best not to engage with most men’s clothing store employees, simply because the poor things are so ignorant. It’s not entirely their own fault, of course, but any question beyond “do you have any X in stock?” is likely to yield blank looks or panic attacks.

    originalhenry (excuse me while I get the hang of this Gravatar thing)

  15. I’ve often wondered why places that sell $800 sport coats don’t require their salespeople to undergo basic training in what they are selling. Surely a brand with stores in major cities can expect a certain percentage of their customers or potential customers to be savvy about what they are purchasing. Or is that going too far?

  16. I too was told that the new CEO, reorganization and style overhaul was to gain larger market share for either an IPO or buyout by a larger fashion firm (think LVMH). You’ll see they are taking cues from LL Bean with their new “Duck Boots,” and the whole urban lumberjack look. These are more mainstream urban trends that drive brand loyalty within millennials and other fashion forward buyers (I didn’t know this until my source told me). Their traditional window displays are sharing mannequin space with more A&F, LL Bean looks.

  17. Henry Contestwinner | November 6, 2015 at 12:02 am |

    Nothing says “Brooks Brothers” quite like a Millennial sporting a beard and wearing a knit cap that took 30 minutes to get just right, a plaid flannel shirt, $800 distressed jeans, and duck boots.

  18. Ward Wickers | November 6, 2015 at 9:31 am |

    That reminds me of the “mountaineer” look.

    Back 10 years or so, Patagonia, North Face, Mountain Hardware, and other outdoors specialists were the “in” brands for the young, New York set. I went to a party in Greenwich Village once and saw several people decked out in outdoor garb. One fellow was wearing clothing fit for an expedition up Mt Everest! He looked ridiculous posing as a mountaineer in a Greenwich Village walk-up sipping wine.

    So today it’s the urban lumberjack. I guess mountaineering was just too tough for them.

  19. Somewhere there’s a great picture of Dean Acheson out in the words–on a camping/hiking excursion. Easy to forget that his public image (effete patrician Anglophile) contrasted a bit with life behind the scenes: he lived in a simple, even decrepit farmhouse and enjoyed woodworking and hiking and tending his garden.

    Anyway…

    As seen in the picture, he could pass for a modern-day hipster (lumberjack variety). Buffalo plaid shirt, outdoorsy flannel pants tucked into wool hiking socks, and mountaineer boots. Best I recall, he spent summers working in the woods. A lumberjack, even.

  20. William Richardson | November 6, 2015 at 2:57 pm |

    @Henry

    Brooks Brothers has gone the way of Abercrombie and Fitch and, dare I say, Ralph Lauren. With the exception of Brooks Brothers ties and Ralph Lauren’s mesh knit “polo” shirts, there is very little, if anything, worth purchasing.

    Eighty five degrees and sunny with a good breeze on the bay.

    Fair winds and following seas shipmates, gone sailing.

    Will

  21. You’re one finicky shopper, William. Whenever I’m in RL’s Rhinelander mansion or even the new Polo flagship on 5th Avenue, I always dream of winning a $100,000 shopping spreee.

  22. Henry Contestwinner | November 6, 2015 at 4:33 pm |

    I’m with you, Christian. I find a good combination of value and quality when I buy Polo Ralph Lauren on sale. On the other hand, I consider a lot of Brook Brothers’ offerings overpriced for the quality, even on sale.

  23. Henry Contestwinner | November 7, 2015 at 12:51 pm |

    Having said that, I do believe that the thick cotton argyle socks available at the BB outlet stores are good quality at a good price. Sadly, I don’t care for the color combinations in the current offering, but as long as they keep making them (not guaranteed these days), there should be some more to my liking in a few months.

  24. William,

    I disagree with you and side with Christian and Henry. The RL mansion is certainly an experience. Polo suits/sport coats, made by Corneliani, now have a lower price point for comparable quality. And the higher-end stuff (“purple label”) is made by Sant’Andrea in Italy. Truly superlative quality. Yes, the prices can give the average man a nose-bleed, but when on sale, you’d be mad not to indulge. You will often find classic American patterns and styles in both.

    And as for the Polo Bar – which I’m yet to be a patron – I hear is absolutely exquisite and is replete with celebrities/socialites. Who ever did the interior there… bravo! I heard getting a reservation there is like trying to get a reservation at Dorsia; especially on a Friday night.

    With all due respect, William, you’d be remiss juxtaposing A&F with RL.

  25. William Richardson | November 8, 2015 at 7:39 pm |

    @Chewco

    Have you ever blithely sent an email only to realize, as you were hitting send, that what you were saying had no basis in fact? I actually have numerous shirts and trousers from RL going back to the late 80’s and early 90’s. Thanks to marathon running, I can fit back in these items. The quality is very good, though I always wished there were pockets on the OCBD’s and no logo.(slightly longer collar as well.)

    I should have considered the fact that there is more to RL than what one finds in the factory outlet stores. I will say that most of the casual shoes I have seen from RL are not very well thought out with way too many logos.

    Will

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