Generations of Style: Dad, Me, and Brooks Brothers

Do fathers still take their sons to Brooks Brothers upon college graduation? Yes, some still do. Andrew Eastman recounts his own father-son outing under the Golden Fleece.

It was my father who decided it was time for my first serious suit. I was 23 and had just graduated from Dartmouth. At some point before I’d picked up a suit from a collegiate outfitter in New Hampshire: a charcoal-grey number, pants pleated and cuffed, jacket center-vented and undarted. The most conservative estimates put the jacket at three sizes too big, and the pants two inches too short. It fit like a parachute.

I wore it with black monk-strap shoes — which I still own — that I’d found in the basement of a fraternity house, and dark skiing socks. As often as not, my belt had a rodeo buckle on it, though you wouldn’t know it behind the jacket, which hung to my knees.

This was de rigueur in Hanover, where we wore duck boots with shorts in the winter and thought there was nothing more droll than a dog in a necktie (every fraternity there had dogs, and every dog a tie). The employers, banks and consultancies mainly, which interviewed in town had seen it all before and forgave us our trespasses against decorum.

Not so in the real world, my father explained. So shortly after graduating, he bundled me into the car and took me to Brooks Brothers in my home town of Saint Louis, where I met Scott, the store manager, dapper in cufflinks and leather braces. He had silver hair and wire glasses, and kept a stub of pencil tucked behind his ear. He had known my father for years, if not decades. In the days between that and this, I’ve never found Scott without a yellow tailor’s tape around his neck.

Those two men, with as little input from me as could be managed, settled on yet another charcoal rig: pleated and cuffed pants again, and a jacket with a two-button stance, center vent, natural shoulders and soft construction — very staid. It was from the Brooksease line, which is to say it was both the cheapest suit they had and also the most expensive bit of clothing I’d ever bought. I’d never seen a triple-digit price tag in such close proximity to my own wallet.

Scott expertly poked and fussed and got me into the suit and then called an old Italian gentleman out of the alterations room, who poked and fussed some more and covered the whole thing in pins and chalk marks. When my suit had been stuck and marked from every direction I went into a dressing room to take it off, careful not to disrupt any of the mysterious alchemy that had been performed on it. The tailor took it and vanished back into his workshop.

I walked a gauntlet of handshakes and back-slaps to the cash register, where I handed over a card for swiping like an anesthetized patient submitting to amputation. And amputated I was, from the majority of my checking account, before I regained any feeling. The suit was ready shortly thereafter and it fit me perfectly.

There was a time when an introduction to suits and tailors was one of the things fathers passed to sons, and often in a Brooks fitting room. It meant a start to self-sufficiency, one of the necessities and pleasures of professional life. Fathers taught their sons about baseball, steaks and suits — three golden markers on the path from boyhood to the world of men. Such markers have unfortunately been mostly torn down: Not only aren’t suits much of a professional necessity anymore, but such traditions of men are now often thought stodgy anachronism.

It’s been several years since I bought that suit, and it’s still every inch of three things: a sharp suit, a worthwhile investment, and a very good memory. That last one is the most important. I know enough about fitting and fussing now to buy a suit on my own; I don’t need any help. And per investments, I have little disposable wealth so the concept is largely moot.

But what memories! I’m as glad to have the memory of buying that suit as I am to have the thing itself. The tradition of fathers and sons affirms that, though times change, certain values do not. Self-sufficiency will always be a necessity, and the importance of propriety is never out of style. Men ought to teach their sons how to comport themselves in the world. It is essential that values like these, precisely because of their erosion, are closely guarded.

And of those traditions that fathers pass to sons, an introduction to decorum by way of tailors and fitting rooms is one of the most pleasurable. I plan to have that suit for many years to come, and the memory of its purchase will always be as much a pleasure as wearing it. — ANDREW EASTMAN

Andrew S. Eastman is a 2007 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he was a member of the rugby team and wrote for The Dartmouth Review. After a short stint at a Boston public relations agency, he began pursuing a law degree at the Saint Louis University School of Law.

16 Comments on "Generations of Style: Dad, Me, and Brooks Brothers"

  1. It’s been “years”? No…3 years is not “years.” That sounds like it happened 15 years ago.

    “Months” perhaps.

  2. My Did did much the same with me. He was masterful at choosing the perfect tie to go with a suit or sportjacket. And he was crazy about shoes too. I was very luck to learn from him. We were also lucky to have J. Press and Barrie Ltd in New Haven – the perfect place to learn.

    Great story – thanks!

  3. What Andrew describes is a rite of passage. As I have recalled before on these pages, I took a year off from college in 1959 to work at Brooks 346 Madison Avenue; this was a nearly every day scene of father/son bonding back then.

    I thought I had purchased a used BB charcoal grey/gray three piece from a friend of a friend in St. Louis a year before. It turned out this “friend” had sewn a Brooks label into a Southwick from Boyds in St. Louis. I had a rude awakening when I wore it to 346 Madison.

  4. DCLawyer68 – I was going to comment on that fact. It’s funny how you can write a whole article and have it thown off by one word.

  5. Bill Stephenson | December 14, 2010 at 12:11 pm |

    Well done article. Thanks for your memories.

  6. You had what sounds like a good experience at Brooks Brothers. I too sought out BB when I was ready for my first real suits at 19. Thanks to the polite men at the Newbury Street store, I ended up with a sport coat and navy blazer two sizes too big, and a size too long. That was a $800 mistake.

    The next year, a friendly guy at the North Park store in Dallas equipped me with a tuxedo that also was two sizes too big, and a size too long. That was a $1000 mistake.

    I had no idea the clothes didn’t fit me because I didn’t know what properly-fit clothes were supposed to look like; I relied on the BB guys to show me. That was how it was *supposed* to work, everyone told me. I gave them my BB my trust, and they gave me ill-fitting clothes that reflected poorly on me.

    On the other hand, every item I’ve ever bought from J. Press in Cambridge – same timeframe – fit perfectly then and still looks great. You can guess which store has my lifetime business.

  7. Great story.

    My dad bought my first proper suit (navy blue) from JC Penny’s while I was a high school student. I got it tailored when I was in college and wore it for another decade. I just recently replaced it with a made-to-measure suit in midnight blue.

    “Not only aren’t suits much of a professional necessity anymore, but such traditions of men are now often thought stodgy anachronism.” I don’t know about that; I think the art of looking and acting like a gentleman is slowly coming back, thanks to blogs like yours.

  8. Not Brooks, but the “good” men’s store in a nearby larger town. Dad was, as he put it, not color blind, but “color ignorant” and just told me to go with Mr. Flowers, while he went with Mr. Pittman.

    He checked the outfit I’d helped choose: Red sport coat and charcoal trousers, striped tie. I’d done alright for a seven year old, he decided, and after his usual “my achin’ back” comment on the prices, drove us home.

    I’m sixty years old, and I remember that coat, and Dad’s approval, like it was yesterday.

  9. Added word “several” in front of “years” to soften the line. My fault as editor for not catching it the first time around. Thanks to readers for catching the illogic of it.

    C.

  10. When I was a 1L in law school at the University of Chicago, my father and I went to the Brooks Brothers in Tower City in Cleveland to get a suit for me to interview in. I selected a charcoal gray Brooksease suit, and the gentleman who helped us picked out two shirts and two “power ties.” I wore that suit to court every day when I was volunteering at the Cook County Public Defender’s Office and very many times since. After much use, the lining is now getting threadbare, and I tore one cuff and had to have the cuff taken off. But the suit still fits and still looks great.

  11. <i.You had what sounds like a good experience at Brooks Brothers. I too sought out BB when I was ready for my first real suits at 19. Thanks to the polite men at the Newbury Street store, I ended up with a sport coat and navy blazer two sizes too big, and a size too long. That was a $800 mistake.

    I actually had the exact same experience at the exact same store. At least I got a slightly younger-looking three-button suit with non-pleated pants. But yes, BB back in the late ’90s loved to set you up in a giant oversized suit that will make you look like a young, scrawny version of a guy on the board of some Atlanta-based real estate conglomerate. Almost like they are expecting you to gain the giant pot belly to fill it out and make it look authentic.

    It’s not so much that styles have changed over the last decade as that people know that suits are supposed to fit your body and not balloon as a symbol of American nonchalance.

  12. It was a pleasure reading a text containing words such as
    values, propriety, tradition, comportment, and decorum.

    My own observation has been that today most men who imagine themselves to be well-dressed wear a suit jacket that is one or two sizes too small, rather than too large.

  13. I enjoyed reading this piece. The giveaway was the “Brooksease” Suit. My first suit was the Brooksgate Model. It was their cheapest entry level suit and had what was referred to as an athletic cut. That was in 1983. By the way, I bought my first 346 in 1986. But back then the 346 was a better mid-level suit and not the gray-market knockoff’s they sell today. This past September, I tossed my last two 346 summer suits that I bought in 1989.

  14. A 23-year-old Princeton graduate needs his daddy to show him how to buy a suit? Pathetic. Dad sure got a lot for his $150,000.

  15. Andrew Eastman | December 17, 2010 at 11:51 am |

    Not Princeton, Allen. Dartmouth. It’s in New Hampshire.

  16. Nicely written piece. Around 1989, I was in my early 20s and not long out of college when my grandfather took me to Brooks Brothers and bought me my first grown-up suit. It was a 3-button charcoal gray chalk stripe from the “Makers” line. I’m sure he enjoyed the experience as much as I did. He picked out a tie to go with it, and I still wear them together and think of him when I do. My one criticism, same as DCLawyer’s, is that it reads oddly to be waxing nostalgic about the memory of something that happened just three years ago. In my case, grandfather has been dead for years and even by 1992 he was too incapacitated by old age to go shopping for suits anymore.

    Allen, I don’t understand your point. They didn’t offer a major in tailoring when I was at Bowdoin, and I don’t imagine they ever have at Dartmouth, either. Maybe they did at your college? Most men in the last 45 years have been able to get through prep school and most if not all of college with only a blue blazer and a couple of sportcoats. Suits come into the equation just before or just after college graduation. And I don’t think it’s a question of “needing” daddy or grandfather to show you how to buy a suit. The importance is the shared experience of launching a young man into the adult male world.

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