Back in January, when I learned about what we now call the new/old Brooks Brothers oxford-cloth buttondown, Ivy Style did something unprecedented: we ran two posts in one day. And the next day we did it again. These four posts — the news announcement, followed by analysis pieces by myself, Bruce Boyer, and Dan Greenwood — were picked up by various menswear blogs and forums around the web, and after eight years we broke all previous traffic records.
Today that little fact is recounted in the New York Times in a piece that quote myself, along with Lisa Birnbach, author of “The Official Preppy Handbook.”
Entitled “Brooks Brothers Revives The Preppiest Shirt Collar,” the piece is authored by Troy Patterson, a Princeton alum (for those keeping track of that sort of thing) who writes on men’s fashion for the paper, plus the “On Clothing” column in the NY Times Magazine.
The piece is a witty and erudite telling of the story that’s so central to us in Tradsville, but full of quixotic humor for those outside our borders. Most of the piece is devoted to the concept of collar roll, and it concludes with the observation that fussing over something that’s meant to look unfussy seems rather silly.
I spent over 30 minutes on the phone with Patterson, trying my best to summarize the sentiments of Ivy’s readership, much of which has been wearing the shirts since before I was born. A few quotes made the final copy. Here’s a sample:
“The distinctive roll was prized for its nonchalance going back to the 1920s,” said Christian Chensvold, the founder and editor in chief of the trad-fashion website Ivy Style. That Mr. Chensvold broke traffic records with his coverage of the new button-down suggests the peculiar gravity of the quintessential American clothier’s reworking of its quintessential product.
It also indicates the richly complicated feelings of Brooks Brothers’ most passionate customers, who double as its least patient critics, vexed that its emergence as a global brand complicates sober stewardship of its establishment legacy. “For basic men’s wear, Brooks Brothers is the source; it’s the prehistoric mud,” said Lisa Birnbach, editor of “The Official Preppy Handbook” and a co-author of “True Prep.” “Because of that, people get very proprietary.”
Mr. Chensvold said, “What they did with this shirt is symbolic of what’s going wrong with the whole company.”
Despite the major transformation of Brooks’ merchandise over the past several years, the trad community still retains a degree of fidelity based on personal memories and the larger-than-life role that Brooks had in American culture. It stood in symbolic relation to the times, to borrow a phrase.
If there’s one recurring motif I hear from longtime patrons, both in the store and in messages I receive, is that they want to give Brooks their money but have a hard time finding products to receive in exchange. Apparently the merchandising strategy of the new/old shirt — which removed material while adding to the cost — has worked. There are men out there happy to pay $140 to have a Brooks shirt with a collar that rolls. As Patterson writes, “This is the sort of detail in which God is said to exist.”