Big development here at Ivy-Style.com to announce soon. In the meantime, here’s a roundup of the latest news from Tradsville.
Above is a reader snapshot of the tragedy of 346 Madison Avenue. Black was never a trad color, except for funerals. It’s impossible not to feels one’s metaphoric sack suit turn from navy to black when looking at this image.
According to Slate, the reason for the collapse of Brooks is the coronavirus:
For more than a century, Brooks Brothers defined fashion for a certain kind of East Coast American elite. It’s been the clothier to nearly every U.S. president. So how did it get here?
Starting in the 1980s, attacks on Brooks Brothers’ business came from all sides. First, says fashion journalist Kate Betts, the Italians went after the top end: “In the ’80s, you had these Italian designers coming in and, at a slightly higher price point, offering a much different, more stylized look.” Brands like Giorgio Armani, she says, became the go-to for suits “for a certain aspirational customer. And I think that cut into Brooks Brothers.”
The staid, old, boxy sack suit that had long been Brooks Brothers’ specialty fell out of favor. The “in” look for elites was a sleeker, darted, more European silhouette. Men were more open to fashion, and they no longer felt they needed to shop at one place and buy the same trusty make of clothes over and over. It hurt Brooks to lose the 1980s-era masters of the universe and their big wardrobe budgets. But even more damaging was the incursion on the shoppers at the other end of Brooks’ customer base: the young ambitious guy on his way up.
“Brands like Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, even J.Crew to a certain extent, came in and went for that Ivy League/English look that Brooks Brothers had really been the first to adapt to all the way back in 1818 at its founding,” Betts says. “They gave it more of a style spin and also marketed their products to a much different audience and a much different consumer, a much younger consumer. And I think that that was hard to compete with.”
At Robb Report, bible of the nouveau riche, the J. Press Shaggy Dog snags a mention.
If you’re in Massachusetts and up for a spooky afternoon in the spirit of Halloween season, Ivy Style contributor ZG Burnett can help with that.
Also in MA, the Boston Globe wonders if we’ll ever wear “real clothes” again.
And despite all forms of chaos, the new Ivy Trendwatch is still pushing forward with this piece called “How to dress like an Ivy League elite in the prep style.”
Even British Vogue is saying that preppy is making a comeback.
You can’t stop khakis and buttondowns, and if you try, watch out. — CC
“Hang on baby jesus this is gonna get bumpy.” Brooks Brothers abandoning 346 Madison Avenue – formerly its flagship store – is likely a sign of things to come.
Thanks, Mr. C., for your stellar reportage. You’re the best.
I agree that a black sack suit is the most appropriate thing to wear. Interestingly, Brooks Brothers never offered a ready-to-wear black suit from 1865 to 2003. The Gentleman’s Gazette speculates that black suits are only for servants and funerals:
I really love the photo of the Brooks Brothers flagship store on Madison. The large rug on the main floor features the house tartan: a mix of navy and burgundy.
I feel that wearing a black suit instead of a navy suit may be an overeation to all the kevetching in the media about the slobification of America. I read on the Die Workwear blog that good clothes will return as soon as the pandemic is over and men return to offices, restaurants and special events.
Revivals often happen after the last of the old purveyors are gone. For example, it was only when most of the classic diners in my town had gone out of business that a new retro style diners started showing up. But revivals always come with a sense of play-acting about them. The values, moral and spiritual, that went with the old ways aren’t revived. What the future brings may be effective as style but that’s all it will be.
Started buying suits at Brooks Brothers in the late 70’s while in college. Then moved on to Ralph Lauren University Club in the 80’s. Still continued to buy a lot from Brooks Brothers as far as ties, shoes, belts, etc. Seems that the suit selection in their stores dwindled as far as size selection. Also, the fabrics were strange and patterned. Rarely saw solid gray, charcoal, blue, or khaki. I don’t know if you can pinpoint a particular time when they went over the cliff but it seems like they have been off the rails for over 10 years. Perhaps it was the recession in 08-09. Anyway, will be in DC next summer if things have opened and plan on going by J.Press. (with my son)
Michael – That was an interesting and perceptive comment. The classic Brooks Brothers look came from, and was made for, people with a certain world view, which included valuing quality, durability and consistency, and not caring overmuch for the fashions of the moment. As you and Mitchell indicate, there may be a return to elements of that classic look, and I certainly hope there is, but like the retro diners, for better or worse it is unlikely to be the same. And yet O’Connell’s, J. Press, Eljo’s and a handful of others are still laboring away at the old stand, so there is additional cause for hope.
It’s as if Rome’s been sacked but there’s no Constantinople to carry on.
Personally, I don’t see the end to an era at all. I see the beginning of a made-to-measure golden age just killing off the dinosaurs that never adapted to the digital age. Between companies like Suit Supply, Indochino, Proper Cloth, Luxire, and Spier and Mackay, I have simply order the exact fabrics, details, and sizing that I want. If I want a hook vented sack suit with brass buttons, a baggy Oxford shirt with a locker loop, and a pair of high waisted chinos that still have a good taper, I can order them from the companies above, and get better fabric and price than I can get at Brooks Brothers.
It seemed Brooks went into places were their traditional market was too thin to support it. I have in mind, in particular, mid sized Southern and midwestern cities (won’t name them). I wonder if they’d been better off limiting themselves to about ten markets with well placed stores in upscale suburbs there along with near downtown locations in the largest of those markets.
Somehow, the pandemic didn’t kill any of the famous British or Italian brands. Only BB is “dying”. Blaming everything on the pandemic doesn’t really make much sense. J. Crew also had to file for Chapter 11 and change owners, yet, their stores in Manhattan have been open for months now. There have been no restrictions on stores in New York City since like July. Almost everything is operating. Yet, BB haven’t reopened a single store in New York City! Hard to tell exactly what this means. They don’t seem to be going out of business (Chapter 11 isn’t liquidation), their website is operating as usual, their order processing and delivery is as good, as it’s always been. Should we expect a grand reopening of their NYC stores around Christmas? But why isn’t there any announcement or explanation on their website? Weird, indeed. This situation is unprecedented and its most odd that the directors of the company don’t feel obliged to make an announcement! Shame on those cowards for hiding like that.
Del Vecchio owns the 346 property personally, can’t imagine BB will be back there?
It’s interesting– how the Brooks Brothers Look will outlive Brooks Brothers. Before Jesus predicted his death, he reminded his disciples, “I will be with you always–even to the end of the age.” Death leads to a multitude of resurrections.
“Brooks is dead. Long live Brooks.”
Thanks to the Japanese saviors of J. Press, Ralph Lauren’s commendable vision, a few brick-and-mortar stores, and dozens of online retailers, classic Brooks Brothers style survives, and, among some, thrives.
It appealed to educated, professional men who were temperamentally and (probably) philosophically conservative. “You don’t have to read Edmund Burke to be Burkean.”
The abiding affiliations with America (Americana) will ensure a long future. When it’s time to dress up, our great, great, great, great, great grandchildren will turn to blazers, khakis, OCBDs, and some sort of loafer. The simplicity and conservative elegance of the look is quintessentially American.
*J. Press really should do more to get their bread-and-butter, the natural shoulder, right. High, pointy shoulders will be the death of the look. With all due respect to the Canadian clothing manufacturers, only Samuelsohn can do the natural shoulder well. All roads now lead to Rochester.
I have probably said this before but even pre-2008 and the Crash, walking into BB on Regent Street in London would put me into the same type of depression entering Banana Republic would induce. Yet I never felt the same heading into RL or even Gap. Whatever happened, the pandemic has merely been the coup de grâce. And you would think they could disable the timers and leave the lights switched off….
Going by the store, it feels like all the men who have worked there in the last 60 years or so have died in a giant disaster or pandemic of some sort. Many hours I have spent behind those doors. 10 months I worked there during my college years. Went in through the service doors in the back. Later as a customer, I, for some reason, always entered By the 44th street entrance. Strange, I keep thinking about those I knew who worked there.
Since I learned that the building is personally owned by the individual owner, I cannot help thinking bankruptcy may have been in his mind since the get go.
It is still early days – Aquascutum has just gone fully with barely anyone noticing anymore. The remnants of Jaeger and final dregs of Austin Reed likely to go this week. They all end up just a name and logo licenced to China with no other presence. Much more to come I feel. The low/mid tier in UK is being hollowed out and moved online quickly (a recent example being TM Lewin). The upper tier comes next with no high paying foreign visitors in London. I have been trying to buy in-country UK/Ireland made for a few years now to support those trying to still be here in the next era.
Press suits look different to my eye as photographed on a mannequin. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I figured they padded the mannequin a bit to fill out the suit for display purposes. Who makes those suits?
As far as Samuelsohn goes, where might one procure one, MTM, other than O’Connell’s?
Arguing against what I said above, another way to think about what is happening is that the 50th anniversary of the preppy revival of 1980 is approaching. I remember reading an historian commenting on the way the Second World War was remembered who said the decade preceding the 50th anniversary of any event is always contentious because that is when the people who actually lived through the event lose control of the way it is framed. We’d say, “lose control of the narrative,” nowadays. Whether you see yourself as true prep, Ivy or trad, odds are pretty good that the publication of the Preppy Handbook AND the reaction to it was a formative event for you.
When I was in college in the early 1980s, everyone had a philosophical position regarding prep. You might have loved it, you might have thought it was an inauthentic imitation of something better, or you might have seen it as a hated lapse back into the 1950s after the new dawn of the 1960s-70s counterculture. Virtually no one was neutral about prep—the people who affected not to care had an air of doth-protest-too-much about them. For those of us who lived through that era, it was never just a question of style. Most of us had grown up in the shadow of the 1960s-1970s and this was our way of asserting ourselves against that time and that (counter) culture.
The time for us to shuffle off stage isn’t here yet but it is approaching. The 1980s are as far back for someone 20 years old today as the 1940s were for me when I first consciously encountered prep in 1980. (I say “consciously“ because I had dressed prep through the 1970s because my mother bought most of my high school clothes and she wanted me to dress the way she had seen college boys dress when she was training to be a nurse in the 1950s. The Preppy Handbook allowed me to put a label on what I always had done and to start thinking of it as a good thing rather than an embarrassment.)
The challenge Brooks Brothers faced stemmed from their being forever tied to the value set that went with the Second Prep War of the late 1970s and early 1980s (the first having been fought in the late 1950s and early 1960s). In Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, for example, Brooks Brothers plays a role something like that of an old temple whose priests and rituals ground the faith. But that movie also signals a major shift that had happened by the 1980. The torch had been passed: it’s telling that the spokesperson for preppy values in the film is trickster Nick Smith. It’s an odd but telling thing about prep of the last 40 years that some of its most effective advocates have been people who lack authenticity: Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart and Muffy Aldrich all have assumed names and identities. These people were, to borrow a little of the religious archetype language Christian Chensvold now favours, coyotes, that is to say tricksters who stole secrets from gods and shared them with the rest of us. Looking back on my own experience in the 1980s, I can see more than a little of that trickster in myself, alas to considerably less financial reward. Prep gave us an identity that solved, or seemed to solve, a whole lot of problems. I remember it all with great affection but I can’t think of single reason anyone just turning 20 today should care.
…and I agree, I don’t care for “high, pointy shoulders”. I’ve never seen a side-view close-up photo of J. Press shoulders.
Good points. I finished college at the beginning of the 1980s. In 1981, I sailed to Martha’s Vineyard with the then owner of McGarvey’s Saloon in Annapolis aboard his boat. I mention this because the first time I got a hold for a copy of “The Offical Preppy Handbook” was aboard. A patron of his Saloon gave him a copy because it contains a description of the Gilman School in Baltimore that goes something like, “…sailors being seen downing burgers at McGarvey’s.” Anyway, spending the summer on the Vineyard sailing was like living the book then.
On another note, I got a kick out of your observation that follows. “It’s an odd but telling thing about prep of the last 40 years that some of its most effective advocates have been people who lack authenticity: Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart and Muffy Aldrich all have assumed names and identities.” RL and Martha Stewart are at least forthright about who they are. I’ll withhold further comment on Ms. Aldrich’s authenticity. In any event, looks like she is still out there living her Salt Water New England lifestyle, blogging about waxing her husband’s Barbour.
I can understand your point of view and, as matter of facts and logic, I wouldn’t dispute anything you’ve said. And yet … coming from a long line of social climbers who carefully concealed their Irish famine roots, I am perhaps more likely to overlook a certain amount of fraud. My family learned prep values from older female relatives who’d spent their teen years “in service” with upper middle class families on the east coast.
I’d also argue that there is a long love-hate relationship with the clever impostor in literature preps revere—The Duke of Deception, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Brideshead Revisited.
Final thought, there were lots of people who hated Ralph Lauren and Martha Stewart for being inauthentic in the 1980s and 199os and did so with far more vitriol than anything I’ve seen addressed at Muffy A.
It probably doesn’t matter any more as any future for prep or ivy now is as a style and nothing else. People may wear the clothes but no one would bother stealing the identity and associated values any more. There are probably more woke white women pretending to be black these days than there are people with last names such as Lifshitz, Kostyra, Wezniak or Costigan assuming WASPy names and identities.
” I don’t know if you can pinpoint a particular time when they went over the cliff but it seems like they have been off the rails for over 10 years”
It probably began with the purchase of BB by Marks and Spencer in 1988
Yes, Roger Sack, I agree that the going off the rails began with the Marks and Spencer purchase.
And yes, Michel, traditional clothing as described in the OPH gave those of us who were prep school or college age around 1980 a way to differentiate ourselves from the extreme hippy looks embraced by the baby-boomer counter-culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s and also from the disco fashions that came later in the 70s.
@Countalma: take a look at the September 13 Ivy-Style post titled ‘Where Men You Admired Bought Their Clothes’ – in the article itself and the comments there is lots of information about Brooks’ new owners and what their plans for the “brand” appear to be. It is not a pretty picture.
@BC: at the risk of self-promotion, I’ve posted a couple of Annapolis-centric thoughts to Ivy-Style over the years, and would love to hear more of your own stories about Annapolis: see 7.24.16 (“Annapolitan Trad); and 3.27.20 (“Comfort Food”).
The Brooks Brothers story is in the financial numbers – which very few of us have access to..
Good day to all.
Brooks Brothers Japan, which holds 60% of Brooks Brothers stock, is still quite alive at the moment, having just closed their old flagship Aoyama location in August and moved to a brand new location in Omotesando this past September. They do ‘personalized orders’, that is tailoring on request which I hear has been selling well in these times. Coats in particular.
Apologizes to correct my previous statement; Brooks Brothers Japan (founded 1979) was owned 60% by Brooks Brothers America, the other 40% by Japanese Daido Limited.
That was the case until this week as Daido now owns 80.5% of Brooks Japan making them a full subsidiary.