Shopping The Men’s Department, From Sex And The Single Girl, 1962


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James Kraus, who’s been featured on Ivy Style previously for his book “Jet Age Cooking For The Bachelor Gourmet,” recently read Helen Gurley Brown’s 1962 best-seller, because that’s the sort of thing you read when you’re into vintage bachelorhood.

He spied this interesting passage from a chapter called “Shopping In Men’s Departments” and forwarded it:

Rarely will you meet your love, or even a date for Sunday brunch, among the briar pipes and Harris tweeds. Another place, true, where the men are but alas, not adventurous ones. Those who spend their lives shuttling between inventory and stock control are usually married and security-minded.

Shopping for tie racks and other male accessories, however, is a good way to practice your femininity. Donna says a sort of gracious-lady attitude sweeps over her in men’s departments as she trustingly asks whether Oxford is as nice to be next to as broadcloth. I wouldn’t want it back but this must be how it was in the Edwardian era when men were all-wise and women were all wiles. I must say the staff at Brooks Brothers, Los Angeles, can make you feel like a grand duchess pondering some sartorial tidbit for the duke. They’re the most, and adorable.

As for the photo above, which was taken at the Brooks Brothers flagship by LIFE Magazine in the 1950s, one of those people is in the wrong department. — CC

17 Comments on "Shopping The Men’s Department, From Sex And The Single Girl, 1962"

  1. Parker B. Robsertson | May 11, 2016 at 1:57 pm |

    “one of those people is in the wrong department”

    Which one?

  2. Either the boy is in the men’s department, or the woman is in the boys department!

  3. Marc Chevalier | May 11, 2016 at 2:08 pm |

    Judging by the size of the torso forms at left, I’d say this was the boys’ department.

  4. F. Helbard | May 11, 2016 at 2:16 pm |

    “the staff at Brooks Brothers, Los Angeles, can make you feel like a grand duchess pondering some sartorial tidbit for the duke.”

    In 1962, they could make a man feel like a grand duke.

  5. Marc Chevalier | May 11, 2016 at 3:15 pm |

    Notice that the woman is wearing a boys’ or young men’s topcoat. (It buttons left over right.) The implication might be that women used to shop at BB for some of their clothes. We know, for instance, that women originally purchased their OCBD shirts from the young men’s department, before BB created a feminine version of the shirt.

  6. Alan Kirk Gray | May 11, 2016 at 3:16 pm |

    Don’t know if it happens at all now, but back in the day when we were first married, my wife and many of her friends bought blazers and jackets in the boys’ department of Brooks. As they said, high quality and ridiculously low prices compared to the standard women’s options.

  7. Fast forward 61 years and a young woman that age – the granddaughter of the one in the photo – now shopping at a mall – but probably not at BB – is wearing a tight shorts, a tank top and sporting an assortment of tattoos as she constantly fiddles with a “device” , evidence that sometimes civilization moves backward.

  8. I was in just in my local Brooks store today (in The Westchester) and despite being in a mall, it looks similar to the flagship judging by this picture. At least the stores still look somewhat the same, even though they are palimpsests of the old Brooks, and too bad the wares are not the same though.

  9. In 1962, the Brooks Brothers store in Los Angeles was on an upper floor of an office building downtown. Fred Williams was the person who helped me.

    I am still wearing some of the things that Fred Williams helped me with, both when the Los Angeles Brooks Brothers was upstairs and later when they moved to a ground floor location.

    Although the people who currently help me at Brooks Brothers continue to provide the same standards of service, something has gone horribly wrong with many of the products, which no longer seem to combine value and quality.

  10. Marc Chevalier | May 12, 2016 at 4:46 am |

    Currently, the downtown Los Angeles Brooks Brothers store is situated inside the Jonathan Club’s town club building. It’s a fitting location, as many of the club’s members wear Brooks Brothers clothing.

  11. L.L. Whitfield | May 12, 2016 at 12:30 pm |

    @F. Helbard

    Walk into BB’s flagship store today wearing a two-button full-cut navy blazer, full-cut grey flannel slacks (preferably pleated), a plain collar white broadcloth shirt (not an OCBD), a navy-and-white pencil-stripe or Churchill dot necktie and black bluchers, and you will still be treated like a grand duke. The trick is not to dress like one of their models or salesmen.

  12. The photo is one of several from a series by Russian-born American photographer Nina Leen who was a frequent contributor to Life magazine as a fashion essayist. In another photo, the young boy looks like he is either is being patted down for shop lifting or having the label inside his sport jacket examined (obviously the salesman doesn’t suspect BB since he is going for the inside breast pocket and not the neck) while the still aloof female is being shown some trousers that warrant only a seductive touch of the finger. There are three BB salesmen also sporting some nice looks not nearly as signature as a modern day BB head-to-toe clad employee.

  13. Vern Trotter | May 12, 2016 at 3:24 pm |

    The great jockeys, Eddy Arcaro, Johnny Logden and others, would come to the boys department to buy!

  14. Edw. D. Chambers | May 13, 2016 at 1:26 am |

    Just Google Nina Leen Brooks and the two photos mentioned by NCTrad will appear.

  15. Past Perfect | May 13, 2016 at 1:34 am |

    That’s the young man’s father, not a salesman. Notice the hat.

  16. A book hit the shelves not so long ago. It’s entitled The Art of Grace. The author is Sarah Kaufman.

    It’s a great book. I recommend. Elegantly written, and very much about elegance–okay, grace. The subtitle summarizes the subject nicely: On Moving Well Through Life.

    Too many people don’t “move well through life.” The lack of grace is all too apparent. Hunched over, sloppy, unkept. I think Fussell used the phrase “prole” to describe this sad joke–the “beaten down” look or something of that sort.

    Ah, blessed grace. It’s an art, to be sure–a fine, subtle art that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves.

    The featured picture calls the book to mind. Whatever the complaints anyone may have about bygone eras–and, yes, to be sure, they weren’t so great for everybody–grace abounded. Especially among those who deemed gracious behavior a matter not only of taste or (mere) manners, but ethics. Put differently: practicing the fine art of gracious (grace-filled) living is an act of service. Want to make the world a better place in a matter of seconds? Stand up straight, walk slowly and fluidly, smile gently, and raise the chin. Grace.

    Kaufman sheds light on the importance of good posture (no trivial matter) and how one quite literally moves. But there’s also mention of clothing–clothing that moves with the person. She quite correctly derides clothing that’s too tight–clothing that can render a stiff, shrunken look. It’s a stinging indictment of the modern, fashion runway-driven obsession with too-skinny pants and overly tapered jackets. In other words, why this isn’t so flattering, after all:,default,pd.html?dwvar_MM00533_Color=NAVY&contentpos=17&cgid=0218

    Brooks of yesteryear and the men who wore that look well–let’s go with billowy OCBD-wearing Astaire as exhibit A–understood this. Whether intuitively or by experience. Or the insights of a skilled tailor.

  17. NaturalShoulder | May 14, 2016 at 2:47 pm |

    It is difficult to look graceful when walking hunched over reading or texting on a screen.

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