When Charlie Davidson of The Andover Shop quips that Brooks Brothers today looks like “an Italian department store,” he knows whereof he speaks. He’s one of the few menswear professionals still around who’s known the brand since the late 1940s.
I attended Brooks’ spring 2014 presentation last week. When it came time to craft a post, I looked over my photos and without thinking it over too much, instinctively decided to show the one thing I thought noteworthy, both for its vices as well as virtues. It was a madras jacket I liked for the dark navy and green (so much madras lately has been patchwork or overly bright; I prefer something more subdued, like that jerk in “Dirty Dancing” wears). It was a jacket that seemed to look back to the Brooks jackets of yore thanks to a button stance of three rather than two, but it came with double vents, which would be a dealbreaker for me on such a casual American classic.
I don’t know what’s more frustrating: that Brooks merchandisers chose double vents to deliberately break with the American tradition, or that they’re locked in such a Continental mindset when it comes to the tailored clothing they don’t even realize it’s a break with American tradition. Most of the jackets in the presentation had nicely rolled 3/2 lapels and soft shoulders, but European-looking fabrics and double vents. Frequent Ivy-Style.com comment-leaver “Carmelo,” an Italian and clothes geek of the first order, pronounced the madras jacket “very Italian.”
There was plenty of American sportswear in the presentation, of course, and Brooks continues to do much of that well. But I think we’re all more interested in what Brooks is doing with its tailored clothing.
This fall Brooks Brothers has brought back its Own Make label, calling it “Inspired by iconic styles from the Brooks Brothers archives and made in the USA.” As with the new Natural Craftsmanship collection, prices are high: a tattersall sport shirt runs $225 and tartan trousers are $395. Of most interest to us here are the Own Make sack suits, sportcoats and blazers. The 101 model comes with a 3/2 button stance, no darts, natural shoulders, 3/8 lining, 5/16″ edge stitching and a hook vent. Own Make sportcoats start at $895, with suits and blazers in the $1,300-$1,400 range.
Although Brooks Brothers says the jacket silhouette is inspired by a 1960s model, don’t expect anything like this one below, from the brand’s book “Generations of Style”:
Own Make jackets seem to trace their lineage to the more recent creations of Thom Browne rather than the relaxed-cut sack suit the brand was known for from 1896-1987.
I asked Brooks the difference, if any, between the Own Make jacket and the Cambridge updated sack introduced last year. The company responded:
The Cambridge fit is a slim fitting version of our iconic sack coat but with a shorter length and more fitted. The Cambridge fit is undarted and is similar in proportion to our Milano.
Own Make is really inspired from our archives and fabrics we used in the 1960s. Jackets are the slimmed down versions of the original No 1 and No 2 sack silhouettes hence the names of the products #101 and #102.
It’s hard to tell from that description exactly what the differences would be when it comes to cut and fit, so let’s just get down to how the jacket felt on me — following a brief disclaimer.
After 800 posts, you readers have no doubt surmised by now that I’m not a tailoring geek. I don’t fetishize clothing, I don’t stockpile multiple versions of the same item, I don’t get tempted by weird items simply because they have a thrift-store price of $3.99, I don’t hang on to things I never wear, and I don’t do blog posts comparing the stitching of different shirtmakers. I like the social history and ideas that spring from man’s need to clothe himself, and I enjoy wearing clothes. This is all to say that I go by feel when it comes to selecting clothing: I go by how something looks to my eye and how it feels when I put it on. If you want to know what the stitching looks like inside of Own Make jackets where the sleeve is attached to the shoulder, you’ll have to go and look yourself, because I wasn’t paying attention.
I checked out Own Make at the Madison Avenue Brooks flagship, formed some impressions, and then went back a second time to see if my initial impressions stood. I also enlisted the help of a friend who’s very much like me in that he really enjoys clothes but isn’t a geek about it. Where we differ, and this is important, is body type. I’m tall and thin and generally take a 40 long. My friend has been a stout 44 but is dropping weight, and is somewhere between a regular and long.
Own Make jackets didn’t seem to fit either one of us.
First off, there is no 40 long, but that didn’t matter as a 40 was so small I couldn’t move my arms. Determining that a 40 wouldn’t work for me, therefore, took merely a matter of seconds. What was surprising, though, was how much of a jump there was in sizing to a 42. The 42 was too big across the shoulders, as a salesman I’ve known for two years immediately pointed out. But strange was that the waistline looked good along the sides when viewed in a mirror, and yet it felt like I could pull the button closure eight inches away from my abdomen. Here’s where we need a tailoring geek, since I can’t explain it other than by saying I had the impression that the jacket was cut in a way that made it fitted in the waist but large in the chest. Perhaps this has something to do with the sort of hybrid quality that comes from making a slimmed-down version of a jacket originally designed to be roomy.
There were no 41s in the store, and later Brooks confirmed to me that the sizing runs like this:
Own Make is offered from 36 to 48 (all even)
Shorts – 38-44
Regs – 36-48
Long – 42-48
So it’s possible that a 41 long would have fit with only minor alterations needed, but again there are no odd sizes. (For the record, last year I purchased one of Brooks’ higher-priced, full-canvassed Fitzgerald models, which did not pose a fit challenge and which quickly improved with each wearing, thanks to the canvassing. The jacket is available again this season with some minor changes.)
Now here’s the experience of my stouthearted friend with Own Make:
The fabrics and the cut both look very nice on the hanger, in particular the chalk stripe suit jacket I tried on. Hook vent, three button, no darts —overall promising. I was told by a candid salesman, however, that the line was “fashion-forward” and cut very short and slim.
Feeling he’s around a 43 these days and having just come from trying on 42s at J. Press, he tried on a 44 long:
The sleeves were long, but the body seemed as if it were from a different jacket, as if a short jacket had been extended at the bottom, but the stance had remained where it was. Most notably, the waist suppression seemed to cinch over my rib cage rather than close to my natural waist. This jacket fit me like no other garment I’ve ever tried on, even Black Fleece or York Street (both in size 44, both of which fit me better).
It seemed to be a well constructed garment, but the cut was puzzling. Perhaps I should have sized up to a 46(!), but earlier in the day I was trying on 42s at J. Press and discussing tailoring down my 43s, so if that is truly the case, Own Make should rethink its sizing.
In conclusion, those of us with narrow shoulders and meek chests or beer bellies and man boobs have no right to complain if a clothier wants to make jackets intended for a man with a no belly fat, broad shoulders and a muscular chest. The thing that leaves me curious, though, is why Own Make is offered in sizes such as 44 short and 48 long. I mean, if Own Make is a tough fit for a tall thin guy, what’s it like with a short, portly guy or a tall, muscular linebacker?
Own Make is not your father’s sack suit, and it certainly isn’t intended to be. The question is — based on price, cut and styling — just whose is it? — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD