The Ghost Of 346 Madison

brooksghost

Daniel C. Greenwood’s debut Millenial Fogey column on Brooks Brothers certainly stirred up discussion. It especially stirred up Chris Sharp, Ivy Style’s normally circumspect and disinterested assistant editor, known for his well researched historical pieces. He found himself inspired to lay his heart bare to the brand so dear to him that he recalls shopping excursions more vividly than otherwise more important days in his life.

* * *

Daniel C. Greenwood’s recent piece, “Why do we get so worked up Over Brooks Brothers?” is well timed coming after New Year’s, as I am still in throws of a lingering Auld Lang Syne-style emotional hangover. His piece is certainly a reminder that I hold Brooks Brothers partially responsible for my condition.

Like a Dickensian ghost, an image of a lost Brooks Brothers executive haunts my subconscious. He asks me, “How can Brooks Brothers be relevant in 2015?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know how to be relevant myself,” I reply. Then I offer the phantasm this: “But I can tell you how to be Brooks Brothers, in case you’ve forgotten.”

It seems that Mr. Greenwood pounding on his keypad is answering the same ghost. He is among the millions of fingers on keyboards expressing frustration on websites and Internet forums. A legion of middle-aged men and young fogeys who are telling Brooks Brothers how to be Brooks Brothers. The problem for us is that Brooks Brothers does not seem to be answering that question.

In that case, a more to-the-point query might be, “Why does it sometimes feel like we care more about Brooks Brothers than Brooks Brothers itself?” But answering that might take a team of mental health professionals. It is certainly about us, how we feel about the past, and how we view the future. I am reminded of the Annie Tempest cartoon in which an airchaired old curmudgeon says to his pal over a glass of scotch, “The future’s is not what it used to be, Dickie.”

What was our shared past with Brooks Brothers, and what was the future supposed to be like? I am sure it was different for each generation, but for some of us who came to Brooks Brothers during the Allied Store years, Brooks still retained the patina of greatness. It had been in business since 1818 and we believed it would be in business long after we departed this earth. During the interim years there was an implied promise that they would keep the faith.

What did keeping the faith mean? It meant that it was not contradictory to be both an innovator and a reactionary at the same time. You could introduce America to the buttondown shirt, Shetland sweaters, argyle socks, seersucker and madras and still have the good form not to discontinue longstanding items until the last person who could possibly want them was dead. It meant that you handled ownership changes with steely resolve. For example, in 1946 Brooks Brothers was bought by the Washington, DC department store Garfinkel’s. The new president John C. Wood put customer fears of radical change to rest when he declared that he would sooner be seen wearing a zoot suit in Times Square than tamper with Brooks policies.

But what I thought was a lifelong marriage may in fact be just an affair to remember. This only makes the memories dearer. I can recount for you in detail the first time I crossed the threshold of a Brooks Brothers and secured those fabled buttondowns. In contrast, there are days that are more significant in my life that I barely remember.

I should stick to my memories, but every few years I am lured back to Brooks Brothers, as I was during their recent sale. The experience is always awkward. They have canceled my store card now for the second time, apparently for inactivity. Canceling my account is very un-Brooksian, because I remember when I first got their store card it felt like being a made man in the Cosa Nostra: there was an implied contract that I was not going to get out of my relationship with Brooks Brothers alive.

I feel that some readers may be disappointed by my recent purchase. I did not buy shoes, which I still hold in high regard, but instead small novelties like a tartan wallet. It will replace the Brooks striped one I bought during a sale a couple of years ago. I know this one will have the same short lifespan as the other, but I am a sucker for tartan — even cheesey corporate ones. The other items were Kiel James Patrick woven belts, which I see as an artfully redesigned throwback product. The unintentional irony of the pick is not lost on me. I am mature and out of KJP’s target demographic, but find his neo-prep Horatio Alger story compelling. I marvel at his social media savvy and legions of young acolytes. It is like watching a really good magic show; I know he is working hard but I cannot see it.

I had not fully been aware of how much luster Brooks Brothers private label products had lost until this purchase. In the Brooks Brothers x KJP collaboration, it seems like KJP was the status lender and that Brooks Brothers was the status borrower, turning my paradigm completely upside down. I was buying a product because I had more faith in an American-made upstart than the corporate monolith that was responsible for shaping my entire sartorial worldview. Could this be the example of 21st-century relevance my ghost first sought?

There is no schadenfeude in seeing Brooks Brothers act like a dowager with dementia. It is heartbreaking when we don’t recognize each other anymore. Even now I am already preparing for my next meeting with the Brooks Brothers ghost. We will likely re-enact the scene from Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Urbervilles.” I will play the parson, and the ghost will be John.

“And shall we ever come into our own again?” the ghost will ask.

“That I can’t tell,” I reply.

“What had we better do about it?”

“Nothing, except chasten yourself with the thought of ‘How are the mighty fallen.’  It is a fact of some interest to the local historian and genealogist, nothing more.” — CHRISTOPHER SHARP

129 Comments on "The Ghost Of 346 Madison"

  1. Brooks Brothers is not a “dowager with dementia.” It is an unsentimental bean-counter for whom heritage, tradition, pride, craftsmanship, etc., are suckers’ terms with little or no meaning for the bottom line. BB’s problem is that bean-counters are best at making second- or third-rate products for people who do not know any better or do not care, although they occasionally sell decent products (in BB’s case, ties and English-made shoes) where they can maintain a reasonable mark-up. BB just does not care. Nothing anyone might say on this blog will make BB care. It’s over. It’s been over for many years.

  2. I think it is time to revisit the “Do we even need Brooks Brothers?” question. If we are being honest with ourselves, a sense of maudlin nostalgia is the only thing that keeps the brand significant in the minds of many. We can get shoes directly from Rancourt and Aldens or Edward Greens are easily found all across the internet. Mercer or Kamakura has us covered for shirts while it seems a dozen or so retailers now offer quality trousers made in the USA. If it is a matter of fit or sizing, the choices available for custom clothing are quite impressive. Granted, this last option tends to be made in less than desirable places, but then so does Brooks Brothers.

    BB over-expanded in the nineties and now has to change annually in a desperate bid to stay relevant and pay rent on those costly mall storefronts. Is it sad to see the business go? Perhaps, but we should have seen this coming twenty years ago.

  3. A.E.W. Mason | January 25, 2015 at 7:54 pm |

    “It’s over. It’s been over for many years.”

    I think that’s right–at least in the sense of that for which, apparently, we pine. Specifically, the good old days.

    I also agree, we don’t “need” Brooks Brothers. There are other fine resources for traditional clothing. Not all that many, but, still……

  4. Agreed with @FLW, in that it appears the standard suppliers of ivy have given up and it’s being kept alive by a myriad of young upstart companies. I’m young enough that I never knew what it was like to walk into one store and walk out with all your clothing needs met, but I can see it being confusing for older, perhaps less computer-savy customers to navigate or even hear about these companies, so they stick with what they’ve known and just deal with the decline in quality. But that’s not a sustainable business model.

    And, like the author, I too only hit up BB when they have their ultra-reduced sales. Even then the clothes are basically on par with what you can currently get at a Uniqlo at full retail for BB’s ‘final sale’ price.

    And a question for the author, why did you choose to buy a KJP belt from BB and not KJP directly?

  5. Great piece.

    Plenty of men with good, traditional taste have opted for other stores for decades–Chipp, Press, The Andover Shop, and on and on.

    True story.

    A fellow orders samples of Donegal Tweed from Kevin & Howlin. He learns they’re about $30/meter. He places an order–enough for three different tweed jackets. He takes the cloth to his tailor, who can recreate the old Press natural shoulder, high hook vent, lapped seams, and patch-and-flaps. Around $650/jacket.

    Fellow thinks to himself, “Who cares if Brooks disappears?” Every year they offer the same five color combinations using Vanners silk for their #1 repp. The OCBD collars look shorter and feel stiffer than ever before.

  6. A.E.W. Mason | January 25, 2015 at 10:26 pm |

    @S.E.
    That fellow’s initials wouldn’t by chance be S.E., would they?

  7. My brother said once, “You can always count on Brooks Brothers.” Not any more. And that is a loss. As someone said in response to an earlier post, it’s good for people who need clothes that are better than J Crew to go to work in. So it’s a cut above fast food, with a few items excepted. And as someone else remarked, the salespeople are no longer even educated about the products they sell.

    S.E.
    I hope it’s not classified information, but can share with the us the name of the tailor who can recreate the old J Press model?

  8. Not classified.

    http://www.ivy-style.com/measure-for-measure-h-freeman-mtm-sportcoat.html

    Inquire about the Naturalaire model. 3 button tipover. You can specify lapel width, pockets, stitching, and so on.

  9. The KJP point is spot on, but you can take it much further. I’d assert that the Black Fleece oxfords that Thom Browne makes are far superior to the main-line shirts. Back when that label launched I thought that Brooks was lending him sorely-needed credibility. Now I’m not so sure.

    I bought four oxfords during the semi-annual sale five years ago–my first experience with quality dress shirts as an adult. At that time they were going for $50 or so when you bundled. I still wear them; I don’t regret the purchase, especially since at that price they are easily the most affordable on the market save Bean, which are partiallly synthetic, I believe. But when they finally wear out I will probably replace them elsewhere. (And pilfer the Black Fleece line for rakish colors and patterns on sale.)

  10. Ezra Cornell | January 26, 2015 at 5:38 am |

    Oh, woe is me! Oh, lamentation!

    Oh, for crying out loud.

    Folks, let’s stop the self-congratulation. After all, the complaints about BB are nothing but a round-about way of patting ourselves on the backs: WE aren’t swayed by the whims of advertising and trends; WE won’t be satisfied with what other people — those masses – like and buy; WE stick to classics while the masses just run stupidly after the herd. WE remember how things USED to be, and young people or trad newcomers are too ignorant and too late to know what WE know. Yes, yes, yes. Hooray for us.

    Most every complaint about BB is really just another way of patting ourselves on the back. Here’s something easier: don’t shop at BB. Don’t write about it, don’t lament it, shame it, worry about it, complain about it … just don’t shop there. As others have pointed out, there are plenty of good places to buy things that the mythological BB of our fantasies no longer supplies. I suspect the reason we worry about BB, is because we like the way it makes us feel superior, feel discerning, feel knowledgable and feel above the masses. I’d rather we just said that, than pretend that we are suffering over the decline of something that never really existed (and, yes, I’m old enough to know) except in our imagination. Let’s just say it: we love BB because it gives us something to complain about, and in complaining we can feel that we are somehow an individual, different, valuable, needed. Otherwise we are just consumers — oh, lamentation!

  11. Richard Meyer | January 26, 2015 at 6:05 am |

    Agree with all the nay sayers about BB. Anyone who thinks well of the current stores never shopped there in the 50’s through 70’s (I’m 70), and knows little about the changes in quality and style since then. Primary blame goes to Marks And Spencer, who began the downfall.

  12. @Halby

    Both Orvis and BB were clearing out KJP belts. The prices between 46.00-60.00 seemed to offer a risk free entry point for a personal field test.

  13. @Ezra Cornell

    +1. Agreed

  14. +1 Ezra. Nicely written.

    S.E. thanks for the info. Might have to give them a try.

  15. Maybe everyone should stop thinking of Brooks Brothers as an all-inclusive, trendsetting store? They have a fine selection of wares but a lot of junk as well. Rather than being the one-stop shopping place for men’s clothing that they might have been in the past they are now just another store to be cherry-picked.

    I find their dress shirts of decent quality and don’t mind the non-iron treatment. The 1818 suits are workhorses that are adequately styled and constructed. Nothing fancy but still mostly traditional and affordable. Their ties are cheap and to be avoided. The entry level ties are flimsy and poorly constructed and why buy the Golden Fleece ties when you can get Zegna or Canali for close to the same price?

    The Golden Fleece suits are perplexing. Working here in DC I think their target market is graying, heavyset executives. I image they sell many in size 46 and up, few in 42 and below. Just a guess. At $2500 now they are priced way over Hickey Freeman Mahogany, Samuelsohn and Canali. Why waste money on GF, even with the purported handwork, when you can get those others cheaper? At the GF retail price you can even reach up to Zegna and Brioni on sale, go MTM anywhere, or hit a site like Shop the Finest for real Italian designers (okay, not Trad but excellent nonetheless). The Black Fleece suits are not very interesting but I have many BF ties, shirts, dress pants and a great Trench coat.

    Anyway, Brooks Brothers is not iconic anymore. It’s a great time for men’s wear. Lots of choices now and no one store is the answer to everything. Seems like all the angst comes from viewing Brooks Brothers stores in sepia tone with the Walton’s theme song playing in the background.

  16. Roy R. Platt | January 26, 2015 at 10:01 am |

    Like Richard Meyer, I also got many things at Brooks Brothers, mostly in the same time period, the fifties through the seventies.

    Posters who are not as old as Richard and I may not remember that after the drug-dazed horrible hippies happened, the market for what Brooks Brothers was selling started to contract.

    People might want to consider blaming the effect of the drug-dazed horrible hippies on men’s “fashions” rather than the ever changing Brooks Brothers management in the post Garfinkle-Brooks Brothers-Miller & Rhodes era.

    People might want to consider blaming the Chicago Police Department for not “saving” Brooks Brothers. In 1968, the Chicago Police Department had the opportunity (in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel) to follow the example set by monster films, and “kill it before it multiplies”, and kill all the drug-crazed horrible hippies who were rioting in front of the Conrad Hilton before they multiplied.

    It was once said the Fred Harvey civilized the Southwest by requiring ties and jackets in his dining rooms. It might now be said that a later generation of restaurant owners uncivilized the Southwest (and caused a decline in the market for what Brooks Brothers once sold) by not requiring ties and jackets in their dining rooms.

    Don’t blame the management of any business for not selling what many people no longer want (which is why hair powder and knee breeches are hard to find now).

  17. S.E.

    Thanks for the link!

  18. ^This guy is awesome.

  19. Benson Roberts | January 26, 2015 at 11:36 am |

    @Ezra Cornell
    Re: “feel above the masses.”
    Oh, but we are above the masses, sir; that’s taken for granted.

  20. It was truly a pleasure to read the civilized prose of Messrs. Greenwood and Sharp.

  21. It’s not just nostalgia, Brooks Brothers has the capacity to be great again. It owns Southwick, Garland Shirts, and a tie factory. It has contracts in place with Alden, Allen Edmonds, and C&J shoes. It has fabric from Loro Piana and Harris Tweed. Everything is in place for Brooks Brothers to become great again. That’s why I write about it.

    Some people may be driven by elitism, friends of mine certainly have accused me of being a snob, I’ll repeat what I tell them: I’m tired of watching people being fed crap, whether in clothing, food, or entertainment, and not being offered an alternative because it’s not economical.

    Things are changing for the better, to be sure (thanks Internet!) but what’s the harm in asking a company to be better?

    If you don’t like reading complaints about Brooks Brothers…don’t read them.

  22. Completely disagree with Ezra. The past two essays have shown that BB looms vast in the minds of many, who genuinely care about this institution. They don’t voice their disappointment for a quick ego boost.

  23. I don’t think the complaints are driven by nostalgia and a mistaken idealization of the past. I think it’s more about the abandonment of a quality-first ethos, and not just concerning clothes.

    Have you ever encountered a salesperson who refused to sell you an item because it didn’t fit properly, even though you were ready to buy it? Probably not anymore.

    An illustration of the mentality. Once, many years ago and quite young, I was eating with a group of people in a hotel in Italy. After dinner I went into the bar and asked for a negroni. The barman said, Sir, you just came from dinner, correct? I said, Yes. He said, A negroni is an aperitif. I cannot serve it to you after dinner. I will give you Averna, a digestif. And, I discovered, it was quite delicious.

    It’s not nostalgia to point out that places like Brooks were more than stores. That’s what my brother meant when he said you can always rely on Brooks. Now they sell a lot of drek because they believe, with good reason, that no one can tell the difference. It’s the difference between exploiting ignorance and educating it.

  24. Ezra’s thesis is interesting, and has the ring of truth to it.

    But I have a simple mind: What I liked about the BB of old was that everything for sale was correct (heck, you could go in blindfolded and just grab stuff and look great), and I could get everything I want in one place, in person. That’s it–I’m not patting myself on the back or feeling smug in my superiority, which many people who know me will tell you I have none.

    With the number of stores and outlets BB has today, there is no way they could go back to what they were.

    BTW, if it’s Southwick you like, head over to O’Connell’s–they have plenty. No need to go the MTM route.

  25. The Chicago Police could have saved Brooks? Who knew!

  26. D.Philip.Smithwick | January 26, 2015 at 1:12 pm |

    I have an uneasy reluctancy to agree with you, though many comments support the article and the downfall of Brooks Brothers allow me to play a bit of devils advocate.
    Before I do however, I am in my mid 20s and have been wearing Brooks Brothers since I was a child, though I do not have many memories of the early 90s I do of the later part, and the quality over the course of 15 years has strongly dropped quicker than oil.
    Despite this growing up in a WASPy community and in a household the same, I despise the loud over bearing rogue prep style of Vineyard Vines, Southern (insert noun here), and the modern half of shirt sized polo pony Ralph Lauren. I enjoy subtly and a tiny if not non-visible logo and neutral colors.
    To however join in on the bash of Brooks, or rather display of unease. I find that they have recently been attempting to appeal to the more middle class shopper or rather more PC the mass.
    Look no further than the BB Flatiron shop in Manhattan, every time I go in I want to shut the place down. The sales associates are horrible, they dress like they work at an edgy hipster store with gauge earnings, skinny clothing, spiky hair, and tattoos. The women look even worse, though I’m not sure why as a man they are helping me. Regardless, in the basement they have their more expensive clothes, jackets, shirts, shoes, belts, etc. down there they have a latino guy working (who cares about race but you should visit to witness this if you live in Manhattan) who when you walk down does not look up from his phone, does not smile, nor does he offer help in anyway. In fact he looks stoned off of his ass and is beyond rude when you do ask for help. At least 44th and Mad they are still decent associates. Even more bothersome, the associate who looks like a GQ hipster comes up to me lecturing me about Brooks and how I’m unfamiliar with their brand. No, I highly doubt mr. skinny fit knows BB better than I.
    End of novel, my point being the first step they should take is hiring top of the line associates for all stores, and fire those who do not fit their image. If I’m paying $300 for three shirts I want a scotch and proper service like I get at the Ralph Lauren store on 68th. Either they overhaul or they loose every customer.

  27. Philly Trad | January 26, 2015 at 1:25 pm |

    Am I the only one who has never seen this BB documentary?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4AdFkb69H0

  28. I work a lot with/alongside older (think 80s) men who still wear the Brooks Brothers suits, blazers, and sport jackets they bought many, many decades ago. The old no. 1 sack model. 3-button tip over lapel. 1/4″ stitching. Conservative bankers and lawyers. Chances are good they haven’t update their closet in 25 years, save a few sport shirts.

    Don’t ask me to venture into the psychology that underlies suspicion of a 2 button, darted suit. And I wouldn’t be willing to guess the sources of biases and prejudices. It is what it is. They notice. I notice. As I think I wrote earlier, for a certain kind of gentleman of a certain age, everything went to hell around 1968 (maybe sooner), including men’s clothing. So, the symbolism of “what was” is powerful.

    If I wore the super skinny nonsense that hipsters and Neo-Ivy weirdos seem to prefer, I’d be laughed (or quietly mocked) out of meetings. There are still parts of the world where a Brooks Brothers flannel no. 1 sack suit gives almost immediate respectability. A clean shave, starched button down, dated tortoise half-rims for reading, an old, round military style watch, and a much-used Parker fountain pen can help. For reasons that defy logic, the Alden tassel moc falls under the category not of foppishness, but, rather, of traditional good taste.

  29. D.Philip.Smithwick | January 26, 2015 at 3:20 pm |

    @S.E. What industry are you in?

    I work in banking at a more conservative, dare I say Protestant/Catholic bank, I am in the same scenario. The hipster flannel slim fitters are mocked.
    Nato bands, Paul Mole cut and shaves, tortoise, and fountain pens are all the rage. Though a lot of the older generation is retiring for the sad future of the industry (think a Hollywood depiction of a gangster banker) who saw Wolf of Wall ST and think they’re going to be cruising the streets of Manhattan in their Ferrari with their model girlfriend. Those types buy a designer skinny suit that they can not afford and seem to look like a gay son of GQ and Esquire magazine.
    Great blog, happy I stumbled on it. Though I did find it through an associate at Brooks.

  30. @D.Phillip.Smithwick, wait, which Brooks Brothers stores are staffed exclusively by old, white men? I hyperventilate easily.

  31. D.Philip.Smithwick | January 26, 2015 at 5:38 pm |

    @Halby, the ground floor of 44th and Madison at the right time is staffed well, other than that even there it looks like an Affirmative Action collective. However, they’re not awful. If only we could clone Charlie at The Andover Store, or revert pre-1964.

  32. Come on Smithwick, the sales guys who happen to be black are the guys I’m on the friendliest terms with.

  33. A beautifully written piece, as always, Chris.

  34. D.Philip.Smithwick | January 26, 2015 at 7:55 pm |

    @Christian, some are great. The ones at Flatiron, and the one really petite guy at Mad are awful. My personal favorite is the old man who works upstairs in the custom fit section who has probably worked there for a good 30 years.

  35. D.Philip.Smithwick | January 26, 2015 at 7:56 pm |

    @Christian, perhaps you’re right and I am being a bit harsh.

  36. Ezra Cornell | January 26, 2015 at 8:29 pm |

    Ah, I’m afraid we get to some fearsome aspects of the BB critique. Reading the comments we get the sneaking suspicion that the problem is not with BB, but about a “lost” America run by the white, Northeastern “establishment.” Years ago (not ever exactly sure when, but let’s move on) we could walk into BB and be served by fellow whites who would mirror ourselves. Now we have “hipsters” or Affirmative Action collectives (what are those??) or — oh my — Hispanics!! Lions and tigers and bears.

    I find it deliciously ironic that the BB icon is a sheep. After all, we are all bleating about our independence and how we stand against the crowd, and then complaining that we can’t walk into a BB anymore and buy everything assured that it is “correct.” We may have to use discernment and decide what we like — on our own! Add to that the indignity of staff who have the nerve to be hipsters or Hispanic or somehow not a carbon copy of ourselves, reassuring us in purring tones that we really matter. Perhaps we want too much from BB, not from the clothes, but from the ideas and ideologies we push on it. We want a mirror, not a clothing shop.

    Yes, the hippies and the blacks and the Hispanics and BB. Thank God for them, and thank God for a country big enough to grow up.

  37. @Ezra Cornell

    Perhaps, you are correct. Perhaps, we should abandon the call for high standards and traditional practices. Maybe the sub-par state of things ought to be embraced as the new normal. After all, who needs excellence? This brand (nor this entire country, for that matter) never got anywhere by calling for the improvement or reform of great institutions. We ask too much, indeed.

    What we need is to cast off the burden of tradition. It seems that it served no greater purpose than to hinder our decline into complacency. It is certainly easier to be happy with whatever one is given. Wanting better for one’s self only results in impossibly high expectations.

    So let’s venture forth, hand in hand with our cultural opposites (who never cared much for our tradition to begin with). Let’s put those who know least in positions of authority, how else could they learn to be leaders?

    Surely this is the single best way to gain what we want, what we once had, and what we lost.

  38. Ezra that’s a mighty big brush you’re painting with.

    Smithwick, you’re painting with an even bigger and uglier one.

  39. Ezra Cornell | January 26, 2015 at 10:44 pm |

    @DCG You’re spot on. Mine’s a polemic, after all, and polemics don’t do well with pointillism. But I take your point and humbly agree. Thank goodness there is still room in the tradition for alternatives from what I’m railing against.

    @JDD What can I say? Your Wagnerian response so deftly reveals the disturbing undercurrents of this discussion that I can only thank you.

  40. C.L. Dodgson | January 27, 2015 at 12:37 am |

    This is getting interestinger and interestinger.

  41. Does anyone have even the slightest indication that BB is reading this? A notion? Huntch, even?

  42. D.Philip.Smithwick | January 27, 2015 at 1:08 am |

    @Ezra, did you get a little too upset? You seem to be awfully hurt. The logo is not a sheep, it is a Golden Fleece, which is a ram and the logo in whole is a symbol of authority and Kingship. Maybe read up on your Greek mythology? You seem well versed in this.
    Pardon my sarcasm, we northeastern elites are not good at regular hispanic folk humor.

  43. It’s a sad truth that Ezra isn’t completely off-base. I don’t think it’s representative of readers here, but we’ve all encountered it, sometimes right here on the interwebz…

  44. Eesh…

  45. D.Philip.Smithwick | January 27, 2015 at 1:14 am |

    @Ezra,I just have to add in this.
    If you want a poorly dressed, stoned, and poorly spoken person servicing you paying those prices maybe you should stick with J.Crew. It is evident you’re not a part of the culture that is supposed to represented when at Brooks Brothers, you can read how every detail from service to stitch is representative the culture in which they embody. You stay clear of the culture, people, and places of those exclusive New England and Northeastern elite est. and I’ll let you peacefully hang out at the closest Occupy event bragging about your freshest tattoo while complaining about corporate and elitist greed on your iPhone in your designer clothes.

  46. D.Philip.Smithwick | January 27, 2015 at 1:19 am |

    @DCG, I guess that is the difference between those who grew up in a more WASPy manner and those who did not.

  47. Ezra Cornell | January 27, 2015 at 1:29 am |

    @D.Philip.Smithwick: You argue my point brilliantly. While I learn my Greek mythology, you study up on jujutsu to see what just happened.
    Just to be clear: I never let my iPhone wear my designer clothes.

  48. H.H. Crowell | January 27, 2015 at 2:11 am |

    @George
    I’m sure that BB isn’t reading this.
    We already know they’re not interested in the opinions of those for whom traditional style is more than a way of dressing.

  49. A while back, with reference to the comments posted about the Supreme/Brooks Seersucker collaboration, I noted what I felt to be a bizarre neo-colonialist aspect of “Trad” that ran contrary to the inclusiveness that this site espauses. (Ezra Cornell’s concerns are my own: in Chicago, where I live, my Brooks shirts were measured and tailored by black people who weren’t stoned or curt, but highly skilled professionals who knew the ups and downs of what I was purchasing and consulted with me accordingly.) D.Philip.Smithwick and his ilk are indicative of this, for the entire purpose of this post and the one that inspired it was not to denigrate the people who purchase and sell Brooks, but the quality of what is sold by the company. That the debate–if you can even call it that–has digressed into blaming a company’s decline on Affirmative Action and sales associates feigning homosexual tendencies is my point entirely.

    Furthermore, with all due respect to the editorial board of this website, a huge fuss was made over the disparate nature of whether or not turtlenecks were acceptable under oxfords as an extra layer vs. an individual pontification on what people’s preferences are with regards to winter wear–to the point of those comments being deleted! And yet utter silence on an individual using race and sexual orientation as a criteria to denigrate salespeople. Brooks indeed does not have its priorities straight, but perhaps they aren’t the only ones.

  50. D. Philip Southwick, where do you purchase your white oxford cloth robe and pointy hat from?

    By the the way, it’s “lose every customer”, not “loose…”

  51. I can’t believe anyone would pay upwards of $60.00 (or more) for a KJP belt (no offense to Kiel….if folks are buying, I can’t blame him) when Leatherman has been selling nearly identical (as well as different and more interesting) styles for half the price for decades. The internet is tailor made for the uneducated consumer.

  52. Charlottesville | January 27, 2015 at 10:15 am |

    Wow, some of these comments have turned ugly. I have shopped at Brooks, mainly the Madison and 44th flagship and the downtown Washington, DC outpost, for decades. True, the merchandise has gone downhill, most of the styling no longer appeals, and the sales staff, with some notable exceptions, is neither knowledgeable nor helpful. However, one of the most notable exceptions to this sad state of affairs is Tom Davis, the dapper gentleman who has manned the custom shirt department at the flagship store for years, professionally, helpfully and knowledgably. He has worked at Brooks since 1967 (!) and also happens to be black. I’ll take Mr. Davis over a clueless Wasp in a skinny suit anytime. Or over a racist in an impeccable 3/2 sack, for that matter.

  53. @AEV

    Talk about having an agenda. Chris writes a thoughtful piece about BB and the only thing you respond to is the mention of KJP.

    I mean, you could have put finger to keyboard to weigh in on this far more intriguing and subtle notion:

    “In the Brooks Brothers x KJP collaboration, it seems like KJP was the status lender and that Brooks Brothers was the status borrower, turning my paradigm completely upside down.”

  54. One thing about Ivy Style is that it is awfully hard to distinguish trolls from real commenters. For instance, Is D.Philip.Smithwick really a 25 year old-ish banker who has been shopping for himself at Brooks Brothers since the age of 10 and who longs for the days prior to civil rights or is he a troll?

    I am not saying that he is not real. He may very well be, but I find myself asking this question a lot when reading this blog.

  55. @Oxford Cloth Button Down

    I had a sneaking suspicion that Smithwick wasn’t real, and decided to do a bit of googling. Thanks to that, I discovered Smithwick’s ale:

    http://www.smithwicks.ie/landing.html

  56. @OCBD

    A lot? Who else here smells like a troll?

    (I mean, except Lil M. and Tom Q.)

  57. Charlottesville | January 27, 2015 at 11:32 am |

    Dear OCBD — As always, the voice of reason. You are no doubt correct and I am too easily gulled by morons trying to stir up trouble. What an odd idea of fun some people have. As for the Smithwick’s Ale unearthed by Mr. Frost, count me in, please.

  58. @CC –

    What’s my agenda, exactly? Critiques of my “agenda(s)” seem to shift as you and others decide you don’t care for or disagree with my comments….an interesting strategy for a guy who runs a blog with an open comments section.

    In any event, no – I didn’t find Chris’s pseudo-intellectual comment about ‘status lendin’g to be interesting at all. Sorry. It struck me as glaringly obvious what Brooks was after via the KJP “collaboration”. Conversely, it’s always struck me as amazing that newcomers like KJP, and dozens of others, can get away with copying designs of more established brands and duping consumers into paying double or triple the cost for the same articles….that, under the umbrella of “Ivy” and “traditional”, seems far more paradoxical to me than Brooks Brothers chasing dollars and eroding it’s brand….as numerous other firms have done for decades (e.g. RL Chaps, Barbour, L.L. Bean, Lands’ End, J. Press, etc….).

  59. @AEV

    Exactly: an open comments section, which means people will disagree with you and also question your motivations when commenting.

    As for BB, was just reflecting on the strange times we live in: It plans to open 15 stores in the United Arab Emirates and 20 in India, but has trouble pleasing its historic core customer base right in its own legendary flagship.

  60. @CC – I have, nor have I ever, had an issue with people disagreeing with me. In fact, I expect it (on here in particular). You, however, aggressively confronting commenters when you don’t care for their comments – as you just did with me – is an entirely different issue….

    Again, I don’t find what’s going on with Brooks strange at all. Too bad, but not strange or confusing. It’s chasing the same emerging market/new money dollars dozens of other mid to high market firms are…..it’s the same reason LVMH and similar groups have seen most of their recent growth in those same markets. Is this really debatable or noteworthy?

  61. A not-at-all-entirely-different-issue — in fact the same old same old — is your “aggressive confronting” of KJP and FEC at any possible opportunity.

    Speaking of the latter, he is apparently under the impression that he dresses like an old man, a view not likely shared by anyone else on planet earth.

    Puzzling, that…

  62. I see – so you’ve managed to turn this around in your head. I comment on your blog (in response to another commenter’s and the author’s references to KJP), you confront and disagree with me in the comments section, and the issue is somehow me “aggressively confronting” KJP. Phew – that sure takes some mental gymnastics.

    Right. Please do tell when the last time was I mentioned KJP on your blog…..(outside of your recent posts re: Brooks Brothers). Go dig, I can wait.

    Yes, I did notice you confront Fred on twitter regarding his old man comment. Ironic indeed.

  63. Wanted to say thanks to S.E., OldSchool, Sartre and any other well-wishers I might have missed. I saw some familiar people I admire on face book liked it also. So thanks. A tip of the hat to Daniel for switching my focus from t-necks to Brooks Brothers.

    On the subjects of belts Leatherman Ltd. sells a macramé belt for $40.00. Barrons-Hunter one for $45.00. I have been lead to believe in the past that this is the belt some feel is either better or what was copied. I on the other hand, believe it is a belt of a more obscure design that KJP dressed up and took to town. If the original is still available today, I believe it would have a price point more then the offering of Leatherman Ltd. and Barrons-Hunter.

  64. Time for a change of topic?

  65. Suggestions?

  66. @C. Sharp – none of what you just wrote re: the belts made any sense at all.

    The fact stands: you can buy other, similarly styled belts, made in the USA of similar materials, for 20-80% less money than KJP charges. If you think his styles are worth the extra money, I’d love to understand why. I have owned a few Leatherman Ltd. cotton (and nylon) macramé belts (many purchased well before the prices were anywhere close to $40) and they’ve all lasted many years. Last I checked KJP’s macramé styles are $88+ and include his logo emblazoned on the tab….something I can do without.

  67. Bags' Groove | January 27, 2015 at 2:03 pm |

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think we’ve yet covered BB’s socks or underpants down through the ages.

  68. What a joy life must be, AEV, contemplating the belt purchase, setting up the spread sheet, searching the Web for the requisite handful of “similar” products to compare, entering the data, applying your formula…a completely rational act, like buying a dishwasher from Home Depot.

  69. @Christian, there seems to be at least one troll per post or at least one comment per post that was added intended to troll others. And yes I frequently have to ask myself, “Do they really believe what they are saying or are they trolling for a response?”

  70. Charlottesville | January 27, 2015 at 3:05 pm |

    As for possible topics, where do the commenters come out on the starch/no starch question regarding OCBDs? When I was in school (70s-80s) I recall some fellows with collars starched to such stiffness that one could play handball off of them. This may have been a southern phenomenon, but I do not know. While tending toward the starchy look in my youth, I go for the more comfortable soft collar these days. If I want to look polished, or if the laundry did a sloppy job, I may touch up the collar with a steam iron, but no starch. The detachable wing collar for evening wear is of course a different matter entirely.

  71. @OCBD

    I thought it was just our famous opinionated and argumentative readership, who, I might add, smack down trolls pretty quickly.

  72. @Sartre –

    Oh, I get it. Sartre. Right – overpay by 100% for a belt? Who cares? With such a meaningless and absurd world, why even think about the money, right? My focus on the cost/value is too abstract, too remote for our concrete human existence…..but for you: Ivy blogs, that’s where the meaning is…..

    Jesus. Freak show.

  73. Talk about aggressively confrontational!

  74. ….I see you’re still trying to dig yourself out of the last ironic, contradiction hole you fell in, huh?

  75. Spare a thought for those BB customers who live overseas. After a few years buying my US made oxfords and other essentials from their online site I have now been informed by Brooks Brothers that from 2015 only the new Australian store will be available for online purchases.
    This ‘branch’ of BB stocks only a tiny quantity of last seasons sale items, all of which are Red Fleece extra-slim models of fairly hideous design. I am blocked from even looking at the US site.
    So that’s my lot with this company. Will never purchase from them again.

  76. Barrons Hunter. This brings back fond memories of shopping at Ivy/Preppy outposts before the arrival of the interwebs. One such sport, adjacent to UVA, kept a healthy stock of Barrons-Hunter ribbons belts. Best I recall, a local (Albemarle County) maker.

    So…here’s a fun question. Okay, maybe not fun. At least interesting.

    If you were in charge of Brooks for one year, what would you do? The governing board has given you carte blanche (did I spell that right? Track record for French catch phrases ain’t so great). King of Brooks for a day, and, by day, I mean 12 months.

    Oh, and, there’s this–the board doesn’t care about massive profits anymore. They want to reestablish the brand. They want someone to lead them in the effort to make the Brooks label the delightfully elite label it was once was. In other words–you get to be a snob about this.

  77. I’ll start. They’d enter into a longstanding contract with Atkinsons. The result: Irish Poplin striped and emblematic (themed) neckwear in every possible combination.

    http://www.atkinsonsties.com

    They they would work with Jamieson’s on a new line of woven-and-made-in-Scotland shetland crew necks. Yarns unique to Brooks.

    http://www.jamiesonsofshetland.co.uk

    Then they would work with Bonner of Ireland on the best looking tennis sweater ever (maroon, navy stripe), in both shetland and lambswool.

    http://www.bonnerofireland.com

    Then they would work with the American woolen company so they owned their own weaving company. They could introduce their own versions of flannel, tropical wool, gabardine, and so on.

    http://americanwoolen.com

    Okay, enough from me.

  78. Correction. “…so they had a unique relationship with an American weaving company…”

  79. @SE. I think they already tried this in the early/mid 2000s, after Claudio del Vecchio bought the company. They suddenly stocked tailcoats and morning dress again, offered Golden Fleece detachable collar shirts, published elaborate, hundreds-of-pages-long ‘heritage’ catalogs, offered 3/2 configured suits and sportcoats at the Golden Fleece level, bragged about their domestic and British-manufactured goods, etc. etc.

    Then the Great Recession hit, and they both scaled back and resumed their earlier trend of appealing to a global sense of fashion rather than an East Coast sense of style. Since they are a global brand, I guess that result is inevitable.

    Ultimately, asking Brooks Brothers to be what it was when it was domestic and regional is unrealistic. In the late 1960s, there were 10 stores, located in eight U.S cities, all on the East or West coasts, plus Chicago. There are now around 300 worldwide, as well as the web site.

    So getting back to your question, maybe the answer would be for BB to offer a regional specialty, sort of an East Coast line of products that might appeal to the old guard and its heirs, but that would be offered as a subset of their overall global fashion approach. They’ve made stabs at this, such as Own Make, but unfortunately have let fashion get in the way, such as with the jackets being too short in the manner of Thom Browne. For this to work, they would have to stick with traditional designs, materials and quality, and offer the items as legitimate, normal clothes, rather than as costume like the Gatsby product line.

    They already offer this, as a combination of existing products (OCBDs, 3/2 blazer, etc.) and MTM options via Southwick. Perhaps they could bring these things together into a coherent RTW one-stop shop. It would have to be robust, more so than, say, the University line from 6 or 8 years ago, which didn’t offer enough items in total.

    Sort of like a reverse Black Fleece or Red Fleece – a subset of the overall brand, but anti-fashion instead of fashion. They could call it, say, Silver Fleece. I was going to say Gray Fleece but that would make the problem with this idea too obvious.

  80. @Christian, there was a failed attempt at humor in my statement

  81. Very astute timeline and analysis by Taliesin, and I think most agree with the direction SE is going.

    There are so many SKUs, as they say in retail, or products in the men’s department. Well into the hundreds if not thousands. You’d think that with so many of them destined for the clearance table, random items like ponchos and hybrid sportcoat/hoodies with embroidery, that it wouldn’t be any worse of a dice roll to put out a dozen or two classics to please the arch-purists, who would happily let the company go about being a global fashion brand as long as it demonstrated the ability to provide die-hards with things such as an unlined-collar buttondown and jackets cut in the old way (not the Own Make cut).

    And has anyone else noticed the poor quality of buttons? This sounds trivial, but I think it’s an important sign of attention to detail as well as an overall signal of quality, pride in the product and respect for the consumer. I never feel the need to change buttons on Polo trousers or sportcoats, but I have to change buttons on everything I get from BB, including an overcoat I bought this season and this sportcoat, which I think is otherwise very well made (as does Critt Rawlings):

    http://www.ivy-style.com/brooks-brothers-made-in-china-better-than-brioni.html

    Or take grey flannels, for example. Polo’s are superior in cloth and construction, but they also run $450 instead of $250. But you’d think BB could spend $1 more on buttons and just make it back by pricing the trousers at $260.

  82. @S.E

    If I were in charge I’d sell BB to Ralph Lauren with the proviso that a new RL division would be created called ‘Brooks Brothers Legacy’ that sold only classic BB lines sourced from heritage companies. This line would be available worldwide.

  83. Vern Trotter | January 27, 2015 at 7:16 pm |

    Buttons and buttonholes were one of the first to go bad years ago with Brooks. About the same time the collar roll went missing.

  84. Well stated, Taliesen.

    You use the word “unrealistic.”

    I am now just dreaming out loud. I know that nothing I mentioned will happen. I’m just giving myself (and others) permission to imagine a future that will never be an actual future.

    I give the 3/2 sack blazer five years. And the button downs will get worse before they get better.

  85. Oh, yes–

    Return to Individualized for the shirts.

  86. If I ran BB I’d ramp up production of these Moon Boots and put all other products on the back burner. Business 101.

    http://www.brooksbrothers.com/Moon-Boots/0084,default,pd.html

  87. With the departure in 1989 of Mr. Frank T Reilly, Chairman & CEO of the heralded and venerable mens clothing store known as Brooks Brothers located on 346 Madison Ave, a well respected era of how to properly dress and impress which had begun under the brothers Henry Sands Brooks in 1818 had come to an unintended and unfortunate demise. Mr. Reilly’s successor would become Mr. William V. Roberti, the predecessor to the top corporate spot running Zale Corp., a unit of Peoples Jewelers LTD. The beginning of the B2 downturn, all the proper clothing that eschewed the meaning of social etiquette and properness had virtually disappeared from the shelves. And as a staunch believer in tradition, and an upper level management employee of B2, I too left the shelves (and employment) and continue to cherish the classic items I bought prior to Mr. Reilly’s departure.

  88. I just wanted to make the comment that while I suppose BB is somewhat of a shell…their 90’s interpretation still provided me with a peek into what a “traditional” manner of dress is. My Dad has always been a trad gent, having actually come through during the 60’s Ivy/Trad heyday. I would peek into his wardrobe and spied the familiar Brooks Brothers label (in addition to Polo, or even the occasional Stafford). What my Dad impressed upon me was that while some other brands were okay, they all took their cues from what Brooks did. Now, it seems Brooks is following the fleeting trends of folks like KJP & Thom Browne.

    Someone made the comment earlier, but it seems the people behind BB seem to be more interested in peddling a soft-serve self-iconic version of the brand that appeals more to the laymen. Sadly, when this “Mad Men” phase passes and the bandwagons have latched onto the next thing, BB is going to have a hell of time rallying the old troops around the flag.

  89. I agree with AEV’s comment:

    “Again, I don’t find what’s going on with Brooks strange at all. Too bad, but not strange or confusing. It’s chasing the same emerging market/new money dollars dozens of other mid to high market firms are…..it’s the same reason LVMH and similar groups have seen most of their recent growth in those same markets. Is this really debatable or noteworthy?”

    S.E. As for King for a day, I would expand right where BB is doing so and analyze growth in South America as well. That’s where the growth/money is!

  90. The Brooks of bygone days was, we are led to conclude, an Anglophile’s dream-come-to-life. The older catalogs I’ve seen bear witness. One can’t ponder that older, tweedy Brooks aloud in anything but Mid Atlantic English. Very old, elegant Manhattan. You know– Where Pete Campbell’s father shopped.

    That world isn’t entirely gone. Indeed, more than mere remnants survive and even thrive in Southern suburbs and cities. Standing athwart history yelling stop and such.

    A few years ago, Paul Winston (of Chipp) observed that the two schools he affiliated with “better” traditional style were (are) the University of Virginia and Princeton, the most southern of the Ivies. This makes sense.

  91. I have enough gray flannel trousers, chinos, repp stripe ties, blue and white OCBD shirts, and tweed jackets stored up to last me the rest of my life. Might I suggest that others do the same and then just sit back and watch Brooks Brothers eventually disappear, as it deserves.

  92. I forgot to mention navy blazers.

  93. The last word (probably) from me is that they saved Southwick. Since the majority of better men’s stores in the USA use Southwick MTM, it might be said that Brooks is supporting (has a stake in) O’ Connell’s, The Andover Shop, Wm. King Clothiers, Drinkwater’s, MS McClellan’s, Peter Blair, Cable Car, and on and on and on.

    Southeick’s natural shoulder is superb. Better than recent attempts by Hickey Freeman, Samuelsohn, and even Adrian Jules.

    So, in a very real sense, the saga continues. And Brooks remains at the helm. It’s comic, actually. The old natural shoulder makers bit the dust–Norman Hilton, Linett, Gordon of Philadelphia.

    Southwick–uh, Brooks, rather–lives.

  94. I wonder that around are relatively few articles and discussions on Southwick.
    If it is the real temple of the American sack suit in 2010s (and i believe so) why we speak so much of Brooks Brothers and so few of Southwick?
    Wait that Southwick shut for to say “Ah,those good old days when there was Southwick”!

  95. Carmelo – I would say because Southwick is not RTW and not readily available for MTM everywhere. The closest Southwick retailer to me is 3 hours away. For example, there is not one Southwick retailer in Columbus, OH.

  96. Charlottesville | January 28, 2015 at 1:45 pm |

    OCBD and Carmelo – I agree. Southwick is a great company, but they are a manufacturer, rather than a retailer. There are 2 local men’s stores in my town that carry Southwick, but it is available (almost) exclusively as a made-to-measure option. I have not seen a 3-button sack in either location in many years, and other makers’ suits are far more commonly displayed. While it is great to have the MTM option, Brooks, at least formerly, was a full service retailer, selling dependable merchandise off the rack, from hats to shoes, and everything in between. O’Connell’s seems to occupy that spot today, but shopping there entails either a long trek to upstate NY, or ordering on line, which is fine but hardly the same as personal shopping. I know we are all crying over spilt milk, but there it is.

  97. I took another look at Southwick’s dealer directory. Impressive. Pretty much every better men’s store in the country.

    I know of a local haberdasher who (very discreetly and quietly) uses Southwick for their house label clothing.

    The (well chronicled) relationship between Brooks and Grieco Bros. extends back many decades.

  98. What “ivy” men’s shops around the country didn’t carry Southwick.

  99. Chris was definitely right about Kiel lending the status. He and Sarah are in company with Scott & Zelda, JFK & Jackie, Ralph & Ricky, Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco, and Will & Kate:

    http://www.townandcountrymag.com/style/fashion-trends/news/g1073/the-preppiest-couples-of-all-time/

    That is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen!

  100. I think AEV’s head just exploded…

  101. Anne Nonymous | January 28, 2015 at 6:10 pm |

    What, Muffy and Clark didn’t make that T&C preppiest couples list too? Must be an omission…

  102. @ Anne Nonymous – No mistake at all. What happened was the editor for Town & Country attempted to go to Muffy’s site, but was somehow redirected to “Classy Girls Wear Pearls”, where most of the GOMI/Ivy-Style visitors are auto-redirected too. Upon landing on CGWP, the T&C editors fell madly in love with KJP & Sarah and decided to add them to their list. Oh well. #truestory

  103. NaturalShoulder | January 28, 2015 at 9:55 pm |

    I have been quite happy with my Southwick MTM purchases from my local retailer. They do offer a superb natural shoulder. While it would be nice to pop in and pick up a Douglas model and try it on, MTM does offer the opportunity to pick the exact fabric and specify details.

  104. T&C is a half notch above People Magazine.

  105. @AEV Here here! Best comment of the tome-ridden lot. In the same vein of “The New Yorker,” T&C is dreck positioned as a cognoscenti style rag yet marketed directly at the Hoi Polloi.

    Brooks has become so nouveau riche; it oozes out its slim fit pores. It’s as an attention seeking middle aged woman, dying to be noticed by acting like something she’s not. Brooks has gone awhoring and even if she did come back to us, it would never be the same. I get 15% due to corporate perks and even if they were on clearance I wouldn’t but one of those chincey looking bracelets. Boys who wear jewelry are parvenu.

  106. Dutch Uncle | January 30, 2015 at 2:18 am |

    @WFBjr

    Here! Here! as far as your observations re T&C, Brooks, and boys who wear jewelry, but please give “The New Yorker” another chance.
    It’s one of my last ties with civilization and civility.

  107. All this trad semantic
    reveals we’re surely panicked–
    We lamenting Mid-Atlantic
    conservative romantics.

  108. @Dutch it’s a love hate relationship that I have with the NYer. I’ll find myself enjoying certain contributors but loathing the sanctimonious veneer as a whole. Such an Upper Middle, aspirational, wink-nod air; it’s almost stifling.

  109. Bags' Groove | January 30, 2015 at 10:13 am |

    @WFBjr—–Maybe it is an absence of the irreplaceable John Updike that is now making The New Yorker almost stifling to you. Oh how I miss him.

  110. Decline? I’d call it a 30-year decomposition. The following anecdote may illustrate the state of the corpse. A few years ago I bought (for almost $700) one of their blazers. After the first dry cleaning (by an excellent cleaner) it had puckered all along the front darts–an obvious result of cheap, shoddy fusing. I tried to return it. The managers of two stores refused to take it back. Don’t you even see the defect? I asked. Sure, they said, but that’s just the way it is. I gave it to Goodwill just the way it was.

    I suppose I’ll have to make do with my memories of a better time. At age 73 I have a few. One is illustrative. In 1944 my father (then on leave from the Army Air Corps) took me to the Madison Ave. store and bought me my first necktie, a dark green silk knit. I have and often wear it to this day. Nothing remotely shabby about it.

  111. @Frederic

    I’m around the same age as you, and my oldest tie is a BB silk knit that I’ve had since 1964. Yes, I too often wear it, and it’s in excellent health.

  112. I am amused that so many well-educated WASPs — including at least one banker — ignore economic fundamentals that forced Brooks Brothers to change.

    1. Demand for Ivy style has declined. The prime suit buyers — I’m guessing men 20-50 years old — are not looking for a roomy 3-2 sack. They want something that follows their body shape and is otherwise minimalist in style. There’s no market for the Preppy Handbook today.

    2. Companies must grow or they will die. Shareholders won’t tolerate flat sales.

    3. Competition has increased. Internet and independent retailers now offer a wider range of choices, which has enticed buyers to look around. In fact, they can buy a good-quality made-to-measure suit at half the the cost of an off-the-rack BB suit.

    So it’s no surprise that BB now offers more styles and cuts to increase it’s customer base and quarterly profits. That quality suffered as a result shouldn’t be a surprise either.

    However, it’s utterly ironic that the Northeast elites built this brutally competitive economy and now it’s killing their favorite store. What the hell did you expect?

  113. That’ll leave a mark, ouch! ;-0

  114. Jeff makes perfect sense. He omits only one thing: selling crap at astronomical prices–and refusing to stand by their merchandise–makes Brooks a traitor to the very people who put them on the map in the first place.

  115. The Brooks Brothers Moon Boot? I pulled a copy of the Christmas 1985 catalogue to compare. In those days, ladies could order the following shoes, slippers, and boots:

    “Our popular tasselled slip-on features supple leather uppers and a comfortable low heel. Black, white, wine, chino, brown calfskin, and black patent.”

    “Hand-stitched brown leather tassel slip-ons.”

    “Royal Stewart Tartan scuffs”

    “exclusive suede slippers with matching bow and soft shearling lining”

    “English cuff slippers”

    “Brave any Winter weather in these English taupe suede storm boots. Lined in warm shearling with side zipper.”

    “Exclusive black patent leather tuxedo shoes with 1″ heel, faille bow, leather sole and lining.” (The word “tuxedo,” although used here to describe a ladies’ shoe, appears nowhere on the pages offering men’s evening wear, used either as an adjective or a noun. Instead, one could order “formal vests,” a “white-on-white silk evening scarf,” “evening hose,” and a pair of “black patent leather evening shoes” to wear with a “dinner jacket and trousers,” “dress braces,” and “white evening shirts” with either 4 or 6 pleats.)

  116. Granted my economics education didn’t stretch beyond high school, but I’m unconvinced that Brooks trajectory was inevitable. To cite just a couple examples, Ralph Lauren does a better job with mass market, while Paul Stuart does better with niche market.

    I also don’t believe that Brooks Brothers once slavishly catered to a particular subset of Americans that it now spurns. The customers determined what was offered to an extent, but they were also introduced themselves to items by the company. Some took, some didn’t, but all of it fit within the Brooks Brothers “genre” if you will. A nice balance between tradition and innovation, I think. Now it seems like Brooks Brothers will sell anything at all. I don’t see this as the natural course of capitalism, I see it as confusion.

  117. The only thing that Claudio Del Vecchio and his corporate team truly understands is the almighty dollar, so if you want to make the most change at Brooks, just put your dollar to work. Buy the staples. And complain to your salesman that it isn’t what it used to be. If Mr. Del Vecchio notices a drop in sales for their oxford cloth shirts, he is so detached from the salesmen on the floor that it will only occur to him that “they must not be popular anymore—why produce them? let’s cut cost here somewhere; make them thinner, let’s do less quality control here. whereas our non-irons are over performing; let’s put some more money (advertising, quality control, etc.) into that.” This is how this man thinks. Use the persuasiveness of your dollar to make the change at Brooks. Maybe eventually if sales pick up, he’ll take notice and make some improvements. There is no short-term solution other than taking your business elsewhere, but that won’t solve anything at Brooks. They’ll still make the same mistakes, and likely, make them worse. They have no repartee with their customers any longer (at least corporate at 346). They only imagine what the customer “out there” is like, now, and try to sell to “him.” At Madison Avenue, the managers used to have a desk on the sales floor of each department that they managed, and on their breaks, the head buyer for that department would sit at that desk. They were right by the elevators on each floor, and customers could go right up and have a conversation with them about their merchandise. Forget about this now. Floors 6-10 operate as a different company. Anyway, that’s my two cents. Brooks was here before Mr. Del Vecchio, and it will be here after him. I still buy the oxford shirts, and some of the shoes. The made to measure program with Nick Polito is still decent, and there are still a few quality salesmen there (Mario Mirabella, Tom Davis) who really know their stuff. Through thick and thin. My dollar will go to Brooks whether it’s an Italian or a Japanese company (or whatever), because to me, as long as I can get some quality goods there at a reasonable price that will hold up, they’ve earned my money. Best to you all.

  118. BB’s decline and fall are a source of sadness, but its death will not be mourned

  119. E.Conrad Urquart | February 3, 2015 at 1:31 pm |

    @Jeff
    Do you really think the US is a brutally competitive market? If so you really do not grasp economics. The US has become a nation that rewards failure and mediocrity. Look at our schools, universities, public sector, and the calls from people like Al Sharpton who say we should promote based on race and not merit. We live in a post WASP economic Adam Smith economy, that ended with FDR, Nixon, and then latter the Bush then Obama bait outs. This is a regulated economy far from invisible hand.
    Excuse me, it may be my economics degree and advanced degree speaking, or my years in the economics field working primarily on labor and wage research analysis or my current work in international mergers and acquisitions. The US is far from the British, Chinese, Singaporean, Japanese, Korean, Irish, or even Canadian economy in terms of competitiveness.
    However before you attack WASPs or NE elites, you may want to make sure your facts are all right. BB is a privately held company, the CEO does not have shareholders to answer too, nice try though.
    Also if you refer to Tesla flat or dropping sales do not always result in downtrend stock price, in fact a drop in sales can mean an oust in CEO and a boost in stock price, which would make a shareholder happy. You must have just taken freshman finance or econ…

  120. E.Conrad Urquart | February 3, 2015 at 1:37 pm |

    @Frederic
    I experienced the same thing with my blazer. (3 years ago now)
    After the first time wearing it to an alumni weekend event it severely needed dry cleaning, the scent of whiskey and cigars are not the wifes’ favorite when the kids are around.
    I initially thought my cleaner ripped the stitching on the back, however after stupidly buying another had the same instance occur after about 3 months of summer usage. (Meaning Sunday brunches, Nantucket, and Newport so not everyday use)
    When I took back both they said it is my fault and there is nothing I can do.
    Hopefully you still have some of the older stuff to put a smile on when the times get down haha.

  121. In a privately held company, the CEO still has shareholders to answer to. I should think that in a publicly traded company the shareholders may be more passive than in a privately held company.

  122. E.Conrad Urquart | February 3, 2015 at 1:45 pm |

    @Vito
    I was referencing their power of exercise.
    There is a lot less power a CEO has in a publicly traded company versus a privately held company.
    I was poorly worded and written, I’m rushing my writing.

  123. Mr. Urquart, you make some great points, and I stand corrected about BB being a private business.

    However, you miss my point about Brooks Brothers. It cut its quality in response to the decreased demand for Ivy style and the increased competition. They were getting squeezed and had no where else to turn. Would you have expected them to cut their prices and profits instead?

    As for the larger point about competition, regulations are not necessarily anti-competition. In fact, they can create competition. For instance, landline, wireless and cable companies are constantly trying to rig regulations to benefit one technology over another. These battles are ruthless because there are billions of dollars at stake and shareholders demand success.

    Plus, I would point out that the Bush bailout came about precisely because regulators failed to prevent reckless banks from making very risky and even shady investments. And those banks did it because they had shareholders who demanded increased growth instead of steady profits. Perhaps you opposed the bailout, but it’s not difficult to find economists who believe it worked. I’m more worried about how we got in that position in the first place.

  124. Fitting, quality, comfort and service equals satisfaction attached to a price tag that reflected the latter was what BB offered to their customers. Men that through the years enjoyed those abilities regardless of color, social status or for that matter geographical location, and that wanted to enjoy all of the benefits previously mentioned to endure elegance, presence and sartorial knowledge while obtaining social approval for the classic selection of their appearance, are almost gone. Politics, economic strategies and social values changes have influenced the degenerative general concept of social etiquette. It seems that all those factors are from a bygone period when there was a permanency that no longer occur, the tradition inculcated from fathers to sons or other mentors to educate the next generation. All this reasons reflect the debauchery of the once mighty BB. Times are once again changing, perhaps there still some hope.

  125. Tortoiseshell | February 5, 2015 at 11:56 pm |

    Just noticed 125 comments on “The Ghost of 346 Madison”. Which article holds the record for the greatest number of comments?

  126. That would be the UVA thread, with over 300 comments plus a hundred more that were deleted.

  127. Vern Trotter | May 28, 2015 at 11:38 am |

    I see this thread finally ended. In my not so humble opinion, as Taki always says, the best comments were by SE, Frederic, Old School, WFBjr, Charlottesville, Craig Eney, Roy R. Platt, Taliesin, OCBD.

    Nice that so many care about an American institution that has now gone down the toliet.

  128. I have read many of the comments about Brooks and I will add my two cents. I am 51 years old. My father Jewish, my mother Protestant. I grew up wearing knickers from the Brooks boys department. Then moved on to Brooksgate and then a job at Christmas because my parents split up and mom felt this an appropriate place for me to work. That said, I do agree with whats been said about the change at Brooks. It hurt at first. Like I had been punched in the stomach. Eventually, I boycotted the store entirely (I’ll show them, right?). So here’s what I did. I shopped at other traditional stores and sampled their products. At first, I was in love, and why not? It was new and different. But then when I settled in, some things started to become apparent, namely, that Brooks wasn’t the only store that had changed. Most every one else had changed as well. For example, J Press, Oconnells or the Andover Shop do not carry oxford cloth shirts that are as a good quality as Brooks. To begin with, Brooks oxford cloth (they use American grown cotton) is unique because of the tightness of the weave and the very specific color palette. It still has 1/4″ stitching, placket buttons that are equidistant, and shirt tails that get longer with the sleeve length. As for the collar, has it changed, you betcha. But so has every one else’s. Most collar length’s today are less than 3 and 1/4′ (Press, O’Connells basic oxford, Andover shop). And while Mercer makes a fine shirt with a great roll in the collar (almost all of it is made to measure), his fabric in my opinion does not compare to Brooks (I also don’t like the off button sleeve). The problem with the Brooks collar is that their factory (they are still making their oxford shirts in their own USA factory. Who else does that? Uh, no one) is inconsistent with cutting the collar lengths, which are supposed to be 3 and 3/8″ in length. But overall, their oxford, in my opinion, still blows away the competition. As for their ties (still made in New York), if you like repp ties, their selection is still the best choice (I personally prefer the guard strip in burgundy and navy or green and navy because they are still cut very thick through the middle portion of the tie and produce a nice, full four-in-hand). Okay, the suits could use some work because the shoulders are too padded. But they are still made in America (Del Vecchio bought Southwick in 2008). Personally, I get my suits at Paul Stuart because the shoulder there is still very natural and they offer a center vent suit in their starter suits.

    I guess my point is that before you continue to bash Brooks, you have to realize that the world has changed. Today, I go to Brooks for my Traditional cut (mainly blue) American made oxford cloth shirt and their ties, which are a good value for the money, but that’s about it. I wish they carried Scottish Shetlands, but they don’t, so I go to O’Connells. If I needed a good lambswool sweater, again, I would go to O’Connell’s (thick wool, saddle shoulder and turn-back cuff). As for the rest of the posts, honestly, some of you need to get a life, or at least a hobby. Your whole life can’t be about Brooks. Dressing well, or even quality dressing, isn’t about where you buy the article of clothing, whats truly important is that it is the genuine article. At Brooks, there are still good things to be had: (i) OCBD, (ii) ties (particularly stripes), (iii) shoes, (iv) suits (their made to measure prices can be very attractive), (v) their American made sport shirts (although the patterns don’t appeal to my tastes).

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