The Millennial Fogey: Why Do We Get So Worked Up Over Brooks Brothers?

bbfaceDaniel C. Greenwood (“DCG” in the comments section, and the singer in our Christmas recital video) herein debuts the first in a series of musings on the current retail landscape for trad clothing. He brings a fresh and young voice to Ivy Style, being under 30 yet with a great interest in this style’s long history. Having had the face of a 35-year-old since before he started shaving, Greenwood’s column will go by the name The Millennial Fogey.

* * *

Sitting on the train recently something stole my attention from my better half. As I furiously hammered away at my smart phone, she asked me if everything was OK, and was suprised I said of course. Apparently she thought I was dealing with some terrible emergency.

In fact I was commenting on a Brooks Brothers social media post describing dressing up sweatpants with a navy blazer.

In my increasingly excited state, I rattled off a whole list of changes I wanted to see: taking the lining out of the oxford collars, fixing the fit of Own Make and bringing the price down, improving the design of its paisley ties, the rise and finish of its khakis — I could have gone on all day. My ever-patient girlfriend rolled her eyes and watched me chew out a billion-dollar apparel company on the Internet.

Strange how I don’t have the kind of arguments with my girlfriend that I do with Brooks Brothers.

What is it about Brooks Brothers that inspires such passion in us? More to the point, why has the relationship between traditional menswear consumers and Brooks Brothers gotten so dysfunctional? Naturally there are men who were Brooks Brothers customers in the good ol’ days of the Ivy heyday through the late ’80s, and can quickly list everything they miss about the Brooks of yore. There are also younger menswear enthusiasts who comb through Internet archives, photographs, illustrated catalogues, and other evidence of this once beyond-reproach institution of American style and can’t help but agonize that we were born too late.

Many of us with buttoned-down parents fall somewhere in the middle. As a member of the millennial generation,  I can’t say I have first-hand knowledge of what the store was like before I was born. My memories start as the store was sliding towards its sale to Marks & Spencer. Still, I have a cherished photograph of four generations of my family, three wearing Brooks Brothers shirts (I was just a newborn, otherwise I’d have been wearing one as well). There’s the story of my grandfather finding his uncle sitting upright in a red Brooks Brothers blazer and English-made shoes, whisky in hand, having just died. I still have the pincord suit and the cotton sport coat handed down to me by my father to wear to summer dances on Cape Cod. I’ve also kept my first Brooks Brothers bow tie, a gift from my parents that included a lesson on tying it.

If Ivy Style readers chastise Brooks Brothers rather wantonly in the comments section it’s because they have a passionate relationship with the brand. Traditionalists past and present owe much of their taste for natural shoulders, softly rolling button downs, and ancient madder ties to the very company they now beg to revive them. We plead for quality clothing of impeccable taste sold at a reasonable prices because Brooks Brothers all but invented the idea. If our standards remain high, it’s because Brooks Brothers gave us such standards. We’re like the devoted fans of a champion sports team and get furious when the guys strike out, fumble, or miss a penalty kick.

There are still reasons to hope. Own Make is a promising sign (despite its odd fit). There are still excellent ties to be found (although the modern paisleys and madders can’t compare with vintage Brooks). There are still beautiful English shoes to ogle. Can Brooks Brothers ever reconcile its international growth strategy with the historic legacy of serving a relatively small market segment? Can it become a tastemaker once more, rather than a follower of trend forecasts?

I certainly hope so. But until it does, I’ll do my part by sharing my opinions with any employee who will listen. Or read on a website. — DANIEL C. GREENWOOD

90 Comments on "The Millennial Fogey: Why Do We Get So Worked Up Over Brooks Brothers?"

  1. Or as Cole Porter lamented, “Where is the life that late I led?”

  2. Charlottesville | January 21, 2015 at 11:55 am |

    DCG — Thank you so much for your post. I agree, and lament with you. Believe it or not, while not so rare as they are today, a 30-year old wearing a 3/2 sack was considered a bit fogey-ish even in the mid-80s, at least in Washington. I managed to buy a few Golden Fleece sack suits in that era, and can still wear 2 of them, but I doubt they will last much longer. A heavy tweed sport coat also is holding up well, despite the lining being in tatters, and a couple of the old Makers ties remain. And a 3/2 flannel blazer and camel sport coat of more recent vintage are still going strong. The good old style pajamas, and the paisley and flannel wool robes are, alas, no more, the last having been retired with much sadness last month. I still have some wearable samples of OCBDs from the “Makers” era and a few items from the much maligned Marks & Spencer years that are passable, while newer ones have gone to the dustbin. J. Press got most of my business in recent years, but I am concerned about them as well. Custom is doubtless the way to go, if one can afford it. Still, today I am wearing an ancient madder tie and some fairly ancient tassel cordovans from Brooks that should, barring some terrible accident, last me the rest of my life. So, not all is lost.

  3. I am upset about Brooks Brothers, especially the one here in Pittsburgh, because they no longer have anything in their casual department that I want. They no longer sell Alden shoes, their offerings in neckties have not been very good for the past three years, and their shirts are now non iron. I have been shopping there for 25 years, and now I walk through the store, at least once a month, and walk out without purchasing anything.

    CC- Have you noticed the reduced weight of their neckties reecently? They certainly appear much lighter, and compared to one I was given from the ’70’s their is no comparison. I do think the quality has gone way down.

  4. Reduced weight of neckties? That sounds a little too nuts-and-bolts for a big-picture guy like me. I think we should put that to the collective wisdom of the community.

  5. A.E.W. Mason | January 21, 2015 at 1:04 pm |

    Entirely off topic, but just a moment to congratulate CC on his column in today’s Wall Street Journal. Maybe not entirely off topic; the mindset addressed in the column is certainly a part of what drives today’s retail. Anyway, hearty congratulations.

  6. Brooks clothing signaled a lot of things at once, I think. It’s nuanced, subtle. And probably involving a lot of stuff that lurks way down deep in the psyche. Some of it beyond words.

    These days, part of the appeal may have to do with wanting to look unique. A lot of men don’t dress up for work. Many of the men who do wear cheaply-made crap (think Jos. A. Bank). Plenty of others go for a look that’s decidedly not (old school) Brooksy. A medium gray flannel sack suit, university-striped OCBD, repp tie, and brown tasseled loafers–a rarely seen combo, these days.

    And it’s just so damned American. There’s that.

  7. I’m here to provide an alternative perspective: that of a under-30 person who works in a professional environment and actually likes BB’s current offering. I’m short and skinny, and that’s why I like BB’s extra slim fit shirts, Milano fits, and gasp, even Red Fleece. I like these offerings because anything else from BB just fit too baggy on me. So from my perspective, the current BB offering is great, because they are better made than many of the mass market substitutes like JCrew and Club Monaco, who are also attempting to target people like me.

    Who knows, in 20 years time, maybe I’ll be nostalgic for the BB offerings of the early to mid-2010s, like the way most of the commenters long for the BB offerings when they are young. Point being, I think BB is doing a good job trying to engage the next generation, if my personal example can be widely duplicated on their part.

  8. @ MZ

    I, too, am of the younger demographic you described. I, too, enjoy BB’s current offerings, however, there is nothing wrong with asking more of a company – especially when one knows that company has historically delivered. I like Red Fleece, but that doesn’t mean I should remain complacent with their smaller selection and lower quality compared to the main line. Just because I am willing to buy the low rise chinos doesn’t mean I wouldn’t prefer high rise chinos were they offered.

    What I can’t agree with is trading classic clothing for fast fashion. It appears to me that Brooks has dealt in timeless clothing for much of the past century, as evidenced by the strong market for vintage button downs and sweaters. The odds of seeing a 2013 Red Fleece camo puffer vest on sale 40 years from now seems ridiculous. Without maintaining a classic selection of high quality basics, Brooks essentially leaves itself open to the fickle winds of fashion.

  9. “What I can’t agree with is trading classic clothing for fast fashion. It appears to me that Brooks has dealt in timeless clothing for much of the past century, as evidenced by the strong market for vintage button downs and sweaters. The odds of seeing a 2013 Red Fleece camo puffer vest on sale 40 years from now seems ridiculous. Without maintaining a classic selection of high quality basics, Brooks essentially leaves itself open to the fickle winds of fashion.”

    Very well said. I could not agree more.

  10. @JDD:

    I agree largely with what you said, but my larger point is that what each generation considers its “classic” or “timeless” clothing is only relative to that generation. I am not old enough to have experienced BB in its heyday, but I do like my current BB oxfords and Red Fleece crew neck sweaters. I’m not saying that these items will be as iconic as the original buttondown shirt or the sack suit, but if each generation can find BB a decent place to buy sensible, practical clothing that suits their style and budget, I really don’t see what the problem is.

  11. I fall somewhere in the middle of young and old customers which I think gives me a unique outlook.

    One thing that I have noticed as I age is that things that seemed like they had always been that way as a kid I later discover truly have not always been. For instance, when Brooks first offered their sack or the OCBD was it considered “timeless?” I know that the width of lapels and ties have varied of the years. I am sure that at these times there were similar reactions ( they just are not recorded on the internet).

    Part of the problem is that the company has built itself on this concept of preserving the past and selling timeless clothing which doesn’t help them grow their market and places them in a pigeonholes of sorts. Could this be a case of marketing backfiring?

    Last, but not least people hate change.

  12. “people hate change.”

    Truer words have not been spoken. This is especially true for guys, who, as a rule, will stick with something they like until they die—or are forced to change.

    MZ,

    While there is something to what you say, if timelessness is relative, then nothing is timeless. This does not mean that there can’t be variations. For example, part of what keeps classical music fresh is a change in interpretation, but only within limits. Jake Shimabukuro’s performance of Caprice No. 24 by Paganini is fresh because it’s played on the ukulele rather than the violin. However, he plays it straight. Jazz it up, for instance, and it’s no longer the classic.

    The same applies, mutatis mutandis, for clothes. Of course, what was worn for much of the 20th century as “classic” was very different from what was worn in the 19th, and so on, but what we consider classic evolved slowly and organically. On the other hand, the trashy street wear that is so popular is a radical departure from the past, not an incremental change from it (which is not to accuse you of liking, or wearing, such clothes).

  13. DCG – Please forgive my poor manners, I enjoyed your post and look forward to more!

    Henry – I am slowly learning that for items such as clothes I will always be able to get what I want. I will just have to be willing to pay for it.

  14. NaturalShoulder | January 21, 2015 at 8:57 pm |

    I agree with S.E. about Brooks clothing signaling quite a bit. I did not grow up wearing Brooks but was familiar with it and it seemed to me that the proverbial “Man in the Brooks Brothers suit” epitomized success. Now that I am at a point professionally at which I can be that man, I don’t want to shop there which is disappointing and frustrating. I understand the need to cater to a younger crowd, but I wish they would still offer many of their classics. While Brooks may not offer want I want, it is still possible to put together the look with a Southwick Douglas, Mercer unlined collar, Alden tassel loafers, and bar stripe tie from ebay as I did today.

  15. @Robert They are certainly making an effort to offer a lightweight, silk printed twill that competes with Ferragamo and Hermes.

    As a fellow Millenial and Brooks patron, I often leave the store empty handed. Brooks has fallen victim to an inevitable malaise. As progressives push towards change and “advancement,” the traditional/conservative moves with it; still staying just as far away from the progressive as ever yet moving tangentially in the same direction. Brooks, Hickey, HSM, et.al. are abandoning their guiding principles. Why Brooks doesn’t maintain a “niche” line catering towards us is beyond me. I want to spend $ in their store. Why won’t they let me?

  16. I think a lot of our minds have been ruined by the shift to cheap, third world-made fast fashion and Internet shopping. If you live in the proximity of a b&m Brooks Brothers, oh probably live in the proximity of an independent mens store that has a MTM account with IAG, Empire or Southwick, each of which can produce a MTM sack with whatever details you want, including great shoulders, for about the cost of the Brooks 1818 line.

    We’ve gotten spoiled. We want an entire wardrobe with all of the details in place, we want it now and we want it really cheap. What ever happened to thrift and patience?

    Now, I understand not everyone would have the means to order say one MTM jacket per season, but the last full canvas H. Freeman jacket I bought cost me $700. You can get a fused jacket from Empire for about $500. That,s comparable to, or even cheaper than, the Brooks of old (adjusted for inflation).

    As for oxfrd shirts, if you really need an unlined collar, ratio will do that for $89. Need khakis with an appropriate rise? Click the Jack Donnelly banner.

    If you have just $100 for clothing per month, you can get yourself two pairs of khakis, 5 Oxford shirts, and a jacket over the course of the year. If you do things right, and wear undershirts, those should all last a really long time and will probably carry you, in a minimalist way, through the entire week. You won’t look like an Ivy dandy, but you’ll look good and have all the correct details.

    It’so not like the Brooks Brothers of the past was that inexpensive. If you can’t deal with building your wardrobe over time and can’t exercise the patience to pinch your pennies and wait for the delayed gratification of MTM, maybe you have picked the wrong tradition to follow.

    The ones who are doing it right are in it for the long haul, so what’s waiting two months for a sport jacket?

  17. DCG, that’s a great debut column. You sure look handsome in that drawing that accompanies it. Did Christian draw it?

  18. OCBD wrote,

    “I am slowly learning that for items such as clothes I will always be able to get what I want. I will just have to be willing to pay for it.”

    True again.

    You can pay money, or you can pay time. More often than not, I opt for the latter.

    I have found quality clothes—Brooks Brothers, Polo Ralph Lauren, Robert Talbott, and the like—as well as some excellent clothes—Brioni, Isaia, Ralph Lauren Purple Label, etc.—at my local thrift stores. However, it took educating myself, as well as a lot of time thrift shopping, to be able to find those things and recognize them. It has also allowed me to find quality in no-name goods as well.

    So for those of us without the means, or unwilling to pay full price, there is another option besides waiting for sales. Of course, thrifting is even more hit-or-miss than sales, and is intensely regional. There are still many things I want that I do not have, and might never find, but I do have everything I need (my wife would add, “and a lot more”).

  19. Thanks for reading fellas. From MTM to thrift shops, there are indeed many different sources for traditional menswear. I’d just love to see Brooks Brothers, granddaddy of them all, offer more of it. Until then, by all means get it where you can!

  20. @L-Feld While I appreciate your point and see its validity, it’s really not the impetus behind many loyalists migration away from B-squared. They’ve left their guiding principles and for those acolytes that have patronized Brooks for generations, we feel abandoned and betrayed. It’s a classic bait and switch scheme. In 1849 Brooks started pitching classic ready to wear garments. They’ve made inferred promises via marketing a PR statements, for decades now, directly aimed at the faithful and they’ve callously reneged. See below for a perfect example of their amnesia. For me it has nothing to do with budget. I don’t want MTM for classic clothing. I want the brand that I and my family have supported for years to be true to their roots. I have MTM Oxxford suits etc. and I receive more compliments on my classic B-squared suits AND I like them better. While my wife and I enjoy perusing thrift stores for those diamonds in the rough, it’s neither practical nor predictable.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/19/business/media-business-advertising-brooks-brothers-moves-beyond-gray-flannel-suit.html

    “Brooks Brothers will never be a fast-forward fashion brand like a Calvin Klein,” said Bernadette Murray, senior vice president for marketing at Brooks Brothers, a unit of Marks & Spencer P.L.C. in New York. ”It will always be a brand about great classic American style.”

  21. Still trying to figure out what Brooks Brother CEO Signore Del Vecchio meant when he said:
    “We’re more classic than traditional”.

  22. My father and grandfather took me to Brooks starting when I was in my mid teens, in the early 1980s. Throughout the decade, when I was at Brooks, I used to look around and say to myself, “Someday soon, when I’m out of college and on my own feet, I’ll have all this.” But just about when I was ready to fully embrace shopping there on my own, Marks and Spencer started the transformation. I felt cheated. Still do.

    You used to be able to depend on Brooks for respectable, grown-up, establishment clothing. The shopping experience catered to a niche market, carriage trade. The stores had wood paneling and brass rails. Items were in glass display cases. It felt like a special place. Nowadays the models on the web site often have beard stubble, bed-head hairdos, and untucked shirts. When you walk into a Brooks store, it could be any department store. If I want youthful, I-don’t-ever-want-to-grow-up counter-culture, there are a zillion places I can get it. Why couldn’t Brooks remain solidly establishment?

    Also, Brooks used to have a distinctive house style. I remember in the 80s overhearing one gentleman selecting a sportcoat ask whether he needed to choose a cut, but he was told by a staff member, “We carry just one style, and it never goes out of fashion.” Nevertheless, I know that the items did change over time. My old Brooks ties from the early 60s are narrower than the ones from the 80s, which are narrower than the ones from the 70s. Same thing happened to jacket lapels. And small details of the oxford shirts changed over time. I have examples from every decade from the 50s through the 00s. But the changes were small enough that the Brooks Brothers look remained recognizable over the years. Now it’s gone. I don’t recognize the store, and I don’t recognize the clothes.

  23. A great post, rojo. (why do we not hear more from you?)

    I especially like this: “…respectable, grown-up, establishment clothing.”

    We’d need a Gibbonesque sense of history to trace the arch of decline. Surely there were some who, decades ago, felt betrayed by the 2-button, darted model. There’s something about the unbuttoned top button of a full-fitting, slope shouldered sack jacket. As with all forms and degrees of “sprez,” it suggests either forgetfulness or nonchalance. How many time has it been asserted that Ivy is simultaneously a dressed-up approach to casual clothing and a more casual, relaxed approach toward work clothing (suit, collared shirt, and tie).

    Funny how it remains a flipped middle finger to various forces in the culture, whether hippie garb, the grunge of the 90s, skinny hipsterism, and, as has been noted, the heavily padded “power suit” culture that, rooted in mid-century drape cut, was so very (awfully) 80s. Embrace the inner (Ivy) rebel.

  24. It’s like shopping in an Italian department store. – Charlie Davidson.

    That about sums it up. I really don’t get why people miss something they never experienced. I started with BB in the mid seventies and remember getting the catalog and going into the store downtown. Nice memeories. Just a matter of knowing what to buy and from where these days. The younger you are the louder the protest it seems. Same with LL Bean.

  25. E, a lack of experience doesn’t preclude the ability to at least somewhat appreciate something. If Venice sank tomorrow anyone that hadn’t been would probably be a little upset.

  26. Except that they’d be upset largely because of the possibility that they may one day visit. This is more like being upset AFTER the fall of Rome.

  27. I know BB of old has a special place in the hearts of people of a certain age, and a nostalgia to those under a certain age. I can’t help to wonder though, when you have places like O’Connell’s, Andover Shop, and a few other trusty retailers, why you need BB to try to become something it stopped becoming a long time ago. Fact is, everything DCG listed above, I can get with a few clicks at O’Connell’s… yet they seldom get the coverage BB’s does. It’s confusing. Anyone care to explain?

  28. I couldn’t afford BB back then, and could only drool over the stuff in their catalogs. Now that I can afford their stuff, there’s nothing I want. I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only one that this applies to.

  29. I will pose a different question for all of those who believe that BB is in decline, what was the last good year for BB?

  30. I think Ben Silver, with the multitude of engk

  31. Oops. Ahem, as I was saying…

    …I think Ben Silver, with the multitude of English neckwear and blazer buttons and tweeds and such, is old school Brooksy.

  32. Bags' Groove | January 22, 2015 at 12:41 pm |

    It was the M&S debacle; put them in a permanently altered light. But my best belt is a BB, snaffled in Phoenix. What else but saddle quality. Don’t get too much tattle about belts in these here parts.

  33. @S.E. – Why doesn’t Ben Silver offer sportcoats with the (admittedly vestigial – but crucial) third button?

  34. “I could have gone on all day.”–DCG

    I suspect many could. But, as I reflect, why bother? In this brave, new world where all sorts of information can be accessed easily, anybody who wants to maintain a certain style can. The cloth, the tailors–it’s all out there. Until very recently, the buyer/customer was at the mercy (or lack thereof) of the retailer. This is no longer true. Many of us know a lot more than the salesmen, designers, and even owners.

    If want to source Harris Tweed (even a design custom woven by a weaver), I can. And if I want to work with a tailor who’ll take the cloth and make a jacket for less than $700, I can.

    Brooks isn’t worth the trouble. With a multitude of cloth sources and tailors, no retailer is.

  35. Where’s the sweatpants/blazer blog post?

  36. The shirts…they ruined the shirts. Enough said.

  37. The profiled (and outfitted) Fred Castleberry in their Red Fleece e-catalog and cross-sold do-dad bracelets from Kiel James Patrick. If those are proof points, nothing is.

  38. Ethan

    Good question about why O’Connell’s doesn’t get the same attention as Brooks, even as they maintain the traditions. Probably longevity, location, and the subsequent exposure. Even it you didn’t grow up in or near NYC, there have been BB branches in major cities for a while now. I’ve never been to Buffalo, and am reluctant to buy too much online because differences in texture, color, and fit don’t come across in a photograph. On the other hand, I travel to Boston once a year so have enjoyed getting things at the Andover Shop.

  39. Camford:

    Oxford Dictionary. Hope this helps.

    Classic:
    Judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind:

    Traditional:
    Existing in or as part of a tradition; long-established:

  40. April 12, 1861 would be the date any respectable Southern gentleman would peg as the beginning of the end for Brooks.

    Makers such as Southwick and retailers such as O’Connell’s are carrying the torch well. To RJG’s point I believe the limitrd presence is what hurts O’Connell’s. I have purchased trustworthy and familiar brands online before, on occasion. However a brand needs a brick and mortar presence nationally/regionally to truly build a strong and loyal base. Purchasing clothes is an enjoyable and personal experience not to be relegated to impersonal, tech driven transactions.

  41. @WFBjr – Amazon.com proves you can do retail with no brick and mortar… in the clothing business net-a-porter and mrporter.com proves you can sell a LOT of high-end clothes with the right e-commerce strategy and return policy.

  42. @Ethan I am not debating whether or not clothes can be sold online.

  43. @ M Arthur:

    In that case, Signore Del Vecchio misused “classic”, since BB is neither of the highest quality, nor outstanding.

  44. Charlottesville | January 23, 2015 at 10:14 am |

    I certainly buy on-line, like I suspect most of us do. However, unless it is a brand I am familiar with, I am often disappointed with fit, color or style. Plus, I find shopping enjoyable, and always stop in at J. Press when in Washington, for example. The opportunity to see clothing up close, and try it on for fit is something that on-line stores obviously cannot deliver. Nor can they trot out a tailor to measure for trouser cuffs, shortening sleeves, tucking in the waist, etc. on the spot. Plus, one can develop a relationship with the sales staff, as many fellow commenters have mentioned on this site. I enjoy the continuity of seeing Chris Dunn at J. Press in Washington, or Tom Davis at Brooks on Madison Avenue, for example. I hope to make it to O’Connell’s someday, but Buffalo is a bit of a hike from Virginia.

  45. I frequent O’Connell’s online, their descriptions of clothing and images are excellent. That is the key to website commerce. Most “Ivy Style” clothiers websites suck in those departments, as did their pre-net catalogues, which is why I would only ever buy from BB when able to touch the merchandise. While I appreciate artwork, drawings and watercolors, it tells me nothing.

    The nice thing about O’Connells is that their pants are basically all cut the same. So invest a $100 in a pair of Khakis, have them altered locally, save the details, next order send O’Connells the info. Unless one has no ass, no problem, it’s not rocket science

    . .

  46. agree on Ben Silver, but at those prices?

  47. Ah, I remember the old Brooks at 346 Mad in the 70s, when I moved to NYC. It looked and felt like a private club. Even the clerks could be intimidating. I once went up to the underwear counter and asked for two pair of the white, high-waist, button-front style. The clerk looked at me sternly and said, “You don’t want these. You’re a young man. These are for old men.” Sheepishly, I bought a pair of the regular boxer shorts.

  48. Charlottesville | January 23, 2015 at 1:10 pm |

    Mr. Bearden — Great story. About a decade after your foray into 346, I was permitted to buy 2 pairs of the old button-in-front, tie-in-the-back shorts when I was about 30. Either their standards had already dropped, or I looked like an old man even then. I still have them, too. For some reason, I only break them out when wearing dinner clothes (usually with a detachable collar shirt, also from Brooks). I wonder if the old-style shorts are still available. I read in the comments here that the detachable wing collar is a thing of the past.

  49. A.E.W. Mason | January 23, 2015 at 2:08 pm |

    I agree that one can rely on O’Connell’s; it fills the gap fully in my judgment. Why no press or notoriety? Because (i) it’s in Buffalo; and (ii) it’s not old and storied like Brooks; albeit, there are no more stories being made at Brooks that will be worth telling to one’s grandchildren. That old world is gone, never to return.

    Rare siting yesterday at a symposium with the Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit: I sat with a Loyola law professor, probably in his mid 70’s–a Yale grad–wearing an olive whipcord sack suit by J. Press which I notice immediately–he, in turn, spotted my old 346 navy worsted. You have a better chance of being struck by lightning than seeing two fellas sitting together dressed like that in LA.

  50. A.E.W. Mason | January 23, 2015 at 2:11 pm |

    By the way, if you think Ben Silver is expensive, take a look at Paul Stuart these days; $397 for a shirt? Really….

    http://www.paulstuart.com/images/items/sm/1070494.jpg

  51. They were Southwick’s major client for decades upon decades. When Southwick faced hard times, Brooks bought them. I am grateful.

    Does anybody know why they moved from Individualized Shirts to that outfit down in North Carolina?

  52. Stuart is what should have happened to Press. They were traditionally not as good in quality as Brooks way back when. But they turned it around nicely. I enjoy walking past their store on the way home. The house style is something I enjoy. Very much the way Press was but congruent with the times. They actually have some competitvve prices (as compared to Brooks across the street) on many items.

    Their are some firghteningly expensive items in that store. Shooes and knits especially. Their tailored items are in line with what one would expect a very high quality suit would retail for. And they still will tailor to taste. I was going to look into a soft shouldered suit with a nice drape for my wedding but missed the timeline.

  53. One (excellent) men’s shop owner recalls Norman Hilton stock/off-the-rack flannel suits selling for $160 in the early 60s. I am guessing, adjusted for inflation, this would exceed $1,200 in 2015.

    How many readers and comment leavers on this forum are willing to invest this kind of $ in tailored clothing?

  54. At last count, I have 12 Brooks items. Three repp ties (BB#1, BB#4, “Sidewheeler”), two jackets, two dress shirts, two polo shirts, one rugby shirt, one pocket square, one pair of shoes.

    I paid full retail for two out of those, both bought in person at 346. The rest came from the sale section of BB.com, eBay, thrift stores, and an outlet (the shoes, from the Allen Edmonds outlet).

    I guess this comment really belongs under the previous post more than this one. It’s only recently that I have had both the desire and the means, in my own way, to own BB’s wares. So I can’t speak to how it is now compared to some supposed “golden age”. I just like how the clothes look on me, and I like how the Golden Fleece logo is not as instantly recognizable as the Crocodile or the Pony & Rider.

  55. “Comment by Oxford Cloth Button Down — January 22, 2015 @ 11:50 am

    I will pose a different question for all of those who believe that BB is in decline, what was the last good year for BB”?

    I think,1987.

  56. Obviously. No longstanding company comes out of an ownership change the same.

  57. NaturalShoulder | January 23, 2015 at 6:40 pm |

    I shopped quite a bit at Paul Stuart in the late 90s in Chicago. They had a great natural shoulder offering with a two button darted jacket and pleated trousers. Admittedly, their offerings were not the 3/2 jacket and plain front of Brooks of old or Press.

    The quality is very high as are the prices. I am not as enamored of their offerings as in the past and no longer reside in Chicago but do make it up there from time to time and enjoy visiting the sales associate with whom I originally worked.

    It is nice to have a bricks and mortar location to try on items in person and I do have a local retailer which offers Southwick MTM and other traditional offerings.

  58. 1987 sounds about right. Anybody miss HTJ? The great pics of 70s and 80s era Ivy/Trad/preppy/TNSIL clothing–actually being worn, by city dwellers, college students, faculty, and suburbanites?

  59. @S.E. – HTJ is back on Tumbler…

    http://heavytweedjacket.tumblr.com

  60. Yes, there was a time when a man with “traditional” tastes could completely outfit himself for any occasion–from meeting a monarch to drinking in a duck blind–shopping solely at Brooks Brothers and L.L. Bean. Those days have passed.

    I don’t have an Ivy League education, but, to me, the real issue here is larger than lapel widths or bad madders. In the “Golden Age” of the Ivy look, BB & LL garments were made by unionized American and European craftsmen from quality materials. Today BB & LL garments are largely made in Third World sweatshops from shoddy garbage. Will Brooks Brothers ever reclaim its place as the arbiter of traditional quality and style? Sure–just as soon as they start making their garments like they did then.

    So, probably not.

    We live in a schizophrenic era, and it is reflected in this conundrum. We somehow believe that we can have everything all at once. It is like the oxymoron of the sport-utility vehicle. I mean, what is it that Brooks Brothers is selling now? Contemporary-traditional garments? Anglo-Asian couture? Things are traditional when they don’t change. They set a benchmark. Fashions change; traditions stay the same.

    As I said, I don’t have an Ivy League education, but many of those who have shaped today’s marketplace probably do. Perhaps they can devise a way to get starving Bangladeshis to craft the perfect collar roll out of non-iron tin foil at an affordable price. Until then, we’ll simply have to make do with our skinny-fit Sri Lankan cotton toggle-cardigans with non-bleeding madras accents.

  61. S.E. – I think that $1,200 for a suit of that quality sounds about right. Especially if I look around at today’s prices. Also, here is a link to an RSS feed where you can read some of the old HTJ blog. There are even a few 70s/80s pictures. http://smashingreader.com/Heavy_Tweed_Jacket_s21156

  62. A quick look in my closet suggests that I have 10 BB suits, one sport coat, 15 (perhaps more) dress shirts, and lots of other miscellaneous stuff. Absolutely none of these thing are just like the ones that I got at BB in the ’70s or ’80s, but I’m perfectly OK with that.

    As a few fellow prep school grads and I were noting at a recent a recent alumni event, we’re not in college any more. We’re successful, middle-aged men, and we dress like we’re successful, middle-aged men. We all have strong, fond memories of our school years. Psychologists say that’s because of the “reminiscence bump,” and it’s just the way our brains work.

    But being a successful, middle-aged man absolutely kicks a**, and none of us would go back to the earlier days, even if we had the chance to do it. And, for me, that includes the clothes that (perhaps unfortunately) defined so much of what we were back then. So I’m perfectly happy with today’s BB. They’ve had to adapt to the changing market, and, particularly as a former business owner, I can’t hold that against them.

    If readers really think that BB is wrong, and there’s a significant market for old-school clothing, stop wasting your time reading style blogs and start a business catering to that niche. It’s sure to make you wildly rich. If you’re right.

  63. At a time I couldn’t afford it, I remember wanting very much the J Press olive whipcord sack suit that A.E.W. Mason mentions seeing the judge wearing. In fact, O’Connell’s sells one, but I would want to try it on first.

    I do buy things online, but usually only things I know are reliable having already bought one in a store. Also, shirts and ties are safer to buy online than suits than sports coats because there is less variation in sizes.

  64. Brooks Own Make shirt cost $6.50 in 1960, about $52 adjusted.

  65. @DCG Very interesting and another great example of BB abandoning one of their guiding principles:

    “To make and deal only in merchandise of the finest quality, to sell it at a fair profit and to deal with people who seek and appreciate such merchandise.” – Henry Sands Brooks

    BB’s OCBD retails for $95 and is made in an Asian sweatshop; quality has been halved and price has almost doubled.

  66. Bags' Groove | January 24, 2015 at 12:53 am |

    Christian, you surprisingly questioned “reduced weight in neckties”, saying “that sounds a little too nuts-and-bolts for a big-picture guy like me”.
    Well, I bet my shirt (topical pun) G the Bruce is not of similar mind. I bet he’d have much to say on the subject of that desired heft in one’s ties.
    I read this recently: “Cheap ties tend to look it – they have no heft and so, when you tie them, you wind up with a tiny, tight knot that looks bad”.

  67. My experience has been that no matter how unsubstantial BB neckties are, J Press ties are far flimsier.

  68. IM, thanks for adding you perspective. What I hear from a lot of the comments in this section is that many readers have been working hard to become they type of successful middle-age men that wears Brooks Brothers, but the current BB would prefer them to look like middle-age men chasing youth.

    There is definitely a niche (probably not a “significant market”) for old-school clothing, but between J.Press, O’Connell’s, Ben Silver, the Andover shop, and others it is served quite well.

  69. Some things, in fact, have NOT changed.

    WFBJr: “B’s OCBD retails for $95 and is made in an Asian sweatshop; quality has been halved and price has almost doubled.”

    BB’s OCBDs are made in Garland, North Carolina.

    http://www.brooksbrothers.com/Traditional-Fit-Button-Down-Collar-Dress-Shirt/001E,default,pd.html?dwvar_001E_Color=BL&contentpos=2&cgid=0203

    DCG: “Brooks Own Make shirt cost $6.50 in 1960, about $52 adjusted.”

    Fifty-two dollars is around what most members of Ivy/Trad forums pay for BB OCBDs today – that’s the price they come out to during Christmas, Friends and Family sales, etc.

  70. This is an interesting discussion. I still find many things worth buying at Brooks Brothers, especially their Crockett & Jones and Alden shoes. I also buy the made in USA OCBDs, sized made in England socks, and the occasional made in Scotland sweater. They also have a large selection of formalwear, including items that are difficult to find outside of the U.K., and this has helped me numerous times. Finally, the made in USA 3/2 blazer is a constant go-to, and since I’m pretty hard on blazers I replace mine about every three years or so.

    On the other hand, I rarely buy suits there any more – nothing really catches my eye. I was excited about Own Make, but the jackets are strangely short and don’t come in a Long in my chest size, so that was the end of that.

    BB is still relevant for me, as is J. Press to a lesser extent, but certainly neither is able to satisfy all my needs. I look at the smaller stores like this: Ben Silver = classic Brooks Brothers (including the prices – BB wasn’t cheap in the ‘heyday’ and didn’t have sales every two weeks like it does now); O’Connell’s = classic J. Press (more sportcoats than suits, that sort of thing).

  71. In Dressing the Man, Flusser wrote that Brooks Brothers “abdicated its role as the protectorate of America’s traditional fashion.” I believe that’s the reason for the emotion behind Brooks, not because they no longer sell a good sack suit. It’s because they abdicated their role, sold out, left their customers hanging, but still want to trade on their reputation.

  72. Taliesin, have you considered having more than one blazer? I have half a dozen or more, in different styles & materials, and only recently wore one out. Even if you prefer the 3/2 roll exclusively, having two (or three) of them would mean you’d have a backup when one is at the cleaners.

  73. Comment by S.E. — January 22, 2015 @ 1:33 pm

    “I could have gone on all day.”–DCG

    ‘I suspect many could. But, as I reflect, why bother? In this brave, new world where all sorts of information can be accessed easily, anybody who wants to maintain a certain style can. ‘

    Excellent post. Very true. But it also presages weird hybrids.

    @ Bags’ Groove (on tie heft)

    And not only does a too light tie not look right, it doesn’t FEEL right. And much of the pleasure of clothes is how they feel.

  74. @Trad Hunter
    Re: “And much of the pleasure of clothes is how they feel.”.
    Precisely! Because we can’t see them unless we spend all of our time in front of mirrors.

  75. @Henry. I’ve got a winter-weight blazer (Southwick, from Cable Car), and an unstructured linen/cotton blend from BB. But the ‘year round weight’ one gets much of the use. I’d rather wear it till it’s worn out, then replace. This is contingent on BB continuing to offer the item, of course…

  76. “This is contingent on BB continuing to offer the item, of course…”

    All the more reason to stock up. Brooks Brothers has made it clear that they are moved by the market, and not market makers, anymore.

    How long until Brooks offers a trenditional™ non-iron machine washable hoodie blazer, with front zipper and faux buttons? It’ll be part of the Castleberry x Brooks collaboration (on one sleeve, one of the sleeve buttons will be permanently unbuttoned; on the other, two). Available in Down-home Blueberry, Zesty Raspberry, Florida Orange, Summer Lemonade, Tropical Lime, and Day-Glo Stripes (Fred’s Favorite™!).

  77. Brewer Delahunty | January 25, 2015 at 2:32 pm |

    Question: “Why Do We Get So Worked Up Over Brooks Brothers?”
    Answer: For the same reason that parents expect more of intelligent kids than they do of dummies. For the same reason that we expect more of Harvard than we do of North Dakota State. For the same reason that we expect more of the NY Philharmonic than we do of a jr. high school band in Montana. Brooks Brothers has the potential to be the very best and it isn’t living up to that potential.

  78. A.E.W. Mason | January 25, 2015 at 5:01 pm |

    @ Taliesin

    I agree. The Garland shirt is an excellent shirt. The collar is lined, slightly, but not fused, like the OCBDs made for Press by New England Shirt Co. It also has a more roomy fit than the Press shirt. It’s about the only shirt Brooks makes that compares with the “old days.”. The price is reasonable.

  79. I’ve mentioned before, the Garland button downs can’t be beat for the price. Now how much could it possibly hurt the company to just remove that little lining?

  80. Bags' Groove | January 26, 2015 at 2:25 am |

    @Tradhunter

    Re how they feel, I couldn’t agree more, which is why I mainly buy ties in Italy, where the fabrics both look and feel favoloso.

  81. Charlottesville | January 26, 2015 at 1:35 pm |

    Carmelo — I think 1987 is about right. In 1986 or ’87 I bought a top-of-the-line navy flannel chalk stripe suit for $650 at the old Brooks store on L Street in Washington. I was in my first “real” job after law school had to gulp a few times to work up the courage to spend what was, for me, an astronomical sum. But it lasted 20 years and I would love to have another just like it. I still have a grey chalk stripe and a dark blue glen plaid from the same era that I pull out from time to time. An on-line inflation calculator from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the adjusted price at $1,354.56 in 2014 dollars. Still astronomical by my standards, but not the most I have ever paid for a suit. I think one can still get a very good traditional 3/2 sack suit from Southwick or J. Press for less than that. But I miss the old Brooks, both in Washington and at 356 Madison.

  82. 1,300 for a well made in the USA suit is a good price. I have not seen a similar suit for less either. Press, OC, AS are all a bit more.

  83. Great article and discussion. I too dreamed, in the early 90’s while in the Navy, of being successful enough to shop exclusively at BB one day only to be disappointed once I was. My recommendation is simple: O’Connell’s, J. Press, Alden, repeat. Of course I am lucky that I only live 20 miles from the latter two stores, but still.

  84. Buy the good stuff and wear it week after week and have it repaired when absolutely necessary. I would much rather have two or three really well made suits than a closet full of crap.

  85. I am 58, and remember my great experiences at Brooks. I could not afford many Brooks items immediately after college graduation, but later I shopped there regularly. The chinos were stacked on tables over 3′ high folded once and pinked at the bottom which gave about 40″ of inseam to work with. Cuffs, only khaki or stone colored 8.5 oz. weight trousers. Loved them. Now take a look–hanging on a circular rack with all plain front having a finished plain hem. (ie-no cuff) The only cuffed are pre-finished at the overseas factory and are pleated! The shirts pale in comparison to Mercer, and as mentioned above, no more Alden made for B2. The days are over. My recent purchases are now at the Goodwill. I bought TWO navy 3/2 roll sacks, and they were absurd. There was over two feet of extra lining within each coat. It hung out of the bottom and out of the sleeves in a short time on my hangers. My alterations guy (no tailors anymore in my city of 1.5 million population) said he would have to take both coats apart and remove a lot of excess lining. Southwick is very overrated in my humble opinion. They still “market” their soft natural shoulder, which again, IMO is crazy. I just bought a 140.00 navy 2 button darted Lauren blazer from Macy’s and LOVE it! The shoulder is identical to the Southwick for Brooks and darts are not visible unless you look for them at 2 feet distance. Fused?? Who knows? Probably. Highly likely. How about the 1/2 canvassed Southwick for Brooks??? It is 1/2 canvassed and feels identical to the 140.00 Lauren. If this blazer does not hold up wearing it to church once a week (retire here) I will gladly buy 6 more! Just my humble opinion—and Andover sells a non-darted 2 button but it is around a grand, and who knows about the lining, canvas, fusing etc??? Love to hear feedback. Joe

  86. PS-on my above post-I do not want to give the wrong impression since I now wear a navy darted blazer. I wear no chinos except Bills in the orig 8.5 oz. of the khaki color and nothing but Mercer oxford button downs. My only shoes besides Bean camp mocs, are Alden shells in LHS & tassels. I also was quite surprised to see that J. Press sells two button navy blazers & they are all darted! I was just worn out with not being able to inspect and try on a 3/2 tip over in person before buying it. It is nice and easy to search 6-8 stores with a 20 minute driving distance and try on blazers that do not even need alterations and fit great! (not to mention perfectly sewn lining etc) I am somewhat hesitant to state this-but, here goes-I think the globalization thing does take away jobs which I do not like. Upon my close OCD insptection, however, the workmanship seems superior with great attention to detail! MAYBE I was just unlucky with TWO Southwick blazers that had stitching coming loose around the bottom, WAY too much excess lining, etc. My “cheapo” Lauren green label that cost 140.00 is sewn so perfectly it appears like I stood over the person’s shoulder and instructed her/him how I would like it done! Perfect lining pressed with creases completely around the bottom and in the sleeves! There is still enough BTW for movement and a little extra for that function which is of course necessary. (not nearly a foot of blousy lining!) Check the bottom of your coats and see if the stitching is an “X pattern” and how loose it is. On the previously mentioned manufacturer, mine arrived coming loose in areas 4-6″ in length. This 140 buck blazer has skin tight and very close stitches!

  87. Just to clarify–one my 1st post above, I stated “my recent purchases are at Goodwill— I MEANT that I GAVE that clothing to the Goodwill store-2 3/2 Southwick for Brooks that were about a month old. Yes, I can afford that, and hope someone got them for good use. I gave them away. I still love my Lauren 2 button darted navy and Bills with Mercers. Going great and wearing well with Alden’s and rep ties. NO more 3/2 tipovers with 2 feet of extra sewn in lining of a sloppy fashion. Made in the USA–so much for that. Maybe I just got 2 “bad ones” or am too picky with lining hanging out of the bottom and the sleeves. Due to retirement, this makes things so simple. If I slam my blazer in my car door and ruin it, I will buy a new one the next day at my choice of around 6 stores in the area–eg-Jos Bank, Macy’s, Nordstroms, et al. Lift is soooo much easier. NO more calling O’Connell’s or Press etc. No more ordering Brooks online since they do NOT even stock 3/2 sacks in the stores in Ohio! They don’t sell or they would! Make sense?? $600 or $140?? Hmmmm. Feel the same to me and look better!

  88. My relationship with BB extends more than 40hyrs, beginning in my early teens when I was instructed to see Mr.- at the 346 store to be outfitted for the new school year. Why have the changes at BB affected us so deeply ? Imagine a beloved family member, one who had influence in shaping you, and was in some ways a mentor, descending into old age madness, crumbling before your eyes. You observe, doing what you can, but know that ultimately there is nothing you can do to arrest the decline. One may believe that our thoughts regarding BB are tinged with more than a degree of nostalgia. However going through the wardrobe of a loyal customer will be evidence enough of what has changed….collections of suits, shirts, ties, casual attire all made of high quality materials, in a style that remains timeless, and all completely unavailable from the current BB. Contrast that with what is now sold under the BB label- a collection of garments that are virtually indistinguishable from garments produced by just about any generic menswear company. The current products, while not cutting edge, are definitely more trend following than timeless. Material quality has declined precipitously, and the “style” will look old in a relatively short period of time. A case in point is the “new” US made 100% Supima Cotton Button Down. This was promoted as a return to classic BB. In reality it is a cynical ploy to attract millennial hipster dollars. Even a cursory examination reveals that the reality is far from the description. The material is less substantial than even the most recent 100% cotton Oxford Cloth BD, and the fit has been revised to be “more contemporary”. Suits are now cut with a much trimmer silhouette, and don’t even try to find a 3r2 sack…. What was a one stop shop for everything we needed (and liked), has become just another company selling men’s clothing. Previously loyal clients, with decades long histories of patronage, are now forced to look for alternatives from a hodgepodge of boutique vendors….a shirt from one source, a suit from another, and casual attire from yet a 3rd retailer. RIP Brooks Brothers.

  89. My complaint with Mr. Del Vecchio’s Brooks is so simple I blush to reveal it: the place sells pseudo-European crap at astronomical prices.

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