Daniel 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.
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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