This weekend I received an email from Brooks Brothers with a surprisingly terse subject line. No long-winded winter sale announcements, such as “plus free shipping on orders over $200.” This one simply said “Be Radical.”
Was Brooks introducing a line of X-Games-inspired athleticwear? I opened the message and found that the mailer was a plug fior the brand’s iconic buttondown shirts. The ad outlines the shirt’s origins — English polo players — with a gentle reminder about how Brooks made this (a different kind of athleticwear) the quintessentially American business shirt. Paul Winston has called the Brooks Brothers oxford “The single greatest invention in the history of menswear.”
Yeah they don’t make them like they used to, as the lined collars don’t roll (as seen in the image above) like in the old days. Of course I wasn’t around then so it doesn’t really bother me.
Still, when I mentioned to friend and colleague Bruce Boyer that I was looking into getting a couple of custom shirts, unable to find Bengal-stripe types with a slim fit, no non-iron chemical treatment, and a straight collar for use with a collar pin, Bruce suggested I try the legendary Tom Davis, who’s headed up Brooks’ made-to-measure shirt program for decades (and where you can get unlined buttondowns). He’s been on the Ivy Style editorial calendar for three years now, so I think it’s time I finally sit down with the guy and soak up some anecdotes. Stay tuned.
Finally, speaking of Brooks and radicalism, on the same day that I received the shirt email, Brooks showed up in a Google Alert. It was another one of those cliché-dependent newspaper reporters using “Brooks Brothers” as cultural shorthand for conservative and establishment (in this case, referring to Mitt Romney’s entourage).
Of course, these associations have dogged — or boosted — Brooks since the prosperity of the Eisenhower era, the rise in college admissions and the proliferation of corporate America. In 1950’s “Guys And Dolls,” Frank Loesser writes of “the breakfast-eating Brooks Brothers type,” exactly what the heroine is looking for.
Or thinks she’s looking for. — CC