Chasing The Ivy Image: USA Today Op-Ed On Brooks In The ’60s

Today’s edition of USA Today carries an interesting op-ed from an African American who worked at Brooks Brothers in the 1960s. The piece is entitled “As a young Black man I grew up chasing Brooks Brothers’ Ivy image — then I grew out of it.”

Robert Hill writes:

Brooks Brothers largely created the Ivy League look, but it was popular on more than just college campuses. In the days of mid-century New York, city street kids like me threw away their blue suede shoes in favor of penny loafers and wing tips and kidnapped the Ivy Jivey image — as the Harlemites nick-named it — making it their own.

… BMCC advocated for Brooks to hold my job for me. It did. In the fall of 1965 I started in the vast 10th floor men’s furnishings stock room, working with a group of about six other full time and part time racially diverse male clerks, including a grouchy supervisor and three teen college students. My job consisted of shooting cashmere sweaters — or whatever was required — through pneumatic tubes to fill orders.

It was magical. Here was the high temple of the iconic gray flannel three-button suit, button down collar shirt, Chesterfield top coat, the “bull and bear” or diagonally striped BB No. 1 Rep tie and, underneath it all, buttoned boxer shorts that tied in the back. Though a lowly entry-level peon, I was on top of it all, literally, in that stock room on the top floor.

But for us employees, there was an added benefit: the semi-annual “Taken Out of Stock” sale for Brooks staff only.

After the inventory counts were complete, merchandise not destined to be sold to the public was taken to the roof where we workers were turned loose to buy. We could snag an all-wool three-piece suit worth hundreds of dollars at the price of just $5.00.

The experience of Mr. Hill forms a contrast to that of Tom Davis, who entered Brooks Brothers through the same channels around the same time. While Mr. Hill left the company, citing pay discrimination, and went on to work in the airline industry, Davis stayed at Brooks Brothers for 50 years. You could say he never grew out of the Ivy image, but continued growing into it. You can find Ivy Style’s lengthy Q&A with Mr. Davis from March 2019 here. — CC

5 Comments on "Chasing The Ivy Image: USA Today Op-Ed On Brooks In The ’60s"

  1. Charlottesville | July 21, 2020 at 1:28 pm |

    Great piece, CC. Thanks for posting. I remember the button-front, tie-back boxer shorts. A friend of mine discovered them around 1987 or so, and told me about them. I bought a couple of pairs, more as a curiosity than anything else, and still have them.

  2. Vern Trotter | July 21, 2020 at 3:03 pm |

    While working at Brooks, I bought the navy summer suit I was married in at the TOS sale in1960 for five dollars. OCBD shirts were fifty cents to one dollar. Everything in the store was marked down similarly. Now you know why the employees were always so well dressed.

  3. They referred to the #1 repp tie as the “Bull and Bear”?

  4. $5 in 1960 is $44 today. Still a good deal!

  5. Does anyone remember the Brooks pullover OCBD shirts?. Still have Two left out of many I wore out,. (I’m 85)

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