Brooks Brothers’ bankruptcy is fueled in part by having too many retail stores in nearly every corner of the globe.
But there was a time when the brand maintained a presence in only two places outside of New York. And these were not in other bastions of the eastern establishment, such as Boston, Philadelphia or Washington, but rather the playgrounds of New York’s elite: Newport and Palm Beach. It’s interesting that before Brooks went after other urban communities as purveyor of dress suitable for politicians, attorneys and captains of industry, it went after the captains of yachts.
Brooks opened in Newport in 1909 and Palm Beach in 1924, and didn’t begin catering to proper Bostonians until 1928. Here’s a passage from the Brooks Brothers book “Generations of Style:”
Despite being over 100 years old and immensely successful, Brooks Brothers had always seemed uninterested in expanding outside Manhattan. Prior to the Twenties, the company had established only one outpost, a seasonal operation in Newport, opened in 1909. Not much is made of it in any Brooks literature, but one suspects that the store was never intended to make much money. Rather, the Newport shop served as a kind of Traveler’s Aid for the yachting set: always at the ready with a pair of white flannels when a misfortune beside the Vanderbilt’s pool rendered a previous pair inoperable. At any rate, a few years later, as changing taste and more rapid travel options prompted the Newport set to season farther afield, Brooks decamped as well. A second seasonal operation opened in Palm Beach, FL, in December 1924; the Depression prompted its demise in 1933.
I asked Brooks if they had any images of these first two shops outside New York, and they sent these over. The top image is from 1924, while the two below are from ’34. The second one makes note of Brooks’ traveling representatives whose territory included many prep schools and colleges, but only east of the Mississippi. — CC
This post originally ran in 2012 and has been updated.
One might wonder if the Palm Beach store had “liveries” separated from the rest of the merchandise and if there were separate fitting rooms for footmen and coachmen getting their liveries fitted.
Plaza building,County road in Palm beach exist today?
I am trying to branch out from Brooks Brothers trousers, but am worried about the fit of new trousers. I am rather thin making it difficult to find pants that are not too “saggy” on my frame. For example, the milano cut trousers fit perfectly. Does anyone have suggestions on where to look?
Rob: I’m in the same situation as you are. I’d say you should just stick with Brooks.
It’s pretty interesting how they have been able to be a big name in clothing for two centuries, yet only operating in Manhattan for a bit less than a century. Amazing to see how the brand has rapidly expanded.
Rob and Johnny Reb:
I like where this company (link) is going. Cruise their offerings. Tailoring onsite, custom, etc. Now, nobody may call you preppy, but they will say you are put together very well!!!
When I started college out here in the wild, wild West, I had heard about Brooks Brothers but only vaguely knew they were the epicenter of this Ivy/preppy look I had adopted. They were distant and mythological.
Some time in the 90’s, Brooks opened a store at the best possible location in downtown Austin. I was excited at first. “It’s Brooks Brothers!” But after a few visits and purchases, the luster was gone. It was just another store with an “Anywhere America” decor and didn’t look much different from the JA Bank down the street. There was little mystique.
The staff was friendly and knowledgeable about the store’s offerings, but they didn’t appear to know much about the style and its origins. They knew what they sold but not why. Perhaps the same could be said for entire company.
“…dress suitable for politicians, attorneys and captains of industry, it went after the captains of yachts.” Wouldn’t they be pretty much the same people?
Whiskeydent-I had a similar experience with the BB that opened here in San Antonio several years ago.
Yours is still open, correct? Ours closed doors a couple-three ears ago. It was located at 6th and Congress, surrounded by numerous banks, brokerages, etc. A 20-something college kid ain’t exactly inspiring to a grownup who can actually afford BB clothes.
I out assume it’s still open. It’s located in the La Cantera area out IH 10 West about ten miles from where I live in Alamo Heights. I was last there several months ago and was so disappointed at their offerings, I vowed not to return.
Their former location in Newport would have been wear Stop and Shop on Bellevue is now, right next to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, on the edge of the downtown district, just before the Bellevue mansions begin. A strategic location. Their current store here is amidst other retail shops at the center of the tourist area on Thames St. However, it only carries the Country Club and Red Fleece lines.
Trevor Jones- I spent the Summer of 1974 in Newport while in the Navy JAG program. Quite an eye opener for a boy who grew up in Texas. I lived near Bellvue as I recall. Is there a street named Ruggles?
@John Carlos, there is indeed. In fact, I lived off Ruggles last year. There’s a big, white mansion on the corner of Ruggles and Bellevue that the Navy used to own for officer housing (now it is apartments). Could that be where you were living?
Trevor Jones- I can’t remember the address , but I’m sure it was on Ruggles. I think it was a duplex or quadraplex a few blocks from Bellvue. Probably not the place you’re referring to as I was not yet an officer. I was there to attend Officer Indoctrination School (doctors, dentists, and lawyers). It was the Summer between my second and third year of law school. I really enjoyed Newport, especially the weather.
Trevor Jones- not to mention that the America’s Cup was being held in Newport that Summer.
It would be very interesting to know more about the menswear scene in Boston during this period and whether there were parallels in what Brooks did in New York and perhaps smaller tailors and retailers did in Boston, and also about what was worn north of Boston during this period along the nicer shore areas, e.g., where the shingle architecture emerged. In addition to an arguably an (obviously unacceptable) anti-Semitic reference to a Jewish financier (Rosedale) tailored as though upholstered, Edith Wharton, in the House of Mirth, speaks of another outfitted by Henry Poole, so presumably the New York elite and perhaps Boston as well had access to Savile Row as well as local tailors. It is perhaps possible London tailors did local variations or differences in cut for American clients; the explicit mention of a cut that is not tight-fitting is interesting in a context set well before the formal advent of the sack suit, so perhaps its antecedents are in tailoring practices that existed in the last few decades of the 19th c. perhaps as carried out by multiple tailors–i.e., a style was not confined or even primarily identified with a particular maker but was part of a general trend. All of this is highly speculative, of course; perhaps someone has researched it, though doing so might prove difficult, as what actually occurred on the ground probably differed from what found in more general textbooks of the period, etc.
Face southwest on this streetview link, and there’s the original Palm Beach location. Palm Beach has maintained a lot of its 1920s and 1930s buildings, especially along that corridor. All the big office buildings and large condos are over in West Palm Beach, so Palm Beach was spared much development that would have knocked down the smaller, older buildings.
John Carlos, I also went through the JAG program in Newport; ODS (the renamed OIS) in 2018 and NJS in 2019. The current Brooks Brothers store there is very plain and small and it’s in the touristy shopping strip with Chico’s, Sunglass Hat, and various t-shirt shops.
Unfortunately the Brooks Brothers Palm Beach store closed permanently in January. The conservative wealthy don’t wear Brooks anymore. They wear Loro Piana and Brunello Cucinelli.