The Rituals, The Tradition… It’s All Gone

After a two-Manhattan lunch with the guys, I would occasionally go and sit with “my guy” at Brooks Brothers and go through swatches and order up a couple of MTM suits. One of the tailors, Sal, an impeccably-dressed Italian gentleman, would measure me. Pick-stitching, working sleeve buttons, pen-pocket, mid-break, no break, 1 5/8” cuffs, etc. At times Sal would tell me when Martin Greenfield would be visiting the store to personally do measurements. I would say: “Sal, what do I need Greenfield for when I have you.” He loved that.

I would pick out beautiful silk and ancient madder ties. Order some custom shirts. Pick up a pair of Aldens. By the time all was said and done, it would be time for dinner (and a scotch before that). Then, a few weeks later, the follow-up phone calls to come in for fittings, always on a late-Saturday morning, and then finally pick-up day. Man, those were good days. I still have a closet full of those suits.

Pre-pandemic, I began having all of those beautiful ties narrowed to 3.25” by Andy at Tiecrafters in New York. The ties BB is selling now couldn’t come close to the quality of those ties. The cost to have them narrowed and cleaned was less expensive than buying the sub-par ties they are hawking now. And the cost to replace those ties with something comparable is simply out of the question at this stage of the game.

Last year a younger colleague commented how much he liked a Brooks navy pinstripe suit I was wearing. I asked him how old he was and he responded that he had recently turned 34. I sneaked a peek inside my jacket pocket and told him that I purchased this suit when he was 19 years old. His mouth was agog. I later gave him several pairs of Johnston & Murphy (when they were still a decent shoe) shoes with shoe trees (to emphasize proper shoe care), so that he would stop wearing his curled up square-toed shoes that made him look like Aladdin. Together, we threw those shoes out. I couldn’t look at them anymore. Snobbery? Perhaps. I like to think of it as his rite of passage into better footwear.

These things are just not as important as they once were, and they were beginning to dissipate before the pandemic hit. The pandemic just accelerated this paradigm shift and Brooks Brothers’ closing is a microcosm of that shift. The rites of passage, the rituals, the tradition… it’s all gone.

I would purchase clothes/shoes/pieces with an eye on quality/durability, or least the best quality within my means. Clothes with classic lines, essential pieces, always trying not to following trends but remaining true timeless style. Reading Flusser, Glenn O’Brien (even Bernard Roetzel’s book) for me was part of my job which consisted of making good impressions and emanating a look that you were indeed a serious man. When I was a young man, a seasoned colleague of mine once told me, “You want to be taken seriously? Wear cufflinks.” Sure it takes a bit more then some hardware adorning your wrists but nevertheless, the message was clear. The journey of developing one’s own sense of style was one that I enjoyed — and still enjoy — immensely. — BM

24 Comments on "The Rituals, The Tradition… It’s All Gone"

  1. Good read. Thanks, BM

    Cheers, BC

  2. Roger Sack | March 31, 2021 at 4:55 pm |

    Around the Spring of ’83 I was getting MTM from Chipp.
    Their more fitted model with side vents. I had already purchased
    a couple of sport coats in the same model RTW. That model
    suited my build better and looked more ” cosmopolitan” than
    the previous 3 button sacks I had been wearing since childhood.
    My more current wardrobe is largely Italian but with essentially the same
    cut.

  3. john carlos | March 31, 2021 at 5:06 pm |

    A good read, indeed. I remember waiting with much anticipation at the change of seasons for the new Brooks Brothers catalog to arrive in my mailbox. BB did not have a store then in San Antonio and was pre internet. There’s been a store here for several years now but I have no interest in shopping there based on their current offerings. A sad state of affairs. Thankfully, there’s still J. Press, O’Connell’s, and Ben Silver, at least for now.

  4. The detailed specs for the suit reminds me of the Emo Phillips gag about the suicidal guy who’s about to jump off a bridge.

    1 5/8″ cuffs? So I screamed “Die, heretic!” and pushed him off!

  5. Thank you, CC. I am honored.

    -Bob

  6. Man in the White Pinpoint | April 1, 2021 at 1:03 am |

    The rituals may be gone, but the fact that BM has  “a closet full of those suits” and the fact that “there’s still J. Press, O’Connell’s, and Ben Silver”, as john carlos reminds us, suggest that no matter what life throws our  way, our recovery from even the most unimaginable adversity is likely to be quicker and more complete if we focus on what we have, rather than on what we have lost.

  7. @ Man in the White Pinpoint – I think that I first saw this quote here at Ivy Style:

    “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” ― Gustav Mahler

  8. I should like to add The Andover Shop to that list of retailers still holding the torch. While a relative youngster as myself (recently 30) will always pine for those Brooks Brothers glory days, I’ve been enjoying a similar experience as BM so eloquently lays out above at Andover. There’s nothing quite like poring over books of fabric swatches and debating points of customization with staff who really know their stuff and care—and importantly, will push back on what they don’t condone—and waiting for it to arrive as a fully fashioned garment weeks later. Each day this week I’ve been eagerly awaiting the text alerting me that the silk-linen houndstooth jacket I ordered for spring will be ready for its basted sleeve fitting. After that it will be another two to three weeks until all its buttonholes are sewn by hand—by an old nonna in Boston’s North End—and it will be at last be a new part of my wardrobe. At the moment I’m also awaiting a seersucker suit (undarted, side vents, patch flap pockets, flat front trousers with side adjusters) that I hope to deploy at a looking-like-its-going-to-happen June wedding.

  9. I well recall thumbing through the Brooks Bros. catalogs that used to arrive in the mail as a child and teenager thanks to my father’s and maternal grandfather’ professional lives in the Philadelphia area and Manhattan and related clothing purchases. Clearly, they and the print matter made a lasting impression. Fast-forward 30+ years, and I have started quietly leaving J. Press and Ben Silver brochures atop the dresser in my 11-year old son’s bedroom, which (hopefully) might have a similar effect as he approaches manhood.

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

  10. A great read. I refuse to let the present times influence my choice of traditional dress. I wear a fedora to work and whenever I can. I wear a sports jacket tweed in fall. blue blazer fall and linen and seersucker summer and spring. I wear Allen Edmonds to work. I wear weejuns.
    I don’t care what the present day says. My style and attitude are timeless.

  11. Nice piece, thank you.

  12. I’m presently wearing a BB suit, shirt and tie in my nearly empty office. All recent purchases (within the past 5 years) and the quality is a pale comparison of BB quality of old. Nevertheless, my available options are limited.

  13. Charlottesville | April 1, 2021 at 3:06 pm |

    Thank you for the great post. I echo what others say above, and have fond memories of getting the catalogs, with their hand-drawn illustrations, while still in school, and eventually being able to shop at the Madison flagship and the L Street store in Washington, which was a block from my office on Connecticut Avenue.

    I always felt that I was in good hands at Brooks in that era, whether stocking up on basics like shirts, socks and boxer shorts at the annual sale, or choosing suits, shoes and ties that would last for decades. One knew that the quality would be high, the styling timeless, and the service as impeccable as the clothing. I think I may still have a business card for Tom Davis, King of the Shirt Department on Madison Avenue, and I certainly still have a few shirts as well as suits and shoes from the 80s and 90s that I wear regularly.

    As John Carlos said, we can be thankful for J. Press, O’Connell’s, Ben Silver and a few others, but I see nothing wrong with taking a moment to lament the loss of a true classic.

  14. Old School Tie | April 1, 2021 at 3:07 pm |

    The chap in the picture is a very odd build. A very odd build indeed.

  15. Pinpoint Man | April 2, 2021 at 1:21 pm |

    @Jim K,

    You saw the Mahler quote here–in Jım’s comment–on September 26, 2019:

    http://www.ivy-style.com/theres-only-one-brooks-brothers-coronet-magazine-1950.html

  16. I have photographs of my Grandfather, who spent his life as a stonemason, wearing custom-made suits, a perfectly knotted tie, elaborately pointed linen pocket-handkerchief, and neatly cut and combed silver hair. His shoes were always shined and his only jewelry a wedding ring and Knights of Columbus tie-pin.

    Look at a photo of Gary Cooper, Fred Astair, or Cary Grant. American men set a standard. Serious and grown-up. They won wars and built industries. Now, “leisure-wear” and hairy feet sticking out of flip-flops. Men standing in Depression-era breadlines were better dressed.

  17. I am still kicking myself for having thrown out my BB off the rack double breasted summer suit during the mid to late 80’s when Armani was affordable due to the exchange rate vs. the lira. So sad to hear that the quality has gone down as the prices rose.

  18. Fernando Correa. | April 7, 2021 at 9:38 pm |

    The good test of the classic and elegant wardrobe era of a mix of IveLeague and European lines is gone. A pity.
    I wish Brooks Brothers some day will rescue it.
    Today I don’t feel attracted to stop by in BB.

  19. Deakyne Terry | April 8, 2021 at 8:33 am |

    As a female, I do love a man who knows how to dress. Always turning around for another glimpse or to catch my breath. It’s is so nice to see a man in braces and bow tie.
    The list from above w/ my addition:
    1) Brooks Brothers
    2) J. Press
    3) The Andover Store
    4) Ben Silver
    5) O’Connell’s
    6) M. Dumas & Sons-Charleston SC
    7) Paul Stuart
    8) Peter Elliot Blue-72nd and Lexington Ave., NYC

  20. Kim masters | April 11, 2021 at 6:13 pm |

    I got a talisman wool coat from bb 5 years ago. It is really wonderfully made…in China, of course.
    I think Paul Stuart does made to measure as does saville row uk tailors, but nobody I know wears them.

  21. I miss the old Brooks Brothers. But now for that type suit have to go to Berfdorfs or Paul Stuart and for really good shoes head downtown to Vogel Boot Maker.

  22. If quality and craftmanship is of interest to all reading, may I suggest the luxury Designer, Martin Dingman. He specializes in leather and alligator goods. Check out his line of shoes, belts and travel gear. You won’the be disappointed! Every piece my husband owns is of the most impeccable quality with an exceptional eye on detail. I call them “Pieces of Art” because they are timeless. They will compliment any suit of quality. I think I look forward to his shipments of new belts and shoes as much as does. Lol

  23. As a transplant to Buffalo, it makes me smile that my local clothing store, O’Connell’s makes the majority of lists.

    I still shop BB, it’s not the same. Styles are more transient. Quality fleeting. Their full line store in Toronto was still great, before the pandemic. They just closed my local MTM in Rochester. We’re left with an outlet store. Meh.

    I’ll stick with Hart Schaffner Marx for my trendier (read: semi-disposable) stuff, and O’Connell’s for my traditional cuts.

    Wouldn’t trade O’Connell’s for the world.

  24. Ann Elizabeth Compton | April 30, 2021 at 2:46 am |

    Always accompanied my Dad and Uncle to Brooks Brothers. The fabrics, the cuts, the tailoring were the icing on the cake of these self-made gentlemen.
    Now, as a manager/marketer for a not-for-profit resale boutique, an arrival of gently-loved Brooks Brothers clothing leads me down memory lane. Even sweeter are those arrivals with buttons strategically placed to anchor the braces of a well dressed gentleman.
    With the demise of the BB, who will gird the loins of our corporate and judicial warriors?

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