02 September 2008

Unless it's Brooks Brothers

And then there are these guys...my old employer back in 1985. Sadly, Brooks Brothers has taken their marketing seriously while scrimping on the product. Anyone with a knowledge of this company for more than 15 years knows what it was like. Hefty oxford cloth button downs, rep ties with weight to them as opposed to the tissue paper construction of today. Made in the USA on all the labels versus Made in China or as this catalog proudly announces, "imported" when the product is not made in the US or Europe.



This massive catalog (Vol. 1 no less) sans models, echos the coffee table book published by Brooks some years ago. Covered in a grey, Loro Piana chalk stripe fabric it was crammed full of history with old store pictures and catalog pages. It made for fond memories of a time when Brooks Brothers really meant something. Now they've followed that "fond memory" with a ultra slick 258 page catalog of shameless gushing. Descriptions like, " providing merchandise of the highest quality" and "the mark of true luxury" all while confiding that a wash and wear shirt they've been working on for eight years is as much a tradition as their trademark; the Golden Fleece. The chapter headings started to remind me of a Men's Wearhouse commercial. "You're going to like the way you look. I guarantee it."



I have news about that non-iron shirt...it does not breathe. "...finely woven exclusively for Brooks Brothers by one of the world's premier fabric mills." Uh, that mill is in Malaysia and you can bet your golden fleece that the cost to produce that shirt falls far below the original polo button down. Long story short and my personal experience with the non iron shirting is this: A shirt that does not breathe will make you sweat. A lot. Sweat, unable to escape, starts to smell. When you smell of B.O. no one will give a shit you're wearing a Brooks Brothers shirt. Except Brooks Brothers. And if I might make one Trad observation here. Wrinkles are a clue you're wearing a natural fabric. Cotton and linen wrinkle and that means character. Polyester does not wrinkle but traps human odor. There's character there as well but I associate it with a bowling alley.



I will say this for Brooks. If you don't like it, for whatever reason, they will take it back and refund your money. And that includes those non-iron shirts. I doubt the Subway Inn Bar would reimburse you if didn't like the beer they sold you. Something to keep in mind.

12 comments:

richard m said...

I was a customer at the Flagship BB at 346 Mad Ave from the time I first went shopping for a college wardrobe in 1960-what a change there's been! I then encountered the beautiful cedar smell of the place, the salesmen (yes, men) in their 3-piece suits (standard on all but tropical suits), the beautiful (to-iron!) shirts and furnishing, the Peal and Brooks English shoes, the knowledgeability of the staff, meant that I was in sartorial heaven. IMHO, the University suits and jackets I bought then were far superior in style and make to the $1000+ items I see now. Yes, the place has improved since the disastrous tenure of "Marks and Sparks" but Oh, to have the BB of John O'Hara and George Frazier back again. Sigh...

Ben said...

Yes, I've noticed a worrying drop in B.B. quality, especially since I don't freqent their store (there isn't one in Honolulu) anymore.

What's funny about your post is that I'd never have expected my demographic ("... from more than 15 years [ago]") to be the subject of nostalgia so soon. But the Brooks Brothers store on 18th and L in 1986 did seem to carry finer things than are on offer now.

M.Lane said...

I agree. I also agree completely about the "non-iron" shirts that so many are selling now. Give me my wrinkles and fabrics not made from some chemical...GREAT post.

Richard said...

I received the same catalog a couple days ago in the mail, and I guess that means we are both guilty of making purchases to be on their mailing list.

I agree with you about the weight of their ties, and I have found them to be second class. The only exception is their wool ties. In addition, I can remember the horrible Brooks Republic days (that is what I called them when they tried to be a like Banana Republic and Gap), but I am not old enough to remember or appreciate the 60s, 70s, or 80s golden years of Brooks.

Finally, I was impressed with the large catalog, and it is clear they are picking up their marketing. It did say vol. 1, and I can only imagine what vol. 2 will display. They pretty much covered their basis with the first I thought, and I imagine it is expensive to send mail of that weight.

Matthew David Nelson said...

Undoubtedly, BB declined when the original owners sold and the operation then went through several different owners in a short space of time.

But, BB has also had a few classics for those willing to shift through the innovative chaff. For example, the 3/2 button Sack Blazers have been good through it all, as well as the Original Polo Button-Down Collar Oxfords (indeed forget anything that says non-iron).

In any case, I think the present owners are trying to redeem the BBs name and return to its former level of overall quality. I hope so too, because I have been even more disappointed with J. Press in recent years.

initials CG said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks those non-iron Brooks are crap. I bought three at a Brooks shop in the Cincinnati Airport-I was bored waiting for my layover, and the Russian sales girl was to cute not to talk to. Women and clothes just don't go well together...

Didn't know I could exchange them. Better than having them take up space. Thanks for the tip!

Cool Cal said...

I have a BB polo non-iron. Worst thing - no matter how many times I throw it into the wash, it never gets that wonderful worn, slightly shabby quality even a J. Crew (for Christ's sake) gets after a few cycles. If I wanted a perfectly ironed looking shirt that drops of water beaded off of, I'd go for broadcloth. They've lost their way.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more about the general slide in quality of the store, and in particular with the quality of their pinpoint BDs, which I think were actually more expensive back in the late 1980s than they are now, which would speak volumes, though maybe my old brain is foggy on the numbers. That said I think the Golden Fleece suits are reliable, and, to be fair to BB, the rest of the trad clothing suppliers have gone downhill somewhat as well [yes I'm talking to you J Press, and sadly even Southwick].

Dan I am said...

...will be interesting to see what happens with Southwick, now that Brooks Brothers has purchased them.

MLeaves2 said...

No, BB isn't what it was twenty years ago - the day I went downstairs to the suit department at Lenox Square and the salesman greeted me for the first time with "43 Medium-Long!"

They don't make Medium-Longs anymore, andthey don't have salesmen that are that good with sizes. I also now wear a 46...

But there have been changes and improvements in the last five years that have brought the store back from the abyss. I'm hoping that they'll continue on their upward trend and be able to increase their quality while still having so many stores.

Otherwise, wander down Madison to J. Press.

Laresa said...

I bought that no-iron shirt. Paper thin and the collar couldn't stand up even with "heavy" starch. Any my cleaner knows what "heavy" means. It is a shame what's happened to this company.

Matthew Nelson said...

No-iron shirts have always been too good to be true -- whether made from polyester or chemically treated cotton, they have major draw backs. The polyester ones don't breath and the chemically treated ones wear and fray quickly. They are short term solution at best.

Luckily, BBs does offer the old-fashioned, "original polo collar" (only Brooks has real McCoy -- make sure it says "original polo collar" on the label) in 100% untreated cotton.