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Ralph Lauren

Marcus1999

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Classic American clothing, as it was defined by Brooks Brothers and its cultural satellites (e.g. J. Press, The Andover Shop, and the countless no-name boutiques that sold "trad" and "prep" clothing) started to go into decline after the 1960s. In the immediate post-war years, youth and rebellion started to become increasingly dominant themes in fashion. The culture wars of the 1950s and '60s can be broadly represented by the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit on one side and the rebel rocker on the other -- one being the Establishment and the other being the new, young, and cool generation (e.g. Brando and James Dean striking a pose).

By the 1970s, this style of clothing was too closely associated with the Establishment to have any real appeal to a new generation. It was also around this time that Brooks Brothers started getting passed around to various international owners. Winthrop Holly Brooks was the last member of the Brooks family to own and lead the company. He sold it to Julius Garfinckels in 1946, and John C Wood -- who's widely recognized as the last "greats" in Brooks Brothers' history -- served as the company's CEO. When Woods left, he was interviewed by the New York Times about what he thinks is his lasting legacy. He said something to the effect of: "I made Brooks more Brooksy than before."

Garfinkels expanded Brooks Brothers and then sold it to someone in 1987. That person then sold the company to Marks & Spencer in 1988, which set off a chain of events that later led to the company's downfall. To put it shortly: Garfinkels expanded Brooks Brothers because they want to capitalize on their investment, and then Marks and Spencer put the expansion into overdrive. By greatly expanding the company's footprint, they locked the company into a network of bad real estate deals, which would prove to be a ticking time bomb. When Retail Brand Alliance bought the company in 2001, they expanded it even more. This is the summary of Brooks Brothers' downfall.

Ralph Lauren started Polo in 1968 in the backdrop of all this -- the heyday of Ivy Style, the post-war culture wars, and the counter-cultural revolution of the '70s. During this period, prep and trad increasingly became irrelevant, as they were too closely tied to the establishment.

By the 1970s, Raph Lauren was starting to get picked up by notable stores -- succeeding even in this backdrop. And in the 1980s, when men's fashion was all about Italian designers such as Armani and Versace, Ralph Lauren kept the torch alive for classic American clothing.

I became interested in clothing in the 1990s. This is well after the culture wars of the 50s and 60s, the counter-cultural revolution of the 70s, and the Marks & Spencer-led downfall of Brooks Brothers. My first introduction to classic American men's clothing was at an RL flagship. Importantly, Ralph Lauren at the time felt relevant to non-white people like me (I'm Asian, don't aspire to be a WASP, and was introduced to Ralph Lauren because I was into dancing. My friends were 'Lo Heads). Brooks Brothers always felt too stuffy to me. Even though I recognized it as a symbol of success, it wasn't something I aspired to wear. But there were other cultural influences around RL -- Tyson Beckford, dancers, rap artists, etc. Ralph Lauren was still a symbol of WASPy success, but one that felt more relevant to me.

For many men who grew up in the '80s and '90s, their first introduction to American classics -- the tweed jacket, oxford button-down, Shetland sweater, polo coat, madras, etc -- was at a Ralph Lauren flagship. This is notable because all these things are things that Brooks Brothers introduced to the United States in the early 20th century through their 346 Madison Avenue store. But by the 1980s and '90s, Brooks Brothers was increasingly less relevant. Ralph Lauren took all these things -- along with the "prole" gear that defined the other half of classic Ameican style in the post-war period, such as chambray shirts, jeans, and workwear -- and introduced them to a new generation of men.

For those of us who went further in our clothing interest, we later found the "original" source for these things. So instead of an RL button-down, we gravitated towards companies that tried to replicate the mid-century Brooks Brothers version. Instead of Ralph Lauren's colorfast madras, we sought the bleeding ones from niche companies. Instead of Ralph Lauren's ready-to-wear tweeds, some went bespoke. So on and so forth.

A friend of mine in Italy works as a fitter for a bespoke tailoring company. While visiting San Francisco, he and I went out for drinks. He brought out his phone to show me a photo of him and Ralph Lauren, who he had recently met. I remember losing my mind because Raph Lauren is basically my introduction to clothing. Anyway, he and I reminisced what it felt like first walking through a Ralph Lauren flagship in the '90s. I remember him saying: "It felt like you were walking through JFK Jr.'s personal closet." The references to sport, prep, and classic American tailoring were so amazing. It was like the coolest, most refined, sporty guy you could imagine, and you were somehow walking through his wood-paneled dressing room.

That's also what an RL flagship felt like to me, and how I fell in love with so many of those classic American pieces. When I saw those same pieces at Brooks Brothers, it simply didn't have the same effect -- those were just lawyer clothes. But Ralph Lauren united the two sides of classic American clothing -- trad and workwear -- under one banner, despite them previously being at odds with each other. He also took the dominant post-war themes in men's fashion -- youth, cool, and sexiness -- and transported them onto trad clothes.

A lot of classic American clothing has been subsumed into "normcore," such as button-down shirts and flat-front chinos. But Ralph Lauren kept the flavor of that look alive for another generation. WIthout him, I don't know what would have happened to that look after the 1970s.
Thanks so much for this and for taking the time to write, such an interesting read and very insightful. Definitely got some inspiration to start writing myself after reading this. Cheers again.
 

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
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I love your writing about history of style.
Where does mod fit into this? This was always a youth/rebellious style , but obviously very different from the rocker aesthetic. But also clearly a deliberate step away from the conservative dress standards of the day. Perhaps it was a deliberate step away from the class-focused dress code of the time, in the sense that the original mods weren't part of what would traditionally have been thought of as the suit-wearing classes. They wore them as an affectation rather than because it was expected of them. Their parents would have been more likely to have been in overalls or workwear as they went about their day-to-day. That's my take on it anyway. I guess what's always slightly confused me, is that I don't know if this then led into the very conservative, power-suit / Sloane ranger aesthetic of the 80s. It clearly led into subsequent youth culture aesthetics like ska/new romantic - those seem to me to have been very much an evolution of the 60s mod look. But was the Armani/Versace 80s look a mainstreaming of the mod look, or did it evolve in parallel, from the (perhaps less style focused) middle/upper classes that had stuck to traditional British dress codes through the 60s and 70s rather than getting involved in subculture-aligned trends and fads?
I don't think US and UK style history map cleanly onto each other. They each had their own dynamics going on at the time, but I agree that even the youth in Britain wanted something more rebellious and cool after the war.

I think you're located in the UK. If you go to the BBC's video archives (should be available online), you can watch a multi-part video documentary called British Style Genius. Its quite well done and covers the Mods, along with other British style movements.
 

Mr Tickle

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I don't think US and UK style history map cleanly onto each other. They each had their own dynamics going on at the time, but I agree that even the youth in Britain wanted something more rebellious and cool after the war.

I think you're located in the UK. If you go to the BBC's video archives (should be available online), you can watch a multi-part video documentary called British Style Genius. Its quite well done and covers the Mods, along with other British style movements.
Thanks. Will definitely check it out when I get the chance , it doesn't seem to be on BBC iPlayer at the moment though. Strangely it may be for you but not me, as a lot of Beeb stuff that isn't available here any more is licensed for overseas viewing.
 

dieworkwear

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Thanks so much for this and for taking the time to write, such an interesting read and very insightful. Definitely got some inspiration to start writing myself after reading this. Cheers again.
If you go to YouTube and look up Lo Heads, you'll find some really good documentaries.






In the '90s, Polo was all over clubs like this one below. These were almost all male affairs -- hardly any women at these clubs. It was just a bunch of guys in Polo and dancing. In this way, a lot of Polo got recontextualized as it became not just a symbol of white success, but part of an underground music, dance, and fashion scene.


 

TheChihuahua

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I always viewed it (granted this impression was formed 20-30 years ago)

start with Ralph Lauren
Graduate to Brooks Brothers
Graduate to Paul Stuart

another issue I have with Ralph Lauren is how to know which of his stuff is good and which is poorer quality. I’ve learned that purple label is high quality, but I had to learn that. His spectrum is so wide, I don’t know if the stuff sold at Macy’s (which has a fairly high MSRP but is always 80% off) is respectable, poor, good, or how to judge it.
I have had some shorts or polos that I thought were well made and hung onto for years. I have also had some outlet purchases that just felt like stuff/heavy fabric and I disliked it very much.

granted the difference in quality is understandable, but my issue is that I don’t know how to distinguish.

it’s like Seiko watch problem. Sure a grand Seiko is as good as a rolex, but for somebody who is not a watch enthusiast how do they know which quality/line of Seiko they are purchasing? The internet has made it easier, but my days of buying a lot of Ralph Lauren products were prior to this much information being available online. Now I just avoid Ralph Lauren as I have been burned too many times.

big picture I do appreciate his contribution to people dressing respectably
 

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
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I always viewed it (granted this impression was formed 20-30 years ago)

start with Ralph Lauren
Graduate to Brooks Brothers
Graduate to Paul Stuart

another issue I have with Ralph Lauren is how to know which of his stuff is good and which is poorer quality. I’ve learned that purple label is high quality, but I had to learn that. His spectrum is so wide, I don’t know if the stuff sold at Macy’s (which has a fairly high MSRP but is always 80% off) is respectable, poor, good, or how to judge it.
I have had some shorts or polos that I thought were well made and hung onto for years. I have also had some outlet purchases that just felt like stuff/heavy fabric and I disliked it very much.

granted the difference in quality is understandable, but my issue is that I don’t know how to distinguish.

it’s like Seiko watch problem. Sure a grand Seiko is as good as a rolex, but for somebody who is not a watch enthusiast how do they know which quality/line of Seiko they are purchasing? The internet has made it easier, but my days of buying a lot of Ralph Lauren products were prior to this much information being available online. Now I just avoid Ralph Lauren as I have been burned too many times.

big picture I do appreciate his contribution to people dressing respectably
Among Ralph's sublines, it's all about Polo and RRL.

For industrialized production, I don't think anyone makes better clothing than RL in terms of quality. The level of detailing is pretty incredible.
 

TheChihuahua

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Among Ralph's sublines, it's all about Polo and RRL.

For industrialized production, I don't think anyone makes better clothing than RL in terms of quality. The level of detailing is pretty incredible.
see, I don’t even know what that means.
“it’s all about polo and RRL”

does that mean those are the good ones?
What is RRL?
Aren’t there different lines of polo? Half the stuff in the factory outlets say polo on them?

again, not a Ralph Lauren hater by any means, but his catalogue causes me more confusion than it’s worth for me to try to figure out.
 

clee1982

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RL is straight forward if you know it I suppose...

1. anything shows up in Macy has little to do with real RL

2. the only “real” Polo shows up in Bloomingdales, Polo’s own store, Saks Fifth, and Polo is good. Also if you buy from Ralph Lauren.com it’s always RRL/RLX/RLPL you will not run into Macy stuff

3. RLPL is always good, you have it in RL’s own store, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth

4. Other than some rare speciality store RRL are RL’s own store and mostly dedicated store

very few outlet has RLPL or RRL (think Woodbury, not sure about where else) not sure about Polo

you can ignore Lauren Ralph Lauren (Macy stuff). I don’t think there is any confusing Polo Ralph Lauren that actually shows up in Macy (think all the Macy stuff says Lauren Ralph Lauren)
 

TheChihuahua

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RL is straight forward if you know it I suppose...

1. anything shows up in Macy has little to do with real RL

2. the only “real” Polo shows up in Bloomingdales, Polo’s own store, Saks Fifth, and Polo is good. Also if you buy from Ralph Lauren.com it’s always RRL/RLX/RLPL you will not run into Macy stuff

3. RLPL is always good, you have it in RL’s own store, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth

4. Other than some rare speciality store RRL are RL’s own store and mostly dedicated store

very few outlet has RLPL or RRL (think Woodbury, not sure about where else) not sure about Polo

you can ignore Lauren Ralph Lauren (Macy stuff). I don’t think there is any confusing Polo Ralph Lauren that actually shows up in Macy (think all the Macy stuff says Lauren Ralph Lauren)
that’s real helpful

how do you tell the difference between real polo and the poor quality stuff? Does the label indicate it somehow?

I just looked at their website and was somewhat impressed. Haven’t really looked at this brand in well over a decade.
 
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dieworkwear

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that’s real helpful

how do you tell the difference between real polo and the poor quality stuff?

I just looked at their website and was somewhat impressed. Haven’t really looked at this brand in well over a decade.
I would focus less on quality and more on creating a look. RL has a lot of great pieces, but there's admittedly also a lot of stuff that's not worth buying.

Even the "low end" stuff can be used to create a good look.
 

clee1982

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Lauren Ralph Lauren and Polo has distinct different label and are carried at different store. I never look at the Macy stuff think they actually say Lauren Ralph Lauren on the label for the Macy/Lord Taylor type of stuff.
 

clee1982

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I mean if you want pure pure basic you can recreate some of the stuff from jcrew Wallace and Barnes on sale for cheaper (but quite limited these days).

as overall package I think RL still win, even though some of the Polo CM stuff has got skinnier/shorter some are still good

not at $1,200 and I have more than one grey herringbone jacket but really like this

 

clee1982

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Also even back in 2007, BB was definitely not an upgrade from RL, other than Alden shell there was very few thing I went hum I want BB over RL (and by that I mean the entire empire of RL, both Polo and RLPL)

paul Stuart in general is much louder and different type personality than RL (at least Phineas Cole could have been very loud though wearable loud)
 

clee1982

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Another RL alternative look for cheaper would be club monaco (RL owns it anyway). Though I have not check Club Monaco for ages not sure if their price has come up?

edit: took a quick looks on CM, so some aesthetic has changed for sure, definitely less over lapping some of them feel more “Japanese” basic for lack of better word...
 
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