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The New Brooks Brothers

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Mahatma Jawndi
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The thing is that the USA mostly has a lot of very good stores, but the clothing will be from Italy, France, etc. There used to be all sorts of in-house tailoring and high quality ready-to-wear made in the USA, but that's mostly gone and so has the production.

Like Sam H pointed out, Brooks Brothers was excellent for the basics. But much of its cachet was that it both stocked high quality clothing and that it was the preferred venue of Society for shopping. That started to ebb towards the 1960s as retailers copied the styles to make sales, and has been declining ever since. The 1980s brought back a type of traditional 'Ivy' style among yuppie types, but even that was becoming shared with the kind of outdoorsy, bright coloured, hiking/skiing/sporty kind of clothes that eventually morphed into modern athleisure. Witness the rise and fall in interest for brands like Patagonia, Salomon, etc., whose clothes used to be manufactured to a much better standard. The 1980/90s sportswear was a way of saying: "I have the time and interest to be outdoors," when most aspirational types were stuck in cubicle offices and only took trips on weekends. Now the people who jump on that sportswear bandwagon are about 20 years late.

The appeal of Brooks Brothers is about 70 years too late. Expansion and offering 'diffusion' lines like Red Fleece was an attempt to stay profitable, but it failed because they simply aren't 'it' anymore. If anyone wants that nostalgic style these days they are more likely to stop by Ralph Lauren or a thrift store first. Other retailers that stock European luxury goods have been doing well - sounds like a hint to me.
Mitchells does well and they're just a smaller scale version of Brooks.
 

Ambulance Chaser

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I can see the new BB moving in the direction of Sid Mashburn, which is younger and more modern but occupies the same lane.
 

ballmouse

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Another appealing factor for Brooks Brothers was it was probably one of the few stores where you could find anything clothing related. They not only had sweaters, suits, and shoes, but everything else. Bowties. Boxer shorts. Socks. Suspenders. Black tie accessories. Wallets. Hats. Overcoats. Raincoats. Polo coats. Vests. Polo shirts. Everything. You can bet Brooks Brothers at one point sold any possible product you could think of if it was apparel or apparel related. And everything was solid and decently made.

It wasn't like going to Wal-Mart or the dollar store where they've got everything but the tradeoff for the convenience is questionable quality.
 

Nobilis Animus

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Mitchells does well and they're just a smaller scale version of Brooks.
But they are also an example of what I've said: a more successful, small scale store that sells designer clothing - not clothing made in the USA, by and large. https://shop.mitchellstores.com/t/mens/apparel/suits

The appeal for Brooks Brothers was their all-American, high-quality, high-society associations. Like ballmouse says above, you could find everything and it was all decently made. Not so anymore.
 

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
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But they are also an example of what I've said: a more successful, small scale store that sells designer clothing - not clothing made in the USA, by and large. https://shop.mitchellstores.com/t/mens/apparel/suits

The appeal for Brooks Brothers was their all-American, high-quality, high-society associations. Like ballmouse says above, you could find everything and it was all decently made. Not so anymore.
I suppose I don't agree with your timeline. I think Brooks started to suffer when they started to build out more and more stores, including outlets that diluted the brand. I don't think the fall started in the 1960s, but the 90s under Marks & Spencer.

If they greatly scaled back the number of their stores, they could go upmarket and just become a luxury brand. I don't think you have to do European luxury, and I don't think this is a story about the fall of American clothing. It's a story about scaling.
 

classicalthunde

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One of the things that I appreciated about Brooks Brothers is that they were located around the country, I certainly agree they expanded too far, but it was nice that regardless if I was in Baltimore or Boston, I knew I could go to a Brooks Brothers to get some quality menswear.

I think if they could limit themselves to 25-50 stores in major markets they could get the best of both worlds with a nationwide footprint, but still be able to focus on selling upmarket high quality items
 

Nobilis Animus

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I suppose I don't agree with your timeline. I think Brooks started to suffer when they started to build out more and more stores, including outlets that diluted the brand. I don't think the fall started in the 1960s, but the 90s under Marks & Spencer.

If they greatly scaled back the number of their stores, they could go upmarket and just become a luxury brand. I don't think you have to do European luxury, and I don't think this is a story about the fall of American clothing. It's a story about scaling.
Oh, I'm sure they were doing well before the 90s takeover. What I was referring to was the beginning of the end of their aspirational cachet. Brooks Brothers didn't used to be cheap, either! And when their image and clothing started to become more accessible to the average person - in other words, when people had caught on that Brooks Brothers was a shorthand for the 'right' clothing - their business was doing well, but the writing was on the wall for them. There's only so long that one can milk the 'old Ivy' appeal when the people to whom the business used to cater start looking elsewhere for their sporty clothes.

In other words, their Golden Goose flew the coop and they ran out of feathers to sell. The people they were selling to in the 60s, 70s, 80s, were being drawn more and more frequently from the larger population to whom the class aura of Brooks Brothers appealed - that's fine for profits, but not for longevity.
 
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dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
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One of the things that I appreciated about Brooks Brothers is that they were located around the country, I certainly agree they expanded too far, but it was nice that regardless if I was in Baltimore or Boston, I knew I could go to a Brooks Brothers to get some quality menswear.

I think if they could limit themselves to 25-50 stores in major markets they could get the best of both worlds with a nationwide footprint, but still be able to focus on selling upmarket high quality items
This is partly why I think enthusiasts who bemoan the fall of Brooks Brothers sometimes have a contradictory position. Without that huge build out, they may not have had access to the clothes. At the same time, that build out set up a large real estate network that ended up dragging the company down. One exec told me that, in 2010 or so, roughly 80% of the company's profits from mainline stores came from just 40 of their 150 mainline stores (this is in the United States and not including outlets). They could have closed more than 100 stores and not seen much of a change in profit.

In 1971, Brooks Brothers only had 11 stores and they were all located in densely populated major cities, almost entirely on the coasts -- Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Atlanta, Manhattan, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, and St. Louis. This to me is not the "fall" that @Nobilis Animus talks about. The brand still had a lot of cache.

When Retail Brand Alliance bought the company in 2001, Brooks Brothers had 150 locations in the United States and Japan. This was also shortly after the period when they started expanding into outlets (in the 90s). Those outlets gave a quick profit boost to lagging stores. It was also here where some now-major suppliers showed up in Brooks' supply chain (I believe TAL started as an outlet supplier).

Today, there are 500 stores worldwide. Roughly 250 of them are in the United States. And about 100 of those US locations are outlets. Meaning almost half of all US locations are outlets.

Most men who follow Ivy Style online are enthusiasts who came in during the time of Mad Men, Ask Andy forums, and the online craze around Take Ivy. That was post 2001. They benefited from that build out. But that builld out also set up a large real estate network that became a ticking time bomb.

As early as 2013, Brooks Brothers was still profitable. They entered the red in 2015. But some of the issues were there post 2001 -- the real estate network in the US set up a cost structure. Many stores weren't profitable. Sales have been hovering around $1 billion per year for the last ten years, but the make up of those numbers shifted. In 2013, $880 million of that $1 billion came from US sales. In 2019, that number shrank to $660 million. The lag has been picked up by international markets.

IMO, the brand could still be great if they cut out a large number of stores and scaled back. You can still do American manufacturing. Still tons of great talent in this country. But it would have to be small scale and luxury, which will price out many enthusiasts. That period of 1980s Brooks value is probably also gone (although profit margins across the whole industry seems to have increased, so not specific to Brooks).
 

comrade

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As one who shopped at BB from the early 60s and who switched to
Paul Stuart and later Chipp the next decade for personal taste reasons-
Yes, PS and Chipp …and Press were more"interesting" than BB and usually
fit my build better, the decline in quality began with Marks and Spencer. I agree
that ultimately what killed them was over expansion. I continued to buy socks,
underwear PJs, etc over this time and the quality decline was evident to the point
where newer Oxford cloth PJs started falling apart before those I had purchased
years before.

As for Mitchells, they certainly know how to stay in business, but in the
case of Wilkes Bashford, a distinctive store, which I didn't particularly like,
they seemed to have cut the "soul" out. So that in San Francisco, Saks,
Niemans, Barneys (RIP) and Wilkes gave the impression that they shared
the same buyer.
 
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Viral

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Oh, I'm sure they were doing well before the 90s takeover. What I was referring to was the beginning of the end of their aspirational cachet. Brooks Brothers didn't used to be cheap, either! And when their image and clothing started to become more accessible to the average person - in other words, when people had caught on that Brooks Brothers was a shorthand for the 'right' clothing - their business was doing well, but the writing was on the wall for them. There's only so long that one can milk the 'old Ivy' appeal when the people to whom the business used to cater start looking elsewhere for their sporty clothes.

In other words, their Golden Goose flew the coop and they ran out of feathers to sell. The people they were selling to in the 60s, 70s, 80s, were being drawn more and more frequently from the larger population to whom the class aura of Brooks Brothers appealed - that's fine for profits, but not for longevity.
how about the fact that the middle-class grew and more people could afford to shop at BB? Does that mean BBs quality decreased? Does that mean a basic white shirt should have it's price raised just because?

BTW, BB still isn't cheap. Their sales make the value prop worth it for most shoppers but a $102 plain white shirt isn't a bargain.
 

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
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how about the fact that the middle-class grew and more people could afford to shop at BB? Does that mean BBs quality decreased? Does that mean a basic white shirt should have it's price raised just because?

BTW, BB still isn't cheap. Their sales make the value prop worth it for most shoppers but a $102 plain white shirt isn't a bargain.
In the 1980s, Brooks Brothers only had two annual sales. And only one of those sales included their oxford cloth button downs. That sale happened shortly after the New Year, not even Christmas. It was for a measly 15% off and the only time you could get their OCBDs on discount.

Today, their shirts are continually on sale. OCBDs are priced around $150 but commonly on sale for $69 (nice). Non-irons are four for $200 almost year round.

In the 1980s, their shirts were also made in America. Today, they're mostly made by TAL. About 30% of the company's total business comes from TAL-made non-iron shirts alone.

TAL started as an outlet manufacturer for the company.

It may be that TAL shirts are a great value. Someone could also say they prefer non-iron shirts. They may also want these 4 for $200 deals, instead of paying $150 for an American made iron-required oxford button-down. But there has been a change.

When I talked to a former Brooks executive earlier this year, he named some companies that he felt were direct competitors -- Charles Tyrwhitt, Untuckit, and even Amazon's in-house line. He noted that garmentos may look down on these companies, but the average guy nowadays just wants a shirt he can wear to work. He may not care about provenance or whether a shirt is made from a certain type of fabric (heavier and nubbier Japanese oxfords, instead of non-iron stuff).

But then you have the problem: how is it that the company that invented the OCBD -- one of the greatest garments in American clothing history -- now can't even command a premium over mass-market Amazon stuff?

I think you're trying too hard to be a contrarian. It's pretty clear that Brooks Brothers isn't what it used to be from the 1980s. A quick perusal of thier website would show that.
 

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
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I don't know if this is from an outlet store or some newly manufactured stuff for Simon or perhaps just some rebadging. But imagine this sport coat being pre-1995 or so.

Full retail supposedly $350. Marked down 69% (nice). Gilt outlet price $110. The composition is 56% polyester, 39% viscose, and 5% elastane. Marked imported.

Look at the shoulder line, the lapels, and the general cut.


Screen Shot 2020-12-04 at 2.46.55 PM.png
 

Nobilis Animus

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how about the fact that the middle-class grew and more people could afford to shop at BB? Does that mean BBs quality decreased? Does that mean a basic white shirt should have it's price raised just because?

BTW, BB still isn't cheap. Their sales make the value prop worth it for most shoppers but a $102 plain white shirt isn't a bargain.
No, of course not. But I do think their quality began to decrease as a result of trying to raise profits, and that their sales were terrible in comparison to expectations after the expansion - the interest simple wasn't there anymore. And I believe it has been like that for decades, with the Mad Men/60s trend being a notable exception.

I don't think they were expanding because they got greedy, but because Brooks Brothers as a company realized that their model wasn't going to appeal to modern shoppers forever and needed to adapt somehow.

Anyway, I don't think they will necessarily disappear entirely, but when a brand with such a storied history finds itself competing with the likes of Untuckit... well, things are bound to change.
 

Phileas Fogg

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I don't know if this is from an outlet store or some newly manufactured stuff for Simon or perhaps just some rebadging. But imagine this sport coat being pre-1995 or so.

Full retail supposedly $350. Marked down 69% (nice). Gilt outlet price $110. The composition is 56% polyester, 39% viscose, and 5% elastane. Marked imported.

Look at the shoulder line, the lapels, and the general cut.


View attachment 1510311
it looks like crap.
 

Viral

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In the 1980s, Brooks Brothers only had two annual sales. And only one of those sales included their oxford cloth button downs. That sale happened shortly after the New Year, not even Christmas. It was for a measly 15% off and the only time you could get their OCBDs on discount.

Today, their shirts are continually on sale. OCBDs are priced around $150 but commonly on sale for $69 (nice). Non-irons are four for $200 almost year round.

In the 1980s, their shirts were also made in America. Today, they're mostly made by TAL. About 30% of the company's total business comes from TAL-made non-iron shirts alone.

TAL started as an outlet manufacturer for the company.

It may be that TAL shirts are a great value. Someone could also say they prefer non-iron shirts. They may also want these 4 for $200 deals, instead of paying $150 for an American made iron-required oxford button-down. But there has been a change.

When I talked to a former Brooks executive earlier this year, he named some companies that he felt were direct competitors -- Charles Tyrwhitt, Untuckit, and even Amazon's in-house line. He noted that garmentos may look down on these companies, but the average guy nowadays just wants a shirt he can wear to work. He may not care about provenance or whether a shirt is made from a certain type of fabric (heavier and nubbier Japanese oxfords, instead of non-iron stuff).

But then you have the problem: how is it that the company that invented the OCBD -- one of the greatest garments in American clothing history -- now can't even command a premium over mass-market Amazon stuff?

I think you're trying too hard to be a contrarian. It's pretty clear that Brooks Brothers isn't what it used to be from the 1980s. A quick perusal of thier website would show that.
who gassed you bro? If anyone on SF tries too hard it's you.

Things change - as you noted - and so all I'm saying is should BB not also be expected to change? They tried different things over the years (OMG) and some worked and some didn't. You think American-made BMWs are any good? Yet for many, BMW is one of the the luxury standards for autos - and prolly not for others. Who cares?

Client's tastes evolve and they leave BB and move on to other brands while many people will perhaps be discovering BB at the same (damn) time. It's a cycle you cannot combat.
 

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