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The New Brooks Brothers

Phileas Fogg

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Is this going to be your schtick now on the CM side of the forum? You take every discussion about clothing to softly screech about your political hang-ups? Seriously, why did you leave CE, only to post CE type comments in CM? Post CE comments in CE and stick to discussions about clothing in CM.
what? Schtick? Who rattled your chain? That comment had nothing to do with you.
 

sushijerk

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In September 1958, the New York Times asked a panel of people what they thought of the Ivy look, which took direction from Brooks. You can see that those who are concerned about "cool" dislike the look, while those who value tradition and propriety favor it.


Some choice responses:

Tallulah Bankhead, Actress: I'm an anti-Ivy girl. I'd rather go out with an Indian buck in a blanket or a Moor in a burnoose than with one of those Madison Avenue lemmings. They're so enslaved by conformity that when up and about they all look as if they'd been hacked out by the same die. If they are eager for uniforms, why don't they just enlist in the army?

Clothes can be used to express personality, granted the clothes have any. The Ivy Look boys seem to be trying to conceal their personalities. They'd be well advised to observe the chameleon and reflect on the might of Joseph, the boy with the coat of many colors. The Ivy-Look is a form of cowardice, a confession of defeat, and an offense to the eye. Do I hear a second?

Ashley Montagu, Anthropologist: The Ivy League look in men’s fashion is to be deplored on a number of grounds, if not the ground of taste itself. The Ivy look is a sorry testimony to the fact that individuality is something to which most men have ceased to aspire, and that conformity has become the ideal. Even those who have never seen the outside of an Ivy League college want to look like a pickled undergraduate.

Imitation of our betters is well enough – but not so much of their exteriors as of their interiors. It is not clothes that maketh the man, but manners. If we are going to be tailored to the same pattern, we shall end up as dull, dreary, and disappointing as the man in the gray flannel suit. Blessed are the eccentric, who do not conform to conformity either in dress or in ideas.

Charles Addams, Cartoonist: I've always loved the Ivy straitjacket and so has my Family, although they have never been notable for their sartorial splendor, being generally hard to fit or just plain outsize. The little boy has been an Ivy enthusiast since 1912 and will continue to be, I imagine, even after he's grown up. In fact, he'll probably be buried in it like all the rest of us.

James Kelley, Advertising Executive: “The ILL (Ivy League Look) was here BBB (Before Brooks Brothers), and therefore seems obsolescence-proof. Any raiment tic which has withstood the eras of Victoria, Edward, Doughboy, Coolridge, GI, and latter-day Squaredom must have something. The ‘something’ is unpadded honesty, unfrilled comfort, and freedom from guile.

Those narrow ILL shoulders, center vents, and unpleated trousers offer soothing anonymity. ILL will hold firm against side-vented glumness of the BCL (British Continental Look) and remain in favor among canny Madison Avenue where nobody cares to compete with colorful client plumage.”

John Wood, President of Brooks Brothers: “For generations, the Brooks Brothers Look was a byword in the Ivy League colleges, signifying – as it still does today – not only the natural shoulder and other Brooks styling details, but conservative good taste in dressing generally.

That this basic look has recently been ‘discovered’ and named ‘The Ivy Look’ merely illustrates once again that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Miss. Bankhead wanted to come off so counter-culture revolutionary yet her comments pegged her as entertaining some of the ugliest views on class and race of her time.
 

Phileas Fogg

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I wonder if what we call “ivy style” exists only as some platonic ideal.

I mean, does anyone attending an Ivy League school now dress like that? It’s an honest question. What was and still is called the Ivy Style became standard business attire. The casual look, too, has become pretty mainstream.
 

pasadena man

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The way people like Andy Warhol incorporated the Brooks Brothers classics into their own signature style seems very cool to me and still looks fresh to my eye when I look at old photos from that era.
Warhol’s BB OCBD/blazer/repp ties + Levi 501’s look was certainly at the center of a very cool milieu. It was doubly transgressive, to BB customers, for wearing BB at the “Factory” scene, and to the art world, for wearing BB, the epitome of “square” clothing, at all.

But it wasn’t affectation, it came naturally to him. We tend to think of Warhol as springing full grown from the brow of Zeus, but he was actually a graduate of Carnegie Mellon, a very Ivy/MIT like, and hence BB friendly, environment. In the 50’s he became a quite successful commercial artist/ad agency art director type. BB would be very appropriate, maybe close to normative, in those environments. He just traded out slacks for 501’s, and voila, the signature wardrobe of a painter/Superstar. This article goes into his early style evolution in a little more detail:

https://thriftstorepreppy.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/andy-warhol-button-down-man/
 

thatboyo

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I mean, does anyone attending an Ivy League school now dress like that?
Not sure if serious but no. Even decades ago when the Japanese came over to do Take Ivy, didn’t they have trouble finding people on the campuses that dressed in what’s considered “ivy style”.
 

pasadena man

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Do we know any jazz musicians that were actually Brooks customers? I'm sure some bought some clothes there, but I can't name any specific ones.
I know that you have written a lot in this area (much of which I have enjoyed reading), so I would defer to you on the facts here. Maybe, in wondering whether BB can be or has ever been “cool”, I am conflating their most iconic product, the OCBD, which has transcended the brand, with the brand itself.

I think that BB OCBD’s were very cool in some contexts back in the day: Miles Davis’s (maybe) most famous album cover, Sidney Poitier in “The Heat of the Night”, Steve McQueen anytime, anywhere. Come to think of it though, McQueen probably didn’t buy suits at BB.
 

Salad

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I know that you have written a lot in this area (much of which I have enjoyed reading), so I would defer to you on the facts here. Maybe, in wondering whether BB can be or has ever been “cool”, I am conflating their most iconic product, the OCBD, which has transcended the brand, with the brand itself.

I think that BB OCBD’s were very cool in some contexts back in the day: Miles Davis’s (maybe) most famous album cover, Sidney Poitier in “The Heat of the Night”, Steve McQueen anytime, anywhere. Come to think of it though, McQueen probably didn’t buy suits at BB.
Not DDW, obviously but I don't think BB has ever been "cool'. However, cool people have worn OCBD (and Ivy). A stylish person (Poitier, Miles, S. McQ, etc.) could wear anything and look cool. I think it has more to do with the person than the clothing.

Speaking of Jazz album covers, there's this John Patton cover. Striped OCBD. Looks good to me.

bjp.jpg


And Tallulah had no chill, lol. "The Ivy-Look is a form of cowardice, a confession of defeat, and an offense to the eye." I had to look up "burnoose'. I think I could wear one over some loose fit chinos, OCBD, some moroccan slippers and a cowboy hat.
 

Phileas Fogg

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The passing of HRH Prince Phillip has promoted quite a few retrospectives but Vogue offered a photo essay of his marriage to the queen that’s spans the decades.



Setting aside some of the more ceremonial garb, other others would fit perfectly with “Ivy Style”.

I’ve read this before, here and elsewhere, that what we call ivy style and “trad” is really just an ideation born mostly in Japan.
 

dieworkwear

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I know that you have written a lot in this area (much of which I have enjoyed reading), so I would defer to you on the facts here. Maybe, in wondering whether BB can be or has ever been “cool”, I am conflating their most iconic product, the OCBD, which has transcended the brand, with the brand itself.

I think that BB OCBD’s were very cool in some contexts back in the day: Miles Davis’s (maybe) most famous album cover, Sidney Poitier in “The Heat of the Night”, Steve McQueen anytime, anywhere. Come to think of it though, McQueen probably didn’t buy suits at BB.
I suppose I don't think of Brooks Brothers as being cool for a few reasons.

First, many of the post-war clothing battles were about the Establishment vs. anti-Establishment dress. You see this in the language used in the 1958 NYT article above. You also see it in the ways that US fashion evolved. In the 1950s and '60s, the "rebel look" was about blue jeans and black leather jackets. In the '70s, it was about hippies in Army jackets, sandals, and beads. And while the '80s saw a prep revival, it sat alongside an American obsession with Italian clothing (e.g. Armani).

Brooks Brother was decidedly none of these things, and both camps defined themselves against the other. Establishment types took pride in not being like the fashion-chasing, incorrectly dressed hoi polloi. Anti-establishment types defined themselves as being not like the Establishment in suits and tassel loafers.

I also think that Brooks Brothers mostly stood for class aspirations. In his 1955 novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Sloan Wilson used the name Brooks Brothers not just to refer to "sartorial correctness," but rather as a shorthand for a certain upwardly mobile class. The Brooks Brothers suit was a status symbol for corporate execs and Old Money WASPs. I think people aspired to wear Brooks Brothers not because they felt the label made them cool, but rather because they aspired to be associated with that class of American people.

Brooks Brothers often refers to its own history and clothing this way. You often see them use not-so-subtle class references to describe themselves, or pit their clothes against others. In 1939, Winthrop Brooks -- the last member of the Brooks family to lead the company -- wrote a letter to his customers poo poo'ing young male shoppers. He characterized their clothes as being "the modern version of the Kampus or Kollege Kut Klothes of the days before the World War," and the "country-squire ... woolley and horsey and loud as the law allows." By contrast, he said that at Brooks Brothers:

rarest perhaps of all, are to be found clothes of the timeless kind, not 'British,' not 'American,' not 'Broadway,' not 'French,' not 'Colonial,' not 'Hollywood,' or 'College,' but the kind that men of good taste, nurtured by generations of gracious living and daily contact with others of the same mode of life as their own and other countries, wear and have worn for years -- as naturally as they do their skins or their eyebrows, and are as loathe to change in essentials as might be the leopard to change his spots.
Many of these references hint at social class. The idea of "good taste" and propriety are often related to the socio-economic norms of the elite. Every group has its own dress codes -- the bikers, the hippies, and so forth. But only one group's dress code is broadly defined as "of good taste."

So for me, the overshadowing theme for Brooks Brothers is not that it was cool, but rather associated with class aspirations. And for much of post-war history, the elites were not considered "cool," even if people aspired to be more like them in some regards.

Secondly, I think there's a difference between the clothes Brooks Brothers sold and the brand itself. The company mostly set the template for classic American male dress in the 20th century. Many of the hallmarks of classic American style -- such as the sack suit, tweed sport coat, madras, Shetland sweater, and polo coat -- all first showed up in the United States at Brooks Brothers' Madison Avenue store. Those things were then just copied. So while some Brooks-style items may be been somewhat cool, the label wasn't necessarily about "coolness."

I don't know which jazz musicians wore Brooks Brothers. I know Charlie Davidson, the former owner of The Andover Shop, famously dressed men like Chet Baker and Miles Davis. But obviously, this was not Brooks Brothers -- and even The Andover Shop would not be broadly considered "cool" by most people's measure, even if they dressed cool figures.

Thirdly, I think some of these people looked cool because they transgressively wore this sort of "Establishment" dress. You mentioned Andy Warhol, who did, in fact, wear Brooks Brothers. I think the fact that it was considered transgressive shows that Brooks Brothers was not really part of the uniform of the "cool crowd." And he looked cool partly because he bucked the norm in that crowd. For me, that norm is more telling than the fact that Andy Warhol, a cool artist, wore Brooks.

Ralph Lauren still relied on those same class references, but there was something cool and sexy about the look. I remember a friend from Italy once described his feeling walking through an RL flagship in the '90s. He described it as feeling like he was walking through the private dressing room of JFK Jr. The line between JFK Jr (a cool figure) and traditional WASPs is very thin, but for me something that's very apparent. Perhaps most notably, many of the staunchest traditionalists and Brooks-type customers tell me they see RL as being ersatz. Which for me gets back into those old fights about class and propriety.
 

classicalthunde

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I wonder if what we call “ivy style” exists only as some platonic ideal.

I mean, does anyone attending an Ivy League school now dress like that?
I think the "ivy style" is a snap shot of some ivy campuses from the post war period up until around 1968, I think I recall reading that in 1968-69 there was an odd dichotomy on campuses where the seniors still did the ivy dress thing and the freshman were much more casual and wearing tie dyes.

Obviously the "ivy style" look isn't mainstream on Ivy League campuses today, outside of the obvious fraternity meeting where people are milling about in navy blazers with gold buttons. But I would say it is not uncommon to see someone "dressed up" compared to todays standard, maybe more along the lines of the "dark academia" aesthetic than trad/prep. I can't really comment on if this is a general trend across non-ivy campuses

Barbours and bean boots are all the rage, its not uncommon for me to see a student wearing a tweed sport coat, cardigan, and OCBD, and (I swear to god) I saw a student in a stroller once (and not like in a gag way) - black oxfords, charcoal pants, yellow db vest, tie that popped out the top, black sport coat, and a camel hair overcoat
 

comrade

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"Perhaps most notably, many of the staunchest traditionalists and Brooks-type customers tell me they see RL as being ersatz. Which for me gets back into those old fights about class and propriety."

I am not sure about class and propriety. I am an Ivy grad who attended Cornell during the heyday
of the style. I am not a WASP but my father shopped at Rogers Peet, BB and later PaulStuart.
After College, I entered the State Dept where the dress was predominantly Ivy with some of the
more senior officials wearing Savile Row or even Italian styles which is not surprising in a very
cosmopolitan environment. I stopped shopping at BB for suits and jackets because I thought
it a bit dull. I tried Lauren but his clothes rarely fit me well. I then mostly shopped at Chipp and
Paul Stuart and by the late seventies through the nineties was wearing the more fitted Chipp
model usually with side vents. My current wardrobe, which I seldom wear, is largely Italian-
Neapolitan more or less with the shoulder padding removed where necessary. The last time
I was in NYC, five years ago, I visited Paul Stuart, one of my favorite shops, but I couldn't find anything
with a true natural shoulder.
 

pasadena man

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I think the "ivy style" is a snap shot of some ivy campuses from the post war period up until around 1968, I think I recall reading that in 1968-69 there was an odd dichotomy on campuses where the seniors still did the ivy dress thing and the freshman were much more casual and wearing tie dyes.
The world did indeed turn very fast. The best data I have seen is indirect, from Ivy-Style.com, showing college graduate facial hair trends over 100 years.

In 1966 90% + of college graduates were clean shaven, by 1972 that number had fallen to less than 10%.

100 yearshttp://www.ivy-style.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/facial-hair-styles.png
 

comrade

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I wonder if what we call “ivy style” exists only as some platonic ideal.

I mean, does anyone attending an Ivy League school now dress like that? It’s an honest question. What was and still is called the Ivy Style became standard business attire. The casual look, too, has become pretty mainstream.
I have a grandson who'll possibly attend an Ivy or very selective Eastern school. eg Amherst
for example. I am not aware that he even owns a sport coat that fits. Not for lack of money. His
dad was a Ralph Lauren dresser 20 years ago. Now he wears jeans and technical wear. He is
a senior exec at Google.
 

dieworkwear

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A lot has already been written about Ivy and trad, so I won't repeat it. But it's not the same style as what Prince Phillip wore, even if some things in that genre originated in Britain.

People on Ivy campuses don't dress like that anymore, partly because the world has moved on and become much more casual. The campus demographics have also dramatically changed in the last fifty or sixty years. Only 40% of Harvard is white, and many students come from other countries. Not all come from the feeder schools, although many do. Student bodies today are more diverse in terms of socio-economic and racial background, and so people bring their own dress habits to these campuses. Ivy style was a real thing, however. And it still somewhat exists today, although it's a much smaller circle. Robert Mueller, for example, still dresses very trad.
 

FlyingHorker

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The passing of HRH Prince Phillip has promoted quite a few retrospectives but Vogue offered a photo essay of his marriage to the queen that’s spans the decades.



Setting aside some of the more ceremonial garb, other others would fit perfectly with “Ivy Style”.

I’ve read this before, here and elsewhere, that what we call ivy style and “trad” is really just an ideation born mostly in Japan.
I'm more interested in the queen basically mirroring the Balmacaan+turtleneck trend from today, decades ago.

 

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