There is every possibility that it’s a sin. Not one of the Seven Deadly – the major ones – but a guilty pleasure that I, and I am certain many other men, equally enjoy…..wow where’s this going? Pull yourself together. I am talking about the sensual feel of a box fresh/pins still in or freshly laundered/well ironed, one hundred cotton shirt. Bliss!
In my view, the shirts made by Brooks Brothers are not only iconic, given their extensive heritage including the Original Polo Shirt – my very own is our featured image – but their fabrics are simply beautiful and each shirt is a complete joy to wear. 2018 see the 200th anniversary of the launch of this US style icon – some classic Americana – but what’s the story behind these remarkable products?
On 7th April 1818 Henry Sands Brooks, aged 45, opens H. & D. H. Brooks & Co. on the corner of Catherine and Cherry Streets in New York City as both shirt makers and merchants. By 1833 Henry Sands Brooks called upon his sons to assist him with the business. His eldest son, Henry, Jr. took the helm upon his father’s passing a year later. Heny is in charge until 1850, when younger brothers Daniel, John, Elisha, and Edward, assume leadership and change the firm’s name to Brooks Brothers.
In 1849, Brooks Brother’s scored a first with the introduction of Ready-Made clothing – a modestly priced alternative to made to measure tailored suits.
In 1850, Brooks Borthers adopted the Golden Fleece, the historical symbol of wool merchants, as their trademark which has remained their distinctive logo ever since.
In 1865 a regular, Abraham Lincoln, was presented with a Brooks jacket with an embroidered lining bearing the words “One Country One Destiny” below a spread eagle. He wore the jacket at his second inauguration as President. He wore the same jacket two weeks later, on 14th April 1865, to the Washington’s Ford’s Theatre where he was fatally shot by, actor and pro-slavary activists, John Wilkes Booth.
In 1896 John E. Brooks the founder’s grandson was at a polo match in the UK when he saw that the polo players wearing shirts with disctivtive buttoned down collars. He told his colleagues in New York and the Button-Down shirt, a Brooks classic was born. To this day the Brook’s Polo Shirt includes the expression “The Original Polo Shirt” on its label.
In 1915 Brooks Brothers relocatesd to 346 Madison Avenue – see below including a list of earlier locations prior to arriving on Madison – set in the heart of New York’s Universities and social clubs.
Madison Avenue in the decades to come became the corporate homes to the advertising, illustration and marketing communities. It’s no surprise that Brooks Borthers have acted as costume advisors on and made suits for the “Mad Men” TV series set in the late 1950’s early 1960’s.
F. Scott FitzGerald was a very keen Brooks customer and drew heavily of his favourite stores in his writing. In this way Brooks effectively created Jay Gatby’s style for “The Gatsby Gatsby”. Indeed the 2013 remake of the movie featured a cast entirely dressed in Brooks.
From the mid-1920’s the Halls of the Ivy League were being dressed with Brooks shirts, striped Repp ties, khaki trousers and blue blazers in the definitive preppie style that I really like to this today and continues yes to be hugely popular.
During a slightly earlier era, the Ivy League students local to Bridgeport CT were throwing Frisbie tins – see our earlier post here – Frisbee
In 1946, Winthrop Holley Brooks, the great-great grandson of the founder sold the business to Julius Garfinckel and Company of Washington DC. The business is now owned and managed by the Italian “Retail Brand Alliance”.
The breadth of customers is truely fascinating – talk about voting with their feet! Whilst John F Kennedy loved their slimmer fitting suits, Andy Warhol, Richard Nixon and Clark Gable, apparently, shopped for clothes no where else. It is said that 39 out of 44 Presendients have chose to wear Brooks clothing.
Would you like to know more about the fastinating story of this American style icon? If so please click on the link below the image
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Images from Brooks Brothers with grateful thanks