Brooks Brothers Shirts

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Brooks Brothers: Two Hundred Years of American Style

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Images from Brooks Brothers with grateful thanks

Lock & Co, Hatters

In the early 1980’s The Sunday Times carried a supplement, entitled “London’s Villages” it comprised ten or so editions, a part work that could be collected into an overprinted binder to be preserved for posterity. I still have it in a box at my Mother’s home and there is more than a hint of nostalgia in leafing through its pages.

The theme was that London comprises several distinct villages – as it indeed does – some changing in character and evolving over the years others that seem suspended having changed little over the last hundred years with many of the neighbouring street, parks, clubs, shops and restaurants stepping straight out of an earlier era.

The latter category is typified by the St James’s Village that straddles Piccadilly, north a couple of streets and south the same.

I consult to a law firm whose London office is in Jermyn Street, the centre of this village thick with single product shops of every imaginable type. Be they cobblers, bespoke tailors, shot-gun dealers, cigar or hat shops, hiding in arcades or behind elegant shop front. Above all they continue to thrive in a culture where purchases are increasingly made online.

I’d like to explore some of these businesses with you. Let’s start with Lock & Co Hatters, at 6 St James’ Street, a Royal Warrant Holder and a proud claimant to being the world’s oldest hat shop. Founded in 1676, during the dandy years of Charles II’s reign by Robert Davis, whose son Charles, in 1747, offered an apprenticeship to James Lock (whose Grandfather, George, was a local coffee merchant). James smartly married his bosses daughter thus assuring his inheritance of the business that his line continues to own today.

Amongst many claims to fame, Locks originated the iconic bowler hat – at Lock’s called the “Coke Hat” – to satisfy their aristocratic client’s needs for a more sensible hat for their gamekeeper. The Coke recently celebrated its 150 anniversary and was name after the family who commissioned it.

Politicians, Churchill and Eden favoured Lock’s Homburgs and a host of celebrity clients including Lawrence Olivier, Alec Guinness, Charlie Chaplin and David Beckham – often photoed wearing a Baker-Boy style cap – have left their signed head-shapes for display in the store.

President Theodore Roosevelt was photographed wearing a Panama hat whilst overseeing the works on the “Panama Canal” ignited another trend for Lock’s hatters.

To be assured of a perfect fit, Lock’s still use “the conformateur” that was as invented  in France by Allie-Maillard for the bespoke measuring of head shapes.

2010 saw the launch of the “Lock and Roll” range of tweed caps and hats aim at a younger market. 2012 was marked by the addition of a new bicorne hat to the head of the statute of Lock’s former client, Admiral Nelson, on top of his Column for the duration of the the Olympics in London!