If life imitates art, then it’s only natural to look at the suits on Mad Men, or George Clooney in Up in the Air, when it comes to finding a sartorial fix. They’re all clothed in Brooks Brothers, and they all look so good while going about their business. After all, Brooks Brothers is the go-to clothier for American CXOs and presidents (they can count at least 40 as clients); in fact the only thing former and current POTUS Barack Obama and Donald Trump have in common is their patronage of the brand. There is no denying that the brand is omnipresent and, even after 199 years of its existence, its popularity only grows in geometric progression through generations.
Founded in 1818 by Henry Sands Brooks, the brand is America’s oldest clothing retailer. The first store opened under the name H & DH Brooks & Co in Manhattan.
Brooks’ guiding principle is said to have been, “To make and deal only in merchandise of the finest body, to sell it at a fair profit, and to deal with people who seek and appreciate such merchandise.” (SOURCE: https://www.gentlemansgazette.com/brooks-brothers-history/ and http://www.boweryboogie.com/2014/04/today-1818-brooks-brothers-debuts-lower-east-side-history/)
The company’s logo bears the Golden Fleece emblem – that of a sheep suspended by a golden ribbon. It stands for the finest quality European wool the brand uses to create its suits.
Brooks Brothers has been a pioneer in the fashion industry, the brand was the first to introduce ready-to-wear clothing by creating ready-made suits in 1849.
Then some 40 years later in 1896, John E Brooks, grandson of the founder, created his own unique stamp on the brand. While attended a polo match, he noticed that the collars on the players’ shirts were buttoned down to prevent from flapping in the wind during the game. Brooks brought this innovative idea to the atelier and created what we now know as the Button-Down shirt. While every brand makes their own version now, the style is still a Brooks Brothers classic.
In 1901, the brand introduced to its customers the very colourful Madras checks; making shirts made from this printed Americans’ leisure wear of choice for the summer.
Unafraid of breaking the rules and turning tradition on its head, Brooks Brothers is also responsible for democratising the Repp tie – a diagonally striped tie, often exclusively worn by regimental officers, authority figures or students belonging to exclusive on-campus clubs. Brooks Brothers flipped the direction of the stripes to open it to a wider demographic, breaking rigid associations in the process.
In 1998, the brand introduced the BrooksEase shirt, the brand’s first non-iron 100% cotton shirt. This style was an upgrade on its revolutionary 1953 version, which was made with Dacron.
Brooks Brothers also has the lines Red and Black Fleece under its banner. While Red Fleece is targeted at a younger customer base and is more preppy and colourful in its offerings, Black Fleece is the brand’s collaboration with designer Thom Browne for a more fashion-forward take.
In 2016 ace designer Zac Posen joined Brooks Brothers as the creative director of the women’s wear arm. He merged his love for colour and vibrant prints with the brand’s feminine constructions for his first collection under this alliance.
F Scot Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby and Jazz age style icon, was a loyal customer of the brand and even mentioned it in his early novel, This Side of Paradise. Other notable loyalists of the brand include artist Andy Warhol—who is known to have spent his first paycheque on the classic white button-down Brooks No 10—and John F Kennedy, who was partial to the two-button “Number Two” suit.