Profiling Brooks Brothers’ new Michigan Flatiron Shop (October 2013) got me thinking about all the good vintage Brooks pieces that have already sold or are currently listed in the shop. The above and below sampling may not be the museu- quality Brooks Brothers stuff of presidential wardrobes or Hollywood costume departments, but the pieces still showcase a style that was once-upon-a-time not so ‘classic,’ and much can be learned from them. Anyone can learn from its Wiki page that although Brooks Brothers is renowned for traditional menswear, the company is responsible for many innovations within the clothing industry. Even these everyday vintage pieces attest to those advances…
Though less obvious in photos, Brooks Brothers also introduced wash-and-wear shirts in 1953, an innovation that quickly made its way to the above mid-century wash-and-wear summer jackets. In fact, the entire concept of ready-to-wear taken for granted today was pioneered by the company in 1859, not to mention the less revolutionary though more endearing pink dress shirts, Shetland sweaters and argyle socks of the early 20th century.
So much vintage tweed goes through the shop this time of year that there’s hardly a chance to enjoy it all, the wondrous variety of dyes and weaves, patterns and textures. Prized for its warmth, water resistance, visual interest, and durability of use and style, a man’s tweed jacket—or his coat, suit, cap, tie–can become a lifetime member of his wardrobe, sheltering him in style season after season. The same practical and aesthetic qualities are what make tweed a favorite for vintage shoppers. All of the above photo details come directly from the past and soon-to-be-past shop, pieces we’ve loved and lost. Some favorite features are included like hacking pockets, suede patches, built-in belts, felted collars that button, as well as herringbone, houndstooth, stripes, plaids, and that Harris Tweed label that’s always a welcome find. If you’d like a less sentimental look at tweed—more on the noble history of the fabric and its patterns—I won’t do you any better than the recent treatment by the gentleman at Gentleman’s Gazette.
…Some of my faves from new, New York-based Sleepy Jones’s online collection of men’s loungewear, check out the full collection for yourself here (as well as plenty for women). No, not Company Man’s usual vintage fare–but the art of dressing for bed (or dressing for not-quite-bed or dressing for dressing) certainly seems pretty vintage these days. Launched this year by Andy Spade, Anthony Sperduti and Chad Buri, collaborators at Kate Spade and otherwise, Sleepy Jones is looking to change all that and to redefine sleepwear in the process. The site is fresh and inviting like new white sheets but shows folks decidedly out of bed while wearing their Sleepy Jones. Boxers, pajama tops and bottoms, T-shirts, and socks are all available; there are no robes at the moment on the men’s side but who knows when that might change. The Sleepy Jones ethos says that dressing for ideal comfort shouldn’t be limited to bedtime, and that neither should PJs when they just might provide the perfect uniform for the everyday creative life. The likes of Picasso and Plimpton got away with running around in public in their unmentionables, and why shouldn’t you? Well, I’ll let you know as soon as mine arrive!
Last week Brooks Brothers opened its latest Flatiron Shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with seven locations in North America and three internationally. As a vintage enthusiast I usually don’t take too much of an interest in new retail openings but Brooks Brothers is different. Between the period Mad Men suits and Gatsby costumes, it’s been hard to get away from them lately, and with continuous operation since 1818, it is truly impossible to talk vintage menswear without mentioning Brooks Brothers…a lot. I confess I know next to nothing of the company’s vast history and influence, although in the course of Company Man buying, selling, and research, I’ve come across many interesting Brooks Brothers suits, ties, shirts, shoes, and sweaters from the sixties through today, and just as many prior iterations of the brand including Brooks University, Brooks Gate, Brooks Ease, Brooks 346, Brooks English, and on. The Flatiron concept offers University-inspired menswear and womenswear that is dressed down by Brooks Brothers standards and perfectly suited to a well-heeled Northern college town.
Our very own Flatiron Shop still had that new store smell inside and carried an ample collection of fall offerings. Added to the obligatory smattering of bow ties and blazers–their collars all popped to show the solid under-construction in crimson wool–I saw shawl neck argyle sweaters, cashmere and shetland wool, down vests with leather shoulders, patchwork tweed flat caps, suspenders emblazoned with foxes or fishing flies. The store carried a good selection of Red Wings boots (not the same “Red Wings” many Michiganders might think of first), and I was told that a Red Wings trunk show with giveaways was imminent. The male sales associate that helped me was wonderfully knowledgeable and forthcoming about both the clothes and company history. He also told me to expect the shop to carry Brooks Brothers’ acclaimed “Black Fleece” line by Thom Browne, although the only pieces in stock so far were a selection of repp silk ties. If you have your heart set on a classic Brooks Brothers suit, four- and six-week “suiting programs” are offered that allow a customer to be measured for his suit on site with a 4-6 week turnaround for off site tailoring (before a final fitting with any last-minute alterations also made off site). There is a women’s collection, but menswear remains the clear emphasis and takes up 70% of the space, which includes a second floor lounge with leather sofa and flat screen TV, primed for the next big game. To honor U of M, there was even a navy blue and gold themed rack of clothing that included a stack of sweaters embroidered with the Michigan logo.
If you plan to visit, the store is located in the new Arbor Hills shopping plaza off Washtenaw Avenue at Platt Road.
Two vintage-inspired men’s fall looks with menswear staples from classic brands:
Top—vintage corduroy blazer in rust brown, Gant plaid “Oxford Club” button-down, Gap twill khakis in bright blue (“Lived-In Slim” fit) and Gap “James” mirrored sunglasses, Talbott Studio striped silk knit tie, and vintage Florsheim “Royal Imperial” tasseled loafers in black.
Bottom—Harris Tweed for Nordstrom houndstooth blazer with suede elbow patches, Brooks Brothers OCBD, Levi’s 514 dark wash blue jeans, vintage pocket square with horse and jockey print, Dexter spectator brogues, and vintage suede fedora.
Having a vintage shop online is like getting your own mini style laboratory. Buying tastes aren’t only philosophical; they’re tested in the marketplace. Some kind of vintage piece that I’m attracted to and that I think is due for a fashion comeback—like paisley ties or 80s golf polos–doesn’t really sell in the shop no matter how high I stock it or how low the price goes. Something else that I think of as being less cool than it is universally familiar, and that I put in the shop reluctantly, sells out again and again. Like gold buttoned blue blazers or Birkenstock sandals. Like corduroy fabric. Many would object that corduroy is a classic that never goes out of style and makes a poor example of a comeback kid. As a vintage seller, I see plenty of the worst in corduroy—wide collars, patchwork, loud colors–and until very recently I still I associated it with children’s Christmas outfits, the 70s, Western wear, 90s grunge. I listed a khaki corduroy jacket in the shop for cheap thinking it walked that line between vintage fashion and vintage costume. But it sold, and so did the next one and the next, even when the price tag passed that of the other blazers. And not just the jackets but anything corduroy—corduroy collared shirts, pants, waistcoats. Pretty soon I started to notice corduroy in red carpet and runway photos, even models in the fall Bergdorf Goodman catalog wearing that 70s staple–the full corduroy suit. Suddenly a corduroy blazer over a plaid shirt looks like the safest of sartorial expressions, more of a uniform for fall than a costume. I picked out the best one from the shop to keep for myself, and I can’t wait to start wearing it more now that the colors and temps are changing. What’s more I’m starting to enjoy what buying habits in the shop teach me as much as the “feedback” of the sale of a vintage piece that’s a much closer expression of my personal style… Now I just have some paisley ties to get rid of before Christmas.
I finally thrifted a needlepoint belt and thought I’d really scored (since all that handwork can run $100-200, pricey for an accessory most men hardly give a thought to). The perfect inspiration to get around to that blog post about them! But the more inspired I became looking at all the needlepoint belts online, the less inspiring mine was. My big find featured dark and muted colors in a simple geometric pattern. Yes, the hand worked surface of the needlepoint belt is the obvious draw. But the color, pictorial patterns, whimsical themes and detail is what transforms the brown leather belt taken for granted into a personal and sartorial statement. And the above favorites of mine from Smathers & Branson have all that and more! As a prep classic, many of the retailers you’d expect have carried their own needlepoint belts—Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, Lands’ End—but Smathers & Branson seems to stand out as the best of the best, especially in design. Plenty of savvy labels like Club Monaco and Opening Ceremony have carried Smathers & Branson belts too (often in exclusive designs), but why not go right to the online source. Another big online purveyor, Tucker Blair, is a respectable and very value-oriented alternative (about half the price of S&B). Or you could wait to thrift one–I’m on the hunt again after my crash course.
A couple Post Scripts–After a chunk of the day sifting through needlepoint belt jpegs, the Smathers & Branson American flag belt is the first thing I noticed in a photo of ex-Prez Bill Clinton shaking hands in the Hamptons in just yesterday’s Times (detail of a Doug Kuntz photo for the New York Times below). Here I was worried it was getting a bit late in the summer for posting about preppy belts.
And the Times hard hitting needlepoint belt coverage doesn’t stop there. Its Fashion & Style article from Summer 2010 also gives a lot of love to Smathers & Branson and a little history of the needlepoint belt if you’re interested.