Brooks Brothers - Subversive Conservatism
The new Brooks Brothers' Fair Isle tie looks pretty smart. I'll be looking out for it when I'm in their Regent Street, London shop.
The quintessential American Ivy League brand, Brooks Brothers was owned by Marks and Spencer for a time and is now Italian-owned. Established in 1818, none of the more recent owners abandoned the traditional Anglo-influenced aesthetic associated with the brand, which was perfected in the mid-twentieth century.
And with Brooks' Made in America range, suits are made in Massachusetts and shirts in North Carolina to this day. Commendable. The most famous Brooks style is, of course, the Oxford button-down, which was inspired by the founder's grandson John E. Brooks, on seeing how shirts were worn with collars buttoned-down by polo players in England. This English creation has evolved into a integral part of American culture. (A bit like the hymn Amazing Grace, actually, amongst other things.)
"Isn't all this a bit square, Tweedy?", I hear some of you say. Well maybe that's the point. Let's call it confrontational conservatism or, perhaps, subversive conservatism. Lest we forget that Kevin Rowland's Dexys Midnight Runners adopted the Brooks Brothers look wholeheartedly for their mid-80s Don't Stand Me Down period. Never has such conservative dress been worn with such attitude. Rowland had been down this route before, remembering how the style echoed the UK street fashion worn in the 60s. In Rowland's words: "I stopped outside Brooks Brothers and saw the clothes we had worn years ago: raised edging on the seams, hook or off-centre vents in the jackets, patch pockets. The jackets were so subtle it was untrue, because at first glance they looked very square." At first glance, square, but look again and you'll see that in an age where tattoos and piercings and assorted rebel looks are now all part of mass culture, perhaps Brooks' clothes are actually as punk rock as can be. Kevin Rowland understood that.