Brooks Brothers - Subversive Conservatism

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, apart from occasional fashionable off-shoots, none of the more recent owners abandoned the traditional Anglo-influenced aesthetic associated with the brand. They got it right in the mid-twentieth century, so why change?

Buttoned-down brilliance
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 observing the buttoned-down collars on the shirts worn by polo players in England. This esoteric English adaptation evolved to become an integral part of Anglo-American culture. (A bit like the hymn Amazing Grace, which was originally written by English poet and Anglican priest John Newton.)

Hip to look square
'Isn't all this a bit square, Tweedy?', I doubt any of you are saying. 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. Kevin 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 a part of mass culture — and not rebellious at all — perhaps Brooks' clothes are actually as punk rock as can be.


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