February 10, 2007

Brooks Brothers

And the men behind the brand are...
Henry Brooks and John Brooks

On the seventh of April, 1818 Henry Sands Brooks, then 45 years old, realized the culmination of a dream when he opened a clothing emporium on the corner of Catharine and Cherry Streets in Manhattan. The son of a Connecticut doctor, Brooks had been a successful enough New York grocer to enjoy shopping junkets to Europe where he indulged his taste for fancy clothes. Like every other merchant starting out Brooks pledged “to make and deal only in merchandise of the best quality and to sell it at a fair profit only.”

The business was not confined to retail selling but also did a great trade among seafaring men in that part of New York. A grand tradition evolved when a seaman purchased an outfit: he was regaled with a hearty draft from a black bottle kept for this purpose beneath the counter.

Brooks brought his relatives, first his brother John and then his sons Henry and Daniel, into the business which allowed the small shop to continue after his death in 1833. Men’s clothing styles closely emulated English fashion trends and like other clothiers Brooks offered as many classic London lines as possible.

Henry and Daniel envisioned the future of American dress. In 1845, at a time when most clothes were still tailor-made or sewn in the home, the Brooks brothers were the first to recognize the potential of ready-made clothing. They created the first ready-to-wear suit, an innovation that made fashion affordable.

In the 1850s four younger brothers gravitated to the clothing business and the name officially became Brooks Brothers, by which time the Brooks tradition of clothing originals was firmly established. A sheep suspended by a ribbon was adopted as the official Brooks Brothers trademark. This symbol of British wool merchants dates back to the fifteenth century when it was the emblem of the Knights of the Golden Fleece.

Brooks Brothers continued to adapt British styles to American wardrobes, introducing the foulard necktie in 1890 and the button- down collar shirt in 1896, inspired by English polo players who buttoned their collars against the wind.

It was the sack suit that cemented Brooks Brothers as the father of the classic American style of dress. Designed to flatter all body types, the sack suit was an immediate hit when it was introduced shortly before the turn of the century, replacing the tubular silhouette and padded-shoulder look that had been popular until then. The Brooks Brothers sack suit would become known as the first genuinely American suit, the quintessential business suit.

In 1915, shortly before Brooks Brothers’ centennial, a new flagship store opened at 346 Madison Avenue in New York City, its current location. The store started by Henry Sands Brooks, who toasted sailors across the counter when they bought a suit, has been providing furnishings for men, women and boys for 175 years.

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