Established: in New York as Brooks Clothing Company by Henry Sands Brooks, 1818; renamed Brooks Brothers, 1854. Company History: First American firm to market such staples as the button-down collar shirt and polo coat; has also sold womenswear from 1940s; opened womenswear department in own New York store, 1976; sold to Marks & Spencer, Plc. by the Campeau Corporation, 1988; expanded into textiles, 1994; opened third New York City store, 1995; revitalized image with new design director, 1996; began work on new flagship store in New York, 1998 (opened, 1999); sustained damage to New York stores during World Trade Center terrorist attack, 2001; sold to Alliance SA, December 2001. Company Address: 346 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10017, U.S.A. Company Website: www.brooksbrothers.com .
By BROOKS BROTHERS:
The Development of Male Apparel, New York, 1901.
Big Game and Little Game: A Brief Survey of the Hunting Fields of the World, New York, 1914.
International Trophies, New York, 1914.
A Catalogue of Clothing and Many Other Things for Men and Boys, New York, 1915.
Brooks Brothers Centenary, New York, 1918.
Brooks' Miscellany & Gentlemen's Intelligencer [several volume set], New York, 1926.
A Chronicle Recording 125 Years…of Brooks Brothers Business, New York, 1943.
Christmas 1988, Our 170th Year—Gift Selections for Men and Boys, New York, 1988.
On BROOKS BROTHERS:
Roscho, Bernard, The Rag Race, New York, 1963.
Fucini, Joseph, and Suzy Fucini, Entrepreneurs, Boston, 1965.
Boyer, G. Bruce, Elegance, New York, 1985.
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, New York, 1989.
Millstein, Gilbert, "The Suits on the Brooks Brothers Men," in the New York Times Magazine, 15 August 1976.
Attanasio, Paul, "Summer of Size 42," in Esquire, June 1986.
"Taking Over an American Tradition," in Management Today, May 1988.
Graham, Judith, "Brooks Bros. Spiffs Up Its Image," in Advertising Age, 30 October 1989.
Barron, James, "Pleats? Cardigan Cuddling? Brooks Brothers Unbuttons," in the New York Times, 11 November 1989.
Barmash, Isadore, "Brooks Brothers Stays the Course," in the New York Times, 23 November 1990.
Better, Nancy Marx, "Unbuttoning Brooks Brothers," in M Inc., March 1991.
Palmieri, Jean E., "When Brooks Put Fashion on the Front," in DNR, 11 March 1991.
Guzman, "He Ain't Stuffy, He's Brooks Brothers," in Esquire, September 1991.
Palmieri, Jean E., "An American Icon Celebrated a Milestone; Brooks Brothers Still Spry at 175," in DNR, 31 May 1993.
Plimpton, George, "Under the Golden Fleece," in American Heritage, November 1993.
"Brooks Bros. Goes into the Textile Biz," in DNR, 13 October 1994.
Palmieri, Jean E., "Brooks Brothers Finds Its Colorful Past," in DNR, 15 July 1996.
Fallon, James, "Brooks Bros. Plans Opening of 24 Stores," in Women's Wear Daily, 24 February 1999.
Palmieri, Jean E., "Brooks Brothers: The Inside Story," in DNR, 25 June 2001.
Edgecliffe-Johnson, Andrew, "Buyers Line Up for Brooks Brothers," in the Financial Times, 30 June 2001.
Curan, Catherine, "Downtown Retailers Rocked But Unbowed— Brooks Brothers…Hopes to Press on in Area," in Crain's New York Business, 17 September 2001.
Anderson, Katie, "Marks & Spencer Postpones Brooks Sale," in the Daily Deal, 18 September 2001.
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Brooks Brothers is one of the oldest clothiers in America; a company with a distinctive image of quiet good taste. Henry Sands Brooks first opened the store under his own name in 1818. His sons Henry, Daniel, John, Elisha, and Edward, officially changed the name to Brooks Brothers in 1854.
Since the beginning, Brooks Brothers has been innovative. When Henry Sr. first opened his doors in New York, he offered ready-to-wear clothing for sailors who were in port for short periods of time and who had no time to have their clothing custom tailored. Henry Sr. also offered or custom-tailored clothing for the gentry, professionals, and the well-to-do. For more than 100 years Brooks made military uniforms, including those for Civil War Generals Lee, Sheridan, Grant, and Custer. George Bush was one of the many U.S. presidents who wore Brooks Brothers clothes, while President Abraham Lincoln was wearing a Brooks' frock coat the night he was shot.
Brooks Brothers introduced many new styles to men's fashion. The firm adapted the button-down collar from shirts the English wore playing polo; introduced the so-called sack suit, which had as little padding as possible and became a staple of businessmen's wardrobes with its understated design. In 1890 they introduced madras clothing, in 1904 Shetland wool sweaters, in 1910 the camel hair polo coat, in 1930 the lightweight summer suit, and in 1953 came the wash-and-wear shirt. Mainstays in the Brooks line have included the foulard tie, khakis, and the navy blazer. These are all part of the so-called Ivy League styles associated with the Ivy League schools of America. People who wear Brooks Brothers clothes are generally not concerned with fashion, but with stylish good looks. Lawrence Wortzel summed up the look in Forbes, by saying "if Brooks dressed you, no one would laugh."
The Brooks image is so distinctive American authors have used it in their work: Mary McCarthy wrote a short story called, "Man in the Brooks Brothers Suit." F. Scott Fitzgerald dressed his characters in Brooks clothes, just as they were worn by John O'Hara's good guys.
While Brooks has always been a clothier for men and boys, surreptitiously women also bought their clothes for themselves, often resorting to purchasing their goods in the boys' department for sizing. They, too, wanted good quality and exceptional design. Brooks Brothers did provide clothing for women as early as the mid-1940s, introducing Shetland wool sweaters. In 1949 Vogue magazine showed a model wearing a pink Brooks Brothers button-down collar shirt. It was not until 1976, however, that Brooks officially opened a small women's department at the back of their store in New York.
Known throughout the world, Brooks Brothers was bought by the English firm of Marks & Spencer, with stores in Tokyo as well as throughout the United States. No matter where the label is found, the style is Brooks Brothers, and no adjustments are made for regional or national differences. In a New York Times article, Lawrence Van Gelder called Brooks Brothers a "bastion of sartorial conservatism." It would be easy to classify Brooks as stodgy, old-fashioned, and showing little concern for fashion, but this would be erroneous. Brooks Brothers clothes were not revolutionary when it comes to design, but evolutionary. While not at the forefront of fashion, Brooks' style has quietly maintained a classic style evolving to meet the needs of the times. In the 1918 centenary, Brooks Brothers advised that one "be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside."
At the dawn of its second century, Brooks remained a steadfast leader in beautifully tailored, conservative style—though the firm made a few concessions to keep abreast of the times. With the advent of casual dressing in the corporate world, Brooks Brothers reluctantly relaxed some of its clothing to reflect the growing workplace trend. Additionally, new stand-alone womenswear stores were planned for the next several years, as were more traditional Brooks Brothers shops in the U.S. and worldwide. Yet a downturn in the menswear market and falling sales took their toll, and rumors swirled for two years before the firm's parent announced its intention to sell the retailer. Among the high profile contenders was Tommy Hilfiger Corp., Polo Ralph Lauren, Men's Warehouse, Claudio Del Vecchio, May Department Stores, and Dickson North America.
Plans by Marks & Spencer to sell the company were abruptly put on hold in fall 2001. Retailing and dealmaking were stopped cold by the devastation in New York City on 11 September 2001. A newly-renovated store at Liberty Plaza, near the World Trade Center, was destroyed by debris when terrorists leveled the center, while another in the area was used as makeshift morgue. In December of that year, Marks & Spencer found its buyer, Alliance SA, and Brooks Brothers was sold.
updated by Nelly Rhodes