Sunday, July 27, 2014

Overview of Companies, Past and Present (Including Those Often Referred to as Preppy and Trad)



Here is the most recent life cycle chart.  This chart is an opinion piece, for fun and conversation starting, not complete, nor actual analysis.

For those new to this, this chart strives to plot the current state of some clothing and accessory vendors - including many that are often referred to as Preppy and Traditional - as they evolve from young, innovative companies on the left of the chart to company shells/cautionary tales on the right.

The broad characteristics of each stage are as follows (and all characteristics don't apply to all companies):

Crucible
  • A company serves demanding clients in authentic environments significantly better then competitors.  
  • The company’s founder is hands on.
  • Other people often love the products without necessarily recognizing the company that made it.
  • As any VC knows, companies here are highly unstable; they can change nearly instantly, from experiencing overnight rapid growth, to selling out, pivoting, or going away.
Precious
  • Fiercely passionate customers, who are "in the know", are very loyal to the company.
  • The company has much higher prices than competitors.
  • Quality is paramount. Marketing is poor.  Web sites may be disastrous.
  • Customers can still call or email and get the owner (and often work through any problems).
  • New, great products are added, seemingly effortlessly.
Iconic
  • The company has widely recognized popular and unique items.
  • Great pride is taken in the brand.
  • Items are expensive, but high quality.
  • New items, extensions of old, are added.
  • Companies gain increasing brand recognition well beyond passionate base.
  • A short term flattening of growth can cause panic.
  • The company worries about becoming trendy.
New Markets
  • The company is often under new management, typically with MBA and logistics-centric credentials.
  • The new management begins to purge many of the old employees and suppliers/branded vendors.
  • Companies in this stage are very interested in new categories of customers, and take the existing customer base for granted; many loyal customers find themselves buying less and less.
  • The new management experiments with "leveraging the look and the feel of the brand and brand experience" by tentatively lowering the quality and increasing the channels, supported by heavy marketing, including social media outreach.  
  • Marketing gets increasingly - often awkwardly - self-congratulatory.  Wooden boats are everywhere.
  • The company makes big deals of changing the colors of successful products.  
  • Vendors open mall stores, for example, in this stage, ancillary to design decision making.  
  • No new great products are launched, despite expensive misfires.  Companies go after markets they don't understand.  From a creative perspective, the company becomes derivative and inert.
Cash Grab
  • There is a nearly impossible to resist opportunity for upper management to personally cash-in with a one-time windfall through a rapid market expansion with much lower quality goods at still high prices with very high margins, irrevocably sacrificing brand, long-term employees and partners, and traditional customers. 
  • There is significant confusion from traditional customers.
  • Some classics remain (but fewer and fewer).
  • There are wild fluctuations of prices (higher prices, then massive sales, with various coupons and sweepstakes).
  • New products are low quality and relatively expensive.  Companies design for 75% to 80% mark ups. 
  • Mall stores grow in influence over the direction of the company. Outlet stores open. Companies here may invest in "big data" programs.  
  • Companies increasingly outsource production to low-cost providers.
  • Companies are desperate to be trendy.
  • A cash grab company has a significant PR budget, first spent trying to differentiate the company from their past, then relentlessly trying to invoke it.  Companies become louder and more strident.
  • Long time customers start to experience return-fatigue.
  • Near the end of this stage, matters of the flesh are used increasingly in marketing, either overtly or, more unctuously, faux-coyly. Skirts get shorter.
Company Shell
  • Companies' products are no longer significantly differentiated in the marketplace. Branding chugs along.  Companies here find themselves with new competitors and engage in a race-to-the-bottom in price and quality.  
  • They shift, almost overnight from an external market perception, from relevant and interesting to irrelevant and over-exposed.  
  • Outlet stores become highly influential in setting company strategies.  
  • They bear no resemblance to their original selves.  Black and white old photographs are used.
  • They rely on good customer service to overcome quality problems, not to meet individual needs or repair but to efficiently replace or refund.  
  • Coach, for example, is included as a cautionary tale. 

Common use language and rigorous taxonomies can clash here.  This chart tries to focus on branded producers.  This can be a gray area when retail or online stores create a store brand, especially when they custom order products.  F.L. Woods designs their own products, and is listed here.  The case could be made without breaking much of a sweat to also include, using the same criteria:    
If so, O'Connell's would be in the iconic category, and Royal Male would be in the precious category.  Both are highly recommended. 

Links to companies mentioned on the chart:


Observations on some of the companies by the TDP community:

Lotuff



The Lotuff tote is by far my favorite accessory. I often get compliments on its superior craftsmanship and outstanding beauty. (Comment, January 19, 2012) 
Can't get enough of Lotuff's quality and craftsmanship. (Comment, August 8, 2013)
My Lotuff English briefcase is the most beautiful bag I've ever owned. (Michael Rowe, January 12, 2014) 
I have been using a zip-top Lotuff brief in Chestnut for almost a year, for daily work and commuting. I have found it to be immensely satisfying to use, and very functional. The leather is substantial. (BantamInChicago, October 13, 2014)

Quoddy


I bought my first pair of Quoddy boat shoes at the beginning of this season, and love them. I suspect they will be in use for a very long time. (RR, October 17, 2012)
My Quoddy shoes are the most comfortable pair of shoes I own. (Comment, October 17, 2012)
Great shoes! Expensive, USA- and well-made goods with top quality materials are like nothing else. To buy anything else would be to downgrade. I love things that will last for 20 years because each time I wear or use them, they evoke great memories from the years past. They become like an old, familiar friend. (Comment, October 17. 2012)
I have Quoddy's in several styles. Love them all. The Vibram sole on the boat mocs is quite durable, and really allows a nice grip on wet decks. (Charles Dryton, June 20, 2013)
Quoddys are made to order. If shoes are important to you, they are worth the wait. They are not cheap, but the price is what you pay and lasting value is what you get. In many of their models, Quoddy uses top quality Horween leather from Chicago. The Horween website describes in detail their treatment of leather for fine shoes, jackets, etc. One of the great things about having a custom set of shoes ordered, is that they can usually accommodate varied widths and sizes. If you are one of the fortunate ones whose feet are exactly the same size and a medium width, this is not a big deal, but for the rest of us, it is... Buy from them while you can. This is American craftsmanship at its finest.  (June 22, 2013)
 I ordered a pair of Quoddy boat shoes and have worn them now for a few months. Hands down, these are the best boat shoes I have ever owned. (Gary, August 14, 2013)

Mercer


A great value... Thread count and feel of the 100% cotton is the real deal. totally gotta iron, not a hint of no iron plastic. Something that only a true purist cares about is the collar roll on the OCBD.  Absolutely the best, IMO. Others have tried to take the shirt apart and copy the collar, but the roll that competitors come up with never approaches the perfect "bell shape" of the Mercer roll. (wf, April 8, 2011)
I only have six or seven of them in my closet right now, but that's because they wear so well that I haven't needed to replace them. They make the nonpareil, archetypal, classic OCBD.  (Michael, November 24, 2014)
Own some tattersalls. First rate shirts. Reminds me of vintage B2 with collar roll & full cut. Old school grownup shop. Definitely not for J Crew -AF hybrid metrosexuals. (Comment, November 25, 2014)
I've been purchasing from Mercer for years and I don't believe the shirt has any competitors. The Mercer shirt is a completely different garment than (for example) anything on offer from Brooks. And I mean anything. The blogger Heavy Tweed Jacket did an in-depth analysis of Mercer vs. Brooks (for all you left brained folks) and the differences are substantial. Now, whether those differences are worth paying extra for is up to you. As for the full cut: I've noticed that they no longer include the slogan "Baggier Is Better" on the label of their shirts, but I hope that this is their only concession to current fashion. A bit of bagginess in an oxford is essential. (Sartre, November 25, 2014)

Dubarry


Dubarry of Ireland - Their boots and boat shoes are expensive but have been well worth the money. (Comment, May 8, 2013) 
Second the recommendation of Dubarry as great quality.(LP, May 8, 2013) 
Go Dubarry! I live in those boots all winter long! (Comment, May 9, 2013)

Wool Overs


I purchased several Woolovers sweaters this past season and we absolutely love them. Very timeless styling, right down to the ribbed sleeves. Nothing fancy or clever, or anything to "update" them. (Holly in PA, July 16,l 2014)
I have enjoyed ordering from them on several occasions. Their products are high quality and reasonably priced. I have ordered from them for gifts as well as for myself. (Comment, September 3, 2014)
We like Woolovers very much. We've bought the Fisherman, Aran, Norweigen, Guernsey and Cashmere/Merion cable. All have been excellent in color, fit and make. (Comment, September 4, 2014)
Good looking sweaters at a fair price. (Comment, September 4, 2014)

Patagonia

A Patagonia Snap-T
I am not a big fan of any kind of "fleece" never worn by a sheep; call it what they will, it's still polyester, and has nothing like the warmth or wicking properties of natural wool. (Greenfield, November 27, 2011)
Patagonia [has a] continued commitment to quality and to reducing consumption by promoting repairing, reusing and recycling to reduce our environmental footprint. (Bitsy, November 27, 2011)
In the past I have purchased a number of items from Patagonia--including Snap-Ts, Stand Up shorts, insulated vests/jackets, etc. As many of these original items were constructed of "Synchilla", a product of Malden (MA) mills and Polartec, Patagonia has truly gotten away from their roots. Not only were the fabrics quite often created in U.S. mills, but the construction of garments was completed in the U.S. as well.  Patogonia's acknowledgement that such construction would currently be virtually impossible is certainly a sad state of affairs, but a little chicken and egg--which came first the lack of U.S.factories/workers or the shipping of jobs overseas for cheaper production and increased profit margins by companies like Patagonia. (childdoc, May 13. 2014)

Barbour

Barbours are Repaired, not Replaced
Functional, long-lasting, outdoorsy, classic. (Michael, August 23, 2013)
These were always just coats we found at the tack shop and wore at the barn!  (Sungish60669, August 23, 2013)
Barbour is well-entrenched modern preppy, been sold at the Andover Shop since at least the early '80s. English origins don't negate its preppiness nor does the fact that people besides Sloane Ranger types wear it. Still great for damp weather. Wish it all was made in England and Scotland like before. (August 23, 2013)
It's worn on every continent by people who value quality, craftmanship and tradition. (Bernie,  August 24, 2013)
 The quality of Barbour has gone downhill in the last 5-8 years. Several years ago, I went shopping for a Barbour coat for my wife and I was shocked that outside the traditional oil slicked coats, most of their merchandise was mass produced in Asia. (Pete, August 26, 2013)
Though expensive to purchase, are indeed an example of being frugal in the long run. I have several Barbour coats. The two oldest are a Beaufort which was purchased in 1981. My fly fishing Spey jacket (no long made) in 1983. Both are functional garments, both have been repaired and both represent outstanding value. Plastic, polyester or any type of synthetic outerwear cannot meet the criteria of long life, value and reparability. (Sean W., August 27, 2013)


J. Press

If you want an ancient madder or challis tie or a three button sack, Press is the place. Plus their salesmen know what they're talking about. My problem with Press and your chart is that they have made themselves into two companies: J. Press and York Street. (Cranky Yankee, May 8, 2013)
 A shopping experience at J. Press is still a pleasure, and the quality is generally very high. A few disturbing trends that have been noted elsewhere, but on the whole the main brand remains fairly secure. (John, May 8, 2013)
The cynicism, ineptitude and greed demonstrated by the York Street line screams cash grab. (WRJ, May 8, 2013)

Brooks Brothers


BB had good quality clothes at a fair price during the 1980s.The quality and style have declined over time. Now they are just a sad joke. (Comment, August 23, 2013)
My wardrobe includes many good items from BB: sport jackets, pants, ties, sweaters, OCBD shirts, polo shirts, etc. Although, many of these items were bought years ago, I continue to buy their clothing. I just stick with the traditional apparel and look. (Gary, August 23, 2013)
For their all-cotton sure-to-wrinkle OCBD's and repp ties, or their Alden-made shoes, sure. Otherwise, Brooks Brothers has been wandering in the wilderness for quite a few years. (Michael, August 23, 2013)
The brand cannot be relied on to provide consistency, and all purchases have to be scrutinized, including BB. Which is annoying. I find BB confusing--literally, I am often confused when shopping online or in stores. There seem to be dozens of fits for pants, suits, jackets, and shirts. There must be thousands of combinations of dress shirts available, between the various collars, patterns, colors, fits, and chemical coatings available. Most of these combinations are undesirable. Quality varies widely--some stuff made in the USA, some in Italy, some in Asia. It's cacophonous.  I really only consistently shop at BB for OCBDs, ties, and socks. (WRJ, August 23, 2013)
 I would not buy anything from them for casual wear but I still buy my suits and must-iron shirts from them. (Bernie, August 23, 2013)
I'm afraid that all I can manage these days from Brooks Brothers are the original fit button-downs, the socks and underwear, the ties, and the shoes. Their khakis feel like design rejects from The Gap, the suits and blazers are all tricked out, and are identical to any good suit sold all over America.  I have a pair of khakis from BB which I purchased in 1991, and I treat them like gold, because the cut, the fabric, the hook-eye tab closure, aren't made by BB anymore. Again, if we're going to talk about the loss of preppy aesthetic, we have to address the dumbing-down effect of marketing to a wider, middlebrow, middle-American audience.(Michael Rowe, August 23, 2013)
I was with Brooks Brother's Parent company in the late 70's and 80's, pretty much the zenith of their business. At the time, our shoes were made in England, we owned our own shirt factories in New Jersey, had a patent on the button down collar. Everything we did was geared to quality as we had clothed Presidents over the years. The boardroom on the 8th floor still echoed the ideas of the founder. But, in an unhappy takeover, the parent was bought out by Allied Stores who knew nothing about upscale retailing. As they began to influence us, they went into cost cutting measure to increase profits...no more own shoes, buy from Bass. Close the factories and have made in the orient. And, so on and so on. Later BB was sold to Marks and Spencer who did not know how to run it and it continued to go downhill. Now the present owners seem intent upon making it another J. Crew or Lands End. The sad demise of a once quality marque.(SpencerGray, September 17, 2013)

L.L. Bean



I have been a frequent Bean customer since the late 1960s. There is no question that the quality has dropped dramatically over the past 5-10 years. I still try but end up returning most of what I order. (December 20, 2012)
Bean's quality has declined at a breakneck pace. (Comment, April 22, 2013)
LLB should find [a new CEO] who understands that they cannot continue to produce poorly made products that are way overpriced and still make the kind of money that they have made the last few years. That trick may be used up. People are starting to wise up. (Coment, May 19, 2014)
There is nothing at Bean today that appeals to me and anytime I visit their website, I feel as though I'm looking at a Walmart flyer. I visit Ebay in search of traditional quality made Bean items made prior to 2007 more often than I visit the Bean website. Bean doesn't seem to be carrying many, if any, products that would appeal to a value-minded traditionalist. I will buy the Bean totes and Bean boots but that's it. I once loved their oxford shirts but won't buy them now because they are treated. The rest of their clothing seems extremely over-priced for cookie cutter, cheap, trendy style and poor quality. (Mollie's Mom, August 5, 2014) 
I have never experienced anything but the highest quality customer service from L.L. Bean. (Patsy, September 27, 2014) 
I don't expect the Bean family to correct this when it was the Walton family that ruined their own legacy as well. My recent Bean jacket purchases are unworn; they sit in limbo as I decide to return them or not. I've already returned their completely disappointing Oxford shirts, which would could live up to their "wear like iron" claim as they already feel like something akin to metal against the skin. (James, September 27, 2014)

Ralph Lauren

RL makes a a number of great items and many awful items, which puts it in the same category as pretty much every other multinational clothing company in the world. Fits are generally predictable--there are two for shirts, classic and custom, and you know what you're getting with each. Non-iron is the exception and not the rule. Colors are consistently good. Tailored clothing is very expensive, but very high-quality. Still selling soft-shouldered jackets. Ties are made in Italy and are a league beyond Brooks Brothers in drape and design. I have a dozen or so of the classic cashmere sweaters that I wear 9 months of the year, and the quality is great, for the same price on-sale as a Shaggy Dog. I can't recall having a serious quality issue with any purchase, even items made in Asia--which I attribute to Mr. Lauren's reputed obsessive quality control. However, I tend to only buy on sale because (1) almost everything is marked down twice a year, (2) the higher-end items, particularly those that are made in Italy, are very expensive, and (3) I have set a low ceiling for what I'm willing to pay for items coming from the country of "Imported". (WRJ, August 26, 2013))
I haven't forgiven RL for the Olympic uniforms made in China. (Rachel, August 26, 2013)
I think Ralph Lauren was preppy. But now they have too many off brands and even a factory store. If you walk in any TJ Maxx or Marshalls they always have Ralph Lauren shirts there to buy. I feel that its too out there now, and I feel it kind of lost its luxury appeal. Now they have these oversized logos and this year they highlighted their "downtown prep" theme and its just seems wild to me and too phony. I'm sure there are staple items, but I don't know how long its going to last. (Berniex, September2, 2014)
Looking at Ties in their NY Store

Vineyard Vines


I worked at VV during college and in my experience outside of the ties nothing in the store was of very good quality. Their shirts are either plastic feeling or far too thin,... The best summation I have heard of VV is that they are mockery of preppy. They are over-the-top garish at times. (Zach, August 23, 2013)
VV is not preppy or traditional. It’s a cash grab. (Ice Matty T, August 23, 2013)
Shep and Ian are laughing all the way to the bank. I like and have a couple of their ties, but most (if not all) of the rest of their stuff is overpriced and of much lower quality.... And yes, a lot of their stuff is so over the top that only young teens and undergrads at southern colleges and universities dare wear some of the more garish colors and patterns. (Paul Connors, August 23, 2013)
I would consider them tourist/resort/cruise wear. (Susan R, August 23, 2013)
It's what non-preppy thinks preppy should be. (Bernie, August 24, 2013)
 I always feel sad for grown adult when I see them wearing VV, as if they've been duped! As for the younger set, their grown adult parents have also been duped in to buying for their children. (August 26, 2013)
Copycat clothing for Copycat preps (Seas-the-day, August 26, 2013)
Some of Vineyard Vines First Products

Vera Bradley

I cherish my older VB bags, totes, and accessories because I preferred the patterns. They seemed to be based on Provencal fabrics and I liked them better. (Carole, September 23, 2010) 
Not impressed with Vera for the last 10 years, they have become too trendy in design and color selection which is geared toward the tween, teen and coed market. (HipWaldorf, April 6, 2014) 
Unfortunately, they have strayed from their French Provencal inspired fabric from the past. The fabrics now seem to be channeling psychodelic prints from the 60's. Some color schemes are pretty horrendous. (April 6, 2014) 
I own a nice selection of Vera Bradley totes and zip around wallets that have been well taken care of, all purchased new many years ago -- in shades of pink, apple green, pale yellow, red and navy. I'll occasionally find something in a nice old pattern on eBay. However, I've purchased no new Vera patterns for a long time.  Like other companies, I wish they'd get the message that we'd like to see a return of traditional colors and patterns from the past. Over time, the collections have become so hideous and ghastly that they look cheap. (April 7, 2014) 
I recall purchasing a tote shortly after they moved production overseas; the difference in quality was most noticeable in the number of loose threads at the seams.(Mary, April 7, 2014) 
Not only has Vera Bradley decreased in quality and design (though not in price), it's no longer made in the US. I refuse to pay top-tier prices for an inferior, foreign made product. (April 13, 2014)
Vera Bradley Vintage Bags From Their Precious and Iconic Phases

67 comments:

Michael Marshall said...

I love seeing these charts every year! Thanks for keeping up the tradition.

Josh Hallenbeck said...

Kind of thought Smathers & Branson might make this list: http://smathersandbranson.com/

Anonymous said...

I love reviewing these charts. Thanks, Muffy!

Brooks Brothers is looking more and more like a shell these days, and J. McLaughlin is definitely sinking. I don't want anything that these two have to offer.

I see that Talbots didn't even rate a placement on the chart, and I agree with that! They are so far gone that to me they are just GONE.

Julia

Anonymous said...

I think Patagonia is miss-placed in the New Markets category. Here's my rationale based on the New Management criteria:

Management has been stable for decades, employees go surfing and are loaned to non-profits while still being paid, so no purging there.

Customer base remains strong and is valued by the company, though it certainly has expanded. Quality of products remains at the highest level in the industry and the company actively seeks to reduce it's environmental footprint through organic fabric production and recycling.

There are no wooden boats except those that are actually used by customers. No mall stores, only brick & mortar shops, and only a handful of those.

Colors are wild, but they always have been. The changes in successful products have been done for improvement and refinement.

Patagonia isn't a perfect company, it has it's flaws. But given all this, I would say they are still in the Iconic category, not New Markets.

Fraser Tartan said...

I'm a long-time fan of Patagonia but feel she's right on the money about their placement on this chart. You can walk into Urban Outfitters and other fashion shops and buy, say, a Patagonia retro trucker ballcap. What's that all about? Sounds like "new market" to me.

Chatham Ivy said...

We would love to see the terrific Castaway Clothing, Nantucket make the list soon. Wonderful quality and they fill a niche left by the original Talbots.

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful chart and easy to understand. I so agree about the shell companies.

Mayes Hall said...

Great annual chart. Will study it more carefully this week. I do think LL Bean needs to be moved to the left a bit. Too close to being a shell and that is not appropriate in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

These charts are great fun and food for thought! Everything looks aptly placed. I was particularly interested to see how LL Bean and Ralph Lauren fared this year in your estimation. I'm still hoping that Bean can pull itself back from the precipice, but perhaps it is time to set my sights elsewhere.

Bitsy said...

I agree with Anonymous who posted on July 27, 2014 at 5:50 PM regarding Patagonia - as a long time customer, I don't see much difference in the company or their products between now and 20 years ago. They've always offered odd and oddly colored items, but continue to offer the classic standards, and when they improve an item, it actually is an improvement. They continue in their commitment to the environment, their customers and their employees. Their products periodically go through cycles of being 'trendy' but the company doesn't pander to that sector. Instead, they continue on their chosen path. Patagonia products have always been available in non-Patagonia shops. While some of those may be shops I would not frequent, the availability of Patagonia products in those shops doesn't influence my opinion of Patagonia itself.

Paul Connors said...

Brooks Bros. is where it should be, i.e. in the CASH GRAB phase of its life due to the inane metrosexual stylings of RED FLEECE imposed on its customer base by the vacuous Claudio Del Vecchio. In addition, the recent significant price increases along with decreasing quality (and tastelessness of many of the products) also merit it being placed in that category.

I think it'll be in the shell category in a season or two UNLESS del Vecchio sells the company, which I doubt he'll do.

James said...

As usual, an excellent list. Companies like F.L. Woods are joyfully managed by people and not systems, and deserve top recognition. I also like how we may all offer our "take" on the list. Mine would include my surprise from J. Press being on the wrong end of this list, but their styles are admittedly too NYC to be traditional Prep. I would also like to add that Orvis shows an effort to bring American-made products forward, if a bit too earnestly, and maintains an admirable environmental interest as well.

Mona Vernon said...

Thanks for recognizing J.W. Hulme.

I love the timeless well made mini legacy handbag. It is my go to bag for day outings. It fits a small card holder, an iphone, a lipbalm. The quality is great.

Anonymous said...

Great as always. Feel like the reveal of this chart should be the opening night event of some future Prep version of Pitti. Might add Southwick and Blankenship Dry Goods to the list, but we'll see (about Blankenship; Southwick has earned it.)

Please, any reps from companies to the right (chart speaking) of "New Markets" who may be reading: Hire Muffy Tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

I both agree and disagree with your statements about Ralph Lauren. While I do generally agree that it fits your criteria for a "shell company," I think it misses the first one: it is "differentiated" in the market place. You know a Ralph Lauren product when you see one. It's very easy to spot.

Ralph Lauren's products also vary by huge degrees in quality. I never purchase shirts from them anymore, for instance, but their sweaters remain solid. Go figure.

Then, I think Ralph Lauren and J.Press both fall into this critique: certain companies are so split that they could easily fall into multiple categories. J.Press's main line could still be in "new markets," most likely, but its York Street line is, in my mind, beyond "company shell." I'd almost like to see them placed independently. Meanwhile, Ralph Lauren has numerous labels. While some (Denim and Supply, most notably) could never be called preppy or trad, others hold to that fairly well, while others have gone too far into the elite boutique market.

I agree with others about Patagonia: it is still a very, very strong company, and one that I would place in "iconic." I had the chance to meet Michael Crooke, the former CEO, at one point, and he struck me as just a truly remarkable man with a real commitment to good business practices and ethical, environmentalist companies, and I believe Patagonia continues that legacy.

I would also like to see a mention for a company that never does well on the site: Ledbury. Its shirts are amazing, based on traditional English tailoring, and I admit to buying all of my shirts there now. Truly a great company with, from my experience, fantastic products and service. It also seems quite committed to its community down in Richmond, and it manufactures its shirts in Poland (sure, it's not as laudable as the U.S. or the U.K., but I'd rather buy a shirt from Poland than one from China or Mauritius or India).

Fraser Tartan said...

A committment to offshore production deserves scorn not praise. Patagonia should be ashamed of themselves. They DO write good marketing copy though, don't they?

Anonymous said...

Fraser Tartan –

Patagonia isn’t committed to off-shore production. Here is a link you can use to read what they have to say about finding American-based textile companies, why it has become so difficult, and what their criteria are for selecting a supplier:

http://www.patagonia.com/pdf/en_US/Made_in_China_EN.pdf

You might also look at this link, which is prominently located on their webpage:

http://www.patagonia.com/us/patagonia.go?assetid=67372

It has to do with the way they see their corporate responsibility vis a vis the environment and society as a whole. I don’t know of another company in this country that has such a thoughtful, committed and transparent approach to being a responsible corporate citizen. At the bottom of the page at this link are several other links that talk about initiatives Patagonia has taken in environmental and social responsibility, including working to convince other companies to become more responsible. In my judgment, if more companies were like Patagonia, the world would be a better place and Muffy would have a lot more companies in the Precious and Iconic categories.

John G said...

Joining in the thanks. Always fun to read and to note which companies have disappeared like ex-Politburo members from the top of Lenin's tomb.

A few random comments:

On the list of stores, ordering from O'Connells is a very pleasant experience. Definitely Iconic. I suppose one might also add Murray's to the list, simply because Nantucket Reds have been featured so much on this blog and elsewhere. Others (Nobby Clothes Shop, J. Press, etc.) sell a similar product, but they own the trademark, even if the products are now made in China. I'd vote New Markets, saving from Cash Grab because they do last and here is at least a new line made in the US.

Under the criteria here (and I love the Carlyle-like reference to "self-congratulatory" marketing), the placement of Orvis is correct. Other than the buttons, their recent Ultimate Khakis are pretty good (they must be feeling pressure from Bill's or an opportunity to recoup share from LLB). There are still good quality products on offer as well a number of tendencies in the wrong direction, but it doesn't quite feel Cash Grab as BB does. They can swing back if they want to.

J, Press still offers a wonderful and welcoming customer experience and remains a definitive store for blazers, suits, shirts, and accessories. For the traditional J. Press line, many of the negatives associated with Cash Grab do not apply. Without York Street and its appalling marketing -- the "leaf" pattern earlier this year was a new low in a crowded field -- I think they would clearly be to the left, though I sadly saw my first "made in China" shirt there recently. Please leave that for the Japanese affiliate only, even at the lower price point. There's no reason why they can't continue to sell shirts made here.

Quoddy and Rancourt. I think they both offer products of high quality.

@ Anonymous 9:32. To the comment on Ledbury: yes, the shirts are of high quality but the price point is high and some of the designs are wild. Pockets would be nice. Some of their recent marketing ploys (shirts only available for 30 days, etc.) are annoying. Firmly agree that a NATO ally is a better choice than China.


Finally, I'd propose a new category, to the left of the chart: Prepreneur. This would cover the hardworking people who are trying to build companies, making their products here, while preserving a commitment to quality. These companies aren't large enough yet to merit placement on the list, but might be some day. I'm thinking here of companies such as York River Traders, Beacon & Brewster, and others. Just as New England helped revive craft beer, we can hope for the same with clothing.

Boston Bean said...

Thanks to L.L. Bean and Lands' End, I am still able to get oxford cloth shırts, chinos/khakis, reppe neckties, penny loafers, grey woolen trousers, and navy blazers at a reasonable price. All the rest is frosting on the cake.

BlueTrain said...

Having been a customer (thought never a client) of Filson for many years, it's easy to tell where it falls on the chart. I'd say it's in the new markets position, if not further to the right. They continually introduce new products seasonally and they're more expensive than their "traditional" products, a fair number of which are still available. Many of their products are still American made and that's probably an achievement. I imagine finding American made fabrics and good employees is difficult these days. Overall, however, they tend to be too expensive for ordinary workwear and not innovative enough for the sporting market. Their traditional customer base must therefore be miniscule.

Patagonia, on the other hand (never a customer), is "traditionally innovative." I think they're always tried to be on the leading edge of outdoor wear, as North Face was at one time.

Many other names that once were familiar have disappeared altogether, like Gant.

Woolrich went through all of this a couple of decades ago. They still operate mills but most of their clothing is simply marketing. I'm surprised Pendleton isn't on the list, unless I missed it.

RR said...

With Patagonia, I now look at their facts. They have outsourced nearly everything. The only things they make in the U.S. are socks and t-shirts. Patagonia has become a PR machine, and it is worth looking past the right hand that is waving furiously to see what the left hand is really doing.

BlueTrain said...

I was wrong! Gant is still available. I noticed it when looking at the German website "Frankonia," which is a sort of German Cabela's. They also carry Levis, Lacoste and Marc O'Polo. Going to Germany in two weeks for a family visit. Planning my shopping.

Anonymous said...

Blue Train, I had the same thought about Pendleton, and I'd put it towards the right, probably under Cash Grab. Their 49er jacket, always a favorite of mine, simply lacks quality and weight, though still beautifully tailored.

Greenfield said...

Patagonia markets shamelessly to the urban arriviste seeking a visual signifier of their liberal political correctness. The proof is that every Yuppie in Westport, CT inevitably appears in their latest Day-Glo "Michelin Man" jacket on the first day of winter.
; )

Anonymous said...

Greenfield - you nailed it, once again. You perfectly put your finger on it. Patagonia has gone from preppie to yuppie, and the symbolism has now become more important than the reality.

Anonymous said...

Sperry Topsider has gone down hill in quality & has become too trendy for me.

mary anne said...

This is always so interesting. So sad to see so many of my old favorites in the shell category. Although nice to learn about new companies. Woolovers is definitely a new staple for me. Muffy, you should get commission.

Re: Ledbury. Bought one for my husband a few years ago. Well made, but no pocket. A lovely shade of blue. Agree with the price point being on the high side.

WRJ said...

Greenfield, your comment is hilarious. But Jewish yuppies (in Westport or whatever other exclusionary suburb ("but it has fantastic schools!") of the moment) have always imitated WASPs. In any event, I think of Patagonia as an unpreppy company that preppy people like. It has roots in climbing, surfing, and West Coast culture, which is why you get some odd things like logo caps in the mix. I continue to have confidence in the quality and ethics of the company, even as I used to roll my eyes at entire families in clashing wildly-colored down coats braving the walk down Central Park West on a 55 degree day in April. I'm comfortable with its spot on the chart.

Quoddy should be further right. Visited their website recently to look for decent camp mocs. Their offerings were clearly aimed predominantly at the denizens of Williamsburg (a kiltie loafer with a crepe sole?).

Orvis has got to be further right. They offer so little that appeals and so much of what does doesn't seem to be particularly high-quality. It reeks of the current iteration of Bean. Perhaps their fishing equipment is what keeps them anchored leftwards?

Press and Brooks Brothers have got to be further right, with Press still to the left of Brooks. Press's accessories remain great--belts, ties, etc. Their suits are horrible values, not particularly well-made, and use inferior materials. York Street speaks for itself. Brooks offers so little of quality and, aside from the OCBDs, what it does are hideously overpriced.

I for one think Lands End should be to the left. It's not a high-end company (was it ever?), and, like nearly all companies on this list, it offers some ugly products, but I've been satisfied with the quality for the price, particularly with their bed and bath linens.

Ralph Lauren is a hard company to categorize. I'm a customer of their higher-end tailored clothing and have no complaints. They offer fabrics, fit, and quality that's far superior to what Press and Brooks offer even at equivalent prices. The shoes are, I believe, made by Crockett & Jones. They've also got great sheets, towels, and other home goods. Yet there's tons of, well, crap. But if you took Brooks and cut out everything Black Fleece, Red Fleece, non-iron, made-in-China, super-slim-fit, or stretch (yes, Brooks sells stretch suits), I'm not sure it compares favorably to Ralph. It's hard to advocate for a move to the left, but I don't see how it's much worse than Brooks. Perhaps Polo/Blue Label should be considered on the chart separately--sub-labels like Black Label or Denim & Supply do not even stake a claim to preppyness.

As a purely technical comment, it would be nice if the chart could indicate the trajectory of these firms from year to year to avoid the need to go back and forth between different charts. For example, printing the names of the firms that have improved from the past year in green and those that have worsened over the past year in red (or some other colors, since you've already used red and green elsewhere) would be very helpful.

Anonymous said...

Orvis is in the right place but is an example of a company that is stuck there. They are no longer iconic and have no vision, but aren't slimey or loud either.

Parker said...

I'm with WRJ: Ralph Lauren should be left of Brooks Bros. I go to the RL website and see things I'm interested in buying and things that look high quality. Brooks Bros. looks like what literally everyone else is selling. Their ties, jackets, some pants, and some shoes are still alright, but most of their apparel is below the competition, and some is just plain hideous.

I also agree that RL should be split into its components: grouping Denim & Supply or Black Label with Polo is too general.

I also like the point made about Lands' End (and it could even be stretched to LL Bean). These companies aren't perfect, but they have never been exactly high-end. They're companies for the working person that make products that are still fairly durable, if not as authentic, and that is probably the goal.

Anonymous said...

I would argue very strongly for the movement of Ralph Lauren to the position between J. Press and Brooks Brothers. There's certainly no way that it should be in the "cash-grab" category, and it should certainly be above Sperry and Bean, since the average quality of the goods offered are consistently much higher, and often times in similar price categories.

BlueTrain said...

Tell me what "authentic" means in this context.

Anonymous said...

I love this yearly chart, but it's built on a flaw: companies that grow are punished. There is no avenue in this chart for a company to both grow and satisfy its core customer base. This is problematic, because companies that try to stay in the "crucible" or "precious" categories usually wind up failing, hence the heavy annual turnover on the left side of the chart. The other avenue is growth. In my view, comment-leavers are punishing companies that choose growth because they don't understand the sacrifices that are necessary in order to keep offering classic products from generation to generation. It's not enough to stay the same - the reason why you can still buy quality OCBDs and blazers at Brooks is because those items are subsidized by lines like Red Fleece that assure the continued health of the company. People grumble about Patagonia using offshore manufacturing even though they do everything else right, and York Street's mere existence is a grave offense,even though mainline J Press is still a paradise. There needs to be better perspective on how growth entails sacrificing purity in exchange for a guarantee that beloved offerings will still be around.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 12:04 - I personally like to shop from companies in the precious and iconic group, with just a bit of bargain hunting in the new market section. This chart reminds me that as some companies grow and decide that they don't want my business, others thankfully take their place.

Matt said...

You knocked it out of the park again, Mrs. Aldrich! Thank you!

I agree with your readers who say that Patagonia does not quite fit in the "new markets" category because they have always offered a broad and eccentric selection merchandise; and back when they were "precious," their customers were serious outdoor people of all kinds, not Preppies in particular. So, I vote for the eastern shore of "iconic."

RL is also tricky. He was never really on the left side of the chart, was he? He went for the biggest clientele he could get right away, and he did it with some pretty dubious offerings from the beginning, as well as some terrific ones. He was born grabbing cash; yet he did it very well all things considered, and he continues to do it with aplomb. I would move him leftwards to the west side of "Cash Grab."

Filson should certainly be moved rightwards into the near edge of "New Markets" in my view.

I don't particularly care for Orvis products, but I can't see that their quality or marketing has changed much in recent years or decades. I would move them to the left.

Lastly, for what it's worth, I would like to make a more philosophical point. Preppy taste is, obviously, old fashioned by nature. They (we) don't like change. So, for example, Bean goes quickly and far to the right on the chart because they are seen to be grabbing cash with their questionable new styles and marketing.

However, Bean and other such companies may well have been grabbing cash in 2004, and 1994, and 1984 as well. But as styles changed more slowly in those days (particularly in men's clothes) a company could retain the appearance of iconic-ness even if it were simply grabbing cash.

Thus, I think we could be clearer about what the chart is supposed to represent. Does it represent objective features of the clothes and other items (material, country of origin, pattern, cut, etc)? Or, does it represent the perceived intentions of the owners (make a great product vs. make a great deal of money)?

This makes a difference because if it's the former then, for example, Lands' End should be way, way to the left. They offer relatively traditional and high quality items at a reasonable price. But if it's the latter then I don't see how we can distinguish between "iconic" and "cash grab" because we can't see into the hearts and minds of the owners, obviously.

Thank you again!

BlueTrain said...

To Anon @ 12:04, you do rightly point out the problem with remaining true to form and at the same time, growing. All companies face this problem in one form or another at one time or another. And of course, that isn't the only problem they face.

There are, however, some companies that have chosen to remain true to their origins. They do not grow and in some ways, appear to have shrunk. But for all I know they still produce as much as they ever did, even though the market continues to evolve. Perhaps the best example is Russell Moccasins. Expensive, yes, but not outlandishly so. Better than the competition? I have no idea. Were they ever preppy? Haven't a clue.

Frankly, it's hard to think of another example at the moment but I'm sure there are others.

Rick said...

This is a fabulous chart, Muffy. Most corporations are obsessed with spinning everything. This is the best unspin I have seen in a long time.

David P said...

I agree on Lands End - a very underrated brand. I have shirts form LE that have lasted for years. Perhaps it is because Sears is run so poorly that they have not had the wherewithal to run the Lands End unit into the ground.

Patagonia is an interesting case. They are certainly plenty of preppy types that wear their apparel - I see it all of the time. However, their branding and core mission is so tied to environmentalism ans social awareness, they do also draw the socially and environmentally conscious who are not traditionally preppy. They are kind of like what to clothing what Starbucks is to coffee.

Anonymous said...

Poor Eddie Bauer! Not even on the chart. But what a mess they've made of their product line in the past 15-20 years. I used to buy a lot from them.

For a woman, LLB and Orvis are the best choices for plain, everyday clothing.

Bill said...

Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, and L.L. Bean are getting noticeably worse each year. Thinner fabrics, more shrinking, inconsistent sizing, shallower pockets, all at higher and higher prices. They used to be default stores, now I am suspicious of everything they try to sell me. Plus anything you buy will be 80% off next web only sale.

Steve L. said...

What are people's favorite crucible, precious, and iconic companies not listed here? Shopping at any of the company shells and cash grabs has become too frustrating for me.

Anonymous said...


Chatham Ivy said...

We would love to see the terrific Castaway Clothing, Nantucket make the list soon. Wonderful quality ......

Got to agree about Castaway, at least this year. Got two pairs of excellent cord shorts by them. So good that I was able to overlook their having been made in China ... if Castaways made its line in the USA I'd get more of it, that's for sure. Let's see what they do.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to seeing "the chart" every year as well. Thanks for posting!

Given the very different customers they cater to and clothes they sell, J Press and York Street might as well be separate companies. I don't think they can be lumped together.

Despite the fact that I own a pair of their shoes and have no complaints, Crockett & Jones seems a curious addition to the chart. There are several other English shoe companies that enjoy good reputations for quality; I wonder why C&J stands out?

Three cheers for O'Connell's!

John G said...

@Anonymous 12:04. I don't think the chart punishes growth at all. As one example, take LLB. They expanded pretty well to become a national brand without losing their heritage or sense of style, all the while continuing to make many of their products in the US (and a good number of those in Maine itself). It was only when they lost that heritage that the quality went down and they shifted to the right. Similarly, Brooks Brothers expanded to be a national brand and (in my view at least) only started losing its way after the sale to Marks & Spencer. Both companies grew quite a bit while expanding their reach. Growth is rewarded, not punished. Quoddy has been gong for decades; others have as well. "New Markets" doesn't mean expanding similar products into new markets but trying to change the product into something unrecognizable, while ignoring or neglecting older customers. As one of the other commenters noted, LLB may well have been grabbing cash in all those years, but they were also offering a reliable product of high quality. They deserved the profit.

But if "growth" means that we, the consumers, have to accept products of lower quality, at higher prices, no longer made here, then we perhaps need a more sustainable definition of growth. Not everything revolves around the need to pay investors.

York Street's mere existence is a grave offense. Whether or not Red Fleece actually provides the ballast for Brooks Brothers, I'd be shocked if York Street did the same for J. Press. Imagine if that money had been invested in trying to expand J. Press' own reach instead.

Anonymous said...

What a super discussion. Here's some of my thoughts.
1. I agree that this chart tends to be a little hard on LL Bean, and probably Land's End and Orvis. I have returned or given away many ugly and poor styled clothes from them many times. Yet they are my go-to vendors for basic staples (the ever shrinking polos and turtle necks, khaki shorts, polartec fleece blankets, camel blazers, etc.) The person who said they sold poor quality clothes but also survived in earlier decades was spot on.
2. I am a little blown away by the inclusion here of FL Woods of Marblehead. To some extent they have followed the same pattern aka "poor little sheep who have lost their way." From the 1950s, and earlier, to the 1960s they were a much loved marine chandlery selling some nicely made clothing for sailors, but they must have changed hands and must be under new ownership. All they sell is high end clothing, they are completely adrift from their roots. The same could now be said of FT Brown in Northeast Harbor. It, too, was a marine chandlery with a healthy dose of high quality yacht wear, but has lost that customer focus entirely and gone the other way and has now been taken over by ACE Hardware. One can see the same process consuming West Marine. They are giving up on their special niche as a supplier to the boating world and are giving over more and more of their floor space to badly made, trendy clothes. Why is that business plan considered to be the way to go? Wouldn't be surprised to see the whole chain bought out or go under in a few years.
3. I checked out some of the links here and am delighted to discover Castaways of Nantucket. Thank you! And, Muffy, love Woolovers!
4. Some of my favorite clothes come from on line or local stores who do a brisk business in custom embroidered items, but whose goods are not sold on well developed web sites. I am thinking of Star Signatures http://www.starssignatures.com/ who offer Port Authority, Outerbanks, and Devon and Jones clothing which I love. In Guilford, CT, is Zuse http://www.zuse.com/ which also offers many different lines including those just mentioned, does custom embroidery for the New York YC and many others. Anyone can shop there.
5. For an example of a business on the far left, perfectly fitting this taxonomy, check out Maine Point in Southwest Harbor, Maine. Every stunning yacht has a set of their loveable fender covers made right on the dock at Dysart's Marina by ladies from Maine. Gotta love them! They offer some nice clothing as well. http://www.mainepointfendercovers.com/index.htm
~ Hearthstone Farm

Anonymous said...

so many great small companies appearing...eventually they are who you must turn too for quality. Check out http://www.kikilynn.com for some great shirt dresses.

John B said...

A couple of people asked the question 'Was Ralph Lauren ever really preppy?" It got me to thinking and I have concluded that it was not.

Let me say that I come from a decidedly non preppy background so this is a bit of an outsiders view. My take on preppy companies is that they all started small and served an exclusive enclave mainly in the Northeast. And really that was their original goal and many met said goal well.

Ralph Lauren (the person) has intimated in several interviews that he started Ralph Lauren (the company) to capitalize on the desire of the masses to own product that allowed them to emulate that preppy-waspish lifestyle that they saw on tv, books and in movies. Bust isn't that concept in itself anti preppy?

The comments here seem to reflect that companies like Bean and J Press made quality long lasting clothes that people wore not as a statement or a reflection of their personality but as a 'uniform' of function for the daily activities and characteristics of a 'preppy' life.

If that's the case, then I think the evidence is strong that Lauren never was preppy in intention or mission from the beginning.

John B

Anonymous said...

I would like to put in a plug for good old Brooks Brothers. You have them in the cash grab category. I think it is a bit harsh. The flat front pants, both casual and dress are very nice and really last. The button down shirts are also reasonably priced and wear very well. Their ties are still very nice and I love their shorts (they recently came out with ones embroidered with a turtle) For those of us who do not live in the northeast Brooks is a good option.

Donald said...

A couple of years ago I saw an omen--and not a good one: if I covered up the name on a Brooks Brothers sale catalog I received in the mail, it looked exactly like something form Jos. A. Bank.

Sartre said...

If it weren't for the York Street line, I would place J Press in the Iconic category. As it is, I think they fit the definition of New Markets.

No way I would put Press in the same category as Brooks Brothers. Despite its flaws, Press is still committed to the traditional Ivy look. They are one of the only retailers that remain committed to the 3-button sack, all-cotton button-down shirt, Shetland crewneck sweater, flat front trouser, and so forth. Their outerwear is traditional and of absolutely top quality. Their shoes are from Alden.

Aaron said...

Love the post! Would love to hear about your opinion on the restart of BOAST.

Anonymous said...

O'Connell's is great. I went to the store last year and it reminded me how much retailing has changed. there used to be a great many stores like them.

I bought a new suit and some other pieces from Brooks--still good for their staples. JPress the same. Patagonia has screwed-up some of their basics but they haven't over expanded or gotten too deeply into areas they shouldn't. they've always had a grab bag of dealers.

LL Bean is till good with basics. the comments about Lands End make me think I should pay more attention to them. I forget Eddie Bauer still exists.

Carhartt seems to have taken over much of the niche once occupied by Woolrich albeit with more seriously blue collar stuff. They're still family owned.

Gant is back but ridiculously overpriced and other than the rugby shirts, none of it is really "classic".

Some of us over 50 can still where a slim w/o looking ridiculous, btw.

BlueTrain said...

I am surprised that someone even mentioned Carhartt in the same thread as Brooks Brothers. Carhartt makes (some made here, some imported) "real" workwear and so far, has resisted the temptation to intentionally market to urban guys who like to wear logger boots and rigid jeans (with the bottoms rolled up just so) on weekends. There is apparently a lot of money in that market. There are lots of other companies, some who still make things here, that still make good casual and sports clothing that aren't cutting edge fashion and you'll never notice them when you see them, either boating or out on the links.

Frankly, I do feel any loyalty to any of the companies listed or otherwise mentioned here. However, there are things that I used to like that no longer seem to be available, probably for the simple reason that they've gone out of style. Poplin wash and wear suits and pants, plain wool sweaters, and heavier weights in all-wool suits and dress pants. You probably couldn't get any of those things even from a made-to-measure tailor.

Anonymous said...

I am afraid I agree with Muffy's placement of J. Press. The New York store is gone. The great tailors are retiring and not being replaced with similar talent. As a tall man, I can't find a tweed or blazer that fits anymore. They have embraced the trendy "short" look. J. Press is even closer to irrelevancy than Brooks Brothers. York Street cannot be separated from J. Press. York Street is a pure cash grab and where J. Press current management seems to be focused.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with Muffy's placement of Lands' End--based on my own experience. The quality and consistency has deteriorated greatly over the years. My husband and I have both given up on them. I sent them a package of a few pilled and ghastly looking cashmere sweaters that had only been worn a few times and had not been cleaned. I told them that I did not want a refund, replacement, or anything else. I just wanted them to know why we are no longer customers. Of course, I got a response with this offer and that offer. No thanks. We're done.

As for Brooks Brothers, I think Muffy is accurate, if not generous. I have been watching their Facebook page for a couple of years with photos and comments on things that have not worn well or fallen apart in a short time. We have also given up on them.

Eddie Bauer is another sad case. We used to purchase quite a bit from them but haven't in years. LLB is still an occasional source, but I see them as being in sort of a holding pattern in still offering some of the standard items along with cheaper, thinner junk. I've not been able to purchase a decent pair of chinos from them for what seems like ages.

I sure hope Muffy sticks around because I really appreciate learning of new sources for quality items produced by smaller companies that I would like to support. Thanks to all who comment and share.

Julia

BlueTrain said...

For those of you who comment on how thin things seem to be anymore, I'm afraid that's an overall trend in clothing. As I mentioned previously, a heavy weight man's suit no longer seems to be available anywhere. But perhaps no one wants one. Suits don't come with two pair of pants anymore, either.

Anonymous said...

To echo prior comments, is it possible to grown from the 'craftsman' stage to mass production and still remain respectable?

Anonymous said...

this is a very useful chart and list for those of us who prefer our traditional styles. dana pallessen

BlueTrain said...

In reading over my post of 11:03, I realize I should have said, "a man's heavy weight suit."

To speak to Anonymous at 1:07, I'm sure it is possible to go from craftsman stage to mass production and still remain respectable. The question is, has that ever happened?

Remember, all clothing is made essentially the same way. A person sits at a sewing machine just like you have at home, though maybe a little more heavy-duty and sews and sews and sews. There can be differences in quality, to be sure. The design of the garment may call for fewer stitches or more stitches; there can be differences in the finishing, like in the lining or how the cut ends of the cloth are finished off (or left raw), how well the buttons, pockets, belt loops, zippers and so on are attached. The fabric itself can be of various qualities. The fit of the garment and general design or styling is another subject altogether.

All of those things mean that the quality of a finished garment can be all over the place, so there is the element of quality control, keeping in mind that not everything is produced for the same market at the same quality. In doing all of this, the manufacturer also has to somehow maintain a source of the raw materials suitable for his product and have experienced employees who can do the work.

Anonymous said...

Muffy, thank you again for the "fun" effort of pulling together this chart and the lively discussion it always elicits.

I have several remarks: one, regarding J. Press. Until recently I lived in Washington, DC, and was a devoted customer of J. Press, switching my allegiance from Brooks about 7 years ago, as the quality of Brooks began to take a nose dive. For those not familiar with the DC store, it remains 100% hardcore Ivy traditional, and a wonderful spot for class menswear. It is by far the "preppiest" men's store in the DC area. Secondly, I have all but abandoned Brooks and Bean, and even J. McLaughlin--the quality is the pits, and over priced, and frankly, not attractive. It saddens me that these "icons" are now so undesirable.

On a positive side, I am still devoted to Patagonia and Alden for shoes. Exceptional quality and customer service.

And, while this store is not on Muffy's chart, and some diehard traditionalist may find it rather too fashion forward, Sid Mashburn of Atlanta is impeccable in quality and service. Case in point, the first button-down shirt I purchased from him in 2007 right after the opening of his store--a navy blue gingham button-down with flap covered front pocket (very J. Press in appearance)still looks exceptional after 7 years of washing, drying, and occasional laundering at the cleaners. And it was made in America!

So, at this point in my life at 45, when I need replacement clothes--its J. Press, Barbour, or Sid Mashburn for me, with some doses from Patagonia. And one final comment, I recently purchased a pair of Dubarry boots, while expensive for a pair of boots for cleaning out stalls and walking in the field, the quality is awesome and are incredibly comfortable!

Mayes Hall said...

Received the two sweaters I ordered from Wool Over. Soft as can be. Nice weight. Good construction. And the price was darn nice. Too warm to wear and test, but glad to have made the purchase and glad to see them positioned on the chart.

Lane said...

I found Lotuff, thanks to Muffy, called them when I was in Providence and was told to come on down. Two delightful and knowledgeable young folks attended to me while I selected my gorgeous bag which was discretely embossed with my initials while I waited. No bling or logos of any kind, made in my home state of CT. it was a large purchase for me, but one I need not repeat for a long time. Thrilled with it!

As I live in Maine, I try to get what I can at Beans, but I find that the sizing is funny in pants and I don't always find the fabric I like there. That said, I did find nice women's polos there this year and still get the basic turtlenecks. The staff at the store is so helpful and kind; these are my neighbors so I want them to have jobs.

If you want a quality prep sweater, buy yarn from a farm you know and knit your own! I have a bag of natural yarn from North Haven waiting for me.

Glenda Moore said...

Thanks, Muffy--& Mona Vernon--for reminding me of J.W.Hulme. If I'm ever in the market for a new bag, this is where I will go. Right now I'm still making my way through the world with a Coach key holder & wallet plus bags I bought in a variety of colors in the 70's; this was, of course, back when Coach just made fine leather bags & only in New York. There are consistently a good variety of those vintage Coach bags in good condition on ebay from about $10 to $35, scattered among the Coach-listings of current bags littered with logos & "stuff" on them... The J.W.Hulme bags look like what Coach made in the 70's & before.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Coach, I popped into TJMaxx yesterday, and on several rounders at the front of the store were piles of Coach bags. They were leather (as opposed to the logo variety), but certainly nothing like the originals. I thought of Muffy's chart, and this heap at TJ certainly confirms Muffy's accurate placement of them on the far right.

Julia in VA

Paul Connors said...

To all here who critique Brooks Bros. and who criticisms are both valid and accurate I add this final, cheap shot: Much of the loss of quality harkens back to the day CLAUDIO DEL VECCHIO purchased this legendary company at the turn of the 21st century. While claiming to be a fan of the company, he has singlehandedly unmade its sterling reputation for timeless quality and value.

The cheaper shirts (both dress and casual), the ghastly RED FLEECE metrosexual abominations and the repeated stratospheric price increases (almost all unwarranted) now appeal to people who don't know the company's once vaunted history.

About all they sell now that retains their high quality are their Peal line of shoes, their shell cordovan and calfskin loafers (made in MA by the Alden Shoe Company) and yes, most of their ties, which they still make in Long Island City, NY.

Del Vecchio has been seen to be rude to long time customers who approach him in stores (I know I am one) and he is not beyond telling customers, after being informed of an issue that they should probably shop elsewhere.

Del Vecchio believes he will draw in the people who shop at Neiman Marcus, but in the process of acquiring that customer base, he has probably forever alienated the old guard who have bought their wardrobes at BB for generations.

Paul Connors said...

Bergen County, NJ (just opposite NYC) is the LAST county in NJ tom retain Sunday "BLUE" Laws. Accordingly, the L.L. Bean store in Paramus is closed on Sunday. Granted, it is nowhere near as large as the flagship store in Freeport, ME or even many of their other stores dotted up and down the eastern seaboard, but it a store that immediately developed its own following.

On the occasions when I went to the store to buy Bean boots, they had what I wanted, when I wanted it. It also afford me the opportunity to bring my boots and Gumshoes back to the store rather than having to mail them to Freeport myself for repair.

Another nice thing about this store is that they have some of the NICEST and MOST HELPFUL sales and customer service people of any retail operation in NJ. So even if one has issues with the larger L L Bean organization, dealing with the folks in Paramus, NJ is ALWAYS a pleasant experience.

Christy said...

Funny, I was just commenting to a friend that after years of wandering in the wilderness, plastering logos all over the place, Coach seems to be going back to its roots. I bought my first Coach bag in many years when they reissued the duffle bag. I now have two -- one from the 70s that was a hand-me-down -- and one given to me as a gift a few months ago. The design is identical; the leather a little lighter weight in the more recent version, but still high quality. The zipper is sturdy, and the strap is adjustable to just the right height to be comfortable on my shoulder. I wish they would release it in the original Tanned cowhide, but the current version functions just as well as a travel carry-on/work bag with plenty of room for a laptop, wallet, reading material, a few toiletries, etc. and is polished enough to work as a regular (albeit large) purse.