Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Brooks Brothers (pre-mall)

 Many of the great preppy stores are no longer recognizable, and the number of people who knew them in their original form are shrinking.  If you did shop at the original Brooks Brothers during its pre-mall golden era, do you have any memories of what made it great?

16 comments:

  1. Many great memories of going with my dad to shop at Brooks Brothers at 15th and Chestnut in Philadelphia in the 1980s when I was little. Prior to its being bought out by private equity and the inventory optimization that ensued, that store was chock FULL of anything a well-dressed man would need (I don't think they'd expanded to women's clothes yet but could be wrong). The lower level had high ceilings, large wooden display cases, and green leather couches by the shoes. A grand staircase took you to the second level which felt like a supper club with lower lighting, green carpet and racks upon racks of suits and sports coats. Today the store is a Staples, but the golden fleece is still carved above the door, signaling the store's prior life. Sigh.

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    1. I loved that store, too. And I could weep when I walk down the street and see Bonwit Teller is now a Nordstrom Rack.

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    2. The Center City Brooks Brothers was my go-to store when I was a young lawyer in the 1980s. I would also take the bus in to NYC and go to the 346 Madison Avenue store for the annual sale, which was the day after Christmas as I recall. J. Press was around the corner, so that was on my list as well.

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    3. These comments do my heart good! I spent part of my childhood in northern Delaware and we would stock up at the Brooks in Center City Phila once or twice a year.

      In college, I had a summer job at the Widener Building (13th & Chestnut) so temptation was hardly a block away.

      And then following grad school, in the late '80s, I was a single guy in Philly making good money and dropped a LOT of it at Brooks before they took their nose dive into irrelevance.

      I remember the miles and miles of ties fanned out on the counter just as you walked in. Leather goods were directly behind you, suits and sport coats upstairs. My father (95 yrs.) still wears the grey herringbone sport coat that I outgrew in my 30s, and keeps a couple of my old glen plaid Golden Fleece suits stowed away in the cedar closet.

      BTW we also used to patronize Jacob Reed's, which was in an architecturally significant building also on Chestnut St., between Broad and 15th. But mostly it was Brooks.

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  2. It was a joy. The catalogues were a joy. Then they sought to broaden their appeal and ended up with nothing. The reference above to private equity and inventory optimization is spot on. Forty years ago I carried a balance on my card. Ten years ago I couldn’t find anything worth buying on Madison Avenue but the Aldens-then they dumped those for a Kohls level substitute.

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  3. The name “Brooks Brothers” should not be permitted to be used by the present company as it bears no relation to the original store. Kind of like strangers today usurping the names of 50s/60s rock bands even though all the original group members are long gone (see, “The Drifters” ???)

    I remember a magical time going there with my father when the stacked tables, and glass accessory cases were filled with desirable, quality cargo. And unique items only found at Brooks Brothers were also offered – for example, when I went off to school, my grandfather went to Brooks and bought me a whimsical heavy solid brass 13” door stop in the shape of a gargoyle (I guess to keep the evils spirits - or drunken class mates - from entering my room.) I wish I still had it, but can’t even remember when it went missing. A great mystery.

    Anyway, I have nothing to say about BB except the emperor should have looked down long ago to see that he had no new clothes.

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  4. Went with my Dad to the Eastchester, NY store for a fabulous navy corduroy blazer. I was so stylin' in that! I remember finding out the sales people worked on commission.

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  5. The suits and blazers were high quality, button down shirts were no iron cotton in one size (very voluminous fit), and it was a great place to buy various accessories, ties, etc. Service was excellent. I see no reason to shop there now.

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  6. As others have said above, Brooks Brothers was a joy to visit, up into the 1980s, when it begin its continuous slide downhill after acquisition by Allied, Marks & Spencer, Claudio del Vecchio, and its post-bankruptcy acquisition by an investment company. However, it was once a very special place.

    The flagship store at Madison and 44th was my favorite, but i also purchased a number of items at the old DC store on L St. Tom Davis, a wonderful gentleman, ran the shirt department in NY, and my closet still hold a number of the excellent oxford button-downs and other shirts that he sold; I am wearing one today.

    I also still have and wear several flannel and poplin suits and tweed sport coats, as well as shoes, a (now much battered) felt fedora, an armload of ties and a heavy gray overcoat, all from that era. What I wouldn't give to be able to walk into that store again, but now the building is an "event space," and the Brooks name adorns scores of third-rate mall store. Oh well; since the quality was high and the style classic, I probably have enough from the old store to last me. And, I still have one of Tom Davis's business cards someplace.

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  7. I used to go to 44th st with my wife on December 26th every year, the first day of their semi-annual sale. I couldn’t wait. It was something to behold. The place was absolutely packed. I can picture it in my mind. I know things change, but I really do miss it.

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  8. I started shopping there after I started working at a law firm in my early 30s and I still have a couple of button-down shirts acquired in the late 80s that I can still wear today, which attests to the superior quality at the time. My favourite items back then were a Black Stewart kilt (made in Scotland), a pale yellow cotton cable knit cardigan (now passed down to my niece) and a pair of navy tasselled flats that were probably the most comfortable shoes I had ever owned, and even rivals my Belgian shoes. And with my first pay rise, I remember that I managed to purchase a lovely Nantucket basket (!!) although that was a one-off. Brooks Brothers is sadly a pale shadow of its former self these days, although I did manage to get myself a new navy blazer made by Loro Piana this summer when I visited my mum.

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  9. Great in it's day, but how the mighty has fallen! I will alwats have my wonderful memories of shopping there back in the day, and still use the garments!

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  10. Used to frequent the Brooks Brothers on Worth Avenue (which is now the Ralph Lauren) when I was much younger and there was an older saleswoman who would always halfway jokingly tell me that I dressed like an old man. She got it.

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  11. Amen, amen, amen to new-and especially foreign-ownership destroying great American brands while fleecing (pun intended) the public. Brooks for sure, as well as any appliance company. JDV

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  12. I have been in mourning ever since the great BB decline. Shopped at the Short Hills and 346 Madison stores as a young man beginning in the late 70s. Had a BB tie addiction forever, but now enjoy my custom ottoman covered in numerous rep ties. Also loved the handbooks - “As a Gentleman Would Say”….”A Gentleman’s Guide to Suitable Dress”.

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  13. The only way I can describe the feeling of walking into a Brooks Brothers? It was akin to entering someone's estate home/closet. The smell, the feel, the elegance - from the wood paneling to the way the sales people were dressed. it was amazing - and now seems to have disappeared.

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