Brooks Brothers

Brooks Brothers, one of America's oldest retailers, is known for its classic, sometimes staid, styling. Harry Sands Brooks founded Brooks Clothing Company in 1818 and passed it to his sons who renamed it Brooks Brothers in 1854. The company was one of the first to offer men's ready-to-wear clothing. Before the introduction of ready-to-wear garments, men had to wait days, sometimes weeks, for their custom-made clothing. Brooks Brothers offered premade suits, which was especially appealing to sailors who did not spend much time in port. In 1849 Gold Rush prospectors often purchased ready-made garments from Brooks Brothers before heading west.

The company also manufactured other types of ready-to-wear clothing. For over 100 years, the company supplied the U.S. military with uniforms. Even Civil War generals wore Brooks Brothers uniforms.

In addition to being a pioneer of ready-to-wear garments, Brooks Brothers invented and popularized many of the classic styles in men's fashion. In 1830 it introduced the first seersucker suit, which featured a lightweight puckered cotton that was far more comfortable than other fabrics in warm weather. In 1890 the company began to offer jackets, trousers, and be-achwear made from a plaid fabric adapted from the madras cloth of India. In 1896 Brooks Brothers became the first American company to make a button down collar shirt, which was adapted from the polo shirt. The collar was buttoned-down to keep it from flapping in the wind during polo matches. The shirt quickly became one of the company's best-selling items and a staple for men.

During the twentieth century, Brooks Brothers brought more innovation to men's fashion. In 1904 it adapted the wool sweaters made by the residents of the Shetland Islands and introduced the Shetland sweaters to the United States. Also, Brooks Brothers introduced an American version of the English camel-hair polo coat in 1910. The company helped revolutionize menswear by offering one of the first wash-and-wear shirts in 1953. The new fabric, called BrooksWear, was a blend of Dacron and polyester. The shirts were so popular that the company also offered suits and sportswear made from the fabric.

Brooks Brothers is synonymous with the Ivy League style, including khakis and a navy blazer. The look was completed with a repp tie, which was styled after British club ties. Brooks Brothers Americanized the tie by reversing the direction of the stripes. The Ivy League style, first popularized in the 1920s, continued to be worn for the remainder of the century. This style, along with other Brooks Brothers fashions, enjoyed renewed popularity during the preppy revival of the 1980s.

Women began wearing their husbands' and fathers' Brooks Brothers clothing long before the company began selling women's garments in the 1940s. Shetland sweaters were among the first women's-wear offerings. In 1976 the company opened a women's department in its New York store, where it sold feminine versions of the popular men's styles.

In 1988 a company with a long history as a British fashion institution, Marks and Spencer PLC, purchased the company. Michael Mark founded the company in 1884 and took on Tom Spencer as a partner in 1894. The company went public in 1926 and opened a flagship store on Oxford Street in London in 1930. By the 1960s, the company was known for mass producing well-constructed clothes which were as fashionable as the haute couture garments featured on Parisian runways. Trend-conscious pop stars of the sixties, such as the Rolling Stones, often purchased suits from the store.

In 1999 the company operated almost 700 stores in thirty countries including 190 Brooks Brothers stores in the United States and Asia. In addition to retailing, the company owns manufacturing facilities. It produces ties from its facility in New York City and shirts from the Garland Shirt Company in Garland, North Carolina. By 2000, Marks and Spencer was liquidating some of its less profitable divisions, but it retained and expanded the successful Brooks Brothers division.


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