Sunday, October 18, 2009

Brooks Brothers and Mad Men style

What does the marriage of the American men's clothing retailer Brooks Brothers and the Emmy Award winning series Mad Men yield? For skeptical readers, probably not much. However, it is not a stretch to find here a measure of fitting synergy.

Men's clothing, esp. traditional business formal wear, is sustained by little more than habit and expectation. It has very little of the desire for constant change and built-in transience that makes womenswear such a seasonally driven business. As men, we are left largely to our own devices to figure out what we should wear for work, evenings and the weekends. Without durable incentives to sustain certain dressing habits and norms, some would say it's been quite a race to the bottom. If men excel in dressing well today, it is in the area of casualwear rather than traditional tailored clothing.

What's refreshing about Mad Men is its injection of a striking, visual sociology of formal menswear into the hearts and minds of today's twenty, thirty or forty-somethings, men too young to have lived through the icon-laden 1960s. Mad Men opens up a world of tailoring iconography and vocabulary that is initially unfamiliar but immensely appealing to today's male audience. Without getting too Freudian, I do think the show is a bit like a surrogate father who teaches his son the fundamentals of dressing. Or, as this clip from Saturday Night Live shows, we too can be just like Don Draper.



Brooks Brothers' role in all of this is simple. They supplied the men's suits to the show's characters - in particular, the medium gray (static gray) sharkskin suits that are the alpha and the omega of 1960s men's style. These suits have a trim shoulder line, somewhat narrow lapels and convey equally well the directness (or duplicity) of its wearer. According to this article, Brooks Brothers' version for the consumer will be made in the Southwick factory.

Going back to the show's appeal, I forgot to mention of course that it doesn't hurt to have great screenwriters, set decorators and multitalented actresses like Christina Hendricks and January Jones in the mix.

Additional links
- LA Times article on Mad Men and vintage clothing
- LA Times article on Brooks Brothers' tiemaking factory in Long Island City, Queens, NYC
- NPR story on Mad Men set decorator Amy Wells
- "What Would Don Draper Do?" blog

4 comments:

Duchamp said...

I would have dressed like that in those days when fashion rules were so different, Men's ties were narrower than the luxury ties today!

sleevehead said...

Duchamp, you are right about tie widths being narrower. All you need to do is examine a few vintage ties to see the difference.

Some think that men look good in only one tie width. This I really disagree with. If you have a sense of style, you should be able to look good in a range of looks rather than being dialed into just one setting.

Anonymous said...

But was Brooks clothing all these characters back in the day? My impression from reading stories about the old Brooks Brothers was that they made principally Ivy League sack suits, much like J. Press does today, not the narrow-lapel slim-line suits that Draper sports. But maybe I'm missing something about the history.

sleevehead said...

Right, it is not at all clear if BB did cloth the Madison Ave ad executives back in the 60s. But if I were BB, I'm not sure that is the key issue.

From a commercial standpoint, the key is recognizing that men are interested in dressing in a certain style and leveraging that for your clothing product.

Having said that, if you go to the Mad Men section on the BB website and check out their archival photos, you will see narrow ties and modified sack suits. So more likely than not, BB did dress a few of the ad execs in NYC at the time.