Brooks Brothers is the oldest surviving men's clothier in the United States. Founded in 1818. The privately owned company is owned by Retail Brand Alliance, a spinoff of Luxottica, and is headquartered on Madison Avenue in New York City.
On April 7, 1818, at the age of 45, Henry Sands Brooks opened H. & D.H. Brooks & Co. on the Northeast corner of Catherine and Cherry Streets in New York City, where the South Street Seaport now stands.
He proclaimed that his guiding principle was, "To make and deal only in merchandise of the finest body, to sell it at a fair profit and to deal with people who seek and appreciate such merchandise."
In 1850, Brooks' sons, Edward, Elisha, Daniel, and John, inherited the family business, and renamed the company "Brooks Brothers". In its early history, Brooks Brothers was most widely known for introducing America to the ready-to-wear suit.
In the late 19th century, Brooks Brothers tailored many distinctive uniforms for elite regiments of the New York National Guard. The Golden Fleece symbol was adopted as the company's trademark in 1850.
A sheep suspended in a ribbon had long been a symbol of British woolen merchants. Dating from the 15th century, it had been the emblem of the Knights of the Golden Fleece, founded by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. In ancient Greek mythology, a magical flying ram, or Golden Fleece, was sought by Jason and the Argonauts.
The first Brooks store, in New York City, 1845
The last member of the Brooks family to head the company was Winthrop Holly Brooks, who ran the company from 1935 until its sale in 1946, when the company was acquired by Julius Garfinckel & Co. After the acquisition, Brooks Brothers' director was John C. Wood, who made Brooks Brothers even more traditional.
By 1969, as an integral part of the retail conglomerate Garfinckel, Brooks Brothers, Miller & Rhoads, Inc., the ten Brooks Brothers stores in operation were located in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.
Though today many people consider Brooks Brothers a very traditional clothier, it is also known for having introduced many clothing novelties to the market.
In 1870, the store was the first to sell seersucker suits in the U.S. In 1896, John E. Brooks, Henry Sands Brooks' grandson, invented the button-down dress shirt collar after seeing the non-flapping collars on English polo players. Between 1875 and 1998, Brooks Brothers did not make an off-the-rack black suit, because of the myth that Abraham Lincoln wore a bespoke black Brooks frock coat when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.
As a result, the traditional American rule is that black suits only are proper for servants and the dead. President Theodore Roosevelt was fond of Brooks Brothers clothes: he even ordered his dress uniform for the Spanish-American War at Brooks.
Through the middle of the 20th century, when men generally wore suits much more than nowadays, "a Brooks Brothers suit" might even be mentioned to suggest the wearer's ordinariness. A popular book on evolution suggested that a Neanderthal man might pass unnoticed if he went out wearing the suit.
Ralph Lauren started out as a salesman at Brooks's Madison Avenue store. He was granted the right to use the Polo trademark from Brooks Brothers, which retained its rights to the iconic "original polo button-down collar" shirt still produced today.
Brooks Brothers was acquired by the British firm Marks and Spencer plc in 1988. In 2001, Marks & Spencer sold Brooks Brothers to Retail Brand Alliance ("RBA"), a company privately owned by Italian billionaire Claudio del Vecchio (son of Luxottica founder Leonardo del Vecchio).
Besides Brooks Brothers, RBA consists of Carolee a designer of jewelry for department stores and speciality stores. In 2007 RBA sold its high end women's brand Adrienne Vittadini.
A display in a Brooks Brothers store.
Brooks Brothers has dressed generations of families, prominent and less famous, as well as political leaders, Hollywood legends, sports greats and military heroes.
Andy Warhol was known to buy and wear clothes from Brooks Brothers. According to Carlton Walters: "I got to [know] Andy quite well, and he always looked bedraggled: always had his tie lopsided, as he didn't have time to tie it, and he never tied his shoe laces, and he even wore different colored socks, but he bought all of his clothes at Brooks Brothers..."
Brooks Brothers is the official clothier of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra
Brooks Brothers supplies clothes for the TV show Mad Men
Chuck Bass and Nate Archibald on Gossip Girl frequently wear clothes from Brooks Brothers.
The young stars of Slumdog Millionaire were all dressed by Brooks Brothers for the 81st Academy Awards.
Brooks Brothers is frequently sought out by costume designers in Hollywood, dressing stars in such films as Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbor, Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums, and Will Smith in Ali. The company produced made to measure period costumes for Denzel Washington's The Great Debaters.
At his second inauguration, United States President Abraham Lincoln wore a coat specially crafted for him by Brooks Brothers. Hand stitched into the coat's lining was a design featuring an eagle and the inscription, "One Country, One Destiny." It is common mythology that Lincoln was wearing a black suit by Brooks Brothers when he was assassinated. This story, although widely touted, is not true.
Lincoln was, however, wearing a Brooks Brothers overcoat when he was killed. Brooks Brothers' choice to exclude black suits in its made to measure lineup was entirely sartorial in nature.
United States President Ulysses S. Grant began his association with Brooks Brothers during the Civil War, when he ordered tailored uniforms for the Union officers in the American Civil War.
Many more presidents, including Herbert Hoover, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush (who, however, when accused of being a Brooks Brothers Republican, revealed that he was wearing a J. Press suit), and Bill Clinton were known to wear Brooks Brothers clothing lines.
At his innauguration ceremony, President Barack Obama wore a black cashmere coat and burgandy scarf from Brooks Brothers.
Stephen Colbert, of the Colbert Report and formerly of the Daily Show and Strangers with Candy, has all of his suits for the Colbert Report supplied by Brooks Brothers.
James Thurber refers to Brooks Brothers shirts in some of his short stories. Kurt Vonnegut also refers to a Brooks Brothers suit worn by the main character in his book Jailbird.
Richard Yates not only wore Brooks Brothers clothing throughout his life, but he often referred to the brand in his writing, notably in A Good School, in which one of the characters tries to hang himself with a Brooks Brothers belt.
Bret Easton Ellis refers to clothing from Brooks Brothers worn by Patrick Bateman and his colleagues in his controversial novel American Psycho.
The lead character Lestat de Lioncourt in Anne Rice' s Vampire Chronicles often describes himself to be wearing suits by Brooks Brothers.
Brooks Brothers store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California
Currently, there are 210 Brooks Brothers stores (15 stores are unionized) in the United States and 70 scattered, among other countries, throughout Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Dubai, France, England, Chile, and Italy. In 1998, Brooks Brothers launched its official website. The symbol of the Golden Fleece is Brooks Brothers's trademark. It consists of a sheep suspended in a ribbon, which was the symbol of Flemish wool merchants in the 15th century and later traditionally had been a symbol of British wool merchants. In ancient Greek mythology, a magical ram's skin, or Golden Fleece, was sought by Jason and the Argonauts. United States flagships are in New York, Chicago, Boston, and Beverly Hills.
Most of Brooks Brothers' clothing is imported, with sportscoats, shirts, and some accessories manufactured in the United States. All Brooks Brothers necktie silk is woven in England and the ties are still "cut and piled" in the United States. Brooks also has a series of books on etiquette and manners for ladies and gentlemen. Its higher end label is the Golden Fleece line.
In September 2007, Brooks Brothers CEO, Claudio Del Vecchio, announced the unveiling of a new high end collection of mens and womenswear named Black Fleece. Del Vecchio announced that the star guest designer for the new collection would be New York menswear designer Thom Browne.[ Black Fleece received so much critical and commercial success that Brooks Brothers opened a standalone Black Fleece boutique on NYC's Bleecker Street in the Winter of 2008.
In 2008, the Company began an extensive renovation of its flagship store at 346 Madison Ave. and in January 2009 closed a smaller location at 5th Avenue and 53rd street in New York City.