Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Brooks Brothers (1940)

Print ad, Brooks Brothers Clothing, New Yorker magazine, 1940

The Internet is a funny thing. No earth-shattering statement there for sure, but it is very interesting how much our culture and society has changed over the past 2 decades and how much of that has to do with technology in general and the Internet in particular. Scholarship, research, and eduction are only 3 areas which have been drastically effected by the way we all communicate and share information. What does this have to do with Brooks Brothers in 1940? The emergence/re-emergence/codification of what is now know as Ivy League Style has increased significantly over the past decade due in a great part to the Internet. Online forums and blogs have become clearing houses of information, shared experiences, core knowledge, and (sometimes) interesting discourse. It has also become the breeding ground for a lot of misconceptions due to poor research habits. 

There was a time when primary resources were arguably the only resources that held water. Everything else - such as faint (or vivid for the matters) memories of events fifty years in the past - was secondary in every sense of the word. There were also standards of citation which the Internet has perhaps most effectively done away with. Is all of this bad? No, not necessarily. But it has helped create an increasingly hyper-informed and under-educated society. 

But again you ask, what does this have to do with Brooks Brothers circa 1940? OK, I will answer the questions. The above scan from a primary source shows the classic Brooks Brothers OCBD (Google those initials for a good time) in 1940. Now what is interesting to me is not that only 2 colors (white, blue) were available. Nor is it that a US-made Brooks Brothers shirt cost the equivalent of around $30 in 2014 dollars. No. What strikes me most is that it features a breast pocket! Why is that so important? Well, general internet knowledge ™holds that Brooks Brothers did not add breast pockets to their shirts until 1965 or so. Much has been written and discussed around that. I bought into it wholesale for sure, taking it as fact and being uncharacteristically ambivalent about digging deeper. Certainly - or at least as far as I know - the Brooks OCBD lost its pocket some time between 1940 and 1965, but when? Why? 

My challenge to all of us that are interested, if not fascinated in these slowly vanishing traces of 20th Century culture is to dig deeper. Do your homework. Know your sources. Quote your sources. Edit your work. I suspect these words I type right now may very well last longer than the fingers that type them.