“A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life.” – Oscar Wilde
Just as every woman of the 1920s was not a flapper, every man in the Jazz Age did not dress like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ok, but what if the well-dressed gentleman did want to emulate the “Great Gatsby” author? A trip to Brooks Brothers would be a good place to start. The oldest men’s clothier in the U.S. does not mind reminding you that Fitzgerald was a life-long customer. Even his U.S. Army uniform was tailored by Brooks Brothers!
As the country entered the Jazz Age, Brooks Brothers began to be less focused on British style and catered more to American fashion. That centered on two signature pieces. The first is the soft-collared button-down “polo” shirt. The polo shirt originated as just that. It was designed for polo players, something that today’s weekend warrior can hardly imagine choosing as sportswear. Before John E. Brooks borrowed the idea of an attached, button-down collar from polo players in England, a man purchased the body of his shirt and the collar separately. Few would argue that the oxford cloth button-down dress shirt remains a classic and really, to get the right length on the collar points and the appropriate collar roll, go with Brooks Brothers.
What did the well-dressed gentleman of the 1920s wear with his button-down shirt? There were a few choices, such as the bow tie or perhaps a knit tie, but a great choice was the other classic wardrobe piece from Brooks Brothers: the repp tie. The striped necktie with a warp-faced weave was nothing new. Brits were wearing those in the late 1800s. Look closely at photos of the British Grenadier Guards during World War I and you will see them sporting snappy repp ties with broad red and blue stripes. Is it any wonder, given that the fashion icon himself, the Prince of Wales, was in charge?
What was new was the direction of the stripes. Brooks Brothers ran the diagonal stripes from right to left instead of left to right and voila, the silk repp tie was Americanized. Brits were outraged, of course. Not only were the stripes all wrong, but a gentleman only wore the “his colors.” Repp ties said something about the man wearing them. A glance at the colors could tell you, for example, what university he attended. Ivy Leaguers loved that idea – as they loved just about everything Brooks Brothers – and adopted the repp tie into their school uniforms. Mix in a blue blazer and khaki pants and you have pure prep, but the look quickly spread outside of the halls of Princeton.
While collar styles or the direction of the stripes of a gentleman’s tie may hardly seem renegade now, men were fighting generations of tradition when it came to so-called appropriate dress. It was the Jazz Age and all around them, men were seeing signs of societal change. If there was ever a time to break free from the old style of dress and make it fresh and new, the Roaring 20s was the time to do it.
Today Brooks Brothers is re-branding themselves and making friends with costumers in Hollywood. They designed some suits for Mad Men and now for the Great Gatsby movie too. In the movie they reproduced clothing from their vault of 20’s suit patterns. For us public folks we get a a chance to buy contemporized versions of the most popular movie looks. Have a peak. These styles are both very vintage and on trend today.