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.
– 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