image from the 2009 summer vol. II catalog
Yes, yes, we have been told. Philosophers tell us that change is life's only constant. Poets tell us that the center cannot hold, and all that is beautiful drifts away like the waters. Scientists say even the continents are adrift.
But Brooks Brothers, the clothier founded in Manhattan in 1818, was supposed to be the still point of the turning world. For generations it has defined conservatism in men's dress - blue and gray natural-shoulder suits, blue and white oxford cloth shirts with button-down collars, striped ties.
So why in recent years have the clothier's display windows become a silent pandemonium of scandalizing colors? What are those lavender dress shirts - about the coral-colored ones, let us not even speak - doing in Brooks Brothers stores, even the flagship store that opened in 1915 at the corner of Forty-fourth and Madison Avenue?
In 1955, when William F. Buckley, a Brooks Brothers customer, founded National Review (not far from that cultural epicenter, Forty-fourth and Madison), he said the magazine "stands athwart history, yelling 'Stop!'" For an iconic institution such as Brooks Brothers, there is a duty to stand athwart fashion fads and say, as insistently as commercial imperatives will permit, "Not so fast."
Column dated December 28, 1997; also published in With a Happy Eye, But...: America and the World, 1997-2002, George F. Will, 2003