If you like Brooks Brothers but are worried about what their bankruptcy filing means for the iconic brand, check out these fresh alternatives for men and women.
While Brooks Brothers has been innovating since 1818 and is an iconic American brand, the company can seem a bit staid.
Brooks Brothers has also been buffeted by the COVID-19 crisis, as have a range of other menswear brands from affordable luxury shoe brand Wolf and Shepherd to heritage-quality bags company Satchel and Page.
In response to significant pressures on the company and the industry, on July 8, 2020, Brooks Brothers announced it would seek chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and that it will close up to 50 of its stores.
With all of this turmoil, this article explores interesting alternative brands like Brooks Brothers and traces how the company has come to the point of bankruptcy, store closures and likely shuttering its American factories.
About Brooks Brothers
Henry Sands Brooks founded Brooks Brothers in New York in 1818. The company is the oldest U.S. clothing company sill operating without interruption.
At the time of their founding in 1818, they were fashion innovators, introducing modern takes on classic fashion, like the Repp necktie, madras prints and seersucker to an American audience.
History of Brooks Brothers
Brooks Brothers is written into the history of the United States. The company has suited up 40 U.S. presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, who were patrons of their shops. The company supplied soldiers’ uniforms for the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln was wearing a custom Great Coat from Brooks Brothers on the night he was assassinated.
The company was family run until 1946, after which it was controlled by a number of different owners. (You can check out a nice timeline of major events and owners on Brooks Brothers’ website.)
Claudio Del Vecchio bought Brothers in 2001 and resurrected the brand, launching high-end collections and collaborations and restoring the company’s reputation for quality and customer service.
Del Vecchio was passionate about American manufacturing and rescued two of Brooks Brothers’ American factories that were set to close. Brooks Brothers opened a third American factory under his watch.
Brooks Brothers today: Still a great option for dress shirts, but bankruptcy brings uncertainty
I enjoyed rediscovering the brand under Del Vecchio’s leadership, and wandering around Brooks Brothers’ terrific concept store in Georgetown that features their Red Fleece and Black Fleece collections.
Brooks Brothers remains a solid bet for affordable dress shirts for men, and has been offering deals like 3 shirts for $149 or 4 shirts for $199 to match the price of brands like Charles Tyrwhitt (whose shirts I also like).
It is also synonymous with the made-in-America movement (even though not all of its products are made in the United States). Del Vecchio and the company regularly tout their 3 American factories, which Brooks Brothers repurposed to make facemasks in response to COVID-19.
In May 2020, the company was reportedly frantically looking for a buyer and considering a range of options, including filing for bankruptcy protection. At that point, other retailers, including J. Crew’s parent company, had already filed for bankruptcy protection amid the COVID-19 crisis.
On May 21, 2020, Gordon Brothers, a specialist in liquidating companies for their assets, announced it had provided Brooks Brothers a $20 million secured loan. Days earlier, Brooks Brothers announced it would lay off more than 400 employees at its Southwick manufacturing facility in Massachusetts.
On August 11, 2020, a group led by the Authentic Brands Group and the SPARC Group, a venture of the Simon Property Group, announced plans to purchase Brooks Brothers. (The sale of Brooks Brothers is contingent on the approval of bankruptcy court.)
What Brooks Brothers’ bankruptcy plans mean for customers
The loan facility Brooks Brothers secured from Gordon Brothers was not enough to forestall bankruptcy from the more than 200-year old iconic retailer.
In a July 8 note posted on Twitter, Brooks Brothers indicated it had “announced a sale process to find a potential new owner who believes in our mission and our values and who shares our ambition.”
The statement continued,
To facilitate a sucessful sale of the business, we are also filing for chapter 11 protection to manage what has been an incredibly challenging period for all industries, especially retail, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This strategy is intended to preserve the original mission of our brand since 1818: serving customers through innovation, fine quality, personal service, and exceptional value.Brooks Brothers Statement, available at: https://twitter.com/BrooksBrothers/status/1280894607761555457
Brooks Brothers promises that its well-known reputation for customer service won’t be impacted in stores or online.
There will be no changes to gift cards, My Brooks rewards points or to the Brooks Brothers credit card, according to the statement.
The company also notes that it is “making strong progress on reopening the majority of our physical stores that were closed due to COVID-19.”
In announcing the purchase of Brooks Brothers, “SPARC has committed to continue operating at least 125 Brooks Brothers retail locations,” and “intend to preserve the iconic Brooks Brothers brand and to continue to serve the Company’s loyal customers.”
Innovative alternative brands similar to Brooks Brothers
When it comes to alternatives to Brooks Brothers, there are plenty of well-known and long-established brands that come to mind like Ralph Lauren and J. Crew. But those brands are also struggling amid a retail climate shifting to brick and mortar 2.0 and the intense pressures on fashion retailers caused by the COVID19 crisis.
The following list focuses on innovative, recent and/or under-the-radar direct-to-consumer brands. These stylish clothing brands are helping to create a new retail landscape for men and women.
Many of these stylish men’s clothing brands below have often-impressive sales that can bring down the cost of their goods. See my list of the best men’s clothing sales and coupons for up-to-date deals.
Many men shop at Brooks Brothers exclusively for their dress shirts. Charles Tyrwhitt is a natural alternative to Brooks Brothers for basic dress shirts.
Nicolas Wheeler founded Charles Tyrwhitt back in 1986. Over the last thirty years, Charles Tyrwhitt has made inroads in America through an omnichannel approach to retail, from frequent catalog mailers and inserts in the New York Times to internet advertising to establishing a network of brick-and-mortar shops like this one alongside Farragut Square in Washington, DC.
Charles Tyrwhitt is famous for its 4 shirts for $199 deal, which works out to just under $50 per dress shirt (Brooks Brothers has matched its pricing on dress shirts in the past.)
In my review of where to buy the best dress shirts online, I wrote that, “I’m convinced that Charles Tyrwhitt is one of the best dress shirt brands you can buy for under $50.” I really like their shirts, which have held up very well for me over the years. (I prefer their extra slim fit, as even the regular slim fit can be a little blousey.) CT also makes nice slim fit woven and grenadine neckties, off-the-rack suiting, slacks, casualwear and dress shoes.
I like Bonobos a lot. Founded by Andy Dunn and Brian Spaly out of Stanford Business School (and purchased by Walmart in 2017), the digital-native is at the forefront of Brick-and-Mortar 2.0, seamlessly integrating its online offerings with physical Guide Shops around the United States and mail order catalogs.
While Bonobos is known for its chinos, they also specialize in suiting, dress shirts and pants, shawl-collar sweaters, and a ton of weekend attire (think colorful polos, short sleeve button down shirts in wild, stand-out prints, and shorts), coats and lounge-wear, making them a great alternative to Brooks Brothers.
For me, Todd Snyder is one of the best menswear brands in America, period, and an elevated alternative to Brooks Brothers for stylish menswear.
His company specializes in a similarly-wide variety of lines as Brooks Brothers, from travelers’ suits and oxford button-downs to colorful, fruit-flecked pocket squares and watermelon cufflinks to made-in-the-USA polo shirts and madras weekend shorts.
Snyder is also king of often-whimsical collaborations, developing sweats with Champion, dock shoes with Sebago and watches with Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang.
Todd Snyder isn’t exactly an affordable alternative to Brooks Brothers, but it’s surely an upgrade, and I love to wander around Todd Snyder’s flagship store in New York.
While J. Crew has had troubles of its own, sharing the dubious distinction with Brooks Brothers of entering bankruptcy protection in 2020, I’ve found the brand is reemerging quite strong under the leadership of CEO Libby Wadle.
As I wrote in a piece about The renaissance underway at J. Crew,
For one, J. Crew has taken several steps to solidify their personnel, appointing Libby Wadle as CEO following the departure of Jan Stringer in November 2020. Then, in May 2021, J. Crew brought onboard Brendon Babenzien as lead menswear designer, who had previously founded Noah NY clothing.
And those days of pre-ordering clothing appear to be behind the company. J. Crew’s inventory appears to be replenished, with a rainbow array of broken-in t-shirts available in classic, slim and tall, along with a refreshed lineup of cashmere sweaters, dresses, pants and all of the elevated wardrobe staples you would expect from the iconic brand. (I purchased a linen sweater, several great-looking broken-in t-shirts, colorful striped socks, boxers and a striped cashmere sweater recently.) …
I’m increasingly excited about more good things to come from the brand.For Alternatives to J. Crew, Try These Menswear Brands on for Size
In particular, J. Crew’s Ludlow Suit is a very solid off-the-rack option for a clean and slimming men’s suit.
Based in Florence, Alabama, Billy Reid describes itself as “a modern southern atelier” that “take[s] your favorite wardrobe staples and improve[s] them through unexpected, high-quality detailing.”
Billy Reid began his first men’s collection out of New York in 1998 under the name William Reid. After the September 11 attack, he shuttered the brand and moved to Florence, Alabama, where he grew up, and built back Billy Reid from scratch.
In 2004, he began opening the first Billy Reid stores in Texas. Today, Billy Reid sells menswear and women’s clothing from its series of shops around the United States — including one on M Street in Washington, DC’s Georgetown — and wholesale through department stores including Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.
For men, his expansive collection includes formal suiting and dress shirts, washed tee shirts, textured slub henley cotton short sleeve shirts, striped polo shirts, simple sweatshirts, funky block stripe crew neck sweaters, sunglasses, wild print socks, denim and pima cotton chinos.
Billy Reid also maintains a made-in-the-USA collection of clothing.
Polo Ralph Lauren
While Ralph Lauren’s shape-shifting brand lineup can be super-confusing (seriously, what is “Double RL”?), Polo Ralph Lauren is one of two of their sub-brands that stands out as an excellent alternative to Brooks Brothers, particularly when it comes to preppy casualwear.
Beyond the ubiquitous polo shirt for men and women, Polo Ralph Lauren makes a ton of products that are in many ways similar to Brooks Brothers, from striped Oxford button down shirts and classy pajama sets for men to sleeveless thick-striped mini dresses, cable crewneck sweaters and colorful print wrap blouses for women. Just be warned that just about every item comes emblazoned with Ralph Lauren’s signature polo logo.
Ralph Lauren Purple Label and Ralph Lauren Collection
While Polo Ralph Lauren may be analogous to Brooks Brothers in price and quality, Ralph Lauren Purple Label and Ralph Lauren Collection are most definitely upgrades in both for men and women respectively.
Ralph Lauren Corporation characterizes Ralph Lauren Purple Label as “ultra-refined” “sophisticated sportswear and dandy-inspired dress furnishings” for men. When Ralph Lauren Purple Label launched in 1994, the company advertised that it was “Inspired by the finest European tailoring, the new line embodies unprecedented levels of refinement and style.” Ralph was featured in the launch campaign in a daring double-breasted, thick chalk stripe suit from the Purple Line collection.
Ralph Lauren Purple Label is a much more expensive alternative to Brooks Brothers for tailored menswear including a variety of flannel, cashmere, wool and stretch jersey suits, bomber jackets, linen-blend long sleeve polos, marled cashmere roll-neck sweaters, striped button down shirts, distressed jeans, linen shorts and a packable water-repellent Balmacaan coat.
Similarly, Ralph Lauren Collection provides a luxury alternative to Brooks Brothers for women, featuring items such as a silk crepe pocket shirt, stretch wool jacket, silk cocktail dress and a thick-strapped halter jumpsuit.
Shop Ralph Lauren Purple Label for men via the Ralph Lauren website or via Mr. Porter, SSense, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Harrods US, or Farfetch. Shop the Ralph Lauren Collection for women via the Ralph Lauren website or via Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, or Farfetch.
Christened the Urban Outfitters of preppy style, Tuckernuck is a Washington, DC-based fashion startup, which was launched in 2012 by founders Jocelyn Gailliot, Maddy Moore, and September Rinnier. Tuckernuck sells its own clothing and accessories alongside other curated brands.
For men, those brands include Barbour, B. Draddy, Faherty, Ledbury and Smathers and Branson. Its bestsellers for men include twill pocket pants, striped polo shirts, and quilted sweaters. For women, Tuckernuck has everything from puff sleeve blouses, flowy-floral dresses and striped tunics to simple sandals, clutches and bags. They also made a nice collection of face masks in response to COVID-19.
Jacobi Press, founded his company in 1902 on the campus of Yale University. J. Press has been responsible for popularizing a number of iconic, preppy menswear pieces including the sack suit, the oxford button-down and the brushed shetland wool “Shaggy Dog” sweater. Today, J. Press provides a variety of pieces of a man’s wardrobe including oxford, broadcloth and end-on-end shirts, casual pants, shorts, polos, sweaters and tee shirts, socks, belts and braces, and tailored suiting.
French heritage brand Armor Lux has been synonymous with the Breton top for nearly 100 years. Founded in 1938 in Quimper, France, its often-bright, often-stripey clothes are inspired by the sea and feature high-quality knits from the company’s factories in Britany.
Their preppy attire includes dapper peacoats, car coats and raincoats, cardigan sweaters, linen trousers, cotton shorts and, of course, Bretons. You can find Armor Lux clothing in some of the best menswear shops in the United States including Portland Dry Goods in Maine as well as online at one of the best online retail destinations for men, Huckberry.
Southern Tide features vivid, colorful and very preppy clothing for men and women. Their dresses and casual blazers feature materials like seersucker that Brooks Brothers was famous for introducing to American consumers a century ago. They also sell a variety of polos and button down shirts for men, which look nice if you don’t mind a logo plastered on them.
Vineyard Vines specializes in fun and colorful spring essentials like swim trunks, island tee-shirts and short-sleeve button down and polo shirts for men and dresses, polos, swimwear and cover-ups for women. They also sell the kind of whimsical printed ties that Brooks Brothers often stocks, and has a collection of work-from-home wear for women and men. Like Southern Tide, Vineyard Vines also plasters its logo on much of its clothing.
Ledbury is another brand well-positioned to inherit the mantle of forward-looking men’s style from Brooks Brothers. The Richmond-based direct-to-consumer retailer specializes in refreshed and and slightly-preppy takes on classic men’s style. They have married an impressive online platform with old fashioned customer service, storytelling and loyalty perks. I always look forward to their release of new collections of button-down shirts, chinos, blazers, suiting, neckties and more each season and, in my experience, their customer service has been stellar.
In my opinion, Ledbury is a great option for stylish menswear around today, and a good bet for new Zoom shirts to wear on videoconferences. Similar to Brooks Brothers, founders Paul Tribble and Paul Watson’s hyper-focus on customer service has earned them hyper-loyal customers:
The two have built their brand with a laser-like focus on their core customers. Their ability to connect with customers and deliver well-fitting, unique products through everything from handwritten notes to quail hunting excursions has instilled a great deal of loyalty: Ledbury boasts that hundreds of their best customers own more than 100 shirts each.The Endorsement: Ledbury is one of the best menswear options around
Even more alternatives to Brooks Brothers
If you’re looking for even more alternatives to Brooks Brothers:
- See Modern Fellows’ guide to where to buy chinos like Brooks Brothers and
- Explore Modern Fellows’ guide to these startups who provide interesting alternatives to J. Crew.
About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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