Brooks Brothers – Fall 1988

The year is 1988. Ronald Reagan is president, Dustin Hoffman is Rain Man, Tom Hanks gets Big, and Bruce Willis is about to Die Hard, while George Michael and Rick Astley hold prominent positions in the Billboard Top 20; What a time to be alive.


“Never gonna run around and desert you”

While the 80s ushered in a decade of change, Brooks Brothers, the oldest clothier in the nation, forged ahead with a more traditional approach. Must-iron OCBDs remained the cornerstone of every man’s wardrobe. Rep and Emblematic ties rested neatly on the nearby tie rack. Tartan sport shirts were readily available to usher in the Fall colors. The selection of wool sweaters and vests was plentiful enough to get through the coldest winter.

While many of these same items can still be found on store shelves today, much has changed since 1988. For example, one of the biggest departures from the past OCBD lineup is the introduction of the Traditional, Madison, Regent, and Milano fits. In 1988, Brooks Brothers offered only two fits, regular and slim, and still did the majority of its shirtmaking in the United States. Their popular non-iron shirt, made in Malaysia, had not yet been developed, for better or worse.
This year is however, more significant than it would appear. 1988 marked the sale of Brooks Brothers to the more downmarket Marks & Spencer corporation, who owned the brand for 13 years before its sale to the current owners, Retail Brand Alliance. The decade to follow this very catalog is known as a particularly low time in BB history, with the brand diverging from its roots (and the sad transformation into a “mall brand”) and will forever act as the turning point between the “classic” and the “modern” Brooks Brothers. 

To convert prices shown to 2016 values, multiply by 2.


Tran Mawicke was the featured artist on many Brooks Brothers catalogs.

“3/2 roll” sack jackets left and right. Triple patch pockets are a staple of this style of casual blazer. Also interestingly, the phone number shown is still Brooks Brother’s customer service contact number today.

Seen here is the original own make line, which was revitalized in 2015 as a high end collection focusing on classic designs from Brooks Brothers’ archive using luxury fabrics.

The ‘staches of the 70’s creeping into upper management

The ‘346’ line was once tailored in USA. Today it has been rebranded as Brooks Brothers’ “outlet” line.

An assortment of BB neckwear, including the venerable BB#4 (upper right).

‘Own Make’ ties crafted for specific schools no longer exist in today’s lineup.

The offering of slim fit shirts is significant here, in the sake that BB apparently began targeting younger customers.

Pay close attention to the shift in model demographics, younger models appear here for ‘Brooksgate’ and slim fit shirts. Clearly an attempt to market to the young professional just entering the working world.

So, Peter, what’s happening? Aahh, now, are you going to go ahead and have those TPS reports for us this afternoon?

The shoe styling seems pretty in-line with what is currently offered in 2016, although we see a large predisposition towards slip-on styles vs the popularity of oxfords and brogues. Penny loafers had a de-facto following in the Wall Street trader scene, followed by tassel loafers and eventually, bit loafers.

The ubiquitous red crew-neck sweater is a Brooks Brothers staple. Shown here in a crimson red, the details such as ribbing on the collar, cuffs, and waistband evoke a more durable aesthetic.

2 years post-Top Gun meant leather jackets and military style vests were still in high-style.

The infamous fun-shirt makes an appearance.

Boldly colored turtlenecks ushering us into the 90s

If these guys aren’t the archetypal caricature of an 80’s teen movie villain I’m not sure what is. A decade of ski-movies and prep glamorization created the alpha-male character that is now nearly instantly recognizable.

White sneakers and jogging pants. Maybe they were on to something?

More ski-movie villains.

If nothing else, I just want that duck umbrella.

Trad Christmas cards were available in ‘88, sadly, they are no longer available for purchase today.

Notice the transition to live models for the women’s line. At this time in history, BB’s women offerings were far more androgynous and aggressively “masculine” as a result of a decade of the power dressing movement. This changed in the 1990s as women’s professional attire became more body conforming and less bulky while social constructs of workplace attire began to adapt to a more casual style. 

For the Fargo look.

Female workforce participation rose nearly 10% through the 1980s, and Brooks Brothers which was traditionally always a male focused company, had a growing segment of female customers in business and leadership roles

Shrink that dress into a mini-skirt and it would look just right in a F/W 2016 J.Crew catalog. The trench coat for women has been in vogue in different cycles (although shrunken considerably) and remains a core items in various designers collections (notably Burberry).

For more vintage catalogs, visit the NB Archives


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This post was contributed by a member of the Navy Blazer community.

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