A world-famous sartorial institution with 80 stores and 72 outlets in the U.S. (and 77 shops in Asia), founded in 1818 by Mr. Henry Sands Brooks as H.& D. H. Brooks & Company on the corner of Catherine Street and Cherry Street in Manhattan. It was sold in 1946 to Garfinkel-Rhoads, a Washington chain of specialty stores. Garfinkel and Brooks Brothers were bought in 1980 by Allied Stores, which sold Brooks Brothers in 1988 to Marks & Spencer for $750 million. Marks & Spencer has put Brooks on the sale block with an asking price of $500 million, as of late June 2001. Brooks Brothers' operating profit was only 4.5 percent of sales in 2000 and 2 percent in 1999.

Brooks Bros. could be called the godfather of American style, but is now a shadow of its former self. Considered by many to be staid, the source of boxy suits, it was rather the source for prep party clothes, by virtue of its vast selection of insider patterns. Their tassel loafer and antique-shaped, tobacco-honed, hand-lasted English cap-toe were the ultimate as far as Ivy League Boston was concerned, and you could not find better hosiery unless you went right to Scotland. Their 'fun shirt,' with its amalgam of stripes or plaids, was the basis for Tommy Hilfiger's fortune, just about.

While Brooks is the home of the classic navy sack suit, their suits are not what they once were. They no longer carry hand-sewn footwear, and their hosiery is the same as everyone else's. You occasionally see holdouts in full Brooks, the type that still wears seersucker in the summer, but they've had their stuff for years.

Brooks, while originally a men's store, has conceded to adding women's clothing, though in a sexist way. Men have a vast array of suits from which to choose in any season. Need a black or navy suit with belts and ties in July? You got it. Women, however, are much more limited in scope. Want a navy BrooksEase suit in July? If it's not on the clearance rack, too bad you didn't buy in November, because during the spring and summer, women apparently exist to be accessories to the Brooks Man, because women don't have careers or anything that require them to wear suits in the summer.

While not perhaps a mainstay like it was, they still have good wool suits, and are reliable - you know what to expect in a Brooks Brothers store. Their clothes are good quality and hold up well. If this sounds boring, it's because it is.

Numbers and dates from The Wall Street Journal

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