I don't know of a single Mod who, at one point, hasn't had at least one Ben Sherman shirt in his wardrobe. The clean, casual, button-down shirt has been associated with the Mod movement since the very beginning. Regardless of what you might think of them today (I'm still a big fan of the brand by the way) they were a major influence in making what the Mod look is now. The attention to detail, the choice of colors, the quality of fabric and the flattering fit is what made Ben Sherman a household name in every Mod circle.
But did you know that Ben Sherman himself was influenced by another brand before launching his iconic button-down collared shirt? Contrary to popular belief, he wasn't the one who came up with the famous button-down shirt. It was the renowned Brooks Brothers.
Mod fashion in the early sixties was heavily influenced by the American Ivy League look. Brooks Brothers lead the charge. Since the average working teenage Mod didn't have enough money to get the more expensive American shirts, Ben Sherman was the very good quality alternative.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Brooks Brothers store during my trip to New Orleans last March. I have to admit that it has been a very long time since I have received such quality service. With most of my purchases now being done over the Internet, it was refreshing to walk into a boutique and be attended to by an actual person.
I have never owned a Brooks Brothers shirt before and I am sure glad I chose that store for my first experience. Lately, the brand seems to go through a renaissance. I was never aware of the Brooks Brothers label to hit the Quebec market. I guess they are as exclusive as they once were for the original sixties British Mods. Nowadays, stores are popping up everywhere. Two Canadian stores opened in 2009, in Toronto and Vancouver, with one opening its doors in Calgary very soon.
The store in New Orleans was bright, airy and immaculate. The selection would make your head spin. But I already had something very specific in mind. I wanted a classic, button-down, slim fit, long sleeve shirt. It was the matter of finding the right pattern and color. Had I had a few more days in town, I could have had it tailor made, with the monogrammed cuffs. I don't know a lot of major chains that still offer that personalized service. Displayed neatly on a shelf, you saw different types of collars you could choose from.
The staff was friendly without being overbearing. I had the pleasure of doing business with Mr. Clement. He was the perfect gentleman, answering my multiple questions. Even if I was just purchasing a ready-made shirt, he still took the time to take my measurements to help me find the perfect fit.
If you are looking for a high quality, Mod approved garment, I suggest you go for the blue label. It's the slim fit line. I ended up purchasing a white button down shirt with a small red and black check pattern. It can be worn casually with a nice pair of Sta-Prest or with a black suit and tie. Strangely, it reminded me of a photo of Ian McLagan from the Small Faces wearing a Ben Sherman.
There was only one drawback to my whole Brooks Brothers experience. The next day, I flew back to Montreal from my weeklong stay in the vibrant city of New Orleans. I had a lengthy layover at the Dules Airport in Washington, DC. To pass the time, I made the rounds of the boutiques in my terminal. Low and behold, there's a nice Brooks Brothers store a few steps from my gate. But imagine my surprise when I learn that the exact shirt I bought 24 hours earlier was 50% off! I explained my situation to the clerk, receipt in one hand and he was as perplexed as I was. He told me that the prices were fixed nationwide and that I should contact the store in New Orleans. That's exactly what I did and more than a month later, I'm still waiting for an answer. I better not hold my breath.
Aside from that 40$ I would rather have in my pocket, I'm very pleased with my purchase. Now, I'm just waiting for a Brooks Brothers store to open in Montreal.