How to Thrift: Deciphering Brooks Brothers labels

Posted on by Jeff

Those who know me well know I have two areas of particular affection when it comes to clothing: Brooks Brothers and vintage clothes. I worked for Brooks Brothers for a while, and there’s no other maker or store that so embodies the great history of American menswear. And vintage clothing – especially from particular eras – is a really neat window into the past, and often to higher quality and better style than is readily available today.

One big question that many people have when they pick up an item at a thrift store, especially when they’re planning to resell it, is, “How old is this?” Often, the labels inside a garment can be the easiest clue to figuring that out. This is true in general especially for union labels, the tags sewn into pockets on US-made jackets that were made in unionized workshops. For a good guide to union labels, check out this post at The Fedora Lounge.

I’m going to focus here particularly on Brooks Brothers labels, and especially on those found in suits, jackets, and other tailored clothing. Put This On has already done a good guide to BB shirt labels, as good as I could do. I might try to pull together something on BB ties or shoes later, but for now, we’ll stick with tailored clothing.

First, a few key dates you should know about BB’s history:
1818-1946: From its founding to 1946, BB was controlled by the Brooks family that started it. It gained a reputation for high-quality clothing at (more or less) reasonable prices.
1946-1988: Through the second half of the 20th century, BB was owned by Julius Garfinckel & Co. (later Allied Stores). This is the era where BB’s reputation as the pre-eminent Ivy-League, American “Trad” store was cemented, and quality remained high.
1988-2001: In 1988, BB was sold to British discount retailer Marks & Spencer. The quality of BB clothes in this era took a steep nose dive, and BB lost a lot of its long-term loyal customer base.
2001-Present: In 2001, M&S sold BB to Retail Brand Alliance, a company with Italian ties. In the RBA era, Brooks has gone some of the way to restoring quality that was lost in the M&S era, but they’ve also moved BB into a slightly more fashion-forward position in the retail-clothing world. This move has further irritated what longtime customers it has left, but it has also probably saved it from extinction.

All right, now onto the labels themselves. We’ll go in reverse chronological order, starting with the present day.

Present Era:
Since a few years after the RBA acquisition (starting around 2005 or so?), BB has used royal blue colored, almost square labels that are on the inside chest area, just below the pockets. “Golden Fleece” indicates their highest-quality line made in Italy or New York, while “1818” is the mid-tier line. They introduced the “Regent” and “Fitzgerald” fits around 2007, and renamed the existing, original cut “Madison.” The “Milano” fit followed a few years later. If you find stuff with this label, it’s at least decent quality.

BBGF, modern day

One exception to the generally good quality are the clothes sold in today’s “346” line, which are made specifically for BB’s factory outlet stores, of lesser quality and sold at a lower price point. Don’t confuse this with the earlier “346” line from the 1950s-1970s; more on that below.

Marks & Spencer Era (’90s-early ’00s):

In the latter part of the M&S era, and for a few years after the RBA takeover, BB was using labels like this one: Same shape as the labels above, but black, dark blue, or gray with white lettering. When I started at BB in 2007, there were still a few items with this label hanging around, so they were probably phased out sometime in the 2004-2006 era.

In the mid-90s, most BB labels looked like this: a slightly wider and shorter rectangle, with a sketchy, almost 8-bit version of the Golden Fleece hanging lamb logo, and an overall somewhat crude look.

Pre-Marks & Spencer

Prior to the acquisition by Marks & Spencer (and probably for a while thereafter), BB’s suit and jacket labels had been a narrow, horizontal rectangle found at the back neck area. They went through some different fonts and colors, but this size and placement persisted for probably 50 years or more.

This is one of the latest versions; with the Woolmark logo, origin statement, and care instructions, it’s probably from the late 80s or very early 90s. I believe the “Made In” statement began to be required in 1988, so it’s probably after that.

This one, with care instructions but no “Made In” statement, is from between 1972 (when care labels were first required) and 1988. This is basically the 1970s and ’80s tag.

The “Makers” line was BB’s mainline product, the line aimed at their bread-and-butter business customers. It was the highest-quality line they made until the introduction of the Golden Fleece line as an upper-level luxury handmade option. I think Golden Fleece was probably introduced sometime in the 70s or 80s, but I’m not sure. Here’s a late-80s or 90s version of the GF label.

Below the Makers line, BB had a couple of different entry-level lines aimed at younger men. Prior to 1974 it was the University Shop, but in 1974 BB replaced that with Brooksgate, a more fashion-forward line that made some nods towards then-current fashion: two-button, darted jackets with bigger lapels, flared pants, etc. I don’t know when Brooksgate went away, but it still existed at least through 1985.

Another entry-level line that lasted quite a while from the 50s or 60s into the 70s was the “old” 346 line (the numbers come from the address of the Madison Avenue flagship store). By modern standards the quality of this line was still quite good, even though it was an entry- or mid-level line. Here is a 70s version of the tag:

And here is a 60s version:

That white-letters-on-black-label format moves us back in time; it was the primary format of BB labels in the 50s and 60s. There were different versions of it for different products: the aforementioned “University Shop” (1957-1974), “Brooksknit,” “Brooksblend,” and, of course, the mainline “Makers” offering.

































In fact, the white-on-black label format like this seems to go back a lot farther. This one is from a morning coat that’s probably from the 1920s, and this “Brooks Brothers/New York” tag is the one I’ve seen on most jackets and coats from the 20s through the 40s. Sometimes they’re brown or olive green, but usually black.

And this one, from an evening tailcoat, with its mention of “Broadway,” is almost certainly from before 1915. That’s when BB moved its flagship from the last of several stores on Broadway uptown to its present HQ at 346 Madison Avenue.

s-l1600 (2)

Finally, Broadway brings us to the oldest Brooks Brothers label I’ve ever seen. This was on a tailcoat or frock coat that I saw on Ebay a few years ago (infuriatingly, I missed winning it because I didn’t set my auction sniper right). Again, the location is a clue to the age – BB opened the store at Broadway and Grand in 1859 and left it to move again in 1870, so this label is from the 1850s or 1860s. What an amazing treasure of American clothing history. Those lines of stitching were done by the same hands that made Abraham Lincoln’s clothes.


Well, that’s it for now. If you have any updates, corrections, or additions to offer, please let me know in the comments or shoot me an email! I’d love to keep refining this and making it more accurate.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Brooks Brothers, look here and here.

01-29-2016 | 1 Comment

Vintage Tweed

Posted on by Jeff

Fall is my favorite time of year. Fall clothes are my favorite kind of clothes. And a great tweed jacket may be my favorite of all.

Jacket: Vintage tweed, unknown maker, thrifted
Shirt: Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece, thrifted
Trousers: Brooks Brothers, outlet clearance
Tie: J. Press, thrifted
Pocket square: Polo Ralph Lauren, thrifted
Shoes: Alfred Sargent for Brooks Brothers, clearance

Total cost: $224
If I’d paid retail: $1800 or more

11-19-2015 | 2 Comments

Italian Luxe

Posted on by Jeff

I came across this gorgeous sport coat in a consignment store a couple weeks ago. Made by Isaia, one of the top makers of luxury Italian tailoring. Normally retails for $2000 or more. (Available on Ebay here, if anyone’s interested).


11-10-2015 | 2 Comments

Back again…for now

Posted on by Jeff

Hi, friends. Sorry for not posting in a very long time. I hope to remedy that and post somewhat more frequently, going forward, but I won’t make any promises. Life has a way of getting busy. Speaking of which, since the last time I posted, I now have another little gent to outfit in a thrifty manner.

Him: all Carters; outlet sale.

Jacket: Polo Ralph Lauren, thrifted
Shirt: Brooks Brothers, sale
Tie: Unknown maker, thrifted
Vest: Stafford Prep, thrifted
Pants: Brooks Brothers, sale
Shoes: Alfred Sargent for Brooks Brothers, clearance
Total cost: about 10% of retail


11-9-2015 | 4 Comments

That sweet, sweet rush

Posted on by Jeff

Thrifting never gets old – the rush when you find something good is amazing. Here’s one from a few weeks ago – that’s a $4000+ made-to-measure suit!


07-15-2014 | 3 Comments


Posted on by Jeff

Here’s a neat recent thrift find: A pair of never-worn Florsheim Royal Imperial “longwing” wingtips in what Florsheim called “black cashmere calf” pebble grain leather. Royal Imperials were Florsheim’s top-of-the-line shoes, with five nails in the ball of the foot for stability, 64 nails and a V-cleat in the heel for long life, and faux wood-grain finish on the soles just because it showed they cared. Big wingtips like this are often referred to as “gunboats” because they’re big, heavy, and indestructible.

These are likely from the 1960s or 70s.


07-8-2014 | Leave a comment


Posted on by Jeff



Jacket: Polo Ralph Lauren, trade, $0
Shirt: Brooks Brothers, sale, $40
Tie: Chipp, gift, $0
Pants: Express, thrifted, $10
Shoes: Alfred Sargent for Brooks Brothers, $175
Total: $225

At retail prices: $1300 or more

07-1-2014 | 1 Comment

Double Breasted

Posted on by Jeff

Blazer: Polo Ralph Lauren, thrifted, $13
Shirt: Luciano Barbera, thrifted, $5
Tie: Brooks Brothers, discount, $25
Pants: Brooks Brothers, sale, $50
Shoes: Alfred Sargent for Brooks Brothers, $175
Total: $278

If I’d paid retail prices: As much as $1500

06-25-2014 | 3 Comments

Shopping the Thrifty Gent, Part 4

Posted on by Jeff

I have several nice items up for sale on Ebay right now, including shell cordovan and alligator shoes, tweed jackets, and high-end dress shirts! There’s more to come, too – I’ve got lots more tweed jackets, dress pants, and ties to list in the coming days and weeks.  I’ll give a 10% discount to readers of my blog; just make me an offer and mention in the comments box that you’re a reader.  All proceeds will go to help fund the adoption my wife and I are pursuing.

Check them out: The Thrifty Gent on Ebay

IMG_2938 IMG_2945 IMG_3193 IMG_3217 IMG_3281 IMG_3290 IMG_3385 IMG_3716-001 IMG_3791

11-15-2013 | Leave a comment

Low Contrast

Posted on by Jeff

Sometimes low-contrast outfits can be challenging.  When the elements don’t contrast much, sometimes they clash instead of blending well, and sometimes the overall effect can be somewhat boring.  I think this one works fairly well, though – what do you think? The slightly darker tie, shoes, and hat hopefully provide just enough contrast to liven up the low contrast of the jacket, shirt, and pants.

9-9-13 1 9-9-13 2 9-9-13 3


Jacket: Jos. A. Bank, thrifted, $8
Shirt: Brooks Brothers, sale, $40
Tie; Brooks Brothers, outlet, $10
Pocket Square: thrifted, $5
Pants: Brooks Brothers, sale, $70
Shoes: Brooks Brothers, clearance, $160
Hat: Dobbs, clearance, $60

Total: $353
At retail prices: $1600 or more

09-11-2013 | 6 Comments

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