The Loss of Distinction

In the last few months, as millions of Americans have transported their work from cubicles to bedrooms, the US has engaged in something of a massive, unplanned social experiment. It’s estimated that up to half the US labor force now works from home. The other half is split between those not working and those still working at a jobsite (the second of which is mainly composed of essential service workers). Almost overnight, the US has transformed into a work-from-home economy coordinated through online applications such as Slack, Zoom, and Google Docs.

Now it seems that many companies may continue with this arrangement even in a post-COVID world as a way to save money. This summer, Facebook and Twitter captured headlines when they announced plans to let some employees operate from home indefinitely. Financial giants Morgan Stanley, Barclays, and Nationwide say they intend to do the same. At the moment, roughly 90% of Morgan Stanley’s 80,000 employees work from home, a process that CEO James Gorman says has been remarkably smooth. “We’ve proven we can operate with no footprint,” Gorman told Bloomberg Television. “Can I see a future where part of every week, certainly part of every month, a lot of our employees will be at home? Absolutely.” By the time the coronavirus crisis is over, we may emerge from our homes only to be told to go back inside again.

The opportunity to work from home has some obvious benefits: more time with family and pets, not having a stern boss peer over your shoulder, and being able to intersperse work periods with leisure activities (work at your own pace, so goes the theory). But when you check emails where you sleep and type where you eat, it’s hard to beat back the workday’s colonizing tendencies. Professors and freelancers know this all too well, as their constant-work culture deprives them of true leisure. When you never officially clock in or out, it’s easy to feel like you should always be using your time more productively, so you start to feel guilty for enjoying anything outside of labor. “I should be working,” says the nagging little voice in your mind.

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So Ordered: The Messy Nature of Dress Codes

Even on lockdown and while working from home, in what I can only presume to be sweatpants and t-shirts, Americans love debating what others should wear to work. Last week, political blogger and Vox co-founder Matthew Yglesias responded to a tweet asking people to share their hottest, non-cancelable takes. "It would be better, all things considered," he tweeted, "to go back to the norm where everyone has to dress up (suits/ties for men, etc.) for work at office jobs."

Naturally, not everyone on Twitter agreed. Atlantic staff writer Amanda Mull replied: "This is incorrect and reinforces class and gender inequity, and I couldn't find anyone who studies the modern workplace who thinks it's a good idea." She later added racial inequity to the list and noted that dress codes, at their core, are about who is allowed to feel comfortable in the workplace. For some, the stiff layers and layers that go into buckram-reinforced clothing represent a kind of tyranny imposed from the top down. How you feel about strait-waist-coat attire depends on whether you're someone who makes rules or someone subject to them. In her tweet, Mull included a link to her May 2020 article for The Atlantic, where she argued that dress codes are not only wrong, they should be consigned to the dustbin of history. Let workers dress according to simple dictates, she implored, so that you treat them like adults and not "not babies at productivity daycare."

Gurung, Cawood, and Hall all agree that the mandate for greater fairness in the workplace — spurred by nondiscrimination laws and the need to retain workers in a tight labor market — will likely spell the end of the dress code as we know it, sooner rather than later. For traditionalists, this might sound like an abandonment of pride and professionalism, but in reality, Cawood says, companies that overhaul, simplify, or drop their dress code rarely do anything but make their employees happier. 

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On Emotional Durability

The hottest trend last year wasn't the oversized puffer jackets, patchwork coats, or resurgence of lowbrow patterns such as tie-dye and leopard prints. Instead, the dominating trend of 2019 was the topic of sustainability. During the spring/summer seasons, major brands such as Ralph Lauren and Adidas capitalized on a growing consumer interest for eco-friendly products by releasing green polos and running shoes wholly made from ocean waste and recycled plastics. By autumn, Kering — the parent company to Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Brioni, among other big luxury labels — announced that it would commit to being carbon neutral across all of its operations. At the behest of French President Emmanuel Macron, François-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of Kering, also spearheaded an effort to get other major labels to do the same. Known as the Fashion Pact, the global coalition includes over 60 signatories, ranging from H&M to Hermes. They say they'll make significant changes in their business to help meet science-based targets in three areas: achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, restoring biodiversity, and preserving oceans by reducing their use of single-use plastics. No punitive measures, however, will be imposed should they fail to meet their goals.

Of course, much of this comes as a result of the scrutiny the fashion industry has faced over its impact on the global climate crisis. There have been a lot of disturbing facts hastily thrown around, many of them not carefully checked. It's often said that nearly three-fifths of the fashion industry's annual production — estimated to be upwards of 150 billion garments — ends up in incinerators or landfills within years of being made. That results in about 10% of the world's annual greenhouse gas emissions, more than the aviation and maritime shipping industries combined. As Vox noted, actual evidence for this is scant, although the fashion industry is indeed a mess. If anything, we know there's too much clothing in the world by merely looking at our closets. Similar concerns have come up before, even if not directly about global warming. During the 19th century, as industrialization made things more affordable, many Europeans felt wonder and anxiety over their new material abundance. People worried about how to use goods well, what abundance might be for, and how not to be spoiled by possessions. Human virtues such as restraint and simplicity came to the fore, and some questioned whether the sheer quantity of objects around them would dull their senses.

When it comes to sustainability in fashion, discussions follow a very predictable course. The focus is often on tangible dimensions, such as build quality, materials, technology, transport, and recycling. In an interview on the podcast show Time Sensitive, Gabriela Hearst says her experience growing up on a ranch gave her a deeper appreciation for the calmness that comes with knowing that things around you don't need to change, including the clothes on your back. "I really thought about why I am so attracted to things of quality," she said. "It is because things have to be made well to last and to endure, so I grew up with things that were made to last and endure, not necessarily from an ostentatious point of view but from a quality, utilitarian aspect." The only sensible and sustainable antidote to throwaway culture, then, is to purchase timeless, long-lasting clothing that you can wear for life.

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Things I’ve Bought On Lockdown

Last week, the editors of GQ posted a story showing how they dressed for digital fashion week. I was surprised and relieved to find that many of their outfits nowadays are just as casual and comfort-driven as mine. At the beginning of this lockdown, I mostly stayed at home wearing old jeans and plaid flannel shirts. After a while, I started burrowing into the back of my closet to pull out forgotten Camoshita shirts and Chimala chambrays, trying to find new ways to wear old items. Still, with nowhere to go, it’s been a challenge to really make an effort. As writer John Paul Brammer humorously tweeted: “OK, so it turns out I was in fact dressing up for other people and not 'myself.'”

Even on lockdown, however, I’ve been shopping here and there. Sometimes it’s for practical things to make life at home a bit more comfortable. Sometimes it's to purchase things on the hope that one day this pandemic will end and we'll dress up again. Other times, I bought something just to support stores I want to see survive. It's been hard to hear about how many businesses are struggling, but I've been emotionally buoyed by Simon Crompton's suggestion that quality makers will survive because people care

If you’re in a position to shop these days, I encourage you to shop small, shop responsibly, and shop at places you love. Here are some things I've purchased this season. Maybe you'll find something you love too. 

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Lamb Chopped: The Story Behind Brooks Brothers’ Bankruptcy

Two years ago, at a black-tie gala held at the Jazz at Lincoln Center, nearly 1,000 guests gathered to commemorate Brooks Brothers' bicentennial anniversary. While sipping on themed cocktails named "Modern Classic" and "Golden Fleece," guests enjoyed an all-American jazz program befit for an all-American clothier. Since their founding in 1818, Brooks Brothers has defined classic American men's style, invented the ready-to-wear suit, and dressed nearly every US President. Brooks Brothers CEO Claudio del Vecchio, who has been widely credited with reviving the company since it fell out of favor under previous owner Marks & Spencer, told The New York Times that he's working to reinforce a culture. "I have to make sure that we are building a company that will last after me," he said while sitting at his 346 Madison Avenue office, where his polished mahogany desk faces an antique grandfather clock once owned by the store's founder, Henry Sands Brooks. "I don't want to be here another 20 years. Forget about another 200 years. It's really about trying to build a culture that will last longer than the business. That will make it very hard for the next guy to screw it up."

Last week, Brooks Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, making it the highest-profile men's clothier to do so during the coronavirus pandemic. The company says they plan to close about 51 of their stores, a decision they attribute to the toll of mass shutdowns. This comes on the heels of their announcement that they'll close all three of their US factories by the end of this summer. So far, Brooks Brothers has shut the lights at their Garland, North Carolina shirtmaking factory, which employs about 25% of the town's residents. The company's Southwick suit factory and New York tie factory have been reduced to producing masks, but they too will shutter unless the company can secure a buyer.

Soon, the fashion press will churn out stories about what went wrong at Brooks Brothers. I suspect theories will include something about rampant globalization, rapacious capitalism, corporate mismanagement, and mass-marketization. Brooks Brothers either failed to adapt to changing consumer tastes, or they adapted too much. For diehard trads, the decline of Brooks Brothers will undoubtedly be linked to the decline of Western civilization itself.

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No Man Walks Alone Starts Sale

No Man Walks Alone is a sponsor on this site, but also genuinely one of my favorite stores. It's hard for me to think of a place with a better selection of both casualwear and tailored clothing. This morning, they started their end-of-season promotion, where you can find select items discounted by as much as 40%. You don't need a promo code, but since sales are final, you'll want to double-check sizing and measurements (the store has excellent service and you can always email them for advice). Here are a few highlights:

Glenn's Denim Slim-Tapered Jeans

After working for years behind the scenes designing, cutting, and sewing for others, Glenn Liburd started his namesake denim brand at the age of 62. Glenn's Denim is one of those rare "maker-brands," where nearly everything is done in-house. While other companies typically outsource their production, you can find Liburd making almost everything himself out of his small, Brooklyn-based workroom (the exception is the workshirts, which are produced in Portugal). The company also sources their denim from some of the few remaining American weavers. Glenn Denim feels like on one of those obscure, local brands you find at a cool NYC boutique. 

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This Season’s Best Sales

Last night, when Mr. Porter announced their second markdown, I visited their sale section and many more. I'm relieved to say that the apocalyptic clearance sale that many predicted would happen is not, in fact, happening. This is good news for those of us who want to see stores survive. However, there's also good news for shoppers: sales this season are slightly better than usual, even if they're not at blowout prices. Retailers that normally don't hold sales are holding one. Mr. Porter added previous seasons' inventory to their sale section. And a bunch of stores started new promotions this morning. Here are what I think are the season's best sales, along with highlights from each. 

Mr. Porter: Up To 60% Off

Outerwear: Along with slashing prices for the second time, Mr. Porter added some new inventory in their sale section last night. In the outerwear section, you can find leather jackets from Valstar, Reese Cooper, Golden Bear, and Kingsman. The Valstar shearling trucker jacket, pictured below, is one of my favorites from last year. You can wear it with chunky sweaters, raw denim jeans, and pebble-grained boots for a terrific cold-weather outfit. Valstar also has supple suede bombers if your climate is more temperate. Additionally, check out these topcoats from Camoshita and Mr. P. Most topcoats are too short and slim, but Camoshita's topcoats always have enough room to give them verve. Neither of these coats will be wearable this summer, but you can consider them pre-fall purchases. 

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How We Dress the Law

Menlo Park, a suburb located outside of San Francisco, is known for being the venture capital engine for California’s tech economy. The city today is a portrait of serenity, with its multi-million dollar homes, well-manicured lawns, and wide, tree-lined streets. In 1969, however, when Victor Cizanckas was appointed as the city’s new police chief, Menlo Park and the rest of the Bay Area were in turmoil. The decade’s protest movements were met with increasing state violence, sometimes verging on open warfare. As images of attacking police dogs and civil rights abuses flickered across television screens, Black leaders in the neighboring Belle Haven and East Palo Alto communities organized marches to demand equal treatment. At UC Berkeley, Mario Savio stood at steps of the university’s admissions building, Sproul Hall, where he famously urged students to put their “bodies upon the gears” in defense of free speech. That night, police officers moved in and arrested nearly 800 demonstrators, making it the largest mass arrest in California’s history. And just two days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., with riots raging across the United States, the Oakland police engaged in a shootout with the Black Panther Party, killing young Bobby Hutton.

It’s no wonder so many Americans that decade had such little faith in policing, including residents of Menlo Park. To help rebuild that trust, the newly appointed police chief, Cizanckas, then 39 years old, decided it was time for the most superficial reform — he’d change the department’s uniform. For years, Menlo Park’s officers wore the same, neatly pressed, dark blue attire that commanded military authority. Cizanckas switched out that uniform in favor of a white shirt, dark tie, pair of charcoal slacks, and an olive green blazer. Handcuffs and firearms were hidden underneath the coat, while the shiny metal badge was replaced with a soft embroidered patch. Cizanckas even dropped the department’s use of black-and-white police cars, military stripes, and ranking. “Sergeants” were now called “managers,” while “lieutenants” became “directors.” “We should measure what we do and treat our command staff as managers,” Cizanckas told The New York Times, “not as members of a military hierarchy.”

Since the 1970s, over 400 police departments have engaged in some kind of fashion experiment. In Burnsville, Wisconsin, police chief David Couper dressed his officers in a dark blue sport coat, white shirt, and French blue trousers, making them look like airline attendants. He also discouraged officers from wearing reflective aviator sunglasses when making traffic stops. “Make eye contact,” he suggested, “make sure they know you’re a human being.” Many departments tried lightening the color of their uniforms in hopes that officers would appear less intimidating. In some suburban and countryside towns, officers wore the color of the land, such as juniper green and walnut brown. And by the mid-1980s, NYPD officers tried wearing baseball caps so they would “look more user-friendly,” according to The New York Times.

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Silence of the Lamb

It's been barely a month since J. Crew filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, making it the first major retailer to fall during the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, an alarming number of fashion-related businesses have followed, including Neiman Marcus, Aldo, John Varvatos, JC Penney, and J. Hilburn. This month may lay claim on one of the largest men's clothiers. In a phone call that took place late last April, Brooks Brothers CEO Claudio del Vecchio allegedly told a group of senior executives that that company plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this June.

I first heard about the phone call last month while I was working on a story about how Brooks Brothers is planning to shutter all three of its US factories. Since finding the bigger headline, I've been interviewing former and current Brooks Brothers executives, who were willing to share the insider story of how the brand has found itself in this position. This morning, Business of Fashion published my feature. The story is about a lot more than the spread of Casual Friday or the coronavirus pandemic (although those certainly contributed to Brooks Brothers' downfall).

The situation stems from a massive network of long-term real estate leases, which stretch back to the 1980s. Under the leadership of Julius Garfinckel & Co., Brooks Brothers operated just 11 locations in 1971. By the time Marks & Spencer sold Brooks Brothers to Retail Brand Alliance in 2001, there were 155 stores and outlets in the US and Japan. Today, there are roughly 250 stores in the United States alone -- and nearly half of them are outlets. Of Brooks Brothers' full-line US stores, just 40 are responsible for 80 percent of sales. One executive told me that they could have closed over 100 locations and not seen much change in profits. The fall of Brooks Brothers ties together many things: the decline of tailored clothing, the challenges of running a brick-and-mortar business, and the difficulty of telling an American story during a globalized age. You can read my story over at Business of Fashion

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Reading, Donating, and Doing

Like millions of other Americans, and now millions more abroad, I was horrified to see police officer Derek Chauvin slowly and blithely choking the life out of George Floyd this late May. America has progressed in some ways that I never thought I’d see. And yet, on the issue of police brutality and racial violence, I feel as horrified today as I did when I watched Rodney King get brutally beaten in 1991, or heard about the senseless execution of Amadou Diallo in 1999. Or when I read about Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. It feels like the only thing that has changed is how we consume the news about these deaths. 

I’m far from an expert on this issue, but I wanted to share some things I’ve been reading and doing. By now, you’re probably buried in recommended reading lists and resource guides. If you’re anything like me, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the suggestions. There are just so many links and lists, coupled with the heavy heart I feel over this issue, I find it’s easy to put things off for another day. 

Sometimes, however, I come across something short and manageable, and it’s easy to act upon it at that moment. Yesterday, Mark Cho of The Armoury shared an excerpt from a book about redlining. David Shuck at Heddels wrote about how you can help reform the criminal justice system. The Cut has an excellent post on how you can support the struggle against police brutality. This morning, 3sixteen sent out nine links related to this issue (I like their reading list). I also want to share a brief list of things I’ve found to be useful. Maybe there’s something here you will find helpful too. 

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