Brooks Brothers Exceptionalism

Brooks Brothers LogoBrooks Brothers brand clothing is what your grandfather wore. It is what possibly his grandfather wore into war. It is who has clothed 39 of the 44 Presidents and remained a staple for elite Ivy-leaguers and wealthy New-England bankers.  Brooks Brothers can safely be considered one of the Great American Brands.

In a constantly changing market, Brooks Brothers has remained consistent in its few commitments: quality, fair price, and excellent service. In a country where opportunity granted due to “legacy” status is vilified, Brooks seems to bypass the American standard for complete equality in access to politicians. Perhaps, Brooks is just the American politician’s brand of choice.  Regardless, Brooks continues to follow tradition, putting coats on the backs of Presidents with ease.

Brooks Brothers JFK

On a very superficial level, Brooks Brothers has achieved a very noble goal through commendable efforts for respectable reasons. On closer inspection, however, Brook’s success has exemplified the fatal flaw in American Exceptionalism and the notion of nationalism as a whole.

Brooks Brothers is hailed, as I have already stated, as one of the great American clothiers. Since it was established in 1818, Brooks has offered conservative clothing at luxury prices to upper class males (and later females). It began,  as any company begins, eager to meet the need in the market. Over time Brooks found its niche among the upper-class and settled into it’s role as a store primarily market toward the affluent few.

Fast forward 195 years and it now offers clothing for all consumers, women included. It is no longer accessible only to the privileged. Anyone living in a metropolitan area can go to their city mall and find a Brooks Brothers shop.  I frequently find Brooks Brothers merchandise at my local thrift store. In recent years, Brooks Brothers has even spread their brand across seas, targeting markets completely unfamiliar with their heritage as an elite clothier.

Brooks Brothers Abraham Lincoln

The parallel between Brooks Brothers’ evolution and the evolution of the idea of American Exceptionalism reveals it’s flaw in their mutual trend of  long-term degradation. Because anyone can wear Brooks Brothers, its status as an elite clothier is diminished. Any major scandals, manufacturing errors, or failed products in their 195 year history  accumulate and eventually tarnish their reputation, either through the comparison of quality in honoring their commitments over time, or an overall change in their brand image. The problem being that no business or brand is perfect. It can not be, as some politicians attempt to be, all things to all people. There is no such thing as an exceptional brand because exceptionalism requires being different where it matters. And in places where it matters –quality, fair price, and exceptional service, there is no such thing as perfection. Although you can be less flawed than another brand, the only way you can be fundamentally different (or exceptional) is to be flawless.

In applying the idea of long-term degradation to the U.S., it is very easy to expose the lack of rationality in American Exceptionalism. The U.S. may have began, as most countries do, seeking to create a system that better represented the needs of the individuals within that new state. Over time, however, history can attest to the failure of Americans to uphold that initial goal. One can’t discount the horrors of America’s influence in it’s wars throughout history. These wars alone should destroy the notion of American Exceptionalism.

The problem is that some believe countries are exceptional because they win wars instead of never going to war in the first place.

Brooks Brothers Bush Sr

At the root of it is nationalism: The idea that 313,900,00 people hold any given truth in common. What is the threshold for being exceptional? If the U.S. sets the bar then I don’t know of a country on earth that isn’t exceptional.

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