This American menswear stalwart has populated shelves under many names.
There is scarce a man alive who hasn’t heard or seen the name Brooks Brothers.
It’s quite possibly America’s biggest mark on the world of menswear.
The brand has been a mainstay in many wardrobes since its inception in 1818, with the marque having split into a number of different lines as time has gone on.
Brooks hasn’t undergone a Ralph Lauren level of diffusion, but there are a few notable differences between lines, so it’s important to know what each Brooks Brothers sub-label means.
Aside from the well-known 346 label, many of the Brooks diffusion lines are centred around the term fleece. Golden Fleece, Red Fleece, Black Fleece.
A lot of fleece.
Note: this article pertains only to sub-brands, not to fit styles (e.g. Madison, Fitzgerald), tags denoting origins (Makers label for house manufactured goods) or product names (e.g. Brooksease, Brookscool, Brookstweed).
Mainline (self-titled, Brooks Brothers, 1818)
The Brooks Brothers mainline is self-titled. It bears the label you’ll have seen transform throughout the decades, and the brand’s mainline covers just about everything you can get from Brooks Brothers.
Suits, outerwear, shirts, pants, shorts, shoes, socks… you name it, and the mainline has it.
Since the brand began to manifest as a series of diffusion lines, some mainline is now labelled as Brooks Brothers 1818.
Once a diffusion line that didn’t really differ in quality to the mainline, 346 is no longer something to be sought out.
Nowadays, Brooks Brothers 346 is in essence the outlet store version of Brooks.
Same cuts, lesser quality construction and lesser quality fabrics.
Designed with the intention of reaching those with less buying power, 346 is the cheapest entry level to the Brooks brand and as such, is best avoided if you can buy the higher tier.
It’s better value to purchase second-hand mainline than brand new 346.
However, some vintage 346 labelled goods can be quite solid.
Black Fleece was a sub-brand established in an attempt to create a fashion-forward arm of the Brooks Brothers brand.
Helmed by the designer Thom Browne, best known for re-popularising the skinny suit post-millennium, the Black Fleece label was imbued with the hope of positioning Brooks in a market comprised of designer conscious (and considerably trim) buyers.
The labels were… unique, and the decision to make a completely separate size chart and codes wasn’t the most consumer-friendly idea.
Launched in 2007, Black Fleece was shuttered in 2015.
To service buyers who were looking for a higher quality point than the Brooks Brothers mainline, the brand established the diffusion line Golden Fleece.
Golden Fleece has been around at least a couple of decades, however it isn’t a particularly old invention, suggesting that the brand once had a high enough quality standard that it was felt a premium diffusion line was unnecessary. Other voices have commented that the Brooks brand historically had better quality standards than it does in modern times, supporting the hypothesis that Golden Fleece is perhaps now what the Brooks Brothers mainline once was (yet at a higher price point).
Golden Fleece was to be the pinnacle of the Brooks brand, christened after the nickname of the Brooks logo.
Like a high-end restaurant menu, the Golden Fleece catalogue spent much time talking over the details of garment cloth, origin and construction.
Golden Fleece tailoring is often produced by some decent Italian makers such including Lardini.
This line is still in production as of July 2021.
Launched in 2013, Red Fleece was the Brooks Brothers brand’s attempt to make customers out of the sons and daughters of the fathers and mothers who had been loyal customers of the brand for many years.
With the brand’s aim to be a youthful, hip version of Brooks, the garments tend to fit slim and the design trends towards neo-prep influences.
It is noted that Red Fleece is a lower priced diffusion line, thus the quality of the garments is lesser than the mainline.
While Brooks may not be what it once was, there are still some solid items that can be had from the brand.
Vintage does tend to be better, however occasionally there are excellent pieces in the mainline.
Despite a bankruptcy scare last year, the brand is still on its feet. With the recent appointment of Michael Bastian as new creative director, there still remains a possibility of Brooks Brothers reclaiming some of its former glory.
3 thoughts on “A guide to Brooks Brothers sub-brands and diffusion lines”
I just bought a vintage BB suit that includes a tag with “Season 54” on it. Any idea what year that might be from?
Not sure. It’d likely be something fairly modern, post-2000