12 March 2010

Off My Back: Mercer & Sons

Brook's Brothers Catalog - Christmas 1983

Mercer & Sons - Young Putz Designers Need Not Apply

The 80's Weave

Soft is key

Unlined Collar

When I started working for Brook's Brothers sometime in the mid-80's, I had only been a customer since the early 80's. There were few stores and since my father wore an army uniform to work every day... Well, lets put it this way, there was no passing down of the Golden Fleece.

As an employee of Brooks, I had plenty of their button down oxfords. And without getting too sentimental, they are today only a whisper thin cotton strand of what they once were. This decline, according to many including long time Brook's employee, Tom Davis, started shortly after I became a customer. The unlined collar became lined because someone at Brooks thought it 'looked better' according to Tom.

Mercer & Sons went to work in 1982 to correct the changes being made to the Brook's oxford and they do the shirt better than anyone I've come across. Not that I've stopped looking. The shirt weighs in at a thumping 13 ounces. And the weave is a dead ringer for the old Brooks oxford. The collar is perfect. Unlined and easy in appearance. That was the whole point of the collar before some git at Brooks decided it needed to be lined. Most likely a Californian.

The shirt's made in Maine. Score 1 point. The shirt's authentic to it's history and hasn't been screwed with by some putz designer. Score 2 points. The quality of the manufacture is top of class. Score 3 points. The shirt is not a good value. Score 0 points. Three outta four ain't bad. These are expensive. $90 and up. But they're the best out there and compared to what some designers are getting, $150 and up, they may indeed qualify as a damn good value.

39 comments:

Richard M said...

The only buttondown shirt today that equals the old BB buttondown! I have a number of them; the collar roll is just right.

NaturalShoulder said...

I have become a big fan of Mercer as well. The shirts are far superior than anything out there now. While not cheap, as you point out, well worth spending money on a well made quality product.

longwing said...

So tempting. Still haven't bitten. Doesn't help that it takes 15 extra beans and you gotta order two to get'em a decent length. I guess it's just a matter of time before Brooks goes non-iron.

OldSchool said...

Tintin,

Could you (and blog readers) share your opinion of J.Press's oxford with us?

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Great post. David Mercer makes outstanding shirts and perfectly expresses the trad aesthetic. His pinpoint oxford cloth is equally as good, I think, and he also has a great selection of classic stripes and patterns. It will be a long time before I exhaust these selections.

The nominal Mercer shirt has a 6 button front placket, again, historically accurate vis a vis BB, which is not an issue if you are wearing a tie all of the time. A 7 button front is available for an additional customization fee. They are indeed full cut shirts, but some of my RL OCBDs are actually fuller. (Sizing discussions are usually pointless unless you have a tape measure in hand, though.)


If you could only use your now considerable influence and stature to get him to stock yellow uni-stripe oxford cloth...

Anonymous said...

They say their cut is full ("Baggier is Better"). And seem to make a special point about this. Is it voluminous? While I'm far from an Extra-Slim customer, I've grown to appreciate shirts that don't billow like Carthagian sails. Could you elaborate on the fit?

Thanks

Mark Pritchett said...

I have a Mercer OCBD and the collar roll is spot on. Fabric is just right, though my collar started fraying prematurely. I wish the shirts were cut a tad slimmer. The button holes on the collar look like they were done with a paper hole puncher. Still a great shirt, close but not quite perfect like the old BB version.

longwing said...

I've got 2 Press oxfords and prefer brooks. I think the fabric and collar are both softer and the cut is fuller on the Brooks which I like.

Sam said...

any way you could show a pic of how these fit? would love to see what "baggy" translates to on a person...

oldschool: i have a j.press oxford and while the material has a great feel to it, a bunch of the buttons fell off within a few months... maybe a fluke, i only have one so by no means an expert

keep up the nice work trad

Richard M said...

Mark: Suggest you talk to David Mercer; I think he would probably replace that frayed collar for you.

Yiddish Hustle said...

I'm grateful for the detailed view of what makes Mercer and Sons' quality shine through. I have three of their shirts, and my wife loves them. They are comfortable and "true".

I would respectfully take a differeent view around the "value" comments from others. If Value = Quality/Price, than I place a high value here. Quality begins with personal service; David Mercer picks up the phone, listens and works with you to find the best shirt. It continues into the product, its design and its hand/feel. BTW, David DOWN-SOLD me on my first order, directing me to a lower cost shirt to get experience.

Again, thank you for posting this.

Anonymous said...

Great post. David Mercer's pinpoint oxford cloth is also fantastic, very dense and smooth. The selection of stripes and patterns is extensive and it will be awhile before I've fully exhausted these choices.
The nominal Mercer shirt has a 6 button front placket, also historically accurate vis a vis BB. Not an issue if you always wear a tie, but since I often wear these open collar, I opt for the 7 button, which adds still more cost. The "bagginess" of the shirt I think is overstated- I have some RL OCBDs that I think are actually cut fuller than Mercer. (Discussion like this on fit are often frustrating unless you actually have a tape measure in hand, though.)
If we could only get you to use your now considerable influence to get David to offer a yellow uni-stripe...

Laguna Beach Trad said...

That first pic reminds me of the old Harrington catalogs.

Richard M said...

YH: Mazel Tov.

The Sluice Box said...

Being reminded of the old BB shirts from the 80s makes me regret ever getting rid of the ones I had. Now I hold onto what's left until the signs of wear are too unsightly to tolerate.
-Aaron

Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that David Mercer had changed their method of doing buttonholes for the better these days.

OldSchool said...

LB Trad:

I'm sure you mean Huntington, rather than Harrington.

Anonymous said...

Tintin,
My apologies about the quasi-double post above. I thought I was experiencing technical problems with my computer. Mercer is obviously a topic I'm enthusiatic about and I was eager to contribute. Thanks again.

Old Trad said...

"Young Putz Designers Need Not Apply"

They are what's wrong with most men's clothing blogs (and most men's clothing) today.

Thanks for being so outspoken.

Laguna Beach Trad said...

Huntington, yes, thanks.

heavy tweed jacket said...

tintin, Ex-cell-ent work. It's been a long time since I've seen a post about Mercer & Sons. Why BB messed with a classic remains a frustrating mystery. Cheers.

3button Max said...

enjoyed thread-
i have found Mercer pretty consistent in fit probably better than B2 ocbd of early eighties as i remember...

Richard M said...

For "Young putz designers", you need go no further tan the NY Times "Men's Fashion" supplement in today's Times. Any man who would be caught dead in what they are displaying is, indeed, a putz.

Enzo AGC said...

"baggier is better"

Get the heck out of here. The collar looks great but those "putzy young designers" are trying to make clothing that actually fits people, not having them swimming in a sea of oxford fabric (as fun as that may be).

Don't get me wrong, the propensity for most designers of the the time to cut "traditional" clothing belly shirt-short is ridiculous, but the entire premise of the superiority of baggy-cut anything, particularly at a custom/bespoke level, is equally as absurd. Clothing should not be "baggy." Clothing should fit the person wearing it.

Finally a word about value - At this point in our domestic manufacturing history, $90 for a shirt made in Maine is not a bad value and that's an undebatable fact. The reason you see other US-made shirts (ie: McNairy) north of $150 is minimums. They lack a large distribution plan and the units that come with that. Smaller orders mean higher prices. Its that simple.

tintin said...

I like the Mercer BD a lot. I'm 5'9" with a 38" waist and a 30" inseam. The shirt fits me well but even when I was a 30" waist (it happened) I liked the look of a large shirt billowing out over my amazingly handsome butt.

The peek of a thin strip of real gator belt held together by a small engine turned silver slide buckle from Tiffany under the oxford cotton was understated exclamation point to a style of dress I enjoyed in 1985.

I still like the look of it and when I have shirts made by Frank at Riddle McIntyre in Chicago or MTM in New Jersey, I ask for a traditional fit. Not a fitted fit because I now look like a fire plug. If you're over 45 and have a Wm Shatner body like mine - - you're gonna like the way you look in a Mercer Shirt. I guarentee it.

If you're 6'2" and a 40 Reg with long arms and legs, the shirt may look a bit tent-ish on you but that was the aesthetic we aspired to in the mid 80's.

A richness of the oxford (and plenty of it) was contrasted against the tone on tone, poly -cotton mix shirts that were so popular then or the Hugo Boss DB look that was best suited to the SS of Wall Street.

David Mercer is a lovely man and he has no idea who I am. I bought from him at full freight and he treated me kindly. I'll be buying more because the shirt fits and I like his aesthetic.

Regards to price. Over the next couple of weeks I'll be posting a number of apparel manufs still making product in the US. The prices are gonna surprise some of you. Especially the young putzes.

Enzo AGC said...

Whenever I read the old, "When you're my age and overweight you understand" argument I tend to think of the "fat, bald man" the Scott Schuman shoots occasionally who certainly looks better in his clothing than 99% of the 6'2" 40R guys in NYC.

See here: http://thesartorialist.blogspot.com/2006/05/on-streetfat-bald-man-nyc.html

That said, I'm glad Mr. Mercer was kind enough to set you up with shirts that work for you. My point of contention was on the reference to the idea that "baggy is better." I was brought up by an Ivy-educated Italian who taught me that baggy = sloppy. The button-downs and tweed stuck on him, the forfeiture properly-fitting clothing didn't.

I'm looking forward to your upcoming posts on affordable domestic manufacturing. Lord knows I'm always happy to find new products made by illegals getting paid a substandard, under the table wage. Anything for that $50 BD as long as it says "Made in the USA" below the collar band right? Please be sure to forward the link to your good friend Michael Williams so he can feature their wares at his next pop up flea.

Anonymous said...

David Mercer will put a different size body on the shirt if you desire, that is, for example, a size 16 body on a size 16.5 neck. He can also take the waist in if you want as well.

That is a beautiful tie, by the way- made by whom if I may ask?

tintin said...

Enzo- You're kidding, right? $600 cammie shorts from your new employer, Michael Bastian and you're busting William's ass over the Pop Up? Geez, even Giussppe apologised to him. Let it go, Hoss.

tintin said...

Anon- That's a bow tie from Enzo's prior over priced employer, Ralph Lauren. You can get one just like it at J Crew for half the price.

Enzo AGC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tintin said...

My hope is to keep this somewhat light but I will address your other points. In the early and mid 90's, I helped apparel manufaturers in the southeast with worker's comp insurance costs through correct classifications in payroll audits, MOD calculations and control of claims via return to work programs.

I don't know which companies use illegal immigrants for labor but I'm begging you to tell me who. The oversight by the feds, the insurance companies not to mention the very small southern towns these plants are in negate a lot of hanky panky with illegal labor.

No, most of these manufacturers have sacrificed a good deal to stay in the US while the big guys all bolted years ago. They're a great story, Enzo and I think they're to be applauded and not accused of breaking the law. Not when they made great efforts to keep their employees in jobs.

It sounds like Bastian found the seamstresses working for Valentino. A $450 dress shirt and the patterns don't match sleeve to yolk? Just like Purple Label.

$600 cammie shorts. $325 terry cloth polo shirts. $3,000 blazers. That's way off the reservation along with the organic comparison.

As a retail customer, my concern is that retailers are no longer happy for a fair profit. Certainly the days of LL Bean and his 37 1/2 % are long gone. I wanna know what a fair profit is in your biz? And what's the norm?

Enzo AGC said...

The first thing I need to say here is that my opinions above and below are solely my own and do not reflect that of my employer. I can't and won't speak for Michael. With that said lets proceed.

I never said anywhere that all domestic manufacturers are breaking the law (although some certainly do, like American Apparel who previously employed 1800 illegals, around 1/3 of its employees). Now I'm not sure what companies you have been referring to, or what they manufacture but it is certainly clear that companies like Mercer & Sons should be applauded for what they are doing and the sacrifice they are making. I never questioned that. What I did question was your contention that $90 for a US made shirt is not a good value. I pointed out that when you go much lower than that, something has to suffer in the process. I say this because I have a rough idea of what it costs to make a shirt in the states. It may be fabric, it may be cheaper (and possibly questionable labor) but something has to fall by the wayside.

Your concern about "a fair profit" is understandable but seemingly uninformed. Take Rugby as an example. That $490 China-made doeskin blazer is is a real rip-off..Polo is laughing their way to the bank on that one right? Wrong. At this moment in time Rugby isn't a profitable brand. They lose money every single month. This isn't hedge fund finance. Chances are you're making a heck of a lot more money than the "putzes" that are making the "overpriced" clothing that offend you so much.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tint -

It's time for a replacement order of the basic for me - blue, pink, uni stripe. Whatta think? Mercer or Black Fleece?

Anonymous said...

tintin,

I dont know if you allow anon comments, but I would like to offer a couple (but wont blame you if you delete or chose not to post). I actually agree with Enzo that slimmer is often better for many. But not at the expense of a tiny collar or a shirt tail that cant be tucked in. But I am most tired of his preaching. I tired of it when he accused Hackett of copying Rugby when Rugby has blatently and shamelessly copied every trend and every classic, and generally got them wrong and cheapened them. Please go pitch "Lacrosse" or the new skirts at Bastian (this is true), but please do not preach.

Enzo AGC said...

Anon - That's good advice (about the preaching, not the skirts). I'll do my best to heed it.

Anonymous said...

Oui, je suis d'accord avec vous all.

Ta'er

tintin said...

Anon 22:02- I like to think people can argue with good intentions here. I think tapered or fitted shirts are cheesy. Enzo thinks traditional shirts (or baggy) are poorly fitted. It's a matter of taste and Enzo has none. I only hope Bastian doesn't find out.

Sorry, that's the Don Rickles in me. No, Enzo has a personal preference and that's ok. It's also ok to respect other's opinions which we do here.

I know that Individualized Shirts in Perth Amboy will make a MTM for $80. That's retail! It has been my bench mark. Although, $90 may not be so bad (as I mentioned in the original post).

I remember the Hackett / Rugby issue and I agree with you but remember who Enzo works for or did. There's a great Charlie Rose interview with Ralph Lauren and somewhere in it RL complains that everybody steals from him.

Enzo- We can all use good advice. I'll quit looking for a US made oxford shirt for $32.

Tater- Oui. Or was that a magazine?

hogidist said...

Gentlemen, HELP. I'm 5'8" 155 lbs. Will I look like I'm wearing daddy's shirt? I like the fabric and wanted to order a test shirt but after all the billowy comments now I'm not so sure. Mercer's web site said they have a 2" slimmer cut (extra) has anyone any experience with that? Thanks, Mike in Laguna Beach.

tintin said...

Hogidist- Call Mercer and ask to speak to David. Tell him your situation and ask to try both. I don't want to speak for him but he'll probably help you out above and beyond the call.