Coolness could be described as a uniquely American virtue. From the clothing we wear to the cars we drive, Americans put a lot of effort into appearing unaffected. It’s only natural, after all. We’re the country that gave the world blue jeans and Ray-Ban® sunglasses—and outfitted a galaxy of Hollywood stars in both—so we have a reputation to uphold. It’s fair to say that from the 1950s to the current day, American style has been best represented by two of its most iconic exports: automobiles and fashion. To help us understand the similarities between them, our editors sat down to chat with menswear enthusiast Matthew Coppedge of Commandments of Style, who says American coolness owes much to the many innovations of brands such as Ford and Brooks Brothers.
Brooks Brothers: How did the idea for this collaboration come about?
Matthew Coppedge: Well, as a lover of all things style, I wanted to bring together two of my favorite things: well-made suits from Brooks Brothers and classic cars from Ford. I mean, does it get any more American, or classic, than these two brands? From the sporty lines of a 1965 Mustang to the bold stripes of a double-breasted suit, these are some of the most iconic styles in the world. Brooks Brothers and Ford have both consistently innovated while staying true to their classic heritage.
BB: What do you mean when you say both brands have brought style to the masses?
MC: Most people know that the Model T, produced from 1908 to 1927, was the first mass-produced automobile in the world—thanks to the standardized production process perfected by Henry Ford. It changed the world and brought the automobile to the masses. Well, Brooks Brothers essentially popularized the ready-to-wear suit and made fine tailoring accessible to the nation. Prior to that, if a man wanted a suit, he would need to go through the expensive and time-consuming fitting process. By offering convenience to customers, both Ford and Brooks Brothers disrupted their industries—and in some instances practically created new industries along the way.
BB: Racing stripes and striped rep ties: What’s the connection there?
MC: Brooks Brothers decided to Americanize the British regimental striped tie—sort of a rebellious act at the time. They changed the direction of the stripes to go from right to left, and this departure opened the striped tie design up to men everywhere. It also, unintentionally, created a new innovation in men’s fashion. Racing stripes—or LeMans Stripes—were originally called “Cunningham Stripes” (named for Briggs Cunningham, who painted blue stripes on his white race cars in the early 1950s). Though this began in the 1950s, the stripes didn’t transition into mainstream automobiles until the mid-’60s. Although it’s hard to confirm the entire story, there seems to be some evidence that the stripes were offered as an option as “Ralley Stripes,” which, again, is an instance of providing something a customer didn’t even know he wanted.
BB: In your opinion, what is a true icon of American style?
MC: There aren’t many pieces of menswear—or fashion, for that matter—that are more iconic than the button-down-collar shirt. Brooks’ Original Polo® Button-Down Oxford was the first to offer this revolutionary collar style. John E. Brooks [an early president of Brooks Brothers], after seeing them on polo players on a trip to England in 1895, introduced the novel concept to the nation in 1900 and changed menswear forever. This shirt’s popularity endures to this day because it’s worn by some of the most fashionable men (and women) in the past century, including actors, models and politicians.
BB: Is there a car that can match this shirt in terms of its generation-spanning appeal?
MC: Yes! As a matter of fact, there is a car that has the same simple-yet-sophisticated curves of the Original Polo Button-Down Oxford: the 1956 T-Bird. More than anything, the 1956 Ford Thunderbird is an amazing piece of mid-century art. From the hardtop convertible to the bold white-walls, the rounded front fenders to the spare tire cover—everything about this car exudes style. It’s an indelible part of American style and will always be a classic.
To shop Matthew’s looks, click the links below.
1926 Ford Model T Roadster | 1956 Ford Thunderbird | 1965 Ford Mustang Coupe
Special Thanks | Jeff Westbrook (1956 T-Bird Owner)
Matthew Coppedge is a digital content creator for men’s fashion, lifestyle and travel brands and is the founder and creative director of the website Commandments of Style. Follow his journey @commandmentsofstyle.