Thom Browne

“Everyone told me my clothes didn’t fit, even my friends.”[1]  So says celebrated designer Thom Browne, whose name is synonymous with the shrunken suit tailoring that has become the standout menswear trend of the past decade. Though he is now considered a darling of the fashion industry, his unusual take on classic tailoring was initially met with resistance. But Browne knew there was a market for his designs – he envisioned “the businessman who wants to look both conservative and cool,”[2]  and transformed his personal style into a successful global label.

Look 8 - Thom Browne

Thom Browne Fall/Winter 2013/14, Look 8. Photo by Marcus Tondo, courtesy of

Fashion was not Browne’s immediate calling. As one of seven children raised in a Catholic family in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Browne learned the benefits of routine, self-discipline, and hard work early on – he is known for eating the same breakfast every day, ritual morning runs, and a sophisticated yet sparsely decorated apartment.[3] Browne’s entire education took place at private schools, wearing the schoolboy uniform that now defines his brand’s aesthetic. He studied business at Notre Dame, but felt called to the arts; he tried acting in Los Angeles for a few years, and spent time in between auditions altering vintage men’s suits and learning the art of tailoring from Libertine designer Johnson Hartig.[4] His official introduction into the fashion business was a job in the Georgio Armani showroom in New York, and later as part of the design team for Ralph Lauren’s Club Monaco.[5]

By the time he launched his label in 2001, Browne had a clear concept for his business. The years spent among California’s casual dress code only heightened his desire to provide a provocative interpretation of classic mid-century male style, impeccably tailored and undeniably cool.[6] Browne’s designs were radical in a time when laidback fashion dominated. When everyone else is wearing jeans and a T-shirt, “actually putting on a jacket is the anti-Establishment.”[7] He was and continues to be his own best spokesperson; at the start of his business, he made five versions of his signature suit and wore it all over New York to attract the attention of potential buyers.[8] Browne remains devoted to the rumpled oxford shirt, skinny tie, shrunken blazer, and pants tailored above the ankle – a uniform of sorts also worn by those who work for him. Eventually, the naysayers were proved wrong when Browne connected with his target audience. Customers enthusiastically embraced his quietly innovative designs and appreciated the fine tailoring and craftsmanship. 


Suit Ensemble (photo by AB Images)
Thom Browne, Fall/Winter 2013/14
Gift of Thom Browne, New York
2013.1249.1A-K; 2013.1260.1A/E  

Thom Browne’s avant-garde designs are showcased in the current FIDM Museum exhibition ManMode: Dressing the Male Ego. The company graciously gifted the Museum with one complete look from its Fall/Winter 2013/14 season, including the accessories that were used on the runway but not sold in stores. This particular collection incorporated distinct Amish influences inspired by Browne’s upbringing in rural Pennsylvania. Amish references in the ensemble on display include a low-fitting hat, somber color palette, quilting, and star motifs (traditionally used to decorate barns). The models even staged a mock barn-raising, a grand theatrical presentation typical of Thom Browne’s shows.[9] Browne was not the only designer channeling an austere Amish sensibility in the years following the global economic crisis. Dior Homme, Yohji Yamamoto, and Ann Demeulemeester, among others, were similarly drawn to the simple living of the Amish community, a visual reaction to the world’s sudden austerity.[10]


Amish design details from Thom Browne's suit ensemble.

Thom Browne has become one of the most influential menswear designers of the 21st century. Even traditional, long-established brands such as Brooks Brothers adapted to his nuanced tailoring, collaborating with Browne for eight years on their successful Black Fleece collection. He received the CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year Award in 2006, 2013, and 2016; Michelle Obama presented him with the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in 2012, just before wearing one of his striking coats to the Presidential Inauguration in January 2013. Though the business plans to increase its women's line in the coming years, Browne will never stray far from the tailored menswear that brought him into the spotlight. Don't expect to see any changes in his personal schoolboy style either; according to the designer, "People think wearing a uniform makes you less interesting, but I think the opposite.”[11]

Thom Browne Fall 2013

Thom Browne at the finale of his Fall/Winter 2013/14 runway presentation. Photo by Marcus Tondo, courtesy of


[1] Jean Scheidnes, “Browne Talks Design and Commerce,” Women’s Wear Daily, March 26, 2010.

[2] David Colman, “A New Trend for Men’s Wear,” The New York Times, October 19, 2006.

[3] Jessica Iredale, “Thom Browne Prefers to Be Seen and Not Heard,” Women’s Wear Daily, September 9, 2015.

[4] Thom Browne Biography, Business of Fashion,

[5] Iredale, “Thom Browne Prefers to Be Seen and Not Heard.”

[6] Guy Trebay, “Being Thom Browne: His Moment is Now,” The New York Times, February 8, 2013.

[7] Amy Larocca, “The Dapper Mr. Browne,” New York Magazine, March 22, 2014.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Trebay, “Being Thom Browne: His Moment is Now.”

[10] Cathy Horyn, “Amish Fashion Week,” The New York Times, January 23, 2011.

[11] Colman, “A New Trend for Men’s Wear,”

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