I appreciate the ambiance of #menswear shoppes as much – or more – than the next guy. From the well-curated window display that draws you in off the street, to the mise en scène created within by the fixtures and the cultural artifacts strewn about on shelves and tables, it all comes together to reassure the customer that they’ve come to the right place.
The storefront provides the “feel” that must match the “look” that the label sells. The Filson flagship store in Seattle for example is stylized as some sort of hunting cabin – complete with fireplace and mounted moose head. Purveyors to the shirt-and-tie crowd tend be a little more refined in their “visual merchandising” opting for quilted leather wingbacks over rocking chairs, and towering bookcases over hunting trophies. Much like the clothing they sell – some merchants do this better than others.
For as long as I can remember law reporters have been a staple prop in just about every #menswear store of the trad or Ivy set. You can see them featured prominently in this image lifted from the J Press website, they’re also featured in the photo at the top of this post. I consider this incredibly interesting.
Though window displays and chino colours change with the season, these trusty bound sets of judicial opinions apparently never go out of style.
I really enjoy printed reporters. Although as a lawyer I rarely actually refer to them (almost everything is available online), and most law firms are now binning decades worth of these costly relics, I suppose there is something romantic about these sequentially numbered and uniform texts, with brightly coloured bands around their spines, that gives them a timeless aesthetic. But surely young men who share my sentiment represent a rather small sect of the #menswear market?
Furthermore I find it hard to believe that the legal crowd remains (if it ever was) the target market of so many brands and shoppes. Brooks Brothers must dress just as many bankers, doctors and consultants as they do lawyers. Yet year after year Brooks Brothers , J Press and even Banana Republic (to name a few) include law reporters in their advertisements and in-store displays.
Yes, lawyers and judges are habitual wearers of suits, ties, tweeds and cufflinks. Nevertheless I don’t think the #menswear public holds up the legal profession as a beacon of all that is right and proper with traditional dress. Though every now and then a legal drama does grace the airwaves (most recently USA Network’s Suits)that leads the masses to believe that all attorneys are charismatic and well-dressed individuals who spend much of their time just hanging out and looking crispy - for better or worse this is not actually true.
My guess is that legal reporters are a popular muse of merchandisers not because the profession they are affiliated with is particularly rakish, but because of the larger concepts they represent: establishment, tradition, conservative values, and higher learning. The fact that their existence in actual law offices is somewhat anachronistic I suppose only reinforces their symbolism. If you’re in the market for a navy blazer, an oxford cloth button-down, or a decent pair of brogues I’d wager that at least a couple of the aforementioned characteristics appeal to you.
(In the photo above you can see that instead of repurposing actual reporters destined for the landfill, Banana Republic decided to commission entire sets of fake books for their displays. A merchandising initiative as contrived and empty as the pages in the B.R. Reports.)
Interior decorators and set designers appropriated the legal reporter decades ago and turned these rather boring and utilitarian objects into vogue furnishings. Indeed, the sight of neat rows of reporters lining the shelves of Victorian-era homes, and the offices of the rich and powerful in movies and television has made them cliché – a visual shorthand for an enviable lifestyle enjoyed by the privileged. Deserved or not, the learned texts of other professions have not received such adoration from artists and designers, which is why this American Federal Reporter is in a Vancouver Brooks Brothers window and not an old edition of Gray’s Anatomy.