Generational Style

A Legacy of Professional Consistency

Sometimes the acorn doesn’t fall very far from that old oak tree. Sometimes it falls from the tree, tumbles down a hill, floats down the creek, and rolls through the woods to an entirely other place. On the whole, each generation aspires to re-invent itself, however subtle the variance from parental influence. Putting that into practice, the more traditional the environment, the more “subtle” the difference between generations. In the case of the Smith family from Kentucky, the theme of their wardrobes and who they choose to work with is one of professional consistency.

When asked about their favorite garments of all-time, Brooken, an attorney, says his favorite item is his seersucker suit. His uncle, Raymond, genuinely enjoys French cuff shirts and well-polished shoes. And Russell – let’s just say he shall not soon be separated from his camel hair blazer.



The Smith family has operated a family business and practiced law for three generations. The first brother, Russell, Jr., became a client in the late 70s, followed by Raymond in the early 80s. Just as their business and the law have been family traditions, so has their Tom James clothier come to be.

As Tom James approaches a half century of serving business leaders and successful professionals, we are gratified to have become, for many of our clients, a family tradition. In previous generations, one rite of passage into manhood was a visit with the father’s clothier or tailor. While less common today, for generations it was normal for a young man to purchase his attire from the same place his father, and possibly his grandfather, did. As our clients mature and pass through different phases of life, we are finding that second and third generation clients are a regular occurrence, including sons in law.

In the case of the Smith family, when each of the first brother’s sons graduated from high school, each Dad introduced his son to his Tom James clothing professional. The baton had been passed. The first order? A navy suit, a navy blazer outfit with 2 trousers, four custom shirts, four ties, and two pairs of shoes with matching belts for each. This became their “off to college” wardrobe. Going forward, their parents bought each son an outfit on their birthday and at Christmas for several years. As a result, upon graduation, they had a solid professional wardrobe.

Both sons have become clients in their own right. One has, as he moved around the country, worked with three different Tom James veterans – Herb Melton, Art Guillory, and Ray Freeman. He commented that the constant was dealing with an expert clothier, whose treatment was a consistent expression of what he sees as the Tom James ethos, “It was always what was best for me and my needs. It was never about who would get a commission, but just getting what I needed.”

Regrettably, Russell has passed away, but his sons and their uncle continue to operate the business, while each pursues an individual career in business or law. All three recently met with their clothier, Herb Melton, to reflect on their experience. They agreed that the ease of shopping, the superior fit and quality, and, above all, the level of professional direction they receive, make Tom James an ongoing Smith family tradition. They also agreed that their clothier has had more influence on their style of dress than anyone else. The Smith family wardrobe advice includes:

  1. “Buy quality. It costs less in the long run.”
  2. “Black tie means ‘black tie!’”
  3. “Buy good shoes, use trees, and keep them shined.”
  4. “If you must wear a suit without a tie, then you wear a really great shirt! (White or blue pinpoint oxford just doesn’t get it done in this case.)”

To a man, they all said that attention to detail is important: like polished shoes, or a well-tied tie. They all agree, as well, that classic style and quality are worth the additional investment, because they last, providing a better return, and are much more enjoyable throughout the life of the garment. The fact that their Tom James professional comes to them, when and where they prefer, is an added bonus.

At Tom James, we are thankful for the privilege of serving wonderful families like these down through the generations. The clothier who serves the Smith family has many other second and third generation clients. He takes great delight in introducing successive generations to the enjoyment of looking their best by wearing the best – Tom James. He says that it is one of the main reasons he continues his Tom James career, which is approaching the forty year milestone.

How does your personal style compare with your father or mentor? Are you close to home or somewhere down your own distinct path?

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