W. JOHN GLANCY knew something was wrong. One morning this March, he slipped on a Brooks Brothers shirt, just as he’d done for the previous 12 years. But when the 76-year-old retired lawyer slid his reading glasses into the shirt pocket, they didn’t sit right. “It felt like there was something in the pocket, like maybe I had a crumpled-up piece of paper or something,” he said. “But I looked and there was nothing in there.” Mr. Glancy went to his closet, took out one of the over 30 similar Brooks Brothers button-ups he’s amassed over the years and compared the pocket. On his older shirts, the chest pocket was 5 inches, but on the new iterations he’d purchased that month, the pockets were 4.5 inches. His favorite shirt had been corrupted by the very company he’d come to love.
What Mr. Glancy experienced is a common conundrum for any exacting consumer. You find a clothing item you rely on–the perfect pair of pants that never rides up, a button-down shirt in the ideal weight of cotton, shoes that feel comfortable fresh out of the box–then one day, inexplicably and without warning, the brand you trusted changes the design. The pants are now too tapered, the shirt’s fabric too light, the shoes don’t accommodate your toes. And sometimes, your go-to item is not just altered but discontinued.
Charlie Lex, 27, a consultant in Washington, D.C., dealt with that admittedly first-world problem recently when he tried to replace his favorite jeans by Danish outfit Norse Projects. “They were basically everything I wore casually for two and a half years,” said Mr. Lex. But eventually, the crotch sprung holes. He went to buy a fresh pair, but discovered that Norse Projects had discontinued the jeans. When contacted for this article, a spokesperson for the design team explained that the jeans were a “seasonal style from fall winter 2014 and we have since changed our denim program.” Currently, the label has no plans to bring it back.
Mr. Lex scoured Google and eBay for a stray pair, to no avail. I asked if he’d ever considered contacting the company himself, but he said he hadn’t thought it worth it. He was just a solitary, lowly customer who wouldn’t merit a custom pair. So instead, he put a Herculean level of effort into finding a replacement. Mr. Lex measured his Norse Project jeans, noting the thigh width, inseam and hem width, then he ordered five or six pairs from different brands. Once those arrived, he grabbed the measuring tape again to find the pair closest to his beloved, expired jeans. The most suitable substitute? A cut from Japanese label Studio D’Artisan. Though that pair’s “actual denim is probably nicer,” he admitted that “if I had the option I would’ve just bought the old ones.”
Perhaps, though, Mr. Lex should have reached out to Norse Projects when he first realized his jeans were obsolete. The brand is often the best place to start. Yes, it’s unlikely it will make you a custom one-off of a discontinued item, but if enough customers complain, the protests could sway the company, just as fans of TV shows like “Brooklyn 99” and “The Mindy Project” have successfully waged campaigns to save their shows from cancellation. In 2013, after customers griped that J.Crew’s recent clothing designs were too trend-driven, the brand’s then-CEO Mickey Drexler conceded to a writer at Forbes magazine, that the brand “had perhaps strayed too far from the classics.” A year later, when a writer for fashion website the Cut bemoaned online that her favorite J. Crew swimsuit had become extinct, Mr. Drexler agreed to bring back the design.
For his part, Mr. Glancy of the Small Pocket Situation found a suitably capacious alternative in dress shirts from Charles Tyrwhitt, a Brooks Brothers rival. Despite the shirts’ 5-inch pockets, he was not as excited about them. So perturbed was he by Brooks Brothers’ apparent pocket stinginess that he emailed me, hoping I could help. As someone who experienced genuine bewilderment when my favorite ⅞-length track pants (perfect for not-so-tall sorts like me) vanished from Adidas’s website, I could sympathize with Mr. Glancy’s specificity. So much so that I decided to contact Brooks Brothers myself. In an email, Guy Voglino, vice president of global brand merchandising, explained that “the pockets to our woven dress shirts and sport shirts were modified slightly in Fall 2016 to avoid a disproportionate pocket size.” He added that he doesn’t see the brand reverting to the old dimensions: “We haven’t received negative feedback [on] our side.” Until now that is. Perhaps if more men who share Mr. Glancy’s disappointment make it known, those shirts will make a comeback on Brooks Brothers’ racks.
The one guaranteed safeguard against ending up deprived of your prized style possession is hoarding multiples of it, wallet-gutting as this strategy may be. For years, Ryan O’Connell, 31, a TV writer in Los Angeles, has worn the same narrow-cut, cotton-jersey white Acne Studios “Measure” T-shirt. “You put it on,” he said, “and it gives you 10 pounds of muscle. It takes away 10 pounds of fat. It’s a walking false advertisement for your body.” About two years ago though, he went into Acne’s Los Angeles store and learned that the brand was discontinuing this shirt. “I was genuinely shook. I was traumatized,” said Mr. O’Connell, who was so worried about coping without his favorite shirt that he spent $800 on white tees alone that day. The twist is that Acne didn’t actually discontinue the shirts–Mr. O’Connell’s experience does appear to have been a misinformed misadventure, as Acne Studios confirmed that the T-shirt is indeed a carryover style. Even still, with 30 of the white tees in his closet, he will never have to endure that “roller coaster” again.
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Write to Jacob Gallagher at Jacob.Gallagher@wsj.com