Rebel Without A Suit

The corona virus recession together with changing workplace fashion trends has brought Chapter 11 to several standbys that have lost their way. J. Press remains a paradigm of traditional values dedicated to serve the unique requirements of our demanding specialty store clientele.

Anti-corporate types who think they’re sticking it to the man don’t realize that they’ve been tools of sophisticated behind-the-scenes corporate marketing. They are only rebels without a suit, fattening the bottom lines of companies eager to sell them t-shirts and jeans.

Joe Cosgriff, co-author of “World On A String: A Musical Memoir” with jazz guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli, was introduced to me by a literary pal. From the first pitch we hit it off, agreeing to join forces on a book about menswear in America that ended up as our mini-book from Amazon, Rebel Without A Suit.

While the early roots of Casual Friday began when Londoners wore their riding clothes to work in advance of a weekend in the country, we officially start the clock in post-WWII Hawaii. Aloha shirts first made their way to places of business during the Aloha Week festival in 1947. The Hawaii Fashion Guild formalized the wearing of aloha shirts at the workplace in a marketing campaign that extended from 1962-1965, “for the sake of comfort and in support of the 50th state’s garment industry.”

Meanwhile, the practice began to drift over to the mainland, where Casual Friday was the perfect no-cost perk for companies to dispense, particularly during the recessions of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The first problem men faced was not knowing what to wear after being told they could shed their suits and ties. Predictably, their fashion choices ran the gamut, from suits and ties with red Converse sneakers to torn jeans with aloha shirts. Most human resource departments provided no written standards for what “casual” meant, but at least early on, they knew they didn’t like what they were seeing.

With the advent of the 100% casual workplace there are elements of rejecting the stiff clothes of the previous era, as well as a disproportionate desire for comfort in workplace attire, the real driver of Casual Office Wear.

Everyday appears to have been commerce that opted for the buck. Sell the boomers crap and price it up.

Top quote in the book: “Business casual said to the world that making money is so easy, any slob can do it.”

J. Press offers legit alternative.

 

RICHARD PRESS

15 comments

I rather like your attitude. Damn the torpedoes. Brought up my sons and grandsons and -daughters in that spirit. Stay the course – style and integrity don’t expire, even if a majority always defects for the latest fashion.

Pippin Bismarck July 21, 2020

I always look forward to these columns.Thank you. I practiced for 43 years with a law firm in the Midwest – 70 lawyers by the time I retired in early 2010. I was amused at the time (in the late 80’s, I think) when the senior partner appointed a committee to study whether we should have Casual Fridays. After nine months of study, the committee reported back, “No”. A few years later we did in fact permit the practice but initially the only guidance we were given (by the same senior partner) was what he called “Country Club Casual” which in his case seemed to be yellow slacks, grass green jacket and watermelon socks. No one else took his suggestion. Oh yes, he was a Yalie and a J P customer.

Walter Graff July 21, 2020

I’ve read this piece twice now, and I don’t see this piece taking shots at anyone. It seems to me to be rather matter of fact when it points out (extremely briefly) that some of its competitors are in dire financial straits because they lost their way, and tied that to the (poorly done) casualization of the workplace. The piece strikes me as being quite tasteful.

Daniel July 21, 2020

I was in Hawaii in 1969 when the bill was passed in the legislature mandating “Aloha” shirts on Fridays.Schools and businesses were almost forced to adhere to it.
Needless to say this was a big sales item for dept storesi.e. Liberty House(was bought out) and all of a sudden you had many Mom and Pop stores selling Aloha shirts all over the island in hotels like Kahala Hilton.But the funny thing was most of the shirts came from China not made in Hawaii.

Vincent McKelvey July 21, 2020

Sir, When you are from Philadelphia, a blue blazer is considered “casual” for Friday

Ozy Mandais July 21, 2020

Katherine – The lady doth protest too much, methinks. – Queen Gertrude, Hamlet

Brendan July 20, 2020

Always enjoy these pieces, but the tone of this one was just a little too schadenfreude-ish. Katherine is spot on in calling you out on it.

Michael July 20, 2020

And I thought “Business Causal” meant it was ok to miss deadlines!

Bill July 20, 2020

The feel of the fabric, the aroma of your salesmen’s cologne, the sense that I had been admitted to a temple devoted to some notion of what it means to be An Adult — that is what remains with me from my visits, as an adolescent, with my grandfather, to the old East 44th Street store. And it should go without saying that to celebrate an adversary’s misfortune, or even appear to do so — well, that is quite beneath the dignity of an adult, isn’t it? But thank you, sincerely, for dressing three generations of my family. You are the first, and still the best.

James July 20, 2020

Thank you Richard. I moved from London to San Francisco in 1980 and had only one suit, a Savile Row by Edward Sexton. A fellow English man introduced me to J Press – you had a store there for years – and I loved the the “boutique” feel, the soft oxford cottons and the genteel service. I had one of your cotton suits last years! I can’t afford anything right now – still working has as I lost all my money on Wall Street – but I will be back. I am so happy you are still in business – so much of my past and so many of the independent firms , in all lines of businesses, have gone. Keep on being yourselves ( but add a side vent jacket /suit and a mild spread collar, check out Budd’s of London “bankers” collar). My very best wishes.

John Cockcroft July 20, 2020

While casual Fridays may have been somewhat acceptable, what was being worn was not. I felt like every Friday I was attending a company picnic.

Dante J Natale July 20, 2020

The simple rule should be: if it doesn’t go to the dry cleaners it doesn’t come to the office.

Greg Thomas July 20, 2020

Whether it be a business suit, work uniform, or farm overalls, work is serious and requires serious clothes: clean, pressed, and non-tattered. Self respect and respect for our clients is what makes America great, now and in the future.

Robert W. Emmaus July 20, 2020

Daughter of a loyal customer of 60 years. Some of my fondest memories are of shopping with him at J. Press for over 30 of those years and learning more about proper tailoring, outfitting than most men I know. Everything I can purchase for myself in XS or S is in my wardrobe and every boyfriend or spouse has gone to be outfitted properly. I’ve developed my own special relationships with the younger staff.

I normally read these with interest and wax nostalgic.

This strikes me as very off note for a company that promotes traditional clothing and values. Taking shots at others when down — we know who they are and haven’t shopped there in years due to changes we don’t like — isn’t consistent with the J. Press tradition I know.

And you might want to do some current research on what an Aloha shirt symbolizes.

Still a loyal customer and fan of J. Press. Model those values here, please?

Katherine July 20, 2020

Casual dress, casual attitude, casual product.

Graham Clark July 20, 2020

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