The Times They Are A Changin'

The current pandemic circumstances require a new mindset regarding what to wear. Are former rules of dress somewhere over the rainbow?

Several years ago co-author Joe Cosgriff and I (see previous column Rebel Without A Suit) penned an introduction for a book never published. Here’s my do-over that still rings true today. Believe it or not, there exists ample photographic evidence of adult males wearing business suits and hats to attend professional baseball games as late as the late-1960s. But by the turn of the millennium adult males of the same vintage could be seen wearing track suits to church, jeans and shirts to the Broadway theatre, and cargo shorts and high-top sneakers to European cathedrals. What will be the story if and when everything opens up again?

A few years earlier corporations had begun introducing Casual Fridays into the work mix, an exercise that tapped into many of our citizen’s worst instincts in informal dress, creating the need for hundreds of human resource professionals to draft eight-page memos defining company policies around the word “casual.”

For many of us it is no coincidence that when the United States held the respect and admiration of nearly the entire world, it had a population base of citizens who dressed the part. This is no longer the case even prior to the pandemic when prominent voices called out their fellow Americans who choose to stretch the limits of casual dress in public places.

On October 4, 2013, HBO’s Bill Maher launched into a full five-minute rant—“When You Leave Your House, We Can See You”—strongly suggesting that Americans, many of whom “won’t be happy until they can go to the mall in a diaper,” could go a long way toward recapturing a common sense of pride and purpose “if we stop going to Target in pajama bottoms.”

I formally entered the family business upon graduation from Dartmouth in 1959 and was front-and-center to witness the Heyday of the Ivy League style, the “Mad Men” era of 1960s and early 1970s, and the store’s demographic switch from dressing college students to selling ready-to-wear suits to a rapidly growing corporate community. I was also working at the store as first wave of baby boomers began to actively reject what they looked upon as the confining and conforming wardrobes of their fathers in favor of a style that came to feature radically more colorful and casual apparel.

“I don’t like the way you’re dressed,” Sinatra said.

“Hate to shake you up,” Ellison said, “but I dress to suit myself.

—A 1966 exchange with screenwriter Harlan Ellison, from “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” by Gay Talese

Will we ever return to a world of suits and ties at ballgames? I can state with confidence that we will not. A growing number of people also seem to intuitively recognize the need for at least a modest upgrade from the “People of Walmart.com” standard that exists for the clothing people are willing to wear in public.

In turbulent times the J.Press store windows offer people a fashion glimpse back to less complicated days, to a time when choices in clothing demonstrated respect for one’s institutions and surroundings. And it is through those same windows of the J. Press store in Manhattan where I look out onto a world in which style is slowly but unmistakably going out of style.

The song has ended but the melody lingers on.

 

RICHARD PRESS

 

32 comments

I grew up during the 1960’s. My father was an engineer of modest means. Nonetheless, he considered it part of being a professional to dress well. His sage advice as I was growing up was timeless, the relevant bit to this discussion being, “If you wish to be taken seriously from now on, you can no longer dress as an eight year old.” He passed away ten years ago, and I think about him every day.

Joe Slomski August 05, 2020

Obese ragamuffins waddle through the aisles of Walmart, while their offspring don shredded jeans, tattoos and piercings. This is just one facet of cultural decline so visible (and audible) today. Very sad for those of us who lived through better times. Thank you Mr. Press.

John August 04, 2020

Not yours truly pictured in sox & sandal grotesque.

Richard Press August 04, 2020

I do feel like many of you, a dinosaur, but am proud to not follow the crowd and look like a slob. American men are some of the worst dressed on the planet, not by accident, but by Marxist influence to destroy everything traditionally American!

Jim M. August 03, 2020

Great read.! I sure hope that’s not you in the lower right hand corner of the photo. Socks and Sandals. Really?!!!🤣

Chip Clark August 03, 2020

As my Jewish grandma used to say “Think Yiddish, Dress British”.

Alex Portnoy August 03, 2020

Having been fortunate enough to attend and live at a prep school in Southern California, we were required to wear coats and ties to dinner every night and the school jacket with the crest on Sundays (of course with the required blue and gold regimental tie as well). Tying a tie became like brushing my teeth. It also taught me to always have blazers and suits in my closet. I wish everyone had that opportunity but, certainly respect exactly what you say above.
When I was very young, my parents had me wear a coat and tie on the airplane to fly anywhere. Have you been on an airplane in the last 5 years? It is stunning. I do not want to see people’s toes or armpits. I still dress up to fly and find that I get the extra nod at the airport when things go upside down. Although, of course, haven’t flown for months now.
I also attended my first rock concert (Beatlemania at the Greek Theater in Griffith Park)… you guessed it… in a coat and tie. I would not necessarily wish that on anyone but, do hope this time inside and at home, gives people the opportunity to refine and upgrade their wardrobe… and of course….can’t think of a better place to do so….

Todd McNichols August 03, 2020

I have a black and white photograph of my father taken at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Tower Terrace on Memorial Day 1958. He is wearing a starched Van Huesen white broadcloth straight collar shirt, four-in-hand silk tie, and a straw fedora hat. Also on that day we saw Jayne Mansfield, dressed in white fur, and her husband, fellow Hoosier, Mr. Universe Mickey Hargatay.

Robert W. Emmaus August 03, 2020

I’m a liberal Democrat, but enjoy looking like a Republican, thanks to your store.

I Chuck Porter August 03, 2020

I’m happy to report that coat and tie is still requisite attire for fraternity men at Ole Miss football games. While not to the extent as it was when I was a member of Kappa Sigma in the early 1980’s, it is a tradition that has survived the years. Back in the day, the 3 home games held in Oxford were weekend affairs. In addition to the game, each fraternity had band parties on Friday and Saturday night so a weekend date with a cute sorority girl had to be planned well in advance. For game day, a white button down shirt and khaki pants laundered with heavy starch were the standard. Regimental ties, blue blazers and Walkover dirty bucks completed the uniform. An ample supply of “school spirit” was optional, but highly suggested. Seems like yesterday!

Graham Kimbrough August 03, 2020

My Grandfather, born in 1900, used to say, “Eat for yourself, dress for others.”

Steven Sansone August 03, 2020

David, are you & I twins separated at birth? I, too, always wear a fedora with my jacket & tie—hat makes the man, don’tcha know.

Mr. Press, thank you again for the wonderful story, the insights, and your opinions.

Philip August 03, 2020

Mr Press
You hit the nail on the head. It all started when Kennedy did away with his hat and America followed suit.. I still dress up everyday wear a jacket and tie reguardless it makes me feel good. In the summer a jacket but no tie but look presentable to my customers.
I always felt if you want respect and people to respond to you you have to look the part.
Don’t change please !

Sam Bacco August 03, 2020

Another great column, Mr. Press. “[A] world in which style is slowly but unmistakably going out of style.” Indeed. I am so thankful for the handful of traditional clothiers still extant. I just picked up from my local tailor a suit that I ordered online from J. Press a week ago, sleeves adjusted, trousers cuffed and ready to go. I hope to take it on its maiden voyage to the office on Wednesday. Never say die.

Charlottesville August 03, 2020

AMEN!!!

Frederick E. Carter August 03, 2020

There are, as you suggest, reasons to tie the decline in proper attire for an occasion to a general laxness and lassitude in our national life. As T.S. Eliot noted, the world ends “not with a bang, but a whimper.” We (too many of us) have lost the simple art of returning shopping carts to the rack in the parking lot. I am teaching online this coming semester, in a coat and J Press tie.

william bedford clark August 03, 2020

O tempora O mores
As with, William, above, I too dress to please myself.

Albert August 03, 2020

I remember a day in late August 1980 when my oldest daughter was twelve and just starting junior high school. She came to me with a copy of Lisa Bernbach’s “Official Preppy Handbook” and wanted my input on upgrading her wardrobe so she would be dressed “properly” as she phrased it. Forty years later she’s a lawyer, assistant attorney general, and still dresses the part. She often comments on what she sees as a direct relationship between people who come to court sloppily, shabbily clothed and their lack of respect for the institution or the judges. Many have the means to dress better, some don’t. For the ones with the means she says there’s no excuse. I suppose we could also comment on middle age women who try desperately to dress like their teenage daughters, but we’ll leave that alone for now.. I also recall a story J. Press sales clerk Jerry Haber told me about trying to fit Sinatra’s bodyguards in Harris Tweed jackets when Frankie insisted they needed to class up their wardrobes. Maybe sometime you could expand on that story for us? Keep the stories coming, Richard

Richard Landerman August 03, 2020

I attended my very first Yankee’s game in May 1962 with my grandfather, Hans. He was dressed in a dark navy suit, white shirt, necktie and fedora. I learned early about the value of fine men’s dress and carry on that responsibility today. Before the pandemic I was in the air weekly and still travel in a sport coat, at the very least. I continue to be surprised (and disappointed) how casual (read sloppily) and unkempt most are these days. Has someone removed all the mirrors from our homes!

Dante J Natale August 03, 2020

My fondest memories in late ’50s when flying every man had a sport coat/suit and a tie on especially so in first class and every lady was wearing a hat.Ah good old days!!

Vince August 03, 2020

It was so cold one day last winter, most of the customers in Walmart were wearing two pairs of pyjamas.

Jesse Livermore August 03, 2020

The building is about 75% empty, but in an essential business segment, I am allowed to go to my office albeit literally under solitary confinement except for an occasional trip to the “washroom.” Nonethless, each and every day I leave home with a coat and a tie. No khaki pants, but true business attire and here in the south many days in a seersucker suit. Dean Frank Gilliam remarked to my father following the war, “Gentleman, we will look like gentleman and be attired according and that includes coats and ties.” Although he was retired during my freshman year, he made a very similar remark to me. One floor up is another man of my vintage and a great follower of our dress code having attended the same institution. We stand out among those in far more slovenly attire…often times we are labeled “old men.” Are we better or superior, most certainly not! However, we do take pride in our appearance. I genuinely have a very difficult time taking a professional person seriously when they arrive in attire that looks like they picked it off the floor from the night before in their fraternity house bedroom. May J. Press be able to hold on long enough for some semblance of conventional dress to return to a portion of the population. Maybe the man in the “grey flannel suit” will return in some shape form or fashion.

Gerry Malmo August 03, 2020

“To a time when choices in clothing demonstrated respect for one’s institutions and surroundings.” I turned 16 in 1967 and was a sophomore in high school. Throughout high school and my university years I never wore and did not own any jeans or sneakers. I did have a pair of white tennis shoes that were worn only for tennis. This was my style through my working career and even now as I am retired. Always wore a sport coat, navy blazer or a cardigan sweater, OCBD’s, khaki chinos, wool trousers and proper shoes. At 69 I long for the days when people were proud and presentable. Thank you for these article and refreshing my memories.

J. Richard Trotter August 03, 2020

Mr. Press,
As I read your column this morning, I can only echo the sentiments of the others. I have been wearing a suit and tie to work at my law office for 37 years. I sometimes substitute a navy blazer or tweed jacket on Friday. Right now, I am dressed in J. Press gray striped seersucker suit, white button down shirt, gray knit tie, black derby shoes, and no socks. It is 90 degrees after all!
Regards,
Arthur D. Frank, JR

Arthur Frank August 03, 2020

As always, this column is informative, reflective, nostalgic, and very well written.
As a northerner entering The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Fall of 1972 as a graduate student, I was very surprised to see the number of male undergrads wearing three-piece suits to football games; their dates wore long dresses — everyone looked superb! The after-game frat parties were the ultimate goal, and the sense of southern sartorial tradition was abundant. (I also remember when a young man named Alexander Julian, who owned a men’s clothing shop in Chapel Hill, decided to close his store and emigrate to New York City to become a fashion designer — the locals laughed, but Alexander had the last laugh as he became highly successful with his ‘Colours’ line of clothing.)
Suits and ties may not be appropriate for every situation and circumstance in the United States today, but they are still appropriate for many. It is indisputable, however, that neatness, cleanliness, and quality clothing chosen with care and worn with pride are always appropriate. Dressing well sets one apart, and commands respect.

Ross Ellison August 03, 2020

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