Cynosure of American Style
Since 1915 the Brooks Brothers headquarters stood entrenched on 346 Madison Avenue, the Rock of Gibraltar, warp and woof of establishment power.
Brooks Brothers even motivated my grandfather, the eponymous J. Press to march me across Madison Avenue from his second-floor shop to their Boy’s department for my Bar Mitzvah suit some seventy years ago. The salesmen on the first floor knew him well, bowing to him as he as if he were royalty. Soon after trying on my boy’s size 14 grey flannel suit, he paid for it in cash, trooping back to his shop across the street where he tore off the offending label, affixing his signature one in place. Grandpa proceeded to pin and chalk the suit preparing me for my fashionable Torah presentation at the altar of Temple Mishkan Israel.
The turn of the 20th century New Haven retailers all borrowed the Brooks No. 1 sack suit and button-down collar shirts with David Langrock, Bill Fenn his brother Jack Feinstein, Arthur Rosenberg, Izzy White, Sam Rosenthal, Moe Maretz all “following suit.” Grandpa enlarged the Brooks apocrypha redefining his own version with a flap pocket on the OCBDs and raised notch lapels on suit jackets, sport coats and blazers all with signature center hook vents.
Recalling his days at Yale former Episcopal Archbishop of New York Paul Moore, Jr., in the memoir My Harvard, My Yale, credited Jacobi Press with doing more than anyone else to establish the Ivy Look. “His tweeds were a little softer and flashier than Brooks Brothers tweed,” Moore writes, “his ties a little brighter.”
Manufacturers and retailers nationwide got in the act including manufacturers Gant and Sero Shirt Makers in New Haven, Hathaway Shirts in Waterville, Maine, Troy Guild in upstate New York, suit makers Norman Hilton, Julie Hertling, Hickey Freeman, Linett, H. Freeman, Haspel Brothers, and Gordon-Ford.
LIFE Magazine, nevertheless, recognized the J. Press campus stores along with urban Brooks Brothers as progenitors of the Ivy League Look. The article heralded its 1954 coast-to-coast implosion by Main Street retailers.
Today J. PRESS expands 21st century resources rejuvenating popular styles honed during its long and illustrious history, currently serving the day to day and weekend requirements of our store and online clientele.
One block east of the now skeletal Rock of Gibraltar, side-by-side the Yale Club, together with our New Haven and Washington, DC shops, J.PRESS proudly retains the crown— Cynosure of American Style.
I have been a customer of Brooks Brothers since I was 12. I am 64.
They have not treated me right so I am changing to J. Press. You also have better quality garments. I know about garments.
I had Secret Service clearance to 3 Presidents and was in The Oval Office and the cabinet room that is right next door to the Oval Office.
I enjoy reading about the history of J. Press. Growing up and studying in the Boston area, I was well acquainted with the J. Press Cambridge store. I now reside in Connecticut and have enjoyed shopping at the New Haven location. I admire the J. Press signature logo and would find it interesting to learn about the story of its evolution. Thank you, in advance.
David M. Bass June 12, 2021
For those who remember the great Haberdashers in New York I would like to point out that Fenn & Feinstein sold Frank Brothers shoes in their store..
Just wish you had stores hete in the uk
I still wear the splendid warm elegant herringbone overcoat with a voluminous fur collar that my father bought at Fenn-Feinstein in the 1960’s in New Haven. The coat is in such good condition that it looks as if had been purchased yesterday — so does the Loden coat with brown leather buttons that my father also bought many years ago, and the durable raincoat that he purchased at Gentree’s on York Street decades ago. Gentree’s, White’s (for ladies), Gamer, Hunter-Haig and Rosenberg, among others, were the proud satellites — tailors— in New Haven that revolved around the bright sartorial sun of J. Press.
Needless to say, now most college (?) students — especially in the Ivy League — intentionally dress as if they want to look like dissolute beggars. They are “woke” into a stupor.
My Mother introduced my Brother and I to JPress in Cambridge when we were in High School. My favorite story was that I wore my Shaggy Dog Sweater and Blue Oxford Button Down for 2 years in Morocco while in the Peace Corps from 1967-69 and they lasted albeit with some holes to the end. When I returned home , I found out my Mother had given away my favorite cashmere sport coat to my best friend in college -he refused to give it back!
A most interesting article about the ivy soft shoulder look,still preferred by many.The one manufacturer/marketer
not included was Grieco Bros/Southwick which was among the best with their Warwick and Andover models.
As I recall,they were a source of the Brooks 346 line at one time.
Frank York was my kindly salesman on York Street, New Haven. The somewhat brasher, but charming Gabe, was my brother’s. Both should be remembered. J. Press is a family affair. My just-out-of-college suits all came from J. Press. The traditional required suits for my 6’3+", 180 lb. frame to be reconfigured with a dramatic narrowing of the jacket waist, and a separation of the waistband from the trouser’s and re-cutting of the pants. The tailoring was done with care and expertise. Sport jackets were (and are) my favorites, especially those made of “Donegal Mist” cloth. May New Haven institutions, J. Press and Richard’s stories (along with Louis’ Lunch), continue to thrive and bring joy to those that appreciate the better things in life.
The flap pocket shirt has an affect that far. exceeds its physical dimension.
J.Press clothing-I am wearing your charcoal gray suit today-is simply the best. Obviously, Frsnk Sinatra and Cary Grant knew a good thing. The company has,hopefully,adapted to our crazy world and thrived. Thank you for your recollections-I thoroughly enjoy every one. Keep the tradition alive!
…and we are all grateful.
My father grew up in Glenridge, NJ and was a J. Press guy before marrying my mother(post WWII)and moving below the Mason-Dixon Line. I have made a few small purchases over the years when in NYC or Cambridge.
I very much enjoy these pieces and happy you are still doing well.
What a wonderful jaunt down memory lane coupled with the mention of several wonderful tailoring names. Of these, the only ones I see remaining are possibly – H. Freeman and Hickey Freeman. Potentially, Haspel remains on the seersucker front?
In a pinch, the old Sero OCBD shirts were an acceptable replacement for J. Press or even BB (The eventual Kmart of England).
For Mr. Press, I imagine it was nice when he grew into a men’s 36 or 38 as he grew older and could were the family brand. I may have mentioned this in a previous post, but I was in NYC in late January, ‘20. When I went across the street to “346” and walked all of the floors, I mentioned to my son the only thing I saw worth buying were a couple of pieces of furniture that weren’t for sale. Albeit, the old J. Press store across the street was gone…and Chipp, too. However, about 30 minutes later much plastic money was burned in the new location.
Recently for my other son’s college graduation, I purchased three (3) of the summer sport coats. On that appointed day, it was 92 in the sun. Needless, to say, it was nice to have the comfort of a Madras patch jacket. Interestingly, the graduates commented more than the parents.
All the best! May you continue to grow and prosper in these times of slovenly dress and an utter lack in personal pride!
Thank for the enlightenment on your history as well as the history behind the Ivy “look”. Much appreciated. As a recommendation, perhaps expand your stories to include discussion about the rise and fall of US based men’s clothing companies. All the companies you mentioned must have interesting histories and personalities that help shape the modern clothing industry. Being part of the old guard, I would love to know more about how the clothing I wear evolved. I’m still proudly wearing a tie every day!