In 1954 LIFE Magazine declared New Haven home of the Ivy League Look proclaiming, “Sometimes regarded as more of a club than a clothes shop, J. Press is delighted rather than dismayed that its look is now capturing the country.”
Though it is closely associated with Old Blue, J. Press was hardly the only purveyor of collegiate clothing surrounding the Yale campus. Retail tailoring was sparse at the turn of the twentieth century in New Haven when David T. Langrock opened his shop in a mock Tudor building on the central corner of York and Elm. Mr. Langrock, an enterprising retailer, was also a savvy real estate operator. The majestic Sterling Memorial Library was built on land he had acquired and which he subsequently sold to Yale. Langrock in 1950 had branches in Providence, Boston, New York and Washington DC, but when the lights of Ivy Style began to dim closed its branches leaving New Haven to concentrate on its still thriving store on Nassau Street in Princeton.
Arthur M. Rosenberg started his custom tailor shop in 1898. Within a few years he gauged campus style trends and shrewdly adapted the popular Brooks Brothers’ No.1 Sack Suit to the original boxy Rosenberg pattern. He relentlessly gathered a talented sales and tailoring staff and bought adjacent buildings on Chapel Street to support workrooms for more than 50 tailors.
By The Roaring Twenties “Rosey” was the foremost custom clothier in New Haven and the largest producer of custom tailored clothing in the United States. The fact that Jacobi Press finally caught up with him in the late 1930s was demonstrated by my grandfather’s selection as President of the Custom Tailor’s Association of America.
Langrock, Rosenberg and Press taught their staffs to drape clients in the right District Checks adopting their vernacular as if they prepped at Groton rather than New Haven High. The Wasp transformation occasionally included a name change. Lenny Levine became Leonard Lisle, hosiery namesake. Sidney Weinstein transmogrified into Sid Winston. So it was with the Feinstein boys. Jack Feinstein’s brother Bill Fenn. Stars at Langrock they departed to found Fenn-Feinstein in the early 1930s. They provided dogged competition for their next door neighbor J. Press until the company lost its luster when the family business was sold in the late 1950s.
Many Ivy League clothiers were former J. Press employees. The exodus began in Cambridge in the late 1930s. Mort Sills and Jonas Arnold left Press and opened up Chipp on Harvard Square. Sills left shortly thereafter to start an exclusive New York custom tailor enclave. A complicated journey ensued as Chipp opened briefly in New Haven before reopening in 1947 in New York upstairs from The Gamecock, a trendy 44th Street saloon.
Arnold soon joined new partners, Lou Prager and Sidney Winston. Prager had managed the Press store in Princeton that closed during World War II, and Winston represented Press at Williams, Dartmouth and many northeastern boarding schools. Chipp mirrored Press and Feinstein, but brought more flair that even included logo emblem jock straps. Sid Winston served an honor roll of customers from Cafe Society, the corporate power elite, and top echelons of government, eventually outfitting President Kennedy and much of his retinue in The White House.
Continuing the merry-go-round, roadman Ken Frank, along with fellow Chipp playmates Mike Fers and talented fitter Pete D’Annunzio, started Lord of New York, next door to Chipp and upstairs from J. Press. Lord had some success for a decade siphoning off an edge of the establishment crowd. Running full circle, Mack Dermer and Sam Kroop, Midwestern and West Coast J. Press road-men, took over Arthur M. Rosenberg and gave it a good run in Langrock’s original New Haven premises.
This is not meant to be a history thesis, but solely a mémoire growing up inhaling fumes of the Heyday smoke in New Haven. The old names are ghosts of the past laying practically next to one another in the Whalley Avenue cemetery.
But for J.Press, the future beckons bright as cranes and shovels gear up for the new J. Press building about to be constructed on the same hallowed grounds where it all began— 262 York Street.
At 86 and long gone from New Haven (I live now in Cambridge, which I believe New Haven wanted to become but lacked a suburb like Boston to sustain the transformation)and remember the 1950s there with fondness. I was struck this morning by the realization I had not seen or heard the name Sam Kroop in sixty years! He was a lovely man and I hope he had a good run. I delight in Richard Press’s recollections of the days of yore.