Lobbying JFK’s Pollster

Back in the early days of JFK’s Camelot Irving Press asked Lou Harris if he might suggest to his boss that J. Press succeed his recently fired custom tailor.

“Irving,” he replied, “I am President Kennedy’s pollster, not his fashion consultant.”

Lou Harris was a second or third cousin via marriage to Grandpa Jacobi Press’ sister. Family roots were well reflected by his immaculately tailored J. Press wardrobe. Growing up in New Haven he graduated Hillhouse High School a couple of years behind my dad, Paul Press.

Harris became the nation’s best-known 20th-century pollster who refined interpretive polling methods and took the pulse of voters and consumers through four decades of elections, wars, and social issues.

In 1960 Harris became the first presidential pollster working for the campaign of John F. Kennedy. Kennedy had initially hired Harris in 1958 for assistance with his campaign for re-election to the US Senate. Following that re-election, Harris’ polls helped prompt Kennedy to run for the presidency. He once estimated that he had done about $700,000 worth of polling for the Kennedy campaign continuing to poll for Kennedy during his presidential term.

In an earlier column I noted months after President Kennedy’s inauguration, “Tailor” Sam Harris (no relation to Lou) as he was condescendingly described in LIFE Magazine, disclosed the intimate wardrobe details of his most prominent customer. Harris concluded his comments with a benediction from hell, “He is the best dressed president since Grover Cleveland. We made his suits, too.” There were no more “happily-ever-afterings” in Camelot for Sam Harris.

A Connecticut newspaper leaked local gossip that York Street competitor Fenn-Feinstein, whose client roster included Kennedy brother-in-law Sargent Shriver and Gov. Abe Ribicoff might come on board.

Irving Press reached out to our J. Press regulars. Beside Lou Harris, our Kennedy circle included Charlie Bartlett, who introduced Jack to Jackie, longtime JFK intimate Chuck Spalding, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., FAA head Jeeb Halaby, foreign affairs advisor Bill Bundy, Kennedy personal photographer Mark Shaw and his chief economic advisor Walter Heller.

Chipp, whose owners got their start at J. Press and continued to retain their New Haven tailor shop won the contest by default. Their stalwart customers included JFK’s brother Bobby, brothers-in-law Peter Lawford and Steve Smith, and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. Sid Winston, his son Paul, and master fitter Bob DiFalco began to include the White House on their finished-garment schedule.

Chronological Feedback Loop: 

Ask not what you can do for your country.
Ask what you can do for New Haven tailors.

 

  

 

RICHARD PRESS

3 comments

Thank you for this fascinating history, Mr. Press. Always wondered what Jack wore in all those photos of Camelot. I suspect if J. Press had gotten his business, they would have indulged his tastes with 2- button, darted jackets?

Do Quixote September 23, 2022

I kid you not: back in the day 40 years ago when Belk’s in Greensboro had an unassuming men’s department with two career clerks, Mr. Brown and the man with the olive plaid suit, the man in the olive plaid suit sold countless items, measuring each customer and looking them over with his reading glasses, and occasionally revealing his subtle nicotine fragrance. Those Carolina days are long gone now, lost in the pretension of polo ponies and muscular models.

Robert W. Emmaus September 23, 2022

Great insightful story, please share more history and experience.

Terrance L. Reese September 23, 2022

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