Once upon a time the intelligentsia lent credence to the art of dressing well.
Sartorial history from time immemorial is suitably explored today by culture critics including the estimable G. Bruce Boyer, author/designer Alan Flusser and Ivy Style curator Christian Chensvold.
However, George Frazier holds the crown. His acerbic 1960 Esquire commentary, The Art of Wearing Clothes, defined remains of the day. Alden Whitman’s June 15, 1974 New York Times obit defined the man, “…a prose stylist of wit, pungency and elegance whose work appeared in magazines and newspapers over the last 40 years.”
Arnold Gingrich, editor and co-founder of Esquire Magazine called Frazier an arbitrator of elegance, “He had a crotchety, testy integrity that insisted on the best and only the best.”
Frazier was often seen around Boston faultlessly turned out even to the white carnation in his buttonhole. The Boston Globe described him, “fueled with whiskey and cigarettes to pass the night’s hours in jazz dens and night clubs and then go home and write.”
Frazier was a pal of Charlie Davidson, co-owner of The Andover Shop who often contributed to his immaculate wardrobe. Frazier offered snarky remarks in several columns downgrading both Paul Press and the Press family business. My father believed the enmity was fueled after a drunken encounter between Frazier and a sober Paul Press in the basement of the Cambridge store at one of the legendary J. Press Yale/Harvard pre-game football parties.
Ivy Style blogger Christian Chensvold replanted the Ivy garden for me several years ago posting Frazier’s seminal essay, The Art of Wearing Clothes. Frazier listed “some of the men unquestionably among the ‘best dressed’ in the United States. Frazier also recounted the history of Ivy shops reporting former J. Press employees founding their own retail establishments. Describing Chipp, “unlike J. Press resists such gimmicks as lining the breast pocket of a jacket with foulard that can be turned inside-out to serve as a handkerchief.” Ouch!
Here’s Frazier’s best dressed list. J. Press barely made the squad via a favored twosome:
J. Anthony Boalt—At thirty-two, Boalt, of the class of ’50 at Yale, is the youngest and one of the most handsome men on the list. A businessman in New York, he resides in Greenwich, Connecticut. His tailor: J. Press
Ahmat M. Ertegun—A jazz authority and president of prospering Atlantic Records, Ertegun was born in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1923 and was educated abroad and at St. John’s College in Annapolis. Dedicated to chic living, he has a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. He buys ready-made suits at J. Press (around $100 each and has them recut (for around $50) by Martin Kalaydjian, the legendary valet of the Algon-quin Hotel in New York.
As much as I disdain Mr. Frazier’s put-down of my father and our then family business, I share his admiration for what today seems to be a lost art, “The Art of Wearing Clothes.”
Fascinating! I always eagerly looked forward to George Frazer’s columns in the Boston Globe. They were the only thing worth reading in that rag. He also did a weekly 3 minute spot after the local evening news on Channel 4, (WBZTV). George’s combination of satire and sarcasm, with which he would prick the pomposity of the plutocrats was most amusing. I fear that we shall not again see his like.
I still have, somewhere, a copy of the legendary liner notes GF wrote for an LP of Lee Wiley singing Rodgers and Hart songs. And I have seen, somewhere, a to-me scandalous photo of him in bell bottoms, with a lot of hair. The Esquire that he wrote for represented an approach to life and an appreciation and cultivation of taste, integrity and intelligence that don’t seem to exist any more. Thanks to J. Press and a few other shops, including my home town example, Fairclough & Co. in Charlotte, for trying to maintain at least the sartorial part.
As I compose this, I am reflecting on recent “Zoom” meetings where most participants were in various states of dress or undress. Even after 9 months of doing this I cannot help but ponder must be they don’t have mirrors. I have been asked countless times why I bother to get “dressed” to which I reply, “It’s whatever the day happens to be” It is almost disheartening to see what has become of business dress. When I was first started wearing coats and ties I had an older owner of a men’s store tell me to always think of my dress as a painting. The suit is the frame, the shirt the canvas and the tie and pocket square the painting. The shine on the shoes is the gallery. Everyday for the last 25 years I have taken 1 final look at my art. With every passing day I quietly hope that some sort of self-pride returns to the business world. On an aside Mr. Press, your closing comment on the slight against your family and still accepting can be summed up with, “the quality of mercy is mightiest in the mightiest.”
In the early ’60s it was fashionable for the fraternity boys at DePauw to sandpaper their new OCBD collars before first wearing to give them an old-money look.
Cousin David O’Brasky is indeed live, well & very much with us, his vivacity totally sustained.
I still have an original Esquire with that article. It was about much more than just dressing well.
GF was my inspiration for so many years on matters of style. Proud to be friends with his son.
I am interested in knowing your thoughts about the "Dress for Success " book written in the mid 1970s I believe. While not specifically endorsing J.Press, the author does recommend dressing in an Ivy League manner. Coming from a Working class background. I found the book quite useful in proper business dressing.
Wonder if David O’Brasky’s (Press family, methinks) still with us?
I knew him at Esquire years ago . , .
Never a sartorial paragon, David would enjoy the conversation here . . .
i had a store charge account at JPress in the late ’60’s//early ’70’s. iif you are the same Richard Press, i remember you as always being very nice to me., a non-Ivy leaguer from Far Rockaway. i bought two silk and wool sport coats at that time, , which were discarded in an ill-advised clear out, which i still regret. i remember Chipp as well, also sadly missed. i think that my dress sup days at work are behind me, but i did seek to reach the standards described in your blog. Best, AEG
I’ll take Mr. Boyer’s good taste and civilized comments any day of the week.