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.
I always enjoy these stories! Yes what I wear in southern California-and in NYC and in Palm Beach are all different in many ways.
I miss the formality of the city, and yes people do definitely dress to suit themselves.
But believing history repeats it’s self- then with some adaptations – it will be fun to come back dressing up like my father and grandfathers did for evening baseball games-
And when I get back to NYC when I don’t have to have a 14 day quarantine- I can’t wait to actually shop in J.Press!
I also dress to please myself. A J.Press or similar style sport coat ,tailored trousers, pocket. square ,tie and leather Aldens or comparable shoes when I leave the house. I enjoy being well groomed. Many men like the “ Walmart people” style or dress like working farmhands or in their PJ’s ; it fits their character but not mine. I’m glad you’re still selling traditional quality clothing.
Mr. Press, you are absolutely right! Many of us, including myself, are sick and disgusted with the way in which men (and women) are attired and “unattired”. It is an absolute disgrace. There are many of us who still will not leave the house without a suit and tie, and in my case, a hat. I am not afraid to look askance and with disdain at the slobs who are crawling around the streets…even in Boston…once a bastion of propriety. Style should NOT go “out-of-style”….Long live J.Press!
Is that a picture of you on the lower right?
Regardless of political ideology, if I were ever a witness at a Congressional hearing and Congressman Jim Jordan questioned me, I would refuse to answer. Instead I would say, “I will answer when you show respect for your office, your colleagues, and me by tightening your tie and putting on a suit jacket.”
I have just ordered and will have delivered today a 3/2 Harris Tweed Douglas model sport coat from Oconnells, your competitor. I also have a navy 3/2 doeskin blazer from your fine store, a 2 button Harris Tweed from Ben Silver in Charleston and a 3/2 camel Brooks Brothers sport coat made before they lost their way.. Not sure when, given the current Covid outbreak I’ll ever have the chance to wear one of these again but having the “good stuff” makes me feel prepared for whatever opportunities I may have. Sorry to say that many of the fine mens stores have gone the way of some of your competitors but really happy that at least several of you are staying the course.
I’m reading your column thinking back to the days when I wore a suit 5 days a week. Crisp and professional! Of course, I’m by myself in my office wearing shorts and a polo shirt on a Monday morning!
Not sure I want to wear a suit and tie on a 90 degree day, even with air conditioning! But, I agree that while things were not as great as memory holds, there was a sense of purpose and respect by and large that we do not share today.