Cash Sale Mayhem

Walking the sidewalks of New York uptown and down, the shop windows are ablaze with End of Season Sale notices reminding me of the mayhem that followed cash sale postcard mailings during the 20th century heyday of the Ivy League Look.

In the area of Madison Avenue between 44th and 46th Street—in front of Chipp, J. Press, Brooks Brothers, Paul Stuart, Abercrombie & Fitch and F.R. Tripler—the lines used to be around the block before the stores opened their doors for the first days of the sale. And it was no different in New Haven at Fenn-Feinstein, Langrock, Arthur M. Rosenberg, Gentree, White’s and Saks University Shop. The song has ended, but the melody lingers on.

I often felt like Franklin Pankborn, the store greeter of old Hollywood movies, being attacked by hordes of ruthless Ivy League bargain hunters.
I spent the sales hours shuffling many dozens of suit buyers among harassed sales associates and fitters. This also entailed taking over from salesmen busy selling their next customers and matching the suits that had already been sold with the right combinations of dress shirts, ties, socks, etc. After 6 pm when the doors closed, the sales staff spent hours hanging up suits, which were strewn all over the place, and writing orders, while the fitters chalked and marked the alterations from the previous eight hours, never having once left the floor.

The “J. Press Cash Sale” notice in the photo sidebar is from the April 28, 1941 edition of the Yale Daily News. The reason for the semi-annual seasonal date of the sale is twofold. In 1938 my grandfather recognized the increasing probability of war in Europe and heavily invested in a robust inventory of English goods, fearing an imminent cessation of trade with Britain in the event of hostilities. Furthermore, the Draft Act was passed during the previous year and the purchasing power of many J. Press customers became greatly diminished as they deserted their tweed and seersucker for the khaki of military service. Good reason for inventory turmoil.

This was a time before credit cards when many family owned retail shops required cash flow to support the enterprise. Hence Cash Sale Reality.

In the end, cash-sale mayhem was an example of bargain hunting for those in the mail room who would one day wear custom clothing in the boardroom. It was corporate democracy in action during a time when upscale menswear was available not only to the John Lobb well-heeled, but to the common man wishing to adhere to a coherent wardrobe.

The current J. Press End of Season Sale continues the tradition, however different the 21st Century circumstances. Time marches on and J. Press once again offers post-season bargains honoring the past while moving forward with a diligence that recognizes the top tier of current taste.


Richard Press

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