Fighting Fiercely At Harvard

Memories of our late and lamented Cambridge store are ever present in my mind. I recently discovered the sidebar picture of the Cambridge staff in the late 1980s further fanning the flame.

Be still heart— a recent note (edited) from a Crimson loyalist:

A good friend of mine, an Eli who is dismissive of my two Harvard degrees sent me your August 3,10,17 and 24 articles about J. Press and related items. Am a lifelong fan and would like to tell you how I joined up.

Prior to enlisting in the Navy, I spent 4 years at an Episcopal military academy.

I wore uniforms there and in the Navy. Thus, when I arrived in Cambridge my civilian attire was thin. I also observed that wasn't what was being worn around the Yard. I asked where did one go to get outfitted and I was told J. August and J. Press in Harvard Square and Brooks Bros in Boston. I first went to the J. Press store which was on the first floor of the D U Club. I was very impressed and went in.

A very knowledgeable salesman took me in hand and I soon found myself acquiring a de rigueur wardrobe consisting of grey flannel trousers, a Harris Tweed "odd" jacket, white button-down shirts, repp ties, argyle socks, penny loafers and a light wool topcoat. The salesman said I would need formal wear for all the debutante balls I would be attending so next was a tuxedo with dancing pumps adorned with silk bows and a dark wool overcoat called a Chesterfield. Finally, he said I should have a Tattersall Vest. I'd never heard of such an animal much less seen one in Oklahoma but when he brought out this beautiful blue and black checkered vest I fell in love with the vest and J. Press. I remained a loyal customer for my six years at Harvard. What a great store and what wonderful people worked there!

All eighty plus years at the corner of Dunster and Mt. Auburn have hardly come to naught. My personal highlight is the recollection longtime manager Al Goro fed me about his times selling, fitting and conversing with poet Robert Frost enabling his collection of Donegal and Harris Tweed suits.

The Harvard Gazette in a 2016 article fittingly titled Style With Staying Power quotes a Class of 1958 observer, “J. Press had the most exclusive reputation of the clothing shops in Harvard Square during his era. Harvard students could generally recognize a J. Press suit on a man as opposed to a Coop or Brooks Brothers suit. I don[t know how we knew but we did.”

My favorite nugget: “Harvard lecturer Stephen Shoemaker, whose courses include Harvard’s History and Evolving Religious Identity, has been a

J. Press customer since the 1990s. His students often ask him why he always has to dress up for class. To which Shoemaker, in his three-piece suit, is often tempted to respond: “Well, why do you always have to dress so down for class?”

Menswear brick and mortar remains uncertain during Co-Vid times. Harvard contributes to retail uncertainty around the Square with real estate ventures at a standstill. The times they are a ‘changing. The iconic newsstand in the heart of Harvard Square shuttered its panels and emptied its stands for good.

Bystanders report the old J. Press space in the former DU Club a ghostlike remnant with local gossip suggesting a bistro somehow somewhere.

 J. Squeeze returning to the hood? Songster and satirist Tom Lehrer’s undying lyric may or may not foresee the future,

Fight fiercely Harvard…albeit they possess the might
Nonetheless we have the will

 

 RICHARD PRESS

 

17 comments

You could always tell an old classic JP suit or jacket by the lapel – slightly elongated top about 80 degree angle

SPM 10月 19, 2020

I’m very much a johnny-come-lately to Press, having grown up at Brooks Brothers, back when the stores were far-flung, weren’t in shopping malls; back when suits and topcoats were an elevator ride to 2, where upon stepping out I felt like like I somehow was in church. Quiet, murmuring.discussions. Polished mahogany wardrobes, stretching into the distance. Anyway, to the writer who found something ineffable, yet distinctive, about Press suits, something je ne sais quoi, inexplicably distinguishable from BB and Coop suits, may I offer an answer? Could it have been the hooked center vent? Never saw one at BB, and wouldn’t know a Coop suit were it to bite me. Thanks for allowing me to chime in.

Stan Whetzel 9月 29, 2020

Would love to see a reopening of a Boston/Cambridge location! Old site was set to reopen as some fast casual lunch chain (Digg Inn?) when pandemic hit.

Ira E Stoll 9月 29, 2020

An infrequent but appreciative customer in the late 80s, I always noted the window display on my walks between K-House and the Yard. Now a more reliable customer in DC, I’m hopeful that you don’t run out of “Cambridge” suit labels before re-opening there!

Geoff Gage 9月 29, 2020

We live a few blocks west also on mount Auburn street and i pass by the location often and think of you, Richard

Daniel Horowitz 9月 29, 2020

I miss the store more than I can explain. Please find a way to come back. We need you.

James Nuzzo 9月 29, 2020

Loved the Cambridge store — would often wander down and browse when I lived in Central Square. You also had a fantastic tailor there.

Brian 9月 28, 2020

A great store which I will miss. Was only there once (on a college visit for my son) and was very impressed with the service. Mail order will have to suffice for now, but where can one find a tailor to fit the suit?

Elias Gordan 9月 28, 2020

Watched the movie "National Treasure’ over the weekend. Noticed Harvey Keitel, playing an FBI agent, sporting, alternatively, EGA (Eagle, Globe and Anchor-USMC) tie and what has to be a Bonesman club tie from your store. Fits the “secret society” underlying theme of the film. Certainly J Press is a ‘national treasure’ in its own right. Although we are in tough times, nothing comparable to The Blitz in 1940 when Churchill urged his countrymen to “Keep Press-ing on.” Let it be so in the US in all aspects in 2020.

SCC

steve cardona 9月 28, 2020

I always enjoy the reminiscing about better-days. Unfortunately, we no longer care about traditional American-made/British/Italian fabrics & style. I wish it was not so.

I’ve always been of the mindset that it’s better to own a limited wardrobe of exceptional quality than an unlimited quantity of trash-fashion.

Harry Harelik 9月 28, 2020

My first and only visit to Cambridge was as a member of the DePauw Debate Team in the Harvard Invitational Debate Tournament in 1964. I wore a dark gray Cricketeer suit. I prepped for the event in Widener Library and treated myself to a Crimson sweatshirt from the Harvard Coop. Later I became, as Thurston Howell III was fond of saying: “Egads! A Yale Man”.

Robert W. Emmaus 9月 28, 2020

Thankfully, was able to visit this temple to menswear in 2016. What an amazing place — exquisite merchandise and expertise at the ready. RIP

Brian W Jones 9月 28, 2020

Thanks for the great story. I’ve wondered why Cambridge appears on the label but not listed with store locations. I always thought there was a store in Cambridge.

I appreciate the gracious hospitality and helpfulness you have extended to this longtime B.B. refugee. I have found my store for life.

Scott Dixon
Nashville, Tennessee

Scott Dixon 9月 28, 2020

Wish we had a follow-up on the staff at

the store when it closed.

Many fond memories; I hope they are well!

George Despotes 9月 28, 2020

You had a San Francisco store right? I am sure that was the store I loved when I lived there. I was very fond of the New York store – the secret to wearing your suits is to have great shoes. I loved J Weston back in those days I was in New York but now I wear George Cleverley shoes. Your fine firm reminds me of the hope I had when I was in San Francisco and then New York. Now I am back in London after twenty five years and hope has gone.

John Cockcroft 9月 28, 2020

You left a number of loyal NE customers high and dry

Doug DeSilva 9月 28, 2020

Miss you in Cambridge and Dennis The longtime manager.

Bradford Rowell 9月 28, 2020

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