My grandfather, the eponymous J. (Jacobi Press) was largely responsible for the so-called Odd Jacket (sport coat) in America. All because of World War I and its aftermath.
Beginning with the Guns Of August in 1914, Grandpa Press’s merchandise including tailoring materials, raincoats, Fedora hats, sweaters, shirts, neckwear, hosiery, were virtually all imported from the British Isles. The whole shebang.
He wanted to fill his stock long-term before the Kaiser closed it for him. In 1914 a salesman for a firm producing fine British woolens called on my grandfather to look at the line of hand-loomed tweed fabrics extremely popular in England at the time. The salesman had little luck in the early days of The Great War finding proper outlets in the United States for his line. He was thunderstruck that my grandfather bought his wares: J.Press was among the first in the custom tailor trade to import British cloths and a leader in that field, continuing post-World War II to do business with that first firm, based in Galashiels, Scotland.
Jacobi Press knew how to entice Yale customers into his gabled York Street emporium and by now, no longer needed to knock on doors in the dormitories. The following ad appeared in a 1915 Yale Daily News and told the story:
As The First World War approached the circumstances in his ads changed.
After the war Jacobi Press returned to civilian priorities, becoming the first retailer to sell sport coats separate from trousers, usually blue flannel blazers sporting a college crest and monogrammed brass buttons. Shetland jackets that in the past he sold as tweed suits were now matched with grey flannels. He was the first custom tailor in New Haven who produced ready-made clothing, keeping his custom workrooms busy off-season converting the previous season’s inventory of custom fabrics into a ready-to-wear collection. The lingering characteristic of J. Press ready-to-wear is its derivation from custom clothing. My grandfather captured the loyalty of boarding schools with travel exhibits throughout the Northeast at St. Paul’s, St. Mark’s, Groton, Middlesex, often referred to as “the St. Grottlesex Elite” as well as Andover, Exeter, Hotchkiss, Taft, and Choate.
He further enlarged his business with graduates after they left Yale. Salesmen who befriended their clients in New Haven took measurements and orders from customers in hotels across America. My grandfather also opened a showroom in New York in 1912 on Lower Broadway eventually becoming a more permanent fixture in midtown at Madison Avenue and
44th Street. Other branch stores followed on the first floor of the Delta Upsilon fraternity at Harvard, Nassau Street in Princeton and in my era, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
Grandpa’s penchant outfitting undergraduates, alumni, and hangers on continues to this day with the recent opening of our gleaming emporium on 262 Elm Street around the corner from his original shop together with the J. Press Pennant shop at 501 Madison Avenue complementing our full-bodied Manhattan headquarters, adjacent to the Yale Club on Vanderbilt and 44th Street:
Boola Boola—Time Marches On
I’m a New Havenite who purchased his first J. Press Pink Button Down Oxford…
with the Button Flap Pocket…in 1968…while home for Christmas from the“rural”
Southern Ohio College I was attending!
I it wore for the first time at Fraternity Rush Party to the astonishment of brethren…how outlandish…under our “Olive Drab Blazer” no less!…ultimately I explained to those who cared to listen that the Pink Shirt was after all
“The New Haven Look”!
I applaud the avoidance of euphemism and employment of the word “cheaper.” Not such a pejorative, I guess, back in those days. Of course, by the time one began shopping at the store on 44th Street, there was nothing “cheap” about J. Squeeze ….
I have been a customer since the ‘50s Still miss your Hotel visits which could accommodate my XL needs.
My father started mixing and matching in the 1930’s with the advent of white duck pants in the summer. He took to wearing a lightweight suit coat with a pair of white duck pants on Saturday nights and/or Sunday afternoons at the Shore Club.
’Great to hear a little more history on this topic. I was just reading the Sports Illustrated for the week of October 25, 1954, in which is an article titled “The Not So Odd Jacket”. They claimed 10 million odd jackets would be sold that year. Thank You Mr. Press! -s
Great story!!! What a wonderful person! I b ought my Camel’s Hair Jacket in Fall of 1980 and several Harris Tweeds etc., over the years!
Rev. Father Nicholas Dilendorf ’82
Holy Ghost Ukrainian Orthodox Church
I guess I qualify as a “hanger on” but there is no finer shop in the U.S. selling quality menswear than J.Press. Your sales force is superb( George Montoya in D.C. and Robert Wolf in New York). and others, your tailoring is precise and your merchandise is beyond reproach. You have adapted to our fickle culture without the slightest compromise and J. Press remains the Gold Standard.
Wonderful JPress History
Customer for Years
Very nice history. One noticed many old photos of men in odd jackets and white flannel trousers.