Cruising down memory lane my dissatisfaction with current menswear depiction brings to mind Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s oft quoted phrase, “Defining Deviancy Down,” however differential the sociology.
Although I rarely comment on women’s wear, the recent appearance of Krysten Sinema presiding over the U.S. Senate strapped into her denim vest promulgates a nightmare vision of Chuck Grassley doffing low rise jeans on the senate floor with boots and spurs plus an El Presidente 100X Premier Stetson topping his sallow dome. ’Tis a pity my friend Charlie Davidson, founder of the Andover Shop, the H.L. Mencken of Cambridge is no longer around to share acerbic comments on the convoluted scheme of today’s public dress requirements.
I recently connected with author Constantine Valhouli at his Stockholm Sweden quarters in extended conversations as he polished his upcoming untitled oral history of Charlie Davidson and the Andover Shop.
Some personal history briefly rekindles my time with Charlie who began his career at J. Press prior to becoming an esteemed competitor in 1947 and thereafter until his passing in 2019.
After my family sold J. Press, I remained with the firm for several contract extensions, but later became head of the clothier F.R. Tripler. When their parent company, Hartmarx Retail closed in the early 1990s, I travelled to Cambridge to meet with Charlie about doing something together. Our conversation went well, and then I met with his brother-in-law Virgil Marson and Charlie at their shop in Andover. At the time, I was living in Greenwich, Connecticut and thought that would be a natural place for another Andover Shop location – with me running it. This would have been 1994 or 95. Charlie, Virgil, and I got along very well, but the timing felt off with American society shifting more to casual clothing. Charlie told me, ‘If only we’d had this discussion a few years ago.”
I will always have such an appreciation for Charlie and Virgil as merchandisers, designers, retailers, and above all, as friends. Our mutual pal G. Bruce Boyer told Mr. Valhouli, “What an all-star team that would have been. A third Andover Shop location, where people could hang out with Richard Press, get the benefit of his eye, stories, and wisdom ... and possibly even buy some clothes. Actually, every shop should have a resident raconteur.” He needn’t worry, I’m safely back unto J. Squeeze and might only speculate on those witty conversations that never took place.
Here’s a bit of Charlie Davidson that rings true in our pandemic era from Valhouli’s chapter of the 1990s, The Casualties of Casual, I borrowed for the column headline:
“When I opened the shop in Harvard Square in 1953, the Ivy look had become a national style, and everyone was dressing this way. There were ten good men’s stores in Harvard Square, and we divided that clientele among us. Now, most people no longer dress this way, and there are only two of us left: the Andover Shop and J. Press. So, you can take that ‘big pie’ and divide it by ten or take the smaller pie and divide it by two.”
The Andover Shop remains in Cambridge all by its lonesome self, but unfortunately Charlie’s “big pie” is today but a narrow slice of cake. Although currently no longer in Cambridge, J. Press remains the sole remnant of the Ivy Heyday tastefully redefining ‘buttoned down taste’ for a new generation.
The J. Press staff today mimes an incident attributed to Charlie Davidson that my grandfather retraced after a customer complained about an ill-fitting try-on. Grandpa tore the suit off the customer’s shoulder telling him he would gift him a new one, “It’s on me.”
Charlie’s quote reframes Grandpa Press, “I don’t want you to walk out of here unhappy with the result – or have anyone asking who allowed you to buy anything that didn’t fit properly.’
That’s the way it was and hopefully remains at the Andover Shop sans Charlie Davidson but is still a way of life at J. Press. Trust me, the genes flow deep.
Nice reading on a cold night in New England.
The old Press ethos was very much like many of their old customers and like at least part of the old Ivy League: this is what I need, without fuss, and as promptly as possible. Most of their customers weren’t “into” clothes at all and certainly not fashion. The old Andover shop people were “into” clothes and liked talking and thinking about them. This led them to become almost post-ivy, incorporating lots of aspects of New England/British country life/cottage style into their look, whereas contemporary press mostly serves an American and Japanese ivy niche these days as the older customers have died off and with them a lot of the old ethos.
Thank God for Richard Press’ continuing voice! His ruminations recall the world of my undergraduate years in the 1960’s going forward for sixty years. There’s a framed picture of Charlie Davidson and me taken in his shop on a table in my study. and I’m reminded of him every day. I once met Richard Press in your 44th Street shop decades ago when we were both young men.. So I have a nearly life-long association with both the AS and JP and they have shaped my preferences and taste in male attire.
I recall how,, as an impoverished Harvard undergrad, pressing my nose against the AS window like an urchin one cold night, wistfully admiring an ancient madder “dusty” necktie that was priced at $5.50 and vowing that when I had some money I would one day return and make up for my deprivation. I spent the next half century doing so.. and my clothes closet proves it.
Today the slobification of the American male when it comes to attire proceeds apace. These posts attest that there are still pockets of taste and tradition amidst the wreckage of our culture.
A refreshing if unexpected note; however good sense for proportion and authenticity never go out of style. J. Press was always a specialty clothier, and the commercial expansion and more mass-market temptations beginning in later 1980’s (like Brooks Brothers) was never in the cards. I still have my J. Press tuxedo from my 1983 wedding, a tropical wool custom suit, and several fine ties and even blazer, along with a pair of fine cap toe dress shoes from England, all from Press when I was at Yale. Press will always have a following especially if offering custom tailoring. One small shop in New Haven (like the earlier location) is all that is required. Regards.
Still hoping you will re-stock the thumbprint tie clip before I exit this world. Always good to read your comments.
Clothes make the man, yes — but clothes also make the Mind.
I love Mr Press when he tells tales of old. Unfortunately as a society we are far different from the days when Ivy League style was paramount.
Yes, there was unnecessary snobbery, but as a whole the style as personified by J. Press and the like was positive!
Your story brings back a memory of The Andover Shop when it was located in downtown Boston on Fairfield St.
It was operating under the title of The Boston Shop with Mr. Marston presiding.
Some years later I made a trip to Harvard Square and bought some shirts, trousers ties etc. at your shop. Served quite well by the salespersons there, had to dig through some stacks for a Tattersall model.
After treating myself there, I next went to the Andover Shop for a look-see. I had my bags of J.Press goods with your bold colors and print.
Charlie Davidson was holding up a section of sales counter and cast a begrudging eye on my purchases which I did in no way try to conceal. He asked me what I had purchased and I mentioned shirts among the other items purchased.
Mr. Davidson then promptly remarked that the shirts were not made in America, inferring that I should have made my purchase at his shop where I would of course been sold American made quality items.
Sensing the spirit of the challenge, I told him that I would never purchase substandard goods and of course J.Press was beyond reproach. He was adamant about his decision but backed down when I said I could prove they were American made and asked what he was going to award me in way of an apology for asserting an unfavorable view of my taste and haberdasher. I proudly showed him my shirt tags and country of origin.
Mr. Davidson never offered an apology to me or J.Press and I left without making any acquisitions.
Seems his store and yours were the best of competitors and I struck a sore nerve, did wish he had owned up and proffered a reduction on a sales price to soothe my ruffled feathers though.
I am a long time customer of J. Press and have even managed multiple purchases during the pandemic. Always a great store and a wonderful shopping experience. I would like to give a shout out to Robert Wolf in the New York store. I always seemed to have some minor glitches with my recent purchases but he handled each one with poise and humor. He is an old school j. press salesperson, in the mold of Jerry Haber and the other stellar sales staff in New York. The store has really adapted to the new world and I hope that it stays with us.
I can only chime in on the tone set above. Recently, Mr. Valhouli and I became friends over a spontaneous discussion that all of a sudden had lasted for three hours, at our local Stockholm tweed brothel, ”Tweed Gentlemen’s Clothier”. One of many topics touched upon was how the well dressed man stands out in a crowd, and often differs from a vast majority of the general public of today.
That first lengthy discussion has quickly grown into a deep friendship, mutually, firmly rooted in a bordering to unhealthy interest in fabrics, textures, lapelwidth, cut, fit, colours, patterns, accessories.
The common conclusion is so often, that men interested in good quality clothing are a dying breed, among all casualties of casual.
I still feel that, for a men’s shop to succeed an in-house raconteur is a necessity. Unfortunately there aren’t many good shops around with these story-telling philosophers around anymore, and consequently more young people are at the mercy of the market without any guides. Men like Charlie loved what they did, had great personal style, and wanted their customers to be seen through a mother’s eyes. Richard Press, and may I add Paul Winston, remain in my eyes the true representatives of this breed of clothing retailers who loved their customers and were passionate in their care for them.
The Greenwich store would have been wonderful. Back in my high school and college days we had 2 options – Van Drivers (carried Southwick suits and tweeds) and Kepple & Kepple (“Of London and Greenwich”) where my father bought me 3-piece flannel suits for dancing class. Both stores are long gone; Brooks, Polo, Jos Banks have come and gone.
We are the half-way point between NYC and New Haven. I can’t decide which one to go to so I opt for your catalogs and the web. Always pleased.
Great post! I’m very excited to read Mr. Valhouli’s oral history on Charlie Davidson, who sounds like a fascinating subject! The story of the Andover Shop and it’s unexpected (and rather delightful) connection to the jazz scene is one that needs to be told. I’ve always had certain beliefs about the Ivy League look and seems like this upcoming oral history will give me a fresh perspective… can’t wait to read!
Thanks Richard for renewing fond memories of Charlie Davidson. I served on the faculty at Deerfield Academy for 33 years and each fall made a “wardrobe run” to Cambridge for Shaggy Dog Sweaters from JP and Gamekeepers Thornproofs from AS.
One day when I was checking into the Algonquin the bellman noticed my AS suit bag and remarked “Ah yes Charlie Davidson, he comes here all the time. Loves the horses.”
J Press was on the opposite side of W 44th at the time…
Simply: Well done!
Grandpa Press’s generosity was not always shared by competing establishments in New Haven in 1971, as I unfortunately learned by expensive experience!
Gentlemen,i am a long time client of the Andover shop,in Andover and Cambridge,as well as j.press in Cambridge and new haven .long time =1970! You gentlemen are wo peers! Virgils trademark was his high gloss polished LL bean moccasins! Charlie was the best,friendly,professional,debonair,they will be missed.however their legacy lives on i just had a pair of tweed slacks made at the Cambridge store,Larry is still presiding.in that vein i was in the new haven store and purchased courderoy slacks,so glad to see it so well stocked.I will be bringing my grandson there this spring to get him outfitted for his entry into the job market.it’s great to see 2 INSTITUTIONS that haven’t dumbed down. W.J.L.
I am surprised Mr. Press made no comment about errors and horrors created by a lack of fashion norms, such as wearing a bright blue suit to Senator Bob Dole’s funeral.
Thank you. Please stay the course.
When I was at school in the late 70s I would try to save for a stop at both the Andover Shop and J. Press. I remember Andover first in a very small and narrow shop off Mass Ave—-when you came to the end of the street J.Press was at the intersection on the other side. My Sanskrit professor was also a patron and I took my style cues from him—-elegant, understated, and impeccable. I’m so heartened to hear this story.