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.