When Clothes Made The Man

When Clothes Made The Man

A recent National Review Magazine article by Peter Tonguette subtitled, Missing The Traditional Menswear Store struck a chord in my trad heart. Lest the accusation arise I am quoting a right-wing conservative journal, I go both ways awaiting equivalency verifying the thesis in whatever left wing menswear source may currently exist.

Mr. Tonguette, a widely published arts and culture writer, and regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Washington Examiner, Spectator World, etc., based in Columbus, Ohio, has been bemoaning the decline of traditional dress for all of his 40 years.

He decries the look inside any office building, restaurant, theatre, department store or down a street any time of day where once you would have seen men in suits and ties, dress shoes, overcoats you now see a parade of dress shirts without ties, puffer jackets, denim jeans, denim jackets and all manner of inappropriate footwear. Casual wear itself has been degraded.

Offering an alternative for the governing elite he refers to Washington, DC, location of J. Press, “the menswear store that, for over a century, was the preferred clothier for the Ivy League set and therefore wielded great influence on how society’s movers and shakers presented themselves.”

His accolade continues, “J. Press maintains a robust internet presence and its trio of brick-and-mortar stores (it also operates in New York and its home base of New Haven, CT) remains vibrant.”

I am not immune to Mr. Tonguette’s huzzahs noting, “I called up one of the few men on the planet who would know for certain, Richard Press, the grandson of J. Press founder Jacobi Press and the most enthusiastic and well-informed exponent of the style that his family’s store helped popularize.”

Our conversation synthesized the J. Press past, present and future that he believes provides a proper antidote to slob ways: “Those who simply aren’t familiar with the principles of dressing well, would have a world opened up to them, with trained salespeople there to help them correct their mistakes. Perhaps eventually they’d stride into the office and the bar and impress their colleagues and friends. And nattiness would catch on for what is widely worn is copied. Isn’t that how fashion works in any generation? Yes, mine is an ‘if you build it, they will come’ argument, but it’s worth a shot.”


All’s well that ends well.





I recall strolling into the Harvard Square store (RIP) about 13 years ago and nearly startled the two gentlemen working there out of their well-polished loafers. Their equilibrium reestablished, they told me how delighted they were to see a real live human being walk through the doors. They confided they rarely had in-person shoppers except for weekends that drew alums, such as Head of the Charles or The Game, except perhaps the occasional older professor.

Purchases made, I strolled back out onto Harvard Yard and witnessed their depressing point in action: the yard was crawling with students in hoodies, sweat pants and Che Guevara T-shirts.

Bryan Hunter

The decline of any suitable dress code in travel is very noticeable. It used to be nice to dress up on a cruise or ocean voyage but, except for a few lines, you take the big chance of looking good at dinner while the guy next to you is in a muscle shirt and baseball cap on backwards. I hope the pendulum swings back to the center a bit.

John M


Russell Forquer

As usual, Mr. Press is exactly right. I have tried in my own work environment to improve sartorial standards with the dictate “If it doesn’t go to the cleaners, it doesn’t come to the office.”

Greg Thomas

The 60’s, 70’s, 80’s in Chicago area : Spauldings in Oak Park, Brittany on Michigan Ave and LaSalle street, London Corner in Wilmette, Trooping the Color in Winnetka, Paul Stuart in Water Tower, Marshall Field’s , and others I have forgotten. Button down shirts, regimental striped ties, khaki’s and corduroy’s …. the tan trench coat , blue blazer, bomber jacket, crew and v neck sweaters. Oxford cloth, madras shirts , real cotton, wool, and linen slacks. Tan buck shoes, penny loafers, and dock siders … These items got neater with wear and never went out of style. Nothing flashy, just low key and timeless. Thank God for institutions like J. Press, there are few survivors.

Gerald O'Malley