As a follow-up to Christian’s Hanukkah post, Richard Press authors this year’s Christmas post.
During World War II, Yale professors still wore tweeds, but the boys they taught would soon graduate into khaki. Behind Woolsey Hall are the many rows of names of the boys who never came back.
My father, Paul Press, was a riveter who made M-70 rifles at the Winchester factory on Dixwell Avenue in New Haven. His brother Irving ran the PX store at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. My grandfather assisted the war effort overseeing custom-tailored uniform orders for candidates at the Officer’s Training School at Yale. J. Press was on a wartime footing along with the rest of America. The Princeton store was closed in 1942 when the entire staff joined the army. Civilian business necessarily diminished with shortages of inventory and customers during the war years.
My prescient grandfather prepared for the European conflict in the late ’30s and loaded up all available English goods before the start of war in September, 1939. Cases of Welch, Margretson shirts and ties, Twin Steeples hosiery, Druhmohr Shetland sweaters and Locke hats occupied all the space in the basement.
I was six years old in 1944 when grandfather Jacobi set up chairs and blankets for us to watch the Christmas Day Parade on the balcony in front of his office of the J. Press store on York Street. The wartime spectacle offered a key spot to view the brigades of Sherman tanks and armored vehicles clanking their treads towards the rally downtown for speeches and songs later on the New Haven Green. Soldiers, Sailors and Marines blared their bugles and beat the drums in military cadence to “The Caissons Go Rolling Along.” The back of the parade featured All-America Yale Football Captain Paul Walker, the Dink Stover and Frank Merriwell of his time, riding on top of a Ford truck garbed in a Santa Claus suit and beard, both a part of and yet removed from the instuments of war. He directed his Winston Churchiil “V for Victory” salute right to me on the balcony.
Spiffed up in the army uniform my grandfather gave me for Christmas, I returned the salute standing stiffly at attention until the grand old flag finally passed me by. When I got home I couldn’t wait to turn on the Victrola to play my favorite Spike Jones record: “When The Fuhrer Says He Is The Master Race, Sieg Heil (flatulate), Sieg Heil (flatulate), Right In The Fuehrer’s Face!” — RICHARD PRESS
Last night the Broadway revival of “Anything Goes,” which had received nine Tony nominations, ended up winning three. As I watched, I couldn’t help but remember one of the great historical anecdotes of J. Press: The time my grandfather Jacobi helped the musical’s composer Cole Porter evade the New Haven police.
During a 1912 football game at Yale Field, just across the street from where the Yale Bowl was being constructed and would open the following year, Cole Porter joined the band for the halftime march down the field to introduce his new song, “Bulldog, Bulldog, Bow Wow Wow, Eli Yale.” By the time the game was over, Porter and his Delta Kappa Epsilon band of brothers were well lubricated and spotted a Chapel Street trolley passing the stadium. Porter gave the cry: “Hijack!”
A “Keystone Kop” chase ensued to York Street, when Porter leaped out of the trolley and ran to J. Press next to the DKE house where my grandfather hid him in the store cellar until the coast cleared.
Jacobi Press and Cole Porter are both long gone, but a commemorative line has stayed in “Anything Goes” since it first opened in 1932. In one scene, standing on a set designed to be the deck of an ocean liner, the romantic lead throws a stuffed animal to his drunk boss, who is heading for the Henley Regatta to cheer for Yale. “Here, Boss,” he says, “I got you the bulldog at J. Press.”
The following year Cole Porter, along with fellow Yalie Dean Acheson, roomed together at Harvard Law School. Porter eventually abandoned law to return to music, but years later, while serving as Secretary of State in the Truman administration, Acheson, who was renowned for his elegance, was featured in a LIFE Magazine half-page portrait that noted his clothes were from J. Press.
In closing, it’s worth looking at the lyrics of “Anything Goes”:
In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
Now heaven knows, anything goes!
Campus shenanigans have certain come a long way since Porter highjacked a trolley. “The world has gone mad” indeed. — RICHARD PRESS
Richard Press is the grandson of J. Press founder Jacobi Press. A graduate of Dartmouth, he worked at the family business from 1959-1991, ultimately serving as president. He also spent four years as president and CEO of FR Tripler. He lives in Connecticut.
Recently I purchased a 1926 yearbook for my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, and was pleasantly surprised to see a Brooks Brothers advertisement on the first page of the ad section. Flipping through, I also discovered ads for a few local establishments, including a campus menswear shop called Gommy. It seemed like Gommy may have been for Penn and Princeton what J. Press was for Yale. My interest piqued, I began searching for details on the history of the store.
I was not able to find much at all, however. Menswear expert Bruce Boyer, former J. Press president Richard Press, and trad guru David Wilder were unable to provide any details about Gommy. The one solid piece of information I was able to find on this Philadelphia shop was a quote from B. Franklin Reinauer II, a gentleman who graduated from Penn in 1938. He provides some details on Gommy as well as the general menswear retail environment at the time:
There were some good men’s clothing stores: Gommy’s on Woodland Avenue Street just below 36th Street, and Sox Miller on Spruce Street just above 36th Street. People from men’s clothing stores in other cities would travel from college to college campuses get a room in a hotel or elsewhere to show their clothing to students and hopefully make some sales. Student representatives at different schools tried to get students to come to see the clothes.
Reinauer goes on to recount what campus wear was like during his college years:
When we students went to our classes each day we were dressed in slacks, tweed jacket, shirts [many with button down collars] and ties. There was a fine shoe shine place on Spruce Street just above 36th Street where our cordovan shoes were shined to perfection. We wore coats and fedora hats, too. Those students who were members of the football or other team sometimes wore their sweaters with “P” emblazoned.
For Ivy Style’s 300th post, London-based contributor Rebecca C. Tuite examines the most important piece of literature about The Ivy League Look’s most important brand.
There is little doubt that Mary Mccarthy’s short story “The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt” is now probably more famous for its punchy title — a dream for the Brooks Brother’s marketing team — than it is for the actual story. But it remains a classic part of the mystique of the Brooks Brothers Look, and indeed, the Brooks Brothers Man.
Taken from Mary McCarthy’s 1942 novel “The Company She Keeps,” which is less a straight narrative and more a collection of six short stories, “The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt,” forms the third chapter in the story of Margaret Sargent, a young woman trying to redefine her life following a Reno divorce. “Floundering in a world of casual affairs and squalid intimacies,” Sargent is self-destructive, reinventing herself as a bohemian and rebelling against society, all of which finds a perfect counterpoint in Mr. Breen: a Cleveland-based executive at a steel company and the “hearty stranger in the green shirt” she meets on a Pullman car heading west to Sacramento.
The story opens with the first description of the man, who at this point remains nameless:
The new man who came into the club car was coatless. He was dressed in grey trousers and a green shirt of expensive material that had what seemed to be the figure “2” embroidered in darker green on the sleeve. His tie matched the green of the monogram, and his face, which emerged rather sharply from this tasteful symphony in cool colours, was bluish pink.
Less than impressed, Sargent sees him “like something in a seed catalogue,” and although feeling “full of contempt for the man, for his coatlessness, for his colour scheme, for his susceptibility, for his presumption,” she still allows herself, firstly, to enter into conversation with him, and secondly, to spend the night with him (subsequently enduring the following morning). All of this is peppered with Sargent’s own disgust for the promiscuity her aunt has always warned her about — “I don’t know why you make yourself so cheap,” and “It doesn’t pay to let men think you’re easy.” (Continue)
This is a 20-minute clip, so watch it over lunch if you’re the kind of poor schlub who eats lunch at his desk. And if you’re at home, pour yourself a drink and get comfortable.
Love the towel worn as a scarf in the opening. Great chinos and sweaters in action at 2:28. Jackets and ties for trip to Cornell at 4:28. White bucks and grey flannels at 5:51. Rowing against Columbia through New York City at 8:29. More traveling clothes at 10:32.
And finally, at 19:28, the climax: a kiss from a debutante in cashmere and pearls.
The winner was John W. Fischer, who took the cup not only for his fine form on the fairway, but for being the most Ivishly styled. The shot of him above caught my eye. Note the natural shoulder, 3/2 roll and patch pockets, and perfectly contemporary proportions. The lapel width is even so spot on you could wear the jacket today, nearly 80 years later, and not have to change a stitch. (Continue)