In a 1973 issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Richard K. Rein wrote about P-Town’s legendary clothing shop Langrock. “Princeton’s oldest and most successful men’s clothing store,” he wrote, “is a curious mix of effete snobbery, highbrow intellectualism, and small town warmth and personal service that remained singularly unruffled by the sweeping sartorial changes occurring about it.”
A decade earlier the shop across the street from Holder Hall dominated the local prep and undergraduate market. So prevalent were student shoppers that they were banned on Saturdays so businessman could shop in peace. But by 1973 undergrads were scarce. Campus fashion had changed and Langrock’s prices had become too high for many student budgets The least expensive item in the shop was $4.50 socks, and that quickly escalated to $325 for the base model made-to-measure wool suit, and $750 for the self-indulgent luxury of the muskrat-lined alpaca overcoat. Langrock, however, was still serving its original clients, who came of age before bellbottoms. It had a staff of 30, including 12 tailors, and was conducting a brisk mail-order business. In fact, it was doing $1 million in annual sales.
Behind it all was owner Alan G. Frank. He was born in New York in 1912, and it was in Manhattan that he was introduced to the textile industry. He moved to California in 1930 and worked in aircraft manufacturing during World War II. His postwar attention turned again to the east and clothing when in 1948 he became an investor in Langrock, the family business of his wife Joan. Frank came to Princeton in 1952, taking over management of the Nassau Street store. He would move his family from Hamden, Connecticut, in 1954, becoming a permanent resident of Princeton. Langrock would continue to be a fixture on Nassau Street, albeit in different locations, for 31 more years before downsizing and moving into the Princeton University store in November of 1985.
The last Nassau street location was at Number 16, and Frank in part blamed his longtime nemesis — parking problems — for his move into the U. It also appears that Don Broderick, manager of the university store, made the veteran retailer a financial offer he could not refuse. The student newspaper states that Broderick bought the rights to the Langrock name. Broderick pointed out that Langrock was a corporation and that Frank was still an owner. What the arrangement was is not exactly clear, but what was certain was that Frank was to remain the face of Langrock.
Langrock operated out of a 10 by 14 foot section of the second floor of the U store for 10 years. Frank’s atelier was decorated with antiques and vintage furnishing from Langrock. During those years the Langrock shop would offer special orders, custom and made-to-measure clothing, along with shirts, ties, braces, pajamas, underwear, and formal shirts and accessories. Frank closed his shop and retired to Naples, Florida, in September 1995. He died February 21, 1996, at the age of 83.
Frank was a member of the Nassau Club and the Springdale Golf Club. During his merchant years he was actively involved in community affairs, which included Rotary and Chamber of Commerce, where he was president for three years in the ’60s, the Princeton Borough Merchant Association, and the mayors Economic Development Committee. A survey of the Town Topics newspaper is full of grainy photos of Frank presenting checks to worthy causes and awards to notable community members, plus photos of himself being recognized for his community affairs work. He said he was “blessed to have been able to do things for other people. I was taught this way by my father and grandfather, who both said you won’t be happy unless you do things for others.”
Tom Brophy of Lawrence Township penned a eulogy that ran in Town Topics on February 28, 1996. Brophy had worked for Frank as a teenager in the ’50s and continued to be mentored by him. “He was a man of enormous energy, tremendous marketing insight,” he wrote, “and made ever customer feel important. He was a beautiful man and role model. His idea of dressing down was long plaid pants (always cuffed) a dress shirt with an ascot, a sports coat and his black tasseled loafers.”
In a recent post on his blog, Nick Hilton paints a portrait of Frank as a Man of La Mancha sadly diminished in his decling years. Mr. Frank would have seen it differently. Richard Rein bore witness to Frank’s philosophy. “Perhaps the undergraduate body is a source of potential customers,” he recounted. “But in order to meet their current price potential, we would have to lower our standard of quality, which is something we won’t do.”
Frank had no regrets for not compromising on quality, nor for stubbornly adhering to the house style, nor for having less than a half a year of retirement under the Florida sun before departing this earth. Indeed “no regrets” sounds like his personal motto. Alan Frank was erudite enough to give it to you in Latin, but it may be best expressed in the appreciation of the customers he served for 43 years and the town he loved. To them he may truly have been the Paladin of Princeton. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP
We return to the topic of Langrock, the lengendary Princeton clothier, with these two ads from the 1970s aimed at the campus community. Together they illustrate how the shop viewed itself following the fall in popularity of the Ivy League Look.
In the top ad, Langrock touts itself as a noble knight defending the Ivy look. The copy reads:
As the only true purveyor of the Ivy look in men’s clothing in America today…
The Ivy look means natural shoulders. It means three button style. It means unobtrusive lapels. It means distinguished traditional tailoring. It means comfort as well as fit. It means fine fabrics, superbly tailored.
But if Langrock characterized itself as a knight in natural-shouldered armor, how did it view the enemy? Essentially like a pimp:
This rhetorical device has hardly changed, as Ivy Style readers with “reactionary” or “curmudgeon” in their usernames view well fitting shirts — even for those slight of frame — as “gigolo” cut.
Speaking of reactionary, in our next post Chris Sharp offers a biography of Langrock owner Alan Frank, who refused any concession to changing times and eventually found himself out of business. — CC
Nick Hilton, Princeton-based son of late Ivy clothier (and Ralph Lauren’s first investor) Norman Hilton, has written a terrific post on his blog about the legendary clothier Langrock.
Entitled “A Case Study In Retail Darwinism,” the piece explores how Langrock’s resistance to change — even after the fall of the Ivy League Look — doomed it to extinction. Hilton writes:
I tried to sell Langrock our new (1971) “West End,” model. Named for the upscale, fashionable end of London, it was a shapely, two-button, darted front jacket. I thought I could convince Allen Frank, the owner, that “updated” traditional was tasteful and right. He wasn’t buying, but with a vengeance. Mr. Frank wasn’t insensitive to my pitch; he was downright insulted. True Natural Shoulder style was his Religion; the three-button, undarted coat style, the flannelly finish, and skinny pants were the sacred icons of the faith. Anyone who proposed a change was the Infidel.
“Never!” He practically shouted. “I could never put that kind of stuff in this store! Never! My customers would be insulted.” You’d think I’d been proposing human sacrifice. “This store stands for timeless good taste. We have no use for your fads and gimmicks. Our customers know what they want, and they don’t want shape!” It never occurred to him that Ivy League itself was just a longish-lasting fad.
Get the full story here.
In the late 1970s, Japanese companies went on a mad spree to secure licenses for American traditional brands. Everyone knows that Onward Kashiyama acquired J. Press, and maybe even that VAN Jacket made Japanese versions of Gant shirts.
But what is lesser known is that Macbeth — a trad clothier founded in 1967 by former department store buyer and fashion critic Shirō Itoh — sold Chipp in Japan for a short time starting in 1978. (Continue)
There was a time when you could only get critter-embroidered clothing from a small number of clothiers, such as Chipp. The bespoke blazer above, with embroidered golf clubs, was made in 1971 and is currently for sale on Etsy for $500.
But today, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, critter litter is a rising fashion trend infesting every item in a man’s wardrobe. Current fashion designers “… have traveled sartorially to Greenwich, Long Island or Nantucket, where tiny embroidered anchors, whales, lobsters and the like have decorated men’s shirts and shorts for generations.”
The article continues:
Trousers featuring a more outlandish, all-over embroidery appeared as part of post-WWII East Coast country club culture—which took the symbols of leisure-class exclusivity and multiplied them for a distinctly American notion of casual wear. The martini glasses and whales embroidered on Nantucket reds and seersucker shorts followed.
Check out the movie “Barry Lyndon,” in which Ryan O’Neal wears a pair of emblazoned breeches — with what, I can’t tell — that might have been the 18th-century precursor to the critter pant. — CC
At the recent “Ivy Style” symposium at the MFIT I had the chance to meet “Reggie Darling,” the man behind one of the more charming blogs written by a fiftysomething nostalgic for his vanished youth.
I’d told Reggie that I’d admired his reflections on the exhibit and thought many of his memories worth presenting to Ivy-Style.com readers. He said he’d be honored, so here are his reminiscences on being a social and sartorial traditionalist adrift in the post-heyday ’70s. — CC
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While I certainly enjoyed attending the “Ivy Style” exhibit, I had the eerie feeling while doing so that I was spending my time there staring at my own navel. It was all very familiar to me, and much of the clothing on display could have come from the closets and cupboards of the men in my own family. My roots in the Ivy League go back a number of generations, mostly at Yale, where my grandfather, father, brother and I were all fortunate to attend as undergraduates.
It was at Yale that I came to fully understand the true allure and iconographic significance of the Ivy style of dressing. While my prep school experience at St. Grottlesex prepared me for Yale in many ways, it was only upon my arrival in New Haven that I came to truly appreciate the splendor of traditional Ivy League dressing. I came to Yale as a boy, and I left it as a man.
When my father was an undergraduate at Yale in the early 1940s, he was clothing obsessed. Letters written at the time to his parents in Grosse Pointe (which my grandparents saved and which I read many years later) were full of entreaties from him for yet more funds to purchase the clothing and sartorial accessories he felt were imperative in order to fit in with the smart crowd with which he ran at Yale. (Continue)
When madras season officially opened on Memorial Day, we ran a post showing George HW Bush clad in a madras sportcoat in company that wasn’t exactly wearing the same (can you imagine Obama or Romney doing that in 2012?) Now that July 4th marks our deeper descent into madras, this time we show the fabric in an equally unexpected context: on the backs of British pop stars. (Continue)