April 6 is National Tartan Day. In its honor, Richard Press shares some thoughts. For more Tartan Day coverage, visit our fraternal site MasculineInteriors.com.
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The Heyday of Ivy, the period after World War II until the civil disorder of the late 60s, regarded costume with contempt, at least at J.Press. Understatement was the order of the day. Conspicuous self-advertisement was looked upon with contempt. Employment of tartan embroidery was a tad too ethnic, even though derived from “roamin’ in the gloamin bank O’ Clyde.”
Tartan was more ethereal when worn by the Grace Kelly debs from Smith and Wellesley since their days in Farmington. It was perhaps a trifle too effeminate for the bulls at DKE or the tables down at Mory’s.
During Spring Break perhaps a guy would wear a Black Watch tie and cummerbund at Piping Rock, or tartan walk shorts with knee socks in Bermuda. Likewise, for weekends spent at the Biltmore Bar or Stork Club, one could indulge in a tartan vest, blazer, gray flannels, studiously sporty white OCBD, and appropriate flat knit tie. Black Watch trousers, on the other hand, paired best with a blazer for Sunday bloodies at The Oak Room.
But there were limits, and breaching the boundaries of blue-blood taste was beyond the fringe. Only the great unwashed from the Main Streets of Middle America — the rubes that had never heard of St. Grottlesex — wore blatant tartan just as they drank Old Overholt and ginger ale while the right people drank Dewar’s at 21.
It may sound snotty, but the truth is much of the clothing snobbery of the time was indeed rather snotty. The sophistry of who-wore-what tartan was indeed derived from the Anglo-Saxon propriety of past generations observing the Eastern Seaboard Episcopalian taste of the favored few — served mainly by Jewish servitors on bended knee.
It was a different era. Pictured is a J. Press Black Watch blazer of recent vintage available to anyone, even if not to everyone’s taste. Which is rather the point. — RICHARD PRESS
An extraordinarily witty and cleverly packaged new book by James Gulliver Hancock succinctly titled “The Bow Tie Book” addresses the idiosyncratic cravat style alternately viewed as eccentric, erratic, professorial, bohemian and Churchillian.
The book is loaded with a compendium of bow tie history from many eras in an uproarious agenda. Social Primer K. Cooper Ray claims, “Whenever I wear one, women smile,” a view hardly shared several pages later with a sober shot of the Duke of Windsor arrogantly knotting a flawless bow. Right wing pundit Tucker Carlson’s appraisal, “When you wear a bow tie, you have to turn the
part of the brain that cares about other people’s perceptions.” His neuropsychological diagnosis occurred prior his au courant long-tie conversion.
Russell Smith, observed in The London Globe and Mail, is quoted saying “Bow ties are tricky: They carry strong connotations: conservative, newspaperman, high-school principal. They are instant signs of nerd in Hollywood movies. They look fastidious but not exactly sexy. I like them.”
Hancock, an internationally noted illustrator, supplies the effort with more than 100 color and black-and-white photographs of bow tie-wearing men, along with quotes from bow tie wearers, designers and admirers. It also features a removable “How To Tie a Bow Tie” cheat sheet for beginners.
I must admit to being disappointed the book failed to include Harvard professor, JFK advisor, and J. Press customer Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who famously quipped, “It is impossible, or at least, it requires more agility, to spill anything on a bow tie.” Another J. Squeeze standby, New Haven pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock, rationally favored them to protect spreading any germs that might attach themselves to a long tie.
My irrelevant complaint by no means diminishes the net worth of this great book for bow tie virgins or their hypersexual opposites. It is a worthy antidote to Windsor Knotters and the Every-Day-Is-Casual-Friday tieless. — RICHARD PRESS
Yesterday fashion luminary Oscar de la Renta died at age 82 at his home in Kent, Connecticut. The Ivy Style team had been preparing a series of posts on the concept of elegance, and when news broke of de la Renta’s death, Richard Press quickly revised his latest column, once again showing that King Richard The Forty-Fourth has a connection to damn near every person of note from the past 60 years. And so, on an otherwise dolorous day in the world of glamor and style, Ivy Style herein commences Elegance Week.
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Yesterday saw the passing of of Oscar de La Renta, who happens to be connected to the subject of the column I was working on. His widow Annette is daughter of the late Charles Engelhard, Jr., who established the gold standard of elegance at J. Press.
Engelhard’s wardrobe alliance with J. Press began in the mid-’30s at St. Paul’s School, where he patronized the regular J. Press travel exhibits, continued at the Princeton shop on Nassau Street, nearly coming to a woeful end in 1957 at the J. Press second-floor store on the corner of Madison Avenue and 44th Street. Charles Engelhard, Jr. graduated from Princeton in 1939, joined the Army Air Corps in 1941, earning the rank of captain as bomber pilot during World War II. Upon the death of his father in 1950, he inherited the family business and substantially expanded operations in South Africa, South America and Europe, becoming one of the world’s leading refiners of precious metals.
In a 1969 feature, Sports Illustrated called him The Platinum King, mogul of a vast economic empire, who pleasured himself with Cokes, Hershey’s Kisses, and the operation of a multimillion-dollar stable that competes on three continents. Here’s a quote:
That morning in the Aiken, South Carolina stable Engelhard was sockless, his fleece dipped in fleece-lined hide boots. He wore two sweaters, a bulky scarlet and a blue which rolled and bunched over mustard slacks— disordered clothing that would hardly fit the image of an international tycoon.
Whenever Mr. Engelhard got off the elevator on 44th Street, Walter Napoleon made certain there were plenty of iced Coca-Colas and a bowl of Hershey Kisses next to the swatches.
One day, however, he had an experience much less sweet. Mr. Engelhard (as he was always called) was in the midst of his annual winter visit when a worker crashed through a fake ceiling with the air conditioning unit he was installing, both landing between Engelhard and Walter Napoleon, star salesman and manager of the New York store. Bolts of woolens together with piles of swatch books were strewn around the wreckage between the two, yet miraculously nobody was hurt. Walter kept his pad and pencil out and, not missing a beat, Charlie continued to mark and select swatches.
The 1964 James Bond movie “Goldfinger,” adapted from Ian Fleming’s spy thriller of the same name, brought Engelhard unwanted celebrity. A man for all seasons, Fleming was author, journalist and a former British investigator in World War II. He was also a longtime Engelhard pal familiar with Engelhard’s intricate mineral and financial machinations, and modeled arch-fiend Auric Goldfinger on Mr. Engelhard.
Naming the Engelhard Library at the JFK School of Public Affairs failed to amuse the Harvard Crimson, which alleged that Engelhard’s Goldfinger-like machinations had beat restrictions on the export of newly mined gold by manufacturing solid gold art items, such as pulpit tops, dishe and bracelets. Once legally exported, they could be melted down into bullion again. London tabloids one-upped The Crimson, disclosing that Engelhard partied in an orange Goldfinger sweatshirt and called the stewardess of his private plane Pussy Galore.
Suiting up Eli frosh in the heyday was do or die for New Haven clothiers.
Salesmen at J. Press were instructed by my dad Paul Press (front right) to memorize the Yale Freshman Blue Book. He quizzed them daily about dorm addresses, hometowns and secondary schools the book provided. Freshmen lived in seven ancient dormitories on the Old Campus. The favored boarding school choice was Durfee Hall, with communal suites designed to house six to nine students. It was mainly populated by St. Grottlesex Gatsbys.
Little Georgie Feen (back left), popularly known to the cognoscenti as The Mayor of York Street, knocked on every door in Durfee Hall, always offering his calling card, sample swatches, booze, and promises of favors. Georgie was not an elitist, hitting on anyone who walked into J. Press whether they looked “white shoe” or were draped in the padded shoulders of Podunk High.
“Goodbye To New Orleans,” a memoir by Peter Wolf, recalls coming to Yale from Exeter. Wolf’s roommate turned out to be Calvin (Bud) Trillin, then a virgin outlander from Kansas City, later in life a celebrated American journalist, food writer, poet, fellow memoirist and novelist. Trillin lamented to Wolf, “We couldn’t find the Ivy-look, Eastern-type clothes Kansas City people wear here, so my folks decided I’d buy some new stuff when I got to Yale. Where do you suggest I go?”
Five minutes later we were inside J.Press, a couple of blocks away on York Street. Under the hovering, appraising eye of George Feen, one of the great haberdashery salesmen of all time, Bud replaced key parts of his wardrobe.
My father’s elder brother, Irving Eli Press (front left), Eli Class of 1926, ran the family business from New York. A mainstay at the Yale Club next door to the company offices on 44th Street, the blood that surged through his arteries was Yale Blue. The Press Brothers utilized their inside track to supply the staff the who’s who and what’s what of Boola Boola.
Back in New Haven, Herman Racow (back right) was veteran elder statesman at 262 York Street. He was constantly combing is immense stack of index cards to identify any incoming offspring of his alumni “see yous.”
Gabe Giaquinto (back row, second from right), with his roots in the Italian-American Wooster Street neighborhood bounded by Sally’s and Frank Pepe’s pizza parlors, cashed in the checks of ethnic possibilities only hinted at in the Freshman Blue Book.
Sam Kroop (back row, second from left) achieved tournament celebrity at the Yale Golf Course ever since caddying as a teenager at Hillhouse High. He picked up country club gossip about incoming Bulldog duffers. He was also the West Coast J. Press road man, and my father made certain he gathered the names of all the sons of his customers heading East to college.
Competitors ran a tight race. Jack Feinstein and his brother Bill Fenn were relentless at Fenn-Feinstein. David Langrock and son-in-law Alan Frank anchored Langrock’s prime location and keystone corner at York and Broadway. Arthur M. Rosenberg sustained its heritage as America’s top-volume bespoke tailor of the Roaring Twenties. Lester Eisenberg directed Gentree as if it were a stage prop in the London Burlington Arcade. Saks Fifth Avenue University Shop, two doors from Mory’s, utilized the financial advantages provided by its department-store parent. Izzy White and son Alan White held the fort at White’s two shops, one on York Street and the other with a vibrant ladies’ department on Chapel Street. The Yale Coop promoted off-price student discounts for faux-Ivy, national-brand merchandise. Brooks Brothers and Chipp had regular exhibits in the Hotel Taft, but their monthly showings were unable to match the depth of inventory and timely alterations available from the local campus shops.
New Haven was Boomtown Ivy from the end of World War II until the conflagrations that erupted in the late 1960s. During the heyday hundreds of tailors, merchant tailors, salesmen, shippers and shleppers ruled the roost. Thousands more Yalies roamed the Elm City byways garbed naturally in three-button suits, Shetland sportcoats, plain-front grey flannel trousers, OCBDs with three-inch ties, Shaggy Dog sweaters, and dirty white bucks — the ephemera of a Golden Age.
The song is ended but the melody lingers on. — RICHARD PRESS
It seems like only yesterday we hoisted our leather botas at the 1959 running of the bulls in Pamplona. It still goes on every July 6th, maiming an occasional drunk, catching a celebrity moment, and every couple of years there’s a fatality.
My best friend and Loomis prep-school roommate Gene Mercy and I celebrated our Lehigh and Dartmouth graduations on the cheap for a razzmatazz heyday on the continent when Europe cost barely five dollars a day. After hitting the roulette tables in the vintage casino of a faded Biarritz resort, we headed across the border to find out if the sun still rose in Spain the way it did for Ernest Hemingway in the Roaring Twenties. Leaving our battered Simca rental car in a designated lot outside town, for a couple of pesetas per night we garnered a feral dormitory room with a puke-and-dystentary, stand-up water closet down the hall.
Adios to seersucker. We garbed at the local mercado with a white cotton pullover collared shirt and bolero pants of the same material tied at the waist by a bright red cravat we turned into a belt secured under three inch wide belt loops at the sides and back. A rancid kitchen towel plus ashtray remains lent the formerly snow white outfit an artfully peasant chic. A signature pañuelo (neck scarf) knotted as an ascot across our open shirt collar and a fire engine red Basque beret completed the masquerade. We were fit as a fiddle and ready for action.
The festival started the day before we arrived. It was 1924 again. The town belonged to Hemingway. Here’s his take via his fictional lead Jake Barnes:
The fiesta was really started. It kept up day and night for seven days. The dancing kept up, the noise went on. The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences. It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta. All during the fiesta had the feeling even when it was quiet, that you had to shout any remark to make it heard. It was the same feeling about any action. It was a fiesta and it went on for seven days.
We thought the place would be overnun by Babbitt American tourists and fellow collegians, but we were the only virgins in the whorehouse. Hemingway was back in his old Room 217 at the Hotel La Perla Hotel in the northeast corner of the Plaza del Castillo. He came with a large party from Madrid: the bullfighter Antonio Ordonez, Dr. Vernon Lord, TV writer Aaròn Hotchner, Irish journalist Valerie Danby-Smith, and the photographer Julio Obina for Life Magazine. In 1959 Hemingway was corpulent, bearded, and drank at the teeming boisterous Bar Txoko on the plaza across from his hotel.
All the Hemingway action was at the Txoko. Hemingway with wife Mary always by his side was seated at their roisterous table on the plaza. Among the group was humorist Art Buchwald, who wrote for The Washington Post. Debonair Melvin Douglas, a suave actor and leading man on stage and screen, was next to Buchwald. I had an inside track to both — the chutzpah of J. Press entitlement. Buchwald was an occasional customer and had chatted with my uncle, Irving Press, at the New York store. Melvin Douglas was already cast for the leading role in Gore Vidal’s play “The Best Man,” slated for a Broadway opening months ahead, with J. Press tailoring his stage wardrobe.
They bought our act and took us to the throne. Hemingway broke up at our boozed up arrogance. He told us to call him “Papa,” gregariously toasting “the table’s new college mascots.” Three sheets to the wind, biding our time, always looking for ass before serving Uncle Sam. Papa Hemingway filled the bowl with plenty more toasts:
This wine is too good for toast-drinking, my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.
Yesterday the New York Times reported that a new edition of “The Sun Also Rises” will appear for the first time containing Hemingway’s own account of the festival. A discarded first chapter, along with other deletions, earlier drafts, and alternate titles, is included in a new edition which Scribner will release later this month.
Six degrees of separation once again. Gertrude Stein told Hemingway he was part of a lost generation. How about all of us kids who wore gray flannel suits? — RICHARD PRESS
We continue our exploration of the double-breasted jacket’s place in the Ivy genre with these recollections from King Richard XLIV.
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The best-selling blazer in J. Press history was gathered by its roots from Aunt Florence.
Irving Press’s spouse was a lady who lunched at the fringes of La Cote Basque and other spots alongside Babe Paley, the Duchess d’Uzes, and other paradigms of ’60s New York Society. The reefer twill luncheon suit she wore on several occasions prompted a suggestion of versatiltiy she imparted to her husband: her suit might just be just the right material to make into a men’s blazer. Irving retrieved a swatch of the cloth from the dressmaker for Seymour Landsman, a principal at Linett, prime clothing provider to both Chipp and J. Press. “Get a hold of this material,” he commanded Landsman, “make it into a blazer, and confine it to J. Press.”
Adhering to the times, J. Press got high in the ’60s on Reefer Twill (the catalog image above is from 1969). The maritime history of the fabric was peacoat British, but the version J. Press devised featured distinctly rough-hewn, steep-ribbed twill, a startling departure from the soft hand of the flannel blazer classic. My personal favorite was a double-breasted forest green that flaunted two rows of Dartmouth buttons, but the preference of most Squeeze customers was the traditional single-breasted in navy.
Double-breasted suits and blazers at J. Press were tailored in the natural-shoulder style of our three-button model that departed from the single breasted version only via deep side vents. Reefer twill blazers were lined throughout in strident regimental striped Bemberg. Double-breasted suits and blazers never gained more than 10% advocacy at J. Press, but allowed us a response to detractors who called us stodgy and unbending.
In 1962, J. Press even attempted a foray into womenswear in our newly enlarged downstairs quarters on Forty-Fourth Street. The effort achieved scant success and quietly disappeared the following year.
Six degrees of separation, the merchandising and design savvy of a woman, the boss’s wife, inspired the greatest J. Press hit of the decade. — RICHARD PRESS