Golden Years: Gant Shirtmakers of New Haven

When his sons got out of the army at the end of World War II, Bernie Gantmacher asked his pal Jacobi Press if he could give his sons Elliot and Marty a job in the stock room at J. Press.

Gantmacher had owned a shirt factory in New Haven since the ’20s and occasionally supplied J. Press. Packing the ties, shirts and arranging the haberdashery in the York Street store, the Gant boys inhaled the scent of Ivy and the rest is history.

They formed Gant Shirtmakers in 1949 and by the mid-’50s the discreet “G” on the bottom front of every Gant shirt became part of American menswear history. Soon campus stores in and outside the Ivy League, menswear shops beyond the Northeastern seaboard, and upscale department stores opened up Ivy League sections (before the invention of the clothing genre “preppy”) coast to coast. And a signature product was the Gant buttondown shirt.

I remember going head to head with Elliot and Marty at a party in New Haven. “We worked in your stockroom and you only buy a few sport shirts from us,” they said.

“Good luck selling to our competitors,” I replied. “We are grateful for your success.” The postprandial conversation continued merrily amongst the New Haven shirt cognoscenti.

Success prompted a similar situations at Paul Stuart, known in the ’50s as “the poor man’s Brooks Brothers.” The Gants also engineered a hundred-plus store contract with the Hart Schaffner Marx Retail Group, including Wallach’s, which maintained one of its many thriving stores around the corner from Paul Stuart on Fifth Avenue. That was the end of Gant at Paul Stuart, but Gant gained hundreds of new retail store customers.

Brook Brothers, J. Press, Chipp and The Andover Shop were the retail merchants serving the niche market of the boarding-school-to-boardroom Northeastern Elite.

Gant sold its Ivy-styled buttondown to American men who didn’t want to look like Main Street Babbitts. I recently visited the Gant shop in my old neighborhood on York Street, across from the Yale campus. It’s the same roost occupied once upon a time by Langrock and Arthur M. Rosenberg. Gant’s Yale Co-op line offers a keen glimpse of the past with much opportunity for future enhancement. The shop is archival without being dowdy and is a necessary stopover with visits to the British Museum of Art, the Yale Rep, or the Yale Admissions office — or Sally’s Apizza on Wooster Street.

The photo above was taken as I gathered some remnants of the past for the MFIT’s Ivy Style exhibit. — RICHARD PRESS

Richard Press is the grandson of J. Press founder Jacobi. This column previously ran in 2012. Mr. Press’ currently writes the “Threading The Needle” column for J. Press. 

18 Comments on "Golden Years: Gant Shirtmakers of New Haven"

  1. OldSchool | June 19, 2012 at 7:06 am |

    What a pleasure to have returned to the world of Ivy League clothing after all that political bickering generated by that posting on Mr. Romney.

  2. Navy Blazer | June 19, 2012 at 7:17 am |

    For those readers who may have not have recognized Mr. Press’s reference to the British Museum of Art:

    The Yale Center for British Art
    1080 Chapel Street
    New Haven, CT

  3. Boston Bean | June 19, 2012 at 7:32 am |

    To add to Navy Blazer’s comment,

    the Yale Rep (as it is known by Yalies/Elis/Old Blues) is:

    The Yale Repertory Theater at 1120 Chapel Street.

  4. Another great post from Mr. Richard Press. His contributions to this blog are wonderful.

  5. In the Midwest, Gant and Creighton shirtmakers were the mainstay of button downs in the 60s. Have wondered, who manufactured J. Press BD shirts prior to Gant?

    As always, Mr. Press is a wealth of information, thank you.

  6. Tyson Shirts and Troy Guild.

  7. Tom Conroy | June 19, 2012 at 5:54 pm |

    Another plug for the Yale Center for British Art. The museum was the gift of Paul Mellon and the paintings are in large part the ones he collected for himself. A world class museum. I wonder what New Haven clothing stores Mr. Mellon patronized when he was a Yale indergrad.

  8. So, Mr Press, what about Seymour Shapiro & SERO of NEW HAVEN SHIRTMAKERS? What can you tell us about SERO?

  9. Oh, Mr Press, thanks for another interesting article, this time about Gant!

  10. mitch McDonald | July 2, 2012 at 11:34 am |

    Love Gant shirts. Classic, great fit.

  11. I’ve got a couple Gant items I bought, I’d guess, in 1982. They made good products.

  12. Anyone happen to know why Gant hasn’t been shipping to the U.S.?

  13. Been years since I’ve owned a Gant shirt, so correct me if I’m off base. Gant shirts were identifiable by me because of their higher than average collars which made the shirt. You could get a great roll on their button downs. Great shirts!

  14. @ Eric – Gant is now owned by the Swiss group, Maus Freres. Perhaps the company’s European retailers have snapped up the stock.

    In London, however, our stores are very short of Gant and Polo Ralph Lauren stock. One big department store, owned by Fenwick’s, has only spring stock that it can’t shift even with 50% off. It is likely that Covid-19 has affected the output from the factories of the brands’ Chinese and Asian suppliers.

    @ M Arthur – Gant’s current BD shirt collars are very similar to PRL’s – there is not much, if any, roll. The logos are a deal breaker for me anyway. For classic BD collar roll, try Mercer, Michael Spencer or Drake’s instead.

  15. @Kenny – Ah. Thank you!

  16. whiskeydent | August 16, 2020 at 10:30 am |

    My brother went to the University of Texas in the mid-60’s and wore a lot o Gant shirts. I started at UT in ’77 and throughout the late-70’s I don’t recall Gant having much of a presence. Was that peculiar to Austin in that era, or did our other Southern stalwarts experience the same?

  17. I had forgotten about this brand of shirts. They were great, and I bought any for my husband. Didn’t they offer half sleeve shirts instead of short sleeve shirts for summer?

  18. I transitioned from Gant to Sero in the early to mid 70s;it seems Gant was fading and Sero was picking up the slack. Correct me if I’m wrong, the 4 or 5 mens store that I usually shop was showing more Sero than Gant.Gant had a great run 20 or so years prior then the down hill slide. Can anyone elaborate?

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