“The Man In The Brooks Brothers Shirt” in Mary McCarthy’s 1946 short story wore his shirt buttoned down. But in New Haven during the heyday of the Ivy League Look, guys in dirty white bucks often made a different choice. They bought their shirts at Fenn-Feinstein, White’s, Langrock, Arthur M. Rosenberg or J.Press, dissing the oxford-cloth buttondown while instead sporting rounded club collar shirts. These were secured either with jeweled safety pins or, English-style, fastened by a tab.
When I entered the family business in 1959, J.Press shirts were made at the Tyson Shirt Co. in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Patterns were designed, developed and screened by Irving Press, assisted by Tyson honcho Ralph Trichon. They tended to follow Brooks Brothers’ shirt specifications, featuring full-count fabrics knife-cut by hand for uniformity of size, carefully stitched and seamed on slow-running machines, pressed and folded by hand coat-style with broad back pleat and single-button cuffs.
The key difference: button flap pockets on all J.Press dress shirts — our signature for purist mavens getting their PhDs in Ivy Style.
From the late ’50s until the demise of Camelot, J.Press Authentic English Tab Collar Shirts with snap-tab fastenings were the hot item, overtaking the sloppier but more nationally popular rounded club collar, which at J. Press was called the Round Point, a favorite of J. Press customer Frank Sinatra:
Faux Ivy collections that appeared in the flyover department stores of Middle America featured their version of club collars with clip-on bars — not safety pins — that slid askew when worn.
Club and tab collar shirts died a slow death at J.Press in the ’70s, ending their domain in uneven sizes as discount remainders in our dusty cellar on York Street. They were replaced as THE popular non-buttondown identified Plain Point 3 1/2 inch collar shirts with the same dimension as buttondowns but minus the buttons and including the option of French cuffs. Many customers stabbed their straight collars using the same golden brass safety pin they used for club collars while in college, emulating early 20th century Fortune Magazine versions of boardrooom sprezzatura.
J.Press, Gant, Vineyard Vines, J.Crew and even Brooks have finally surrendered their formerly mainstream buttondown inamorata to postmodern versions of the 1940s “Man In The Brooks Brothers Shirt,” cohabiting a media-driven fashion evolution of the species. — RICHARD PRESS
To shop the shirt pictured at the top of the page, head right on over here.