Golden Years: Hot Under The Collar

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“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:

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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.

33 Comments on "Golden Years: Hot Under The Collar"

  1. Marc Chevalier | November 10, 2016 at 12:44 pm |

    Richard, how long after the 1950s did J. Press continue to offer English Tab Collar Shirts with a brass neckband stud fastening, as opposed to a snap-tab fastening?

  2. Just a guess, when Troy Guild Co. quit the game, maybe 1991.

  3. Charlottesville | November 10, 2016 at 2:03 pm |

    Wonderful article, Mr. Press. I love the snap tab and the pinned round “club” or “golf” collar. I have a few remaining of each, and will need to find a new source soon. My Brooks golf collared shirts are getting a bit worn from the pin holes after a decade or so. Were the Press round point collars lined or unlined? The ones I have from Brooks are lined, but I have a Ratio shirt that I ordered with an unlined collar. I don’t think the snap tab is even available at BB as a special order any longer, although they have a button-tab model with longer points that I don’t like as well.

  4. There’s something so charmingly J. Press about the oxymoronic term “round point.”

  5. @Mr. Press
    “dissing”? An unusual term for a man of a certain age to use. I am only kidding and mean no…uh…disrespect sir.

    I have gotten many years of enjoyment from my white button down oxfords from J Press though one of them is so thread bear that it has been relegated to weekends at the beach or doing yard work. Funny thing, I wore it camping with friends and was asked why I was so dressed up.

    Will

  6. Can’t do the club collar; probably a subconscious association with what was called a “Peter Pan Collar” on the shirts that my young female classmates wore in the 70s. (Although if I can explain it, is it still ‘subconscious’? Discuss.)

  7. Paul
    That’s funny, but girls’ Peter Pan collars don’t have neckbands.

  8. Marc
    Gitman shirts did some most excellent ” English Tab Collar Shirts with a brass neckband stud fasteners” in the early 1980s.
    RL occasionally does some good ones with button tabs, usually in the fall.

  9. I had to look up an image, but you’re right: the Peter Pan collar really is more of a decoration on the shirt (or ‘blouse’) than a true collar. Still, associations from those formative years die hard …

  10. Totally unrelated: CC – it looks like your ‘Interiors’ blog has been inactive for awhile; I finally got the green light from the Mrs. to decorate my little home office any way I like, and I’m looking for some ideas/inspirations. It’s a small space – probably 8′ x 15′, but it has some built-in bookshelves, and fits my small desk, chair, printer, a couple of filing cabinets and a wingback chair. It gets good light from two windows on different walls (it’s at the corner of the second floor of the house). Am thinking that painting is a good start – maybe a medium-to-dark blue or suede-ish color? Going for something pretty tradly. Thanks for any advice!

  11. I appreciate your asking my advice though I’m triggered by this:

    “I finally got the green light from the Mrs. to decorate my little home office any way I like.”

    Is there something else you might need help with?

    Your Bachelor Friend,

    C.

  12. A: it functioned for awhile as her dressing room/walk-in closet, so there was a transfer-of-title issue; and

    B: when young, I was told that if I didn’t want to ever have to worry about my role in a romantic relationship, where I stood with things, what was expected of me, etc., I should marry a girl from a German family. So I did. She is firm, but fair.

  13. I’m aware that some men wish to marry their mothers.

  14. That may be true, but nobody has ever compared those two people in my life, I assure you: well-read, Southern Baptist-raised, golfer, excellent cook, and quick to make you a cocktail vs. Teutonic, Ivy League-educated Presbyterian and NCAA swimmer. Happily for me, they like each other very much.

  15. OK, necessary kidding aside, it’s such an open-ended subjective thing I don’t know where to start. If I had the time to revisit the site (I still hope to someday) or could clear the rights from film studios, I’d focus on movie sets. I recently watched “The Da Vinci Code” and “Kingsman,” and like so many, many other movies there are fantastic interiors of men’s offices, etc. One could easily fill a coffee-table book on the topic just by looking at the movies.

    So I’d simply say maybe quickly narrow it down by whether you want something modern (’50s /60s) or traditional. That’s probably the first hurdle. Then just start omnivoriously engorging on images and see what resonates with you.

    Personally I tried to do traditional before, but on limited budget and small spaces I think it may be more difficult. My current apartment is more Modern/Art Deco in influence, though there are plenty of images and objects that are pre-20th century.

  16. Carmelo Pugliatti | November 10, 2016 at 6:30 pm |

    A very strange thing is that round collar and tab fastening shirts were never popular in Italy.
    I don’t know why.
    They are very elegant in my opinion..

  17. What was it about “traditional” that made it more difficult than the other styles, esp. for the same space? The furnishings themselves are that much more expensive? Or lend themselves less to a small space? Because that’s the route I’m initially considering.

    I appreciate your thoughts, as always.

  18. Even in a one-room office, you need a couple of good old pieces of furniture to drive home the English gentleman’s study look. They tend to be big and expensive. The art can be prints, but steer clear of the temptation of cheap kitsch (from the German “to cheapen”) from the thrift stores. I tried that and regret it.

    Modern furniture, for your desk, chair, etc., is smaller and easier and cheaper to find reproductions of, and then you can just frame whatever you like on the walls: vintage menswear posters, jazz images, guy stuff like vintage cars, whatever you’re into.

    Club collar is pinned — must dash off to Carnegie Hall!

    Cello sonatas, for anyone keeping score.

  19. Carnegie Hall!

  20. Ratio used to offer a tab collar option as well a couple years back. Knowing the lengths that they go to please their customers, they would probably make one if you ask.

  21. Opposite Saybrook | November 10, 2016 at 8:58 pm |

    My dry cleaner recently noted my shirt labels and said, “Brooks Brothers, huh? I have another customer who told me that his dream in life was to one day wear Brooks Brothers shirts, and once he did, he knew he had arrived.”

    Mr. Press, I have been a customer since my New Haven days. I still have some socks my wife bought me there many years ago. They have outlasted the marriage!

  22. Jeffrey Shawn Haber | November 10, 2016 at 9:03 pm |

    This is another wonderful article by Richard Press. Incidentally, I happen to have a Frank Sinatra CD of the classic Capitol album from 1957- “A Swingin’ Affair” in which an impeccably dressed Sinatra is wearing a white club collar shirt on the album cover with that aforementioned round point collar, which is accompanied with a clip-on-bar. This photo of the singer is quintessential Sinatra and the album itself with its upbeat Nelson Riddle arrangements is superb. My late father Jerry Haber was in fact a tremendous Frank Sinatra fan as his customers and co-workers at J. Press will fondly remember.

  23. Henry Contestwinner | November 11, 2016 at 1:12 am |

    I had a button-tab collar shirt or two from Lands End, back when their shirts were still wearable.

    I wonder what happened to those shirts.

  24. Mr. Press, I don’t think that “Vineyard Vines” and “J.Press” should ever be in the same sentence. Either way, great article!

  25. Jerry Stanton | November 11, 2016 at 6:44 am |

    We were afraid to go into J Press. Indiscriminately we walzed in and out of Gamer (sweaters only), Gentree, Enson’s, White’s, Rosenberg’s, Saks, Barrie’s. They loved us at Barrie’s. And we loved Barrie’s. “Gongha boots!” But J Press? As soon as we walked in the door, “yes boys?” About face! … Starting maybe 1963. Hitch down Whitney Avenue. Head to the Co-op. Squeeze the skis. Checkout Cutlers. Lunch at “the Doodle.” Rarely did we venture to Louis Lunch. We were Doodle loyalists. Thanks for the memories.

  26. Paul
    If you want the suede look check out RL suede or river rock textured paints. It’s not cheap, but with a little practise the results are impressive.

  27. Thanks, Christian, now I have to wait before buying a collar pin.

  28. Charlottesville | November 11, 2016 at 11:52 am |

    B.T. – Thanks for the tip on tab-collar shirts from Ratio. They are indeed very customer focused and friendly.

  29. Among my crowd at Cornell during the late 50s early 60s snap tab shirts were
    considered very déclassé’. Real “tweeds” wore tab collars which required collar buttons.
    After a trip to the UK over the summer, I returned to school with several detached-collar shirts,
    which had brass collar buttons.

  30. Gary S. Glazer | November 20, 2016 at 9:00 am |

    Jeffrey- So sorry to hear of the passing of your father. I purchased numerous items from him over the years in New York and he was a wonderful salesman and a gracious, charming guy. We shared a common love of Sinatra music, J. Press and New York. I know he retired a few years ago and I lost contact with him. He was a a real professional and I only dealt with him at J. Press. May his kind soul and wonderful spirit rest in peace.

  31. Jeffrey Shawn Haber | November 20, 2016 at 1:42 pm |

    Gary- thank you so much for your very kind words about my late father- Jerry Haber. I promise to share your warm thoughts about Dad with my family during our upcoming Thanksgiving gathering. I would like to wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving as well. All best wishes.

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