Golden Years: Mr. Cavett’s Wardrobe Furnished By J. Press

Until the 1960s, retailers respected the privacy of their celebrity clientele. The producers of “The Dick Cavett Show,” however, encouraged me to bend the rules.

Beginning in 1968, the credit “MR. CAVETT’S wardrobe furnished by J. PRESS” appeared at the end of his late-night talk show.

The producers had approached me with the idea of dressing Cavett. We agreed with them that Cavett, a Yale graduate, and J. Press was a good match for brand identification. Cavett entered Yale in the fall of 1953 out of Lincoln High School in Nebraska, an unlikely preparation for sharing cups and Welsh rarebits at the tables down at Mory’s.

His breakthrough as a standup comic occurred with socko appearances on “The Johnny Carson Show.” ABC-TV bought his act and placed him in the time slot opposite Carson. He was not interested in presenting himself as an Ivy League version of Carson, but his manner of dress still said New Haven rather than Johnny’s Pebble Beach. He wore natural-shoulder suits, sport jackets and blazers in the standard J. Press two-button model, front darted, mixing center-hook-vents and occasionally side-vented jackets, which he usually wore open. Trousers were plain front, never pleated, and complemented his rather slight stature. Dress shirts were straight point collar, never pinned, and he kept the collar stays in. Ties were 3 3/4 rep stripe and ancient madder.

Throughout the ’70s his sideburns grew longer and his suit collars wider in equal proportion. Our veteran fitter on 44th Street expertly crafted the jackets with slight waist suppression and trousers with a 20-inch knee and 17-inch bottom.

GQ recently labelled J. Press’ new York Street collection an attempt to rescue the brand from its “fusty” and deteriorating customer base. My decades on the floor at J. Press bring to mind the question whether retail conglomerates can successfully respond to the demands of a formerly dedicated clientele and still attract new customers.

cavett2

Cavett’s wardrobe was a mirror image of the product culled directly from the 32-page semiannual J. Press brochure. The fabrics, colors, textures and patterns respected his outlier Nebraska roots while staying true to the clothing that surrounded him during his undergraduate years in New Haven. Cavett was never mock-Ivy, draped with buttons and spurs in flannel and tweed. The seven to nine-ounce clear finished worsteds maintained their shape and crisp appearance even on a set bathed for 90 minutes in the sweltering heat of spotlights.

Cavett rarely engaged us in over-the-top banter. Unlike Frank Sinatra ,who was always accompanied by a keening entourage, Cavett maintained a discreet privacy and bolted the store the minute he left the fitting room.

The guests of his show were uncannily chosen to match his acerbic wit. “The Dick Cavett Show” captured a niche audience ravenous for the sophisticated repartee of a Yale intellectual. Who would have thought it possible on national television years before cable and the Internet arrived?

Here’s Cavett with Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer, making for quite the contrast with today’s late-night fare. — RICHARD PRESS

15 Comments on "Golden Years: Mr. Cavett’s Wardrobe Furnished By J. Press"

  1. Thank you for the interesting read, Mr. Press.

  2. Interesting! One of my favorite clips of Cavett is his joint interview of John Updike and John Cheever. Both Cheever and Updike are dressed marvelously as well.

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/02/a-last-look-at-updike-and-cheever/

  3. Very enjoyable post. Quite the video!

  4. In 1953, Yale could turn a Nebraskan into a sophisticate. What would it turn him into in 2013?

  5. Vittorio Affanculo | February 26, 2013 at 3:33 am |

    I’m not quite sure here why Mr Press is boasting about his company’s involvement in Cavett’s really rather abysmal wardrobe choices. Hey it’s a new Ivy Look – non-Ivy Ivy!

  6. Yale could turn a Nebraskan into a sophisticate
    Who says he wasn’t sophisticated before, buttercup?
    BTW, these days all ivys discriminate against rural and middle class whites (and the main reason is not affirmative action as people assume)
    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-myth-of-american-meritocracy/

  7. CC – the jacket in the pic looks 3-roll-2. The roll looks a little high for a 2. Am I misreading this pic?

    just me – I’ll say that he was sophisticated before Yale. He had a presence and understated wit that seemed innate. He doesn’t strike me as having an “external locus of control” – not a guy who could be molded by any institution or social setting. That AmCon article is a great and another example of their insightful and sober conservative writing.

    Sartre – that’s a good interview but how about the 1974 interview of David Bowie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knHcOYe9h_A
    1:33: “What are you drawing there?” “Your attention.”
    Unfortunately it seems that Mr. Press had stopped outfitting Cavett by then.

  8. Yes, I agree that particular jacket looks like a three-button. Richard never claimed Cavett was allergic to them.

    Also, let us take dear Squeeze’s memory for facts (as opposed to anecdote and insight) with a pinch of salt. I keep turning up images of J. Press jackets with two buttons on the cuff!

  9. A question for Mr. Press:

    I believe that clothiers today give their clothes free in exchange for the promotion at the end of the show. Also, the celebrity would name-drop the clothier from time to time. E.g., Bill O’Reilly gives a verbal plug on occasion to his clothiers and stylist.

    Was this the case back in the Cavett days?

  10. First, regarding two or three buttons on the sleeves. Nothing was set in stone and the arc of change was often reflected by the unique requirements of material or manufacturer. Camel’s hair sport coats, Harris Tweeds, seersuckers, natural linens flew under different sails and once in a while tailored by different makers differing capabilities.

    Mr. Seitelman: Cavett and I selected the wardrobe together, provided gratis for consideration of the credit at the end of the show and a gentleman’s agreement he might acknowledge his J. Press wardrobe.

  11. My parents liked the Cavett show.

    Good piece. Thanks, Squeeze.

  12. A.E.W. Mason | March 1, 2013 at 1:14 pm |

    The Cavett show was wonderful. It’s bitter sweet to watch the old clips. Another famous episode was the 1980(?) interview with Mary McCarthy; what a battle ensued.

    On a bright note, a suit from J. Press arrived which I ordered last week. I’m very pleased. The fabric is wonderful and it’s cut more generously than several I purchased about two years ago.

  13. Caveatt- what a great response to the bullying Mailer “fold it five ways” classic!!

  14. Pale Male | July 9, 2013 at 2:45 pm |

    re: Nebraskan Sophisticate

    “I came to Yale as a boy, and I left it as a man.” — Reggie Darling [And this from a St. Grottlesex Man].

    In the old yearbooks, the seniors all looked like men. These days they look like children. Or so it seems.

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