Last week a reader posted an image on Ivy Style’s Facebook page that appeared to show Cary Grant in a buttondown-collar shirt with French cuffs. One sees this occasionally in old photos and movies, but it’s not something you can exactly go out and buy readymade today. We asked Richard Press to weigh in on the role of French cuffs in J. Press history, and here’s what he had to say.
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Following the golden rule of Renaissance courtier Baldassar Castiglione, Paul Press defined New Haven Sprezzatura as a certain nonchalance so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does appear to be without effort and thought. And so it was with his own personal wardrobe.
Monsignor of 262 York Street since the 1951 death of his father, eponymous Jacobi, my dad Paul Press ruled the sartorial roost from his office headquarters overlooking Yale’s Branford College. Family pictures left in his desk at the sale of the family business in 1986 to Onward Kashiyama are prominently displayed at the J.Press “York Street” premises on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village.
Pictured in his 90th year with great-grandson Samuel Press Goodkind (currently an NYU undergrad), Paul Press displays his singular version of a “buttonless buttondown” shirt. Tailored for him by J.Press shirtmaker Troy Guild, the shirt features a contrast white broadcloth 3.5-inch long point collar, miming the standard J.Press buttondown, with French cuffs on a blue end-on-end madras body made of 100% fine-spun cotton. He achieved the curled collar look of the button down simply removing the stays underneath the collar.
Unlike competitor Brooks Brothers, custom shirts never existed at J.Press. When I suggested opening a custom shirt department, my father countered, “Custom shirts are a pain in the ass. You can’t baste or alter them for finicky bespoke customers in the fitting room like you can with a suit.” Oxford-cloth buttondown devotees who favored cufflinks got them the Paul Press way: “special order” in readymade neck and sleeve sizes, delivered in six weeks, for a buck extra per shirt.
At the very end of the family tenure we Presses upheld the vestige as a last resource in a disappearing market for readymade shirts that embraced the fundamental ingredients of custom shirtmaking. Combed pure cotton, full-count fabrics; knife cut by hand for uniformity of sizes; careful stitching and seaming on slow-running, single-needle machines; complete hand-pressing and folding. The result was well fitting, generous-bodied personal linen in which to take genuine pride, cut in our signature coat style with broad back pleat and button-flap pocket. — RICHARD PRESS