A new proposal in New York would ban doctors from wearing neckties after a study revealed that the dangling strips of silk can transmit bacteria leading to infection. This would have been sad news back during the heyday, when J. Press sold many caduceus ties in colors appropriate to the Harvard and Yale medical schools. One of our customers was New Haven resident and Yale alumnus Dr. Benjamin Spock.
In fact, in 1968 we stored 10,000 ties in corrugated boxes piled randomly on the mezzanine of the New York store on 44th Street. The neckties were simply thrown on top of the counters and sorted according to their breed. They were never imprisoned under glass. Jacquard emblematics were on one side of the stairway, regimental stripes the other, the back space divided by challis, ancient madders, silk knits, Macclesfields and Indian Madras, depending on the season. Irving Press used to walk around the store messing up the ties. He challenged browsers to stroke and finger the fabrics. The algorithm was touch, feel and buy.
The signature emblematic tie at our campus store in New Haven was the “grasshopper,” a three inch navy blue field emblazoned with thick yellow insects. Anecdotally, a story circulated on York Street that a Smith girl asked her date if the tie he had on was his club tie and he responded that yes, he belonged to Grasshopper.
The emblematic collection was encyclopedic and included zoo animals, a barnyard population including pigs, geese, wild turkeys, ducks and horses. There was athletic gear featured, a closet full of squash rackets golf clubs, lacrosse sticks and Wall Street wasn’t denied its bull and bear.
How does this play today? Much of the old Ivy persona favors Hermes, and Vineyard Vines is hot in Greenwich, but ask any college student if he ever wears a tie. The answer, at least to a tie salesman, is scary.
“Morning Joe” Scarborough covered the royal wedding in London with a suit and no tie. Meanwhile Michael Kay does the Yankee games from his booth at the Stadium garbed in what looks like a Joseph Banks off-price price remainder garnished with a wide knotted neon-lit tie. I leave you to decide which is worse.
Discordant form goes coast to coast, and as usual LA is the paradigm. Agents perform “the Hollywood pirouette” at Craig’s in suit and tie and their clients wear untucked James Perse shirts over Seven for All Mankind jeans.
New York has always been less permissive and some might argue more sophisticated than the rest of the country. The University Club and the Regency Whist Club still insist on coat and tie. The Harvard Club requires a tie for dinner in the main dining room. Suits and ties are “not required” in the corporate dining room at Goldman Sachs, but executives would never appear at headquarters any other way. The Yale Club bends the rules reducing the dress code to jacket with “collared shirt.”
Not at the Racquet & Tennis Club on Park Avenue where they still sing the old songs. Members jump in the pool naked, wear neckties everywhere except in the steam room, and polo coats and fedoras are still being checked into the coat room off the lobby.
The old WASP ethic remains an island unto itself. — RICHARD PRESS
Richard Press is the grandson of J. Press founder Jacobi Press. A graduate of Dartmouth, he worked at the family business from 1959-1991, ultimately serving as president. He also spent four years as president and CEO of FR Tripler. He lives in Connecticut.