Salesmen at J. Press were instructed by my dad Paul Press (front right) to memorize the Yale Freshman Blue Book. He quizzed them daily about dorm addresses, hometowns and secondary schools the book provided. Freshmen lived in seven ancient dormitories on the Old Campus. The favored boarding school choice was Durfee Hall, with communal suites designed to house six to nine students. It was mainly populated by St. Grottlesex Gatsbys.
Little Georgie Feen (back left), popularly known to the cognoscenti as The Mayor of York Street, knocked on every door in Durfee Hall, always offering his calling card, sample swatches, booze, and promises of favors. Georgie was not an elitist, hitting on anyone who walked into J. Press whether they looked “white shoe” or were draped in the padded shoulders of Podunk High.
“Goodbye To New Orleans,” a memoir by Peter Wolf, recalls coming to Yale from Exeter. Wolf’s roommate turned out to be Calvin (Bud) Trillin, then a virgin outlander from Kansas City, later in life a celebrated American journalist, food writer, poet, fellow memoirist and novelist. Trillin lamented to Wolf, “We couldn’t find the Ivy-look, Eastern-type clothes Kansas City people wear here, so my folks decided I’d buy some new stuff when I got to Yale. Where do you suggest I go?”
Five minutes later we were inside J.Press, a couple of blocks away on York Street. Under the hovering, appraising eye of George Feen, one of the great haberdashery salesmen of all time, Bud replaced key parts of his wardrobe.
My father’s elder brother, Irving Eli Press (front left), Eli Class of 1926, ran the family business from New York. A mainstay at the Yale Club next door to the company offices on 44th Street, the blood that surged through his arteries was Yale Blue. The Press Brothers utilized their inside track to supply the staff the who’s who and what’s what of Boola Boola.
Back in New Haven, Herman Racow (back right) was veteran elder statesman at 262 York Street. He was constantly combing is immense stack of index cards to identify any incoming offspring of his alumni “see yous.”
Gabe Giaquinto (back row, second from right), with his roots in the Italian-American Wooster Street neighborhood bounded by Sally’s and Frank Pepe’s pizza parlors, cashed in the checks of ethnic possibilities only hinted at in the Freshman Blue Book.
Sam Kroop (back row, second from left) achieved tournament celebrity at the Yale Golf Course ever since caddying as a teenager at Hillhouse High. He picked up country club gossip about incoming Bulldog duffers. He was also the West Coast J. Press road man, and my father made certain he gathered the names of all the sons of his customers heading East to college.
Competitors ran a tight race. Jack Feinstein and his brother Bill Fenn were relentless at Fenn-Feinstein. David Langrock and son-in-law Alan Frank anchored Langrock’s prime location and keystone corner at York and Broadway. Arthur M. Rosenberg sustained its heritage as America’s top-volume bespoke tailor of the Roaring Twenties. Lester Eisenberg directed Gentree as if it were a stage prop in the London Burlington Arcade. Saks Fifth Avenue University Shop, two doors from Mory’s, utilized the financial advantages provided by its department-store parent. Izzy White and son Alan White held the fort at White’s two shops, one on York Street and the other with a vibrant ladies’ department on Chapel Street. The Yale Coop promoted off-price student discounts for faux-Ivy, national-brand merchandise. Brooks Brothers and Chipp had regular exhibits in the Hotel Taft, but their monthly showings were unable to match the depth of inventory and timely alterations available from the local campus shops.
New Haven was Boomtown Ivy from the end of World War II until the conflagrations that erupted in the late 1960s. During the heyday hundreds of tailors, merchant tailors, salesmen, shippers and shleppers ruled the roost. Thousands more Yalies roamed the Elm City byways garbed naturally in three-button suits, Shetland sportcoats, plain-front grey flannel trousers, OCBDs with three-inch ties, Shaggy Dog sweaters, and dirty white bucks — the ephemera of a Golden Age.
The song is ended but the melody lingers on. — RICHARD PRESS