James Brown III: LIFE Magazine’s Face Of Ivy, 1954

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The name James M. Brown III may not be familiar to you, but every trad web surfer knows his face, the face of an undergraduate of 60 years ago. Brown is pictured above in a shot from LIFE Magazine’s 1954 article “The Ivy Look Heads Across US,” which was much seen when the LIFE archives were put on the web several years ago.

James Brown may have been destined to be the poster boy for J. Press and the new collegiate look that would sweep America in 1954. He was born in New Rochelle, New York, and raised in Mamaroneck and Darien, Connecticut. Brown was in the Kent school class of 1952. While at Kent he played football and hockey and rowed crew. Brown was in the Yale Class of 1956, where he was a member of Fence and Haunt (America’s oldest drinking club). He majored in American Studies and minored in visiting the prominent girl’s schools.

Ivy Style caught up with Brown via his yacht club. The octogenarian, who still possesses a warm smile and bright eyes, was interested in revisiting the article again and graciously shared with us his memories of how he became the face of Ivy (in profile, at least).

It was the fall of 1954 when a simple errand put him on a collision course with Ivy style history. “J. Press, or J. Squeeze as we called it, was the New Haven substitute for Brooks Brothers,” says Brown. “Best I can remember was that I had walked in to check on tails they were making for me.” When Brown entered the shop he was initially unaware that LIFE was shooting the New Haven portion of the article. “Somebody asked if I would change and then come back for some pictures. My residential College, Davenport, was next to J. Press, so it was easy.”

The photographer was Nina Leen, a Russian-born, self-taught vagabond who emigrated from Germany in 1939. She became one of LIFE’s first female photographers with more than 50 covers to her credit.   Her photograph shows Brown being fitted for a sportcoat by a veteran J. Press salesman Herman Racow. This was a little bit of artistic license, Brown explains: “My salesman was George Feen, a short fellow, and you stuck with one salesman. George was the go-t0 guy for fixing parking tickets.”

Many Ivy devotees have mooned over the jacket he is wearing in the photo. “I don’t think I bought that jacket,” Brown recalls. “As I remember, they wanted to feature it and it fit.”

The tailcoat he’d commissioned was another matter. It saw plenty of action during the debutante season. “There were a lot of great coming-out parties with lots of alcohol, legal then,” he recalls. “I remember rolling down the hill of John Nicholas Brown’s daughter’s coming-out in those tails, to the breakfast tent at 2 AM. That house is now Harbour Court, the New York Yacht club station in Newport.”

Being featured in LIFE was a footnote in what has been a full life. After college, Brown served two years as an officer in the navy before heading to Wall Street. “The floor was very white shoe/old school tie while I was there. There were some incredibly unsharp members, sons of partners and guys who had the money to buy a seat. Going rate was $165K at the time. I have to admit, many of the clerks I worked with were sharper than I. Eventually firms got smart and bought seats for many clerks. They made great brokers.” Brown spent 11 years as a member of the New York Stock Exchange and a partner at Goodbody and Co. “It was a good life and I was lucky for the opportunity,” he says. “I hung in there until things got untenable.”

As far as hobbies go, Brown’s first love was actually being on the other side of the camera. “My grandfather introduced me to photography when I was 12. His dark room, where I learned, was featured in the 1928 Leica manual. While in the navy I won a couple of international awards for my photos.” Brown eventually became a commercial photographer. “I shot everything from fashion to candy,” he says. “I had a natural bent for marine photography after a lifelong love affair with boats.” That’s a bit of an understatement, considering Brown has captained or crewed in most of the major Eastern Seaboard races over the years. “What I loved about commercial photography was the challenge of lighting and solving problems,” he continues, “even to the extent of making some of my own gear. There was no Photoshop back then. It was film and you had to get it right the first time.”

Now happily retired in Florida, Brown still enjoys photography and sailing. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP

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27 Comments on "James Brown III: LIFE Magazine’s Face Of Ivy, 1954"

  1. Great piece C. Sharp! Very interesting to learn more about the man in the picture.

  2. Outstanding. If the opportunity arises for more content like this, please take it – these stories are so wonderful.

  3. Wonderful story C. Sharp, very nicely done. I agree with Chandler, I would love to see more stories like this on the site.

    Also I may be mistaken, but based on the more current photo it looks like he’s still wearing J. Press. I have a very similar polo, in a very similar shade of pink, that’s from J. Press.

  4. Young followers of Ivy Style would do well to notice the authentic ivy fit of Mr. Brown’s polo shirt. That’s how we wore them in the heyday, and continue to wear them today. This is the opposite of what some commenters have called the gigolo or narcissist look.

  5. Terrific! So wonderful to see the layers of the Ivy onion peeled away for all to savour.

  6. Wonderfully written and wonderful reading! Thank you. Nothing more life-affirming and uplifting than reading about a life well lived.

  7. Thank you for another interesting story!

  8. Christopher, thanks for the wonderful article which quenches the curiosity that more than a few of us surely must have had about the interesting Mr. Brown.

    On a connected subject, I would be very interested to know the current status of the grain-painted J. Press fitting rooms from 262 York Street. Were they carefully and painstakingly disassembled prior to demolition, to be reconstructed with all of their history and patinated surfaces? Were they merely photographed for the future “inspirational” purposes of the architects/interior designers? Or did they end up in a dumpster?

  9. Extraordinary piece of detective work as well as an absorbing story! Two sentences into the article I knew who the author was – and was all atwitter to read the whole thing!

    You are a tremendous asset to the world of Ivy style, Mr. Sharp.

  10. Ensiferous, In response to your question about the grain-painted panels, I was assured by Jim, the store manager in New Haven, that the panels were carefully removed and have been stored in anticipation of being used again in the dressing rooms of the new J. Press building. Keepin’ my fingers crossed!

  11. Billax, I am glad that your report from Jim Fitzgerald of J. Press is in accord with what he has also told me. I don’t doubt him at all, but I do hope he was given the correct info, and that the preservation actually happens. Thanks, and my fingers are also crossed as I remain cautiously optimistic!

  12. Great piece on Mr. Brown. Not only does he have true Ivy Style, but he is an inspiration to us who hope that we will age as gracefully and well as he has. Trim, hair not colored and a face filled with character reflecting his 80 years of a life well lived. Best wishes for the continued good life!

  13. Apparently some readers think that a life spent on Wall Street is “a life well lived”.

  14. Great article!

  15. A life on Wall Street can be a life well-lived, as can be the life of a social worker. Both may also be lives horribly lived.

    One thing, however, is for certain, some readers didn’t actually read Mr. Sharp’s excellent piece.

  16. Grissino’s anti-Wall Street bias condemns all who work there. Mr. Brown, by his own admission, left Wall Street when it became :untenable.” My comment on Mr. Brown’s well-lived-life is based on his broad interests (photography, sailing), having worked in a demanding professional environment and — last but not least — having served his country as a Naval officer.

  17. I will also add that while he was the poster boy for the Ivy League look the last pic looks to me like he might now be labeled as trad.

  18. “…the New Haven substitute for Brooks Brothers.” A revealing turn of phrase.

    Nicely written piece. Some seriously superb sleuthing indeed.

    Not to turn attention away from the biographical to the purely sartorial, but, well, take a look at the jacket and shirt. The longish button down collar, the not very narrow lapel, the jacket length that extends well below the thumbnail.

  19. @S.E.

    Regarding the sartorial, I’d say you’re exactly right. If fact, the dimensions you cite remind me exactly of those offered by Press in the 80’s some 30 years ago.

    Speaking of which, I hope Press has dropped S. Cohen as a manufacturer.

  20. Concur totally, Mr. Mason.

    I feel sure the better jackets in the fall lineup are Southwick (Brooks Bro.), as are the better suits.

    Now that Southwick is offering shirts (Brooks by Garland), maybe J. Press should carry mostly, uh, Brooks.

    Wow, as I wrote that I noted the weirdness. Brooks has outlasted them all, eh?

  21. If I remember correctly, during the heyday, gentlemen of Mr. Brown’s current age buttoned the top button of their polo shirts.

  22. “the jacket length that extends well below the thumbnail”

    But, if one goes to all the trouble to wear slim cut shirts to show off their “athletic” body why not buy short jackets to show off one’s junk? 😉

  23. Philly Trad
    It depends on the occasion and the weather.

  24. @MAC,

    Some of us don’t need a short jacket to achieve the effect of which you speak.

    @Grissino,

    In a previous life (right after the dot-com crash), I owned a company that did financial consulting. I’ll admit that the industry definitely attracts people that might charitably be called “unpleasant,” but the work was rewarding in ways that went well past the money. The modern world and all its conveniences exist because of modern money and capital markets, and helping make them function is something that you probably have to experience to understand. On the other hand, it’s also one of the few places where you can honestly say that moving to a Silicon Valley start-up is a way to *decrease* the stress in your life.

  25. Wanted to say thank you to everyone. Also to Bill, If you like it I know I am on the right track.

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