Life Worth Living: Jay Walter of J. Press, Still Working At Age 90

Over the long weekend America celebrated its 243rd birthday. Jay Walter, who runs the made-to-measure program at J. Press’ New York store, isn’t quite that old, though he did reach the milestone age of 90 not too long ago. And he still works, Monday to Thursday, dressed impeccably and always in good spirits. Ivy Style caught up with the nonagenarian clothing legend to glean some words of wisdom and finds out what still keeps him going.

* * *

IS: How does it feel to reach such a milestone?

JW: I’ve certainly outlasted most of my friends. But I love what I do. I have a passion for it, I love the business, and I know it more than most people do.

IS: What do you enjoy about it the most?

JW: Both the people and the clothing. I really enjoy the customers and the relationships. I had a client in recently who flies in from Atlanta to see me. He came with a long box and said it was for me. I said, “Did you buy me roses?” He said to open it. It was heavy, but I opened it up. He knows I’m using a cane now, and it’s a beautiful cane that looks like something for a king. I said if I use it in New York I might get mugged for it, and he said, “You can use it to protect yourself.” So I press a button and a sword comes out this long!

IS: You mentioned outliving your friends. Even at my tender age I’ve learned how difficult it is to deal with accumulated loss. How would you advise us to prepare for dealing with continual heartbreak?

JW: I guess it comes down to the old saying that you have to move on. You can’t turn the clock back, but you have good memories. And you find new people. But as I said I enjoy what I do and it’s enough to exhaust me, so I just want to hang out at home. When the sun is out I can sit on the patio and get some sun.

IS: And what do you find yourself reflecting about. Is there a certain pattern to the things you think about?

JW: I just thank God for what I have. That people were in my life who touched me, and the good times we had. And it may sound strange, but I dream a lot, and some of my dreams are of a very long time ago and where I was at the time. They come back to me, and I don’t know if that’s normal or not! But they’re all good memories. When I’m awake, sometimes something will make me think of being in the Army. I was in the Korean War fro 1951-53. I’ll wonder if the people I served with are still around. I have no way of knowing. But I’ve been blessed, and really have no complaints.

IS: You’ve seen a tremendous amount of change over nearly a century. How do you even process what has happened?

JW: I’m not into politics, but nothing’s good right now. I see the country in very bad shape, and I don’t see how it’s going to get out of it, or who will lead it out. But I certainly hope and pray there is someone who can do that. The thought of missiles and drones blowing each other up — I dread the thought of that. The whole world coming apart. I do have young children — a son of 29 and a daughter of 32. They’ll start families soon, and I don’t want them to come into a world of horrors. I can’t control these things. I can think about them, but I can’t do anything. I can only vote once.

IS: You obviously still enjoy dressing and are always dressed to the nines. You could wear khakis and a sweater, but you’re presently wearing a three-piece suit and suede shoes. Do you set out your clothes the night before?

JW: No, I just reach into my closet in the morning. I’m at the point where I don’t even have to think about it anymore. But we’ve lost a generation when it comes to dressing. My own son can’t tie a necktie. The world is changing, but that doesn’t mean I have to. I enjoy doing what I do. And when I go someplace I’ve never been, like a restaurant, I get more attention when I’m dressed than a guy in a wifebeater. They figure I’m a gentleman. I may not be one, but they think I am anyway.

IS: What other items to you personally like? Your shirts and ties are relatively conservative.

JW: I don’t particularly like seeing a man in a bold patterned shirt with an unrelated tie and think he’s dressed well. To me that all clashes. As I tell my clients, you don’t want to wear things that jump out. When you meet with a client, you just want to have a well tailored garment and the right accessories, so that they won’t even remember what you wore, but that you looked great.

IS: Early in my career I did an article about men who never retire. Do your peers think you’re crazy for still working?

JW: I took some advice from my physician a while back. He said, “I know what you do for a living, and if a man like you retires, he goes right down.” So he put the fear of God in me, and that’s my only motive. I guess I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I just don’t know what else to do. I only know what I do here, what I’ve done all along.

IS: So you don’t have any hobbies you would rather be doing?

JW: No. And as you know, I work for four days and am home for three. And sometimes those three days seem forever.

24 Comments on "Life Worth Living: Jay Walter of J. Press, Still Working At Age 90"

  1. The Briggs umbrella company in London used to make a whangee handle umbrella that concealed a sword. It was featured in “The Avengers” and was discontinued by Briggs shortly after the show came out.

  2. Here’s the Avengers opening scene: https://youtu.be/z2PdaP8m6oI

  3. Plenty of religious wording here–revealing the heart of a man with, well, soul. As in spiritual depth. He speaks of “praying” for leaders. He says “I just thank God for what I have,” adding that he feels “blessed.”

    I’ve been thinking (perhaps too philosophically) about the style we appreciated and exalt–at a level approaching spirituality or at least metaphysics. Admittedly mistakes and pitfalls galore accompany this habit of mind, but it’s understandable now that it’s no longer the ubiquitous, everybody’s-doing-it, Ivy-shop-in-every-city look. Taking a third-maybe-fourth glance at Mr. Walter’s phrase, “The world is changing, but that doesn’t mean I have to,” I think he has touched pitch — given us, in just a few words, a confessional form of a philosophy that captures the persistent (if I may) ‘continuous lean’ backwards. Stated interrogatively: “Yes, the world is changing. But does this mean I have to change?” Tremendous. So much more one could say with a deep sigh about nostalgia and related notions, but this 11-word phrase is perfect.

    Again, many thanks.

    This is so wonderful. Thank you for this interview.

  4. You couldn’t do better than to have Jay Walter as a guide to a quality conservative wardrobe. He’s had a reciprocal love affair with his customers for decades, and been a mentor to more of us than I can name.

  5. I hope I can still be ticking along like this doing what I love at 90! Mr. Walter seems like quite a guy. He looks damn good too.

  6. Carmelo Pugliatti | July 8, 2019 at 2:44 pm |

    God bless Mr Jay Walter.

  7. @SE

    What you said is along the lines of the next project I’ve been hinting at and will announce later this summer. Email me as you may like to start thinking about a contribution and I’d be honored to have another sounding board.

    C.

  8. Vern Trotter | July 8, 2019 at 4:19 pm |

    Far better to keep working than to retire. As for hobbies, forget it. Yes, just because the world is changing does not mean we have to also. I could have never dreamed that American popular culture would become so bad.

    Best to Mr. Walter. He could well be there 10 years from now.

  9. CC,
    will do.

    Walter’s Wisdom rings true and repeatedly throughout today–like liturgy. I’m sure the venerable Mr. Walters had no intention of coming up with the most Burkean (as in Edmund) combination of words we’ve heard in a long, long time. But, well, he did.

    “The world is changing, but that doesn’t mean I have to.” Just splendid.

  10. Great interview. That wonderful quote bouncing around the commens section could very well be the motto of this website.

  11. CC, would you ever consider doing filmed interviews of Mr. Walter and other luminaries in the menswear arena? It would be nice to capture them on video for posterity’s sake.

  12. Sartresky | July 9, 2019 at 10:47 am |

    I was in NYC maybe seven or eight years ago with my then 13 or 14 year old son. It was sale time at J. Press and I bought a couple of sport jackets from Jay Walter. As I was dithering among the various choices, Jay pulled a navy duffle coat off the hanger and slipped it over my son’s shoulders; although the coat obviously was too large, the gesture made my son feel like a real grown-up. Another bit of business: Jay tried to sell me a cashmere navy blazer, which was on sale. I tried it on to be polite but said no thank you. Apparently, as I turned away — my son noticed the action — Jay buried his head in his hands, as if to say, you poor schlemiel, you have just passed up the bargain of a lifetime.

  13. Charlottesville | July 9, 2019 at 11:42 am |

    Thanks, Christian, for a great interview, and thank you Mr. Walter. I remember Jay Walter from when the store was on West 44th. My routine on New York visits in those days was to order shirts from Tom Davis at BB, and then go next door for a sport coat or suit from J. Press, on several occasions assisted by Mr. Walter.

    As is so often the case with S.E.’s comments, I concur with all that he has said and others echoed above. Refusing to accept the coarsening of the culture, not just in dress but generally, is what I find myself drawn to, and at least attempting in my own life. Dressing well is perhaps only a small part of that, but I think it shows respect for one’s surroundings and for others, and reciprocally may generate a bit of respect for oneself. I think it has stood me in good stead, certainly at restaurants as Jay mentions, and also with clients and fellow professionals.

  14. Old School Tie | July 9, 2019 at 12:24 pm |

    Such a venerable gentleman must have a trick up his sleeve, and I rather think Mr Walter’s trick is less to do with working at 90 and more to do with fathering children at 60 – and having a good lady young enough to be able to oblige.

  15. I really liked his take on the old Brummel adage: to dress “so that they won’t even remember what you wore, but that you looked great.”

  16. Richard E. Press | July 9, 2019 at 6:52 pm |

    Jay Walter is a treasure in the J. Press Hall Of Fame. Also reigning Philosopher of 44th Street.

  17. “Refusing to accept the coarsening of the culture, not just in dress but generally.”

    Well said!

    Best Regards,

  18. NaturalShoulder | July 10, 2019 at 12:49 pm |

    I think I shall borrow Mr. Walter’s quote while giving attribution to him; it is just the perfect response as to the next inquiry as to why I am wearing a suit. As I approach age 50, I hope that if I live to see age 90 I will be so fortunate as Mr. Walter to have a wonderful outlook on life and to still be pursuing an activity with passion (not sure it will be the practice of law but, perhaps, in a limited role).

  19. William Timmins | July 14, 2019 at 9:11 pm |

    I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Mr. Walter last November, on the day before Thanksgiving. The city was pretty quiet, but J Press was open and my son wanted to go in and inquire about a shaggy dog sweater. I wandered back to the made to measure suit area, to take a look at the swatches. There was Mr. Walter sitting at his command post. I was dressed somewhat casually, and the first thing he did was complement my old Filson Mackinaw jacket. He asked me if I was interested in a suit: I told him I was over 60 and had a number of beautiful suits that I expected would outlast me. Rather than turn away at the lack of a potential customer, Mr. Walter was incredibly gracious and inquired about the make of the suits I wore. We got to talking about well made clothes in general, and his encyclopedic knowledge was remarkable. Before I left he gave me his card and told me to stop by anytime. Next time I am in town, I will. A lovely, lovely man who also happens to be a master at what he does. Thanks for featuring him in this article.

  20. William C. Herbert II | February 4, 2020 at 1:36 am |

    I made my first purchase at the NY J. Press in the late 1960s from Henry Press, a no-nonsense but energetic chap who, despite his name, was not related to the family. I’ve had several other memorable sales people over the years, including the genial Peter Rosetti. But it would be a shame not to have the opportunity to speak with Mr. Walter, a gentleman of the highest order radiating a bit of light in today’s cultural dark age. Hope he’s at the store when I’m next in town.

  21. elder prep | May 11, 2020 at 11:06 am |

    Mr. Walter’s simple but profound life philosophy of proper (conservative) dressing and having a similar point of view are complementary.

  22. Carole Weinstein | March 13, 2021 at 12:39 pm |

    Thoroughly enjoyed this article. I will recommend the store to my sons, but they’ve probably already discovered it.

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