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.
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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.