School Ties: Jewish Clothiers And The Ivy League

Since launching this website, the more I delved into the topic the more I found that nearly all of the Ivy League haberdashers were Jewish. So when I got around to interviewing Richard Press last year, I ended our hours of conversation with the following:

IS: Except for Brooks Brothers, nearly all the brands, stores and haberdasheries associated with the Ivy League Look were Jewish. Do you think the contributions Jews have made to WASP style have not been sufficiently acknowledged?

RP: You’re editorializing, but I think you’re right. A lot of the retail history of America is Jewish history.

Since then Mr. Press has become a columnist for the site and has shared more insight on the history of Jewish clothiers, and of course recently and notoriously Ivy Style became the first WASPy site to wish the world Happy Hanukkah.

I’m pleased to have helped increase the recognition of the Jewish contribution to the Ivy League Look, and the torch was recently taken up by writer Jason Diamond, who, after contacting Ivy Style, has written a story for Tablet, which dubs itself “a new read on Jewish life,” about the many Jewish clothiers centered around New Haven.

With its story lead about Valentino and fashion week, the article is awkwardly pegged to say the least. Perhaps the author could not get permission from his editor to just write what he wanted, and was forced to contrive a news angle.

But the heart of the piece includes some notable historic passages:

David Weinreich started the tradition in 1896 by opening Weinreich’s, a shop in New Haven, Ct., that sold custom suits. Two years later, Arthur M. Rosenberg opened Rosenberg’s, where “Rosie” would reign as the original Jewish King of the Custom Made Suits in New Haven well into the Roaring Twenties. In 1902, Jacobi Press opened his own store on Yale University’s campus, where he perfected his three-button sack suit jacket and inspired a dozen imitators that catered to the Ivy League’s finest.

By the 1920s, J. Press had become the choice tailor for everyone from Duke Ellington to Cary Grant. Even though F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have shown up to military training wearing a Brooks Brothers suit, Press says the man responsible for one of America’s greatest novels was, in fact, a customer of his grandfather in the 1920s, and in a 1936 letter to his then-15-year-old daughter, Scotty, Fitzgerald cautioned the teenager to “beware of the wolves in their J. Pressed tweed.”

And:

The Jewish pedigree of this quintessentially American style is undeniable. If you surveyed the Princeton campus on a spring day in 1962 and saw a student from a well-to-do Southern family strolling in a pair of madras shorts with a blue oxford shirt, there was a good chance that shirt was the product of Marty and Elliot Gant: former J. Press stock boys, and the sons of a Ukrainian-Jewish immigrant. The real Ivy League alumni Mad Men who ran the advertising world of New York City wore suits with the Chipp logo from Sidney Winston (another former J. Press employee) on the inside of the jacket. President Kennedy supposedly made the switch to exclusively wearing suits made by New Haven custom tailor Fenn-Feinstein because he admired the ones worn by then Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Abraham Ribicoff, who would become Connecticut’s first and only Jewish governor.

Yet another suitmaker of President Kennedy? The guy must have had a lot of suits.

Get the full article here. — CC

13 Comments on "School Ties: Jewish Clothiers And The Ivy League"

  1. An argument might be made that even Brooks became Jewish. In 1946 the company was purchased by Garfinckel’s of Washington, D.C., that was founded by Julius Garfinkel who had became a Unitarian, but was buried in a Jewish cemetery.

  2. I think the 1920s Cary Grant was still in England. Hard to believe Duke Ellington was a customer either. Although, it should be noted that the Yale Fraternities regularly hired the legendary Big Bands to play at their dances in the 1930s and I assume in the 1920s as well. Tom Conroy

  3. “Yet another suitmaker of President Kennedy? The guy must have had a lot of suits”

    I have read that in 1963,JFK had 90 suits.

  4. Great read. I love all the historical information that you have here Christian.

  5. just wondering | February 9, 2012 at 8:39 pm |

    I am not an expert in genealogy, but I wonder why Mel Brooks is Jewish and Brooks Brothers is not. I know Brooks Brothers is in not in the late 19th and early 20th century Jewish immigration phase that gave us the great New Haven and other family clothiers. I just wonder regardless of the English link if they were not Jewish in a time so far remote it is now forgotten.

  6. @just wondering

    You may very well be right.

    The surname is found among English-speaking Ashkenazi Jews, deriving from the male Hebrew given name Baruch, meaning “blessed”. The surname arrived in North America from England in the mid-seventeenth century.

  7. I don’t think one can make religious assumptions based on surnames. In the case of Mel Brooks, he was born Melvin Kaminsky.

  8. You can blame Jews for the problems we have with our school system. See, most school kids get judged by how much money their clothes cost. This idea got put in their heads by Jews who run most of our clothing industry. You can be the biggest douche bag in school, but if you have a Ralph Lauren horsey shirt on, it more than makes up for it. You’re actually considered cool, not a douche bag. I’m a big supporter of school uniforms, so kids can concentrate on other things besides how much money their shirt cost. School uniforms, like in England, would solve a lot of problems, but the Jews who run the American clothing industry will never let that happen. You’ll have Jewish companies like American Eagle, Lands End, Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, etc. stop any kind of school uniform legislation, because they have money to make off suckers and chumps (kids).

  9. Anglophile Trad | January 2, 2015 at 7:33 am |

    Christian,
    Thanks for not censoring or deleting Jack’s comment.
    For those of us who are usually not exposed to such drivel, it gives us a chance to see how the uneducated think.
    Sad.

  10. Jews already controlling the media and banks, controlling the clothing industry is obviously the next step to world domination. What’s the correct Ivy Style consensus on foil hats? 😉

  11. Thody Evans | January 2, 2015 at 1:26 pm |

    My High Church grandmother told me years ago that racism and anti-Semitism were “vulgar” and that vulgarity had no place in the world of civilized gentlefolk. Her way of expressing herself sounded dated, even 50 years ago, but how right she was, and how I miss people who thought that way.

  12. I realize I’m feeding the troll here, but….

    Where exactly does he think school uniforms come from, if not the “American clothing industry”? Does he expect parents to sew ’em themselves?

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