When I was an undergraduate at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA, there was a wonderful campus shop on Main Street called Tom Bass. It served three colleges and a university (Moravian, Muhlenberg, Lafayette and Lehigh University), and it stocked many of the iconic Ivy League labels: suits by Southwick, buttondowns by Gant and Sero, Pringle and Alan Paine sweaters, flannel and khaki trousers by Corbin, and raincoats by London Fog. Anyone old enough to remember will tell you these manufacturers produced clothing of the highest standards in those days (the ’50s and early ’60s).
But when I went to graduate school at Lehigh in 1963, I moved up a notch, to what was arguably one of the three or four best campus clothing shops in the country. There were of course J. Press in New Haven, The Andover Shop in Cambridge, Chipp in Manhattan… and then there was Langrock on Nassau Street in Princeton.
I don’t want to go into the history of that esteemed firm at the moment, merely give a few fleeting impressions of that sublime outfitters. The owner of Langrock at the time was Alan Frank, a man of impeccable taste who looked as though he could have walked across the street and stepped onto the podium of a lecture hall. In my memory he tended to wear charcoal suits most of the time: flannel in winter, tropical worsted in summer, with the occasional nod to a seasonal Harris Tweed or seersucker sports jacket. Usually a white oxford cloth buttondown, and a dark silk club tie. Very proper, yet he always looked perfectly comfortable and at ease.
The shop itself occupied a regal, colonial-looking brick building on a corner, so the large floor-to-ceiling plate glass display windows (obviously not original because the building had originally been a home) could be seen from two sides. Inside were a series of rooms, each paneled in dark walnut wainscoting and with old Persian rugs on the well worn wooden floors. Hunting prints of course and college shields. Everything to reflect the hushed and slightly dusty ambiance of a gentleman’s club or dining hall. It seemed impervious to time.
In the center of the main room, as one entered from the street, was a large round table, a good five-to-six feet in diameter, laid out with rep striped ties: hundreds of them in military, university and club stripes of the most vivid colors, a wheel of shimmering silk afloat in the dimly polished ambience. To the right was a glass-and-mahogany case which held the club and paisley neckwear. All from England. Also from England and Scotland, in a similar case to the left were the crewneck sweaters (with saddle shoulders), and wool hosiery, as well as cashmere V-necks and beautiful cashmere hosiery in heathery tones of lovat and fawn and tobacco brown and Cambridge grey.
Shirts — mainly buttondowns, with some straight point and rounded club collars mixed in — were stacked on shelves running the length of the left-hand wall from waist to within a foot or so of the ceiling. It was at Langrock that I first saw — and bought — a true royal oxford cloth shirt. It happened to be in a lustrous pale yellow, not quite cream. It was light as a cloud without being delicate, and I got years of wear out of it.
The two other rooms held the tailored clothing: suits, sports jackets, odd trousers, topcoats and raincoats. And there was a real tailor, not just an alterations tailor but a man who worked a pattern, and who had swatch books of handsome Cheviot and Hebrides tweeds, flannels from the West of England, and Irish linens. I once extravagantly commissioned a hearty tweed sports jacket in a camel-and-olive check with an orange windowpane. The tailor put a special sweat-proof lining in the back skirt panel of the jacket, “just in case you want to do some riding, Sir.”
My purchases in this sartorial arcadia were actually few and far between because Langrock was violently expensive, particularly for a young man in grad school. But funnily enough, I still have several of their ties today, and always felt I’d gotten my money’s worth. Since I was an English Studies student, I was thrilled to hear from Mr. Frank that John O’Hara was a customer, although I never had the luck to see him on my rare Saturday appearances. O’Hara’s not read much these days, but in his time he was a literary giant. And he wallowed in campus clothes: Jacob Reed (Philadelphia’s best Ivy League store in its day), J. Press and his beloved Brooks Brothers were his haberdashery haunts. He once invited the dandy columnist George Frazier to drink with him simply because Frazier was wearing a Brooks buttondown. O’Hara lived in Princeton at the end of his life, and is buried there. His epitaph, written by himself:
Better than anyone else, he told the truth about his time,
the first half of the twentieth century.
He was a professional.
— G. BRUCE BOYER