Golden Years: A Wonderful LIFE


The laws of acceptance and exclusion were epiphanies I experienced during my days at the prep school Loomis, now known as Loomis Chaffee. My own humble status skyrocketed the day the November 22, 1954 issue of LIFE Magazine came out, which proclaimed the Ivy League Look a national style sweeping the country from its wellspring of J. Press in New Haven. The magazine turned up in every student and faculty room on campus.

Suddenly I was greeted with regal bows that I responded to with an embarrassed nod characterizing the newfound national celebrity of the family business. The St. Grottlesex schools, plus Hotchkiss, Exeter and Andover, were always more hip to J. Press than Loomis.

Before World War I my grandfather Jacobi began merchant-tailor trunk shows at boarding schools throughout the Northeast. Loomis was the only one that refused him entree. “Mr. Press,” Headmaster Nathaniel Horton Batchelder told my grandfather, “one-third of my boys receive financial aid. They can’t afford to buy custom suits, and I will not allow them to be embarrassed being unable to patronize your shop on campus.”

Grandpa thereafter declared Loomis “the most democratic prep school in the country.” His sense of fair play overcame his retail defeat, paving the way for three grandchildren to graduate from Loomis.

In 1954, the Ivy League Look was the preppy look of the time. Boarding schools required coats and ties for morning chapel, classes and the dining hall, with suits required for Sunday chapel. Since I was carrying the flag for J. Press, the bar was set much higher for me. My narrow closet was swimming in Shetlands. Note that in the above yearbook picture of the Loomistakes, a group of acappella songsters, I — the second from left — am the only one with a tie clip and grey flannels. Jeans were considered beyond the fringe. Khakis were standard gear often bought at $3.99 in local Army-Navy Surplus stores. Most of us favored white bucks, preferably dirty. Tab collar shirts were nearly as popular as buttondowns. Most of the sport jackets were tan with an even mix of blue blazers..

The Loomis singing groups were directed by faculty member Frank House, a Whiffenpoof and former member of the Yale Glee Club. A tall lanky guy who taught English and coached soccer. His wife was a walking double of Barbara Bush, an amusing coincidence since he was a first cousin of George Herbert Walker Bush. He stole the Loomis repertoire from the Whiffenpoofs:

The old songs, the old songs,
Those good old songs for me.
I love to sing those minor chords
In good close har-ahr-monee!

For the record, here’s where the Loomistakes went to college: Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Dartmouth (moi), two to Middlebury, and the blonde second tenor in the middle, the all-American honcho, to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. An unidentified baritone in the photo flunked out.

And now a disclosure 59 years after the fact: the blonde WASP honcho beat me out for the honor of Class Best Dressed.

He got all his clothes at Brooks Brothers. — RICHARD PRESS

17 Comments on "Golden Years: A Wonderful LIFE"

  1. Ironchefsakai | July 29, 2013 at 10:04 am |

    Love that last line–it really punctuates the piece (which is great overall) perfectly!

  2. Looking sharp Mr. Press. Thank you for sharing!

    Christian, I think 1954 is the new Ivy flashpoint?

  3. Great ending line, Squeeze!
    Thank you for sharing the great story.

  4. F.E. Castleberry | July 29, 2013 at 11:43 am |

    Great story.

  5. Great piece. Thanks, Squeeze.

    Chapel Hill and UVA were bastions of (Southern) Ivy style (along with Sewanee, HSC, and W & L), so we can’t be too surprised that Mr. Best Dressed made ended up at the first mentioned.

  6. Great Story, Mr. Press – ne cede malis.

  7. Mr. Press,

    I was particularly pleased to see your comment that “tab collar shirts were nearly as popular as buttondowns”. The tab collar shirt has been totally ignored in most discussions of Ivy style in the heyday. I would love to see more discussion of this topic.

  8. A.E.W. Mason | July 30, 2013 at 2:37 am |

    Great story and beautifully written. Many thanks.

    Interesting picture. The jackets go from graceful drape (yours, in fact, Mr. Press) to bizarro button stance on the far right. And, is it just me, or does anyone else get the feeling that that guy on the right end has got to have a name like “Kevin Scully.” Hail fellow well met!

  9. I am looking at the soon-to-be Tarheel.

    The pants–straight leg. Minimal taper. That could be a Bills M2 or even maybe M1. Cuffed, and not too high off the ground. Significantly foe the collegiate casual look, no crease.

    Soft, sloping shouldered blazer or tweed in a darker (charcoal?) shade.

    The tie–repp stripe, and approaching 3″. The blade a tad bit above th belt.

    Shoes: can we guess Weejuns or a plain toe blucher?

    This ensemble works today as well. You could wear it ’round town without being tagged a hipster. Which, in today’s hipster-flooded ‘designer neo-ivy Americana’ market, is no small accomplishment. They seem to delight in Early Heyday excesses, including the heavily tapered pant and über skinny tie.

  10. Great piece, Mr.Press! That jacket that you are wearing sure has some soft shoulders.

  11. Robert C. | July 28, 2021 at 4:51 pm |

    Excellent article. If I might be permitted to offer a slight correction to your spot on comments, S.E. Tarheel is actually Tar Heel.
    UNC ’69

  12. The $3.99 Khakis in 1954 equate to about $40 today…so, damn it – I am paying way to much for a decent pair of chinos.

  13. Dutch Uncle | July 29, 2021 at 12:06 am |

    We’re paying way too much for OCBDs, too.

  14. Awesome! Thanks for sharing!

  15. Charlottesville | July 29, 2021 at 9:52 am |

    Great article, Mr. Press, and thank you Christian for re-posting. Once again, I am reminded of my urgent need need for a time machine.

  16. René Lebenthal | July 29, 2021 at 10:26 am |

    Thank you for sharing again, Richard.
    As always a beautifully written piece and an insight to the Ivy heyday.
    A very personal one too…..
    Merci et bonnes vacances,

  17. Bruce Boyer | July 29, 2021 at 12:07 pm |

    I agree with those who thought the last line priceless. The gentle humor brings smiles to our faces, but then what else should we expect from a great story teller.

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