When his sons got out of the army at the end of World War II, Bernie Gantmacher asked his pal Jacobi Press if he could give his sons Elliot and Marty a job in the stock room at J. Press.
Gantmacher had owned a shirt factory in New Haven since the ’20s and occasionally supplied J. Press. Packing the ties, shirts and arranging the haberdashery in the York Street store, the Gant boys inhaled the scent of Ivy and the rest is history.
They formed Gant Shirtmakers in 1949 and by the mid-’50s the discreet “G” on the bottom front of every Gant shirt became part of American menswear history. Soon campus stores in and outside the Ivy League, menswear shops beyond the Northeastern seaboard, and upscale department stores opened up Ivy League sections (before the invention of the clothing genre “preppy”) coast to coast. And a signature product was the Gant buttondown shirt.
I remember going head to head with Elliot and Marty at a party in New Haven. “We worked in your stockroom and you only buy a few sport shirts from us,” they said.
“Good luck selling to our competitors,” I replied. “We are grateful for your success.” The postprandial conversation continued merrily amongst the New Haven shirt cognoscenti.
Success prompted a similar situations at Paul Stuart, known in the ’50s as “the poor man’s Brooks Brothers.” The Gants also engineered a hundred-plus store contract with the Hart Schaffner Marx Retail Group, including Wallach’s, which maintained one of its many thriving stores around the corner from Paul Stuart on Fifth Avenue. That was the end of Gant at Paul Stuart, but Gant gained hundreds of new retail store customers.
Brook Brothers, J. Press, Chipp and The Andover Shop were the retail merchants serving the niche market of the boarding-school-to-boardroom Northeastern Elite.
Gant sold its Ivy-styled buttondown to American men who didn’t want to look like Main Street Babbitts. I recently visited the Gant shop in my old neighborhood on York Street, across from the Yale campus. It’s the same roost occupied once upon a time by Langrock and Arthur M. Rosenberg. Gant’s Yale Co-op line offers a keen glimpse of the past with much opportunity for future enhancement. The shop is archival without being dowdy and is a necessary stopover with visits to the British Museum of Art, the Yale Rep, or the Yale Admissions office — or Sally’s Apizza on Wooster Street.
The photo above was taken as I gathered some remnants of the past for the MFIT’s Ivy Style exhibit. — RICHARD PRESS
Richard Press is the grandson of J. Press founder Jacobi. This column previously ran in 2012. Mr. Press’ currently writes the “Threading The Needle” column for J. Press.