In 1954, LIFE Magazine declared New Haven the home of the Ivy League Look, writing “Sometimes regarded as more of a club than a clothes shop, J. Press is delighted rather than dismayed that its look is now capturing the country.”
Though it is closely associated with Old Blue, J. Press was hardly the only purveyor of collegiate clothing surrounding the Yale campus.
Retail fashion was sparse when David T. Langrock first opened his shop in a mock Tudor building on the central corner of York and Elm. Mr. Langrock, an enterprising retailer, was also a savvy real estate operator. The majestic Sterling Memorial Library was built on land he had acquired and which he subsequently sold to Yale. Langrock’s in 1950 had branches in Providence, Boston, New York and Washington DC, but when the lights of Ivy began to dim, closed its branches and left New Haven to concentrate on its still thriving store on Nassau Street in Princeton.
Arthur M. Rosenberg started his custom tailor shop in 1898. Within a few years he gauged campus style trends and shrewdly adapted the popular Brooks Brothers’ No. 1 Sack Suit to the original boxy Rosenberg pattern. He relentlessly gathered a talented sales and tailoring staff and bought adjacent buildings on Chapel Street to support workrooms for more than 50 journeymen tailors.
By The Roaring Twenties “Rosey” was the foremost custom clothier in New Haven and the largest producer of custom tailored clothing in the United States. The fact that Jacobi Press finally caught up with him by the late 1930s was perhaps reflected by my grandfather’s election as President of the Custom Tailor’s Association of America.
Langrock, Rosenberg and Press each taught their staffs to drape their clients in the right District Check and chat with them in Locust Valley Lockjaw. Sometimes it even required a change of name. Leonard Levine became Leonard Lisle, as if he were type of hosiery.
Jack Feinstein and his brother Bill Fenn were stars at Langrock when they departed to found Fenn-Feinstein in the early ’30s. They were a good cop/bad cop routine: Jack Feinstein was blustery and gregarious, while Bill Fenn projected Old Money. The brothers received a transcendent gift from their largest customer, Henry Ford II, who bought tons of clothes from the Feinsteins that matched both his physical girth and his personal wealth.
Ford prematurely gained control of the family business after the untimely death of his father Edsel. Hank, as he was called by the local trade, attempted to redress the grievance caused by his grandfather’s virulent antisemitism by awarding many new postwar Lincoln-Mercury dealerships to Jewish businessmen. The Feinstein brothers got the one on Whalley Avenue.
In 1936, Izzy White was an off-the-rack gamechanger. His son Alan — now 82 — followed his father’s stewardship at White’s of New Haven and recently shared a cornucopia of recollections with me.
The big boys were all custom tailors, and his father recognized that a vacuum existed in readymade clothing. White approached Hickey Freeman, the manufacturer of America’s most respected line of upscale clothing. Handsewn in its Rochester factory, its prime customer FR Tripler was the showcase for the company in New York. Joe Hickey financed a stand-alone floor for his product at the new White’s Chapel Street store, which ironically was leased from Arthur M. Rosenberg. Izzy White’s bet forced competitors to divert cash from custom tailoring to readymade inventory on the floor, a trend interrupted by the onset of World War II.
Lester Isenberg enjoyed a robust custom business wedged between the Yale Architecture School and The Yale Dramat. He was a war hero decorated with many medals, and returned to York Street to find the custom business kaput. Isenberg’s was reinvented as Gentree’s and was decorated to the nines like an English pub. When the business closed in the ’70s, it was indeed converted from a clothing store to a pub.
Sam Rosenthal, a debonair Maurice Chavalier double, and Moe Maretz, a no-nonsense technician of the tailoring arts, exited Rosenberg’s and translated their savoir-faire into a faux Savile Row showroom on Fifty Second Street. They expanded their customer base with luminaries from the entertainment world that included George S. Kaufman and his coplaywright Moss Hart. The world premiere of “My Fair Lady” took place on February 12, 1956 at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven. Hart directed the landmark musical and steered costumer Cecil Beaton to Rosenthal-Maretz, who tailored Rex Harrison’s classic Henry Higgins wardrobe in their New Haven workrooms.
Many of the Ivy League clothiers were former J. Press employees. The exodus began in Cambridge in the late ’30s. Mort Sill and Jonas Arnold left Press and opened up Chipp on Harvard Square. Sill left shortly thereafter to start an exclusive New York custom tailor enclave. A complicated journey ensued as Chipp opened briefly in New Haven before reopening in 1947 in New York upstairs from The Gamecock, a trendy 44th Street bar.
Arnold soon joined his new partners, Lou Prager and Sidney Winston. Prager had managed the Press store in Princeton that closed during World War II, and Winston represented Press at Williams, Dartmouth and many Northeastern boarding schools. Chipp mirrored Press and Feinstein, but brought more flair and color to the table. It served an honor roll of customers from Cafe Society, the corporate power elite, and top echelons of government, eventually outfitting President Kennedy and much of his retinue in The White House.
Continuing the merry-go-round, Chipp roadman Ken Frank, along with Mike Fers and talented fitter Pete D’Annunzio, started Lord of New York, next door to Chipp and upstairs from J. Press. Lord had some success for a decade siphoning off an edge of the establishment crowd.
Running full circle, Mack Dermer and Sam Kroop, Midwestern and West Coast J. Press roadmen, took over Arthur M. Rosenberg and gave it a good run in Langrock’s original New Haven premises.
Brooks Brothers, never willing to surrender its role as the first-rank purveryor of the Ivy League Look, maintained a surreptitious presence in New Haven with biweekly showings at the Hotel Taft.
The Yale Coop (before the surrender of its clothing premises to Barnes & Noble) offered discounts to its student members and sold mid-price goods that ran the gamut of standard Ivy garb.
Moving on, De Pinna of New York sold hand-tailored Oxxford Suits, Douglas MacDaid featured the nationally popular Rogers Peet line on Chapel Street, and Jay Rossbach, who married into the Saks Fifth Avenue Gimbel family, originated a Saks University Shop between Morey’s and Whitlock’s Book Store.
And the Ivy heyday in New Haven was not limited to the retail sector. Thousands of oxford-cloth buttondown shirts were made every day at the Gant, Sero and Tanger factories in the industrial neighborhoods off State Street.
This is not a history thesis, but a personal memoir. The Golden Oldies of the heyday are gone with the wind, yet J. Press still keeps its doors open for business at 262 York Street, the last surviving remnant of an iconic past. — RICHARD PRESS
Outstanding history lesson, Mr. Press. Much enjoyed.
Another enjoyable piece. Thank You Richard. I am glad some of this oral history is getting put down on paper.
Or rather down on pixels.
Indeed, another invaluable piece of social and sartorial history.
Every time that I click on this link and find the J. Press logo at the top of the page, I smile. Thank you again Mr. Press.
Mr. Press, I really enjoyed this article. The more detail the better. Keep them coming!
I am really hoping that all of these posts about the old ivy league clothiers will be put into a book! Fantastic read.
I have enjoyed going through the history of J.Press. You were more gracious to the clothiers in New Haven.
J.Press was the BEST of all.
Here’s my question – with more and more young men now paying attention to their appearance, is the time ripe for new stores? Could a new store even survive the competition against the larger chains? Could J. Press re-open a small “boutique” in a place like Princeton and find a niche?
It is certainly too bad that these places have faded, but I’m trying to look on the bright side – there is a small resurgent movement of men who care, and perhaps we can bring some of it back.
Are men really showing a resurgent interest in their appearance (something that is said every few years, if not every day), or is it simply that Twitter and tumblr have created so much noise it seems like there’s more going on, but in fact the number of guys interested in style remains relatively fixed?
Christian – here’s a quote from a piece in today’s NYT about “Black Fashion.”
The ease and rapidity of the Internet helps keep that range wide, and frequently updated. Of the two, Mr. Kissi is the talker; he manages their social media presence, including Tumblr, Facebook and a sometimes pugnacious Twitter.
The Internet has also created a virtual community for this new generation. No longer do style outsiders have to rebel in isolation.
“Prior to the last couple of years for me, the only source of information would be magazines,” said Mr. Armstrong of Armstrong & Wilson. “Now it’s everywhere. It’s giving people the heart to step up and express themselves even more.”
Mr. Bentley recalled: “When I moved to New York, I had to go Hudson News to look at international magazines to see what happened at the fashion shows. Now a teenager can get it online 10 minutes after I see it in real life.”
So perhaps you are correct that there is more “noise” regarding fashion due to electronic media. But at the same time, access has increased, which may be a net-positive.
The Internet has certainly changed everything, making a well informed 16-year-old blogger like Robert I. Brown possible. When I got into clothes at 18, all I had was GQ/M The Civilized Man/Esquire, Flusser’s “Clothes and the Man,” and occasional films like “Wall Street” and “The Untouchables.”
Of course, I was in the ‘burbs.
Christian> I too wonder whether more men are interested in their appearance these days. My inclination is to say there is no significant up-tick. Everywhere I go I mainly see men who dress for comfort, even, say, in church (or fill in another place where people might want to look their best). I’m OK with that–it just distinguishes well-dressed men more.
Internet ate my response, but the tl;dr version is that my male students are more put together than I was at their age, so I think that we’re seeing a net positive. I saw several students this summer wearing gingham and madras with khakis or at the least dark, nice looking jeans.
The girls are another issue entirely. Either I’m getting older or my position as an authority figure has made me more sensitive, but I often feel my female students are not wearing enough.
I grew up going to, and hearing about, all of these fine stores and shirt makers. In fact, one of the early things my parents had in common when they first met was a love of these stores. The best of them all however was, and continues to be, J. Press. Thank you for such a wonderful piece.
Society seems to produce more extreme ends of the spectrum in every area of life and so it is in dress. But overall there’s room for encouragement in menswear with the current focus on ivy/prep clothing. Of course fashion will move on but some youngers guys won’t want to go back to wearing grunge or sports kit when they’re out on the town and they are the future of ivy.
A great article, very informative.
The internet tends to produce small “bubbles” of like-minded individuals who validate each others’ views, and consequently this self-segregation of thought tends to instill distorted views of the reality of the outside world.
In the context of this subset of menswear, some obsessed individuals will actually believe that “everyone” reads their fave sites/chat lists/blogs and that their views are the “norm”.
When in reality, most of humanity doesn’t give a **** about (or even know about) Ask Brandy, “Trad”, Talk Jivy, Continuous Bean, Style Bore-um, or this fine establishment here.
Yet, they still manage to wear the button down shirts, even without prior anonymous web-dork approval. Shocking, I know.
You forgot some of the smaller shops along Chapel Street which came a little later, namely Harolds and Gamer, and later Ensons.
Great article. I enjoy perusing some of the old adds and this account really helps put it all in perspective. I was particularly interested in the process by which off-the-rack clothes supplanted custom tailoring. I think it would be interesting to know how much of that reflected the adoption of the style of the New Haven tailors by a broader slice of the Yale student body or perhaps even a broadening of the student body itself.
My faither-in-law(long deceased) worked in the Army base store at Camp Ritchie in the American South during WWII. His boss? A certain Captain Press of the noted men’s haberdashery. He told me over 30 years ago that Captain Press was a great guy and officer. Thought readers might like to know.
Richard Press reports: Captain Press is indeed my uncle, Irving Press. A graduate of Yale Law, ’24, he played the violin in a Yale dance orchestra with Rudy Vallee twenty years before he ran the Army PX at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. He was also my relentless taskmaster at J. Press on 44th Street and a peerless tutor for whom I am eternally grateful.
I knew David Langrock well! I grew up in the house right behind his near East Rock in New Haven. He was a mysterious neighbor and would often be seen painting in front of his garage on sunny days.
This is too interesting. My dad Lee Netzer (1904-1966) worked as a salesman at Rogers Peet in New York and Douglas MacDaid in New Haven — either just before or just after World War II or both. His father (my grandfather) Isador Netzer was a tailor who emigated from Austria io Brooklon circa 1880.
Later — after he left retail clothes and started selling hardware wholesale`– my father and mother lived (and I was born) in Litchfield County, Connecticut in the town of Washington, 40 miles north of New Haven.
When I was a kid the little Saks Fifth Avenue shop (mens clothing only) in New Haven was the coolest place. My first tie and sport coat (madras) were purchased there in 1965. I could not understand why the shop was named after a street in New York.
I bought several great shirts from White’s when they were closing. The move to Orange Street was a disaster. Sad.
The decline of civilization.
Makes one want to cry.
Arthur Rosenberg’s son, Arthur Ross, was Yale Class of 34. He became a close friend of my father, Yale 42 and later a Yale professor. I was named after Arthur Ross, and thus have an indirect connection to his namesake father. While I attended Yale (class of 73), and remember the gentlemen clothiers fondly, I don’t recall being able to afford their clothes (which in any event didn’t sell well to us hippies of that era).
When did J Press first open a store in Washington DC? I seem to remember a store on 15th Street in the 1970s. Am I imagining this? I really enjoyed this memoir– I loved shopping at White’s in the 1950s and beyond– They had the ultimate ancient tartans skirts and kilts, Fair Isle sweaters, and Scottish cashmere for women!
Jack Feinstein was my great-grandfather. I only learned about Fenn-Feinstein today. Thank you for providing this fascinating glimpse into his life.
Correction: Jack Feinstein was a first cousin of my great-grandfather.
Interesting but what would this site be without comments from Mr. Press! Lets get some depth to this one man show. I
Another change in New Haven, per U.S. Census Bureau:
1950 2010 Change
Population 164,443 129,779 (34,664)
One man show?
It’s thanks to CC that this blog has depth. Who do you think introduced us to Messrs Press and Boyer?
“Gentlemen’s Tailor”. That says it all in just two words.
Once again, another memoir that subtly indicates the powerful role Jews had in creating and sustaining a tradition too often passed off as WASP. Let us continue proudly proclaiming those Jewish roots of Ivy style.
@ Franz Faber
It’s interesting, if somewhat depressing to note how the ‘Ivy Fora’ have changed since this now historic post was pixelated.Back then, FNB Talk Ivy had at least a semblance of seriousness before the invasion of the boot boys and dyslexics, but now even after the ousting of the mad troll, Rufus Frost, it is difficult to even view the site without wincing in sadness at just how pathetic it is now.
So, yes, without Mr.CC’s sterling efforts, Ivy leaguers really would have nowhere to learn, to share memories and of course to tease one another.
History is cyclical. Before White changed the game, Ivy was custom.
Nowadays the biggest bat in the lineup is made-to-measure, the better of which includes plenty of handsewn work. And full custom, of course.
What went around has come around. Almost certainly a good thing that custom/MTM rules the day.
Coincidence that today after I read this wonderful memoir, on my screen up next pops, “Suzie At Yale,” by Mark Oppenheimer from tabletmag.com, about the heyday Yale scandal in 1960. The Harvard band and their side played/sang “If You Knew Suzie,” at The Game.
I live among hordes of hipsters in Austin. Indeed, they’re more attentive to their looks than Gen X, but I sure hope their style evolves a bit.
They pay close attention to their their millennium mullets, handlebar mustaches, and Grizzly Adams beards. They wear just the right skinny lumberjack shirts and selvedge jeans folded to reveal most of their semi-brogue boots.
If you squint your eyes a bit, they have an 1890’s flavor somewhat like the style that blossomed in the mid-late 70’s. Think The Sting with a dash of The Wild, Wild West. Then go have a drink and try to un-think it.
Thanks, Richard for a walk through New Haven tailoring as well as New Haven Jewish history. Never thought of my father as blustery. Gregarious yes, yeh, maybe you’re right. With all that competition we managed to keep it out of Beecher School. I think the two of us never even thought about it. Just pals from Ellsworth and Colony.
Get in touch. Love Betsy
My Dad, Yale ’31 with his Father, Jacob Isenberg operated Isenberg, Inc. 192 York st. Before WWII. They were makers of custom suits and uniforms. Serving Yale faculty and students as well. They outfitted the Gov.’s Footguard. The Governor’s Horseguard required a dress uniform. This was designed by Dad with his art background. He designed band and fife and drum uniforms. He also designed Coat of Arms and Family Crests and had them embroidered. They made insignia and shoulder patches for area police and firemen. Suits taylored by my grandfather were of the finest quality. On the inside breast pocket he sewed a label with his name on it. If there was ever a problem with a garment he made, that’s who you brought it back to. He retired when the Art and Architecture School was going to be built. Custom suits were limited to a few outfits. Great grandfather Solomon opened a shop in Milford Center under the NYNHandHRR bridge the NE end. Around 1920 they moved to New Haven and the store opened on the corner of Congress and Howard across from the main fire station. During the War even enlisted men would have their dress uniforms custom fit. More than a few celebrity Officers had custom uniforms made.
Does anyone know what happened to Morton Sills’ custom store in New York? It was mentioned by Michael Douglas in the movie “Wall Street” and listed in an upscale clothing store directory by Alan Flusser in the 1980s. As I remember, it was on an upper floor of a building in the east forties. I believe Sills had been an early day J Press employee.