Golden Years: The Black Sheep Of The J. Press Family

In a recent post, Ivy Style founder Christian Chensvold shared his embracing of black, the forbidden color of the trad wardrobe. Now columnist Richard Press recounts his rude awakening when he joined J. Press in 1959 and dared suggest the company stock a black item.

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The only time the Man In The Grey Flannel suit was ever draped in black was in the casket for his funeral. This lesson I learned at the start of my career in the family firm.

George Graham, the brilliant importer of English goods, was showing me and my uncle Irving, the great arbiter of Ivy style, his Welch Margetson British tie selections. I soon found myself salivating at the sight of a flamboyant yellow and red paisley blooming against a black ground, and enthusiastically suggested it.

“Strictly for cloak and suitors,” Irving said, painfully dismissing my choice as if I were a Borscht Belt comedian in the Catskills. “Anything like it with a navy ground?”

And just like that a longterm classic was born of that swatch book, and I had learned my lesson. Black may be suitable for evening wear, but that’s about it. There’s simply little place for it in the wardrobe of an American gentleman.

In 35 years at J. Press we never carried a black rep stripe or a black ancient madder necktie or scarf. However, there were two exceptions to the rule: a black silk knit tie to wear with oxford-cloth buttondowns (especially yellow and pink), and a black emblematic tie with a pink pig for the Porcellians at Harvard. Oh, and the Yale Fence Club tie and scarf, which came with double yellow stripes against a black ground.

When I moved on to FR Tripler, I found things were quite different than under the strict decrees of my father and uncle. Tripler carried black Chesterfield coats by Hickey Freeman; at J. Press they were always charcoal with only a black velvet collar. In furnishings, including Shaggy Dog sweaters, hosiery and sport shirts, the dirtiest color at J. Press was navy.

The snobbery of well fitting, meticulously tailored clothing of English and Italian fabrications in tasteful colors immune to becoming outdated is largely a remnant times past. Don Quixote tilting against the presiding windmills of vulgarity still chooses brown leather for day time and relegates black to evening wear only. — RICHARD PRESS

24 Comments on "Golden Years: The Black Sheep Of The J. Press Family"

  1. For this Trad, it’s GTH colors and items, rather than black, that are signs of vulgarity.

  2. In an office where black shirts sometimes even with a sheen and pin stripe black pants are worn regularly it is reassuring to hear that others still have an aversion to this color.

  3. Mr. Press-

    What width do you suggest with regards to the black silk knit tie? Thank you.

  4. Born in 1955. Never owned anything black except shoes, a tux, a hat and a nice pair of Brooks Bros corduroys

  5. Not a fan of black except as evening wear, except in the case of the black knit tie, as mentioned…but, I can forgive anything black article of clothing…except the black dress shirt! It looks like it was born out of of the fever maddened mind of a fashion designer,envisioning some horrid Guido-Gay-Goth mash up

  6. Sorry…read “Any black article of clothing” for “anything black article of clothing”

  7. I may be wrong, but was it Helmut Lang that introduced the notion that a black suit was the modern mans work uniform? Then Hollywood embraced it and off it went into mass acceptance? Be that as it may, navy blue is my tried and true!

  8. Of all your wonderful contributions, I think I enjoyed this one the most. Thank you, Mr. Press, for another delightful essay.

  9. Henry
    Agreed, R. Press always comes though with interesting and humorous contributions. He represents the old school gentlemen’s clothing shop rag salesman we older guys have had the opportunity to have in our past. They made shopping fun and were as much a reason to stop by a shop on Saturdays as the clothing, good times.

  10. Mr. Press,
    Does the rule apply to an orange and black repp tie? Are Princetonians granted a pass?

  11. Princeton gets special consideration. I bet even Hobey Baker wore the orange blazer with black fringe shown at MFIT—it’s a doozy—–Richard

  12. Maybe this is an insipid question, but with this aversion to black, just what is to be worn with this single black knit tie??

    Certainly one MUST wear both a black belt and black shoes with a black knit tie…

  13. And green shoes with a green tie?

  14. I’m with you, Soren. However, black and burgundy (e.g., Horween color 8) go together, so a burgundy belt & shoes would also be fine with a black knit tie.

    But brown & black? Together? At the same time? In the same outfit? Yuck.

    P.S.: Just for clarification, the black funeral tie should not be a knit tie—way too casual. I think a grenadine or Oxford weave would be much more appropriate.

  15. I’ll stick with uncle Irving on this black knit tie thingy, I’m an Irvingphile.

  16. If I recall correctly, Ian Feming’s James Bond wore a black knit tie; am I mistaken? Btw, desperately miss Triplers; my father’s entire wardrobe came from there. I remember the polos from Smedley and Zimmerli (sp?) and every conceivable item from Hickey, Freeman…….

  17. Hmm. Automatic smiley-ization turned my “Horween color 8,” followed by a closing parenthesis, into 8)


  18. Pale Male | July 13, 2013 at 7:46 pm |

    I miss my Fence Club tie. Mysteriously disappeared as well as the FC scarf. Got a replacement scarf, but the ties haven’t been stocked for some years.

    The Lizzie scarf is also black, but with cream/white stripes. And the Drama School scarf is black with royal blue stripes — looks like a Barnett Newman painting. But perhaps these weren’t offered long ago?

  19. badblogcollection | December 27, 2016 at 10:14 am |

    Seems a bit ridiculous to have such a hard-and-fast rule against black, considering black was a very common, if not the most common suit color of the late 19th Century up through the Teens of the 20th Century.

  20. Evan Everhart | February 1, 2018 at 6:10 pm |

    I’ve got a Brooks Brothers black label early Wash & Wear tropical weight, #1 sack, in black. It is appropriate for funerals, and I suppose a cocktail party, though it’s not nearly as stylish as a navy blue one would be. It is fun to wear though! I have no particular bias against black, or against pairing black with brown (deepest brown tie and shoes with a black suit, or a black shirt and black edged pocket linen with a brown suit), if it is done tastefully, and that requires….duende. And nix on black shirts; leave that to the pseudo-intellectuals, and to the iconoclasts without taste or refinement. It bespeaks the security guard, or the night-club denizen, or the Mafioso; none of whom are to be emulated by choice. Bad form. I must admit to having committed that particular atrocity in my youth. For shame. Worse form.

  21. michael powell | December 28, 2020 at 10:06 pm |

    I’ve only worn my black silk knit tie with either gray or a black shirts (I don’t wear white shirts). A black tie with a pink or a yellow shirt? He was kidding, right?

  22. Randy Ventgen | December 28, 2020 at 10:28 pm |

    My black items are mostly shoes-Gucci’s, elastic side oxfords for planes and London, and cordovan wing tips, also a black tie for funerals, Hermès belt, tuxedo and velvet evening jacket.

  23. Old School Tie | December 29, 2020 at 8:03 am |

    Black and pink go very well together, as do black and yellow. Black on black, very Gambino crime family I must say.

  24. Black RL Purple Label folding sunglasses, Black New Wayfarer prescription sunglasses, an assortment of P3 eyeglasses, Black Porsche Design Pipe and a Black VW TDI Sportwagen.


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