March 2, 2010

J. Press for Spring

The Trad/WASP/Preppy crowd (of which I consider myself a fair weather member) will be happy to know that venerable men's clothier J. Press released their new Spring line a few Fridays ago.  For those unfamiliar with the New England retailer, I offer a brief history:  In 1902, a nineteenth century immigrant named Jacobi Press began selling clothing in New Haven, CT on the campus of Yale University.  Over the subsequent decades, J. Press became known for the quintessential "Ivy League" look, even providing institution-specific goods such as scarves, buttons, and blazer crests from its locations near the campuses of Yale and Harvard.  Little changed over the years, even as trends generally became more casual and the Ivy League student body became less elite and more diversified; Pants were always flat front, shoulders were always natural, jackets were undarted 3/2 button sack style, and ties were repp stripes, regimental patterns, and madras plaids.  Signature flap pocket oxford cloth button-downs and tweed sport coats became a staple of the late-50s to mid-sixties Ivy look.  Even with the overall decline in menswear quality that the 1970s served up, J. Press continued in its tradition of tradition.  In 1986, the company was sold to Japanese holding company Onward Kashiyama but today the USA division continues to manufacture the majority of its offerings domestically.  J. Press still operates the New Haven and Cambridge, MA shops as well as stores in New York City and Washington, D.C.  (All web orders are processed through the New York store.)
Today, some would argue that J. Press has lost that something that made it...well...J. Press and arguably so.  Japanese ownership doesn't exactly scream "All American" and the quality vs price ratio has certainly suffered, regardless of the country of manufacture.  (I have personally experienced the inconvenience of stitching flaws on the seams of a Press shirt recently.  After a call and some shipping back and forth, I received a satisfactory replacement.)  True "natural" shoulders in jackets have become nearly impossible to find, even from the stalwart purveyors of traditional style.  And there's always that looming question of whether or not the "elite" look is still relevant in a time when elitism is seen as a social obstacle, an enemy of progress, a locked door in a country where not even walls should exist anymore.  Then again I'm not sure whether or not being relevant even matters.  But I know why I like J. Press:  They make clothes.  Clothes for men.  I don't wear J. Press to feel fashionable.  I wear it to feel well-dressed.  And sometimes I think America, for all her great strides, misses that.

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