Richard Press knows a thing or two about Ivy League style — after all, he was born into it.
The grandson of J. Press founder Jacobi Press, Richard Press has penned a book called “Threading the Needle,” a compilation of 50 stories from the history of the venerable retail store and the Press family. The haberdashery was founded in New Haven, Conn., on the campus of Yale University, in 1902 and came to define the aesthetics of Ivy League style.
In a forward, G. Bruce Boyer said Richard Press still embodies “the tradition, spirit and heritage” of Ivy style with his ubiquitous bowtie, three-button sack suit and oxford button-down shirts. And although he sold the business to Onward Kashiyama in 1986, Press has remained an ambassador and adviser to J. Press since then.
Case in point are the weekly columns that Press has written for the retailer over the past several years, which are what he pulled together to create “Threading the Needle.” He sets the tone by first recounting how his grandfather left Pale of the Settlement, the Jewish enclave in Central European Russian territory, for Boston in 1896 to join his brothers, who operated a custom tailor shop in Connecticut. Shortly after, he partnered with bespoke tailor J.C. Goldbaum to create Goldbaum & Press in New Haven and eventually bought out his partner to launch J. Press where he pioneered ready-to-wear clothing. He expanded to New York City after World War 1.
While the company history is interesting, the book hits its stride when Press tells his stories, including how George Bernard Shaw loved his Donegal tweed coats; how the store brushed scratchy Shetland wool to create its now signature Shaggy Dog sweater; and how Frank Sinatra invited the J. Press crew to the swanky Quo Vadis restaurant in Manhattan and then to his son’s concert at the Rainbow Room — and the number of Jack Daniels drinks they consumed that evening.
While most of the stories date from the heyday of American Ivy League style, Press does speak to the current state of fashion, asking toward the end of the book: Does anyone still wear a necktie? Maybe not, but they should, he writes, saying it’s “gauche” to wear a suit with an unbuttoned dress shirt. Not surprisingly, he’s also a fan of suspenders, classic Harris Tweed caps and three-piece suits. “The challenge for Ivy style adherents remains adapting to the current clothing culture while nevertheless carrying forth the original traditions of our trademarked good taste and faultless tailoring,” he writes.
And how does that translate to today’s pandemic-fueled propensity for sweatpants? Press believes it’s his lot in life to carry the torch for Ivy League style, and that’s the reason he wrote the book. “The uncertainty of today’s prevailing wardrobe standards together with J. Press’ commitment to maintaining a high bar for dressing up or down, provided the impetus for this former retailer to carry the ball once again — however on the printed page,” he said. “My story, together with its Ivy history, recounts a culture that remains relevant in today’s disjointed ragtime market. Good taste never goes out of style.”
The 200-page hardcover book is being sold at the J. Press store and on the retailer’s web site for $34.95.