Before Prep, there was Ivy. Before Ivy, there was Trad. And even before that, J. Press was the clothier of the elite American colleges. First, a little bit of history…
Traditional rule-based styles in the 20s (ie. match your shoes and belt, don’t wear a vest on its own, don’t wear a hat indoors, etc., etc.) were set down by style guides that were a modest relaxing of the more inflexible class stratified style of the previous generations. The rules were a bit more accessible to the growing middle class, but clothing was still symbolic of social standing and people dressed their part.
During these decades (the 1920s - 1940s), the aristocracy of America and Britain invented sporting styles for leisure. Clothes were specifically designed for activities like hunting, polo, golf, sailing, and tennis that retained some of the tailoring and details of formal clothing.
WWII changed everything in a lot of ways, and one of the big ones was the G.I. Bill - sending more men to college than ever before. A slightly greater class diversity led to further relaxation of the style rules.
J. Press was there for all of it. Founded in 1902 on Yale’s campus and then, in 1912, the family opened a store in New York “appropriately equidistant from the Yale and Harvard Clubs.”
During the mid to late 50s, young college men adopted the so-called “Ivy League Look” - the aforementioned style associated with the upper classes at leisure. Typical attire for this period included navy blazers (based on naval sportcoats with embossed military crests on brass buttons), sweater vests, oxford shirts, wingtips and brogues, tweed sportcoats, and later sack suits, polo shirts, chinos, and cardigans.
Across the ocean, Japan was still searching for its style. Prior to WWII, the isolated archipelago had strict, class-based clothing rules. But with the occupation of the country’s ports after the war, American soldiers introduced new ideas, ways to dress, and music to a country in an economic and cultural depression. It was particularly compelling to the youth who saw it as a means of expression and modernization.
Still rule conscious, VAN clothing and publications like Men’s Club and Take Ivy attempted to describe and guide young Japanese men and professionals on how to dress in the new American way. Ivy clothing was seen as a way to signal status through subtle underplay while still allowing a certain freedom that was a radical counterpoint to Japan’s uniformity.
It became a sensational and controversial departure in Japan, one as alarming as Elvis' hip shaking to politicians and parents in the American south of that era. Breaking away from their parent’s traditional views of clothing in Japan, gangs of devoted youths picked up the Ivy style. J. Press became one of the most coveted brands.
American style shifted drastically through the 60s and 70s before undergoing a Prep revival in the 80s (largely thanks to Ralph Lauren). Japanese style opened up as well. Still inspired by American fashion, youths formed gangs of greasers, G.I. style, hippies, and Ivy - gathering in public squares to hang out, dance to music, and show their style. Of these groups, Ivy was the oldest, best established, and most respected amongst those that were then becoming professional age.
(For a complete history on this topic, pick up a copy of AMETORA: How Japan Saved American Style by W. David Marx)
In 1974, the Press family sold the rights to license J. Press in Japan - becoming the first American brand on the archipelago.
To many in Japan, J. Press is still considered the sartorial standard by which all other professional attire is compared. Japan’s imprint of J. Press saved Ivy style from going as far with relaxed prep fashions of the 80s and 90s that was seen in America while still advancing modest evolutions in the styling for today. Still, all of the classics are here every season - navy and gun check blazers, sweaters, and sport jackets - bringing additional considerations of uncompromising and unequaled craftsmanship.
The quintessential American Ivy brand crafted the Japanese way. Pick up a piece and see for yourself…
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