Though it’s still not cool enough in most places for genuine fall and winter wear, it’s not too early to begin thinking of cooler weather to come. So with cooler thoughts in mind, I turned my attention to The J. Press Brochure for Fall & Winter 1981. In doing so, it occurred to me that this catalog is a great resource that can help one to get into the spirit of the coming months. While some may see 1981 as so long ago as to be irrelevant, there are others who will, no doubt, see the offerings of this catalog as a witness to a timeless and classic style that is never out of date. It is a style to which many continue to return because it offers both comfort and continuity with a living tradition – and in my experience things that provide links to living traditions often provide pathways into the future. Amidst a sea of contemporary black suits, overly tight tailoring and square-toed shoes that belong in Colonial Williamsburg, the quiet and sober style of this catalog is both refreshing and instructive.
I suppose that though some may say that this style is stuffy and little more than an “old man’s style,” I have found it to be true over the years that this is a style that can accompany one from younger years into increasingly mature years. It can lend maturity to a younger man and youthful vigor to an older one. In a world of increasingly short attention spans thinking about less and less of substance, it is refreshing that this style has the substance to span decades of a lifetime, never really looking out of date.
Over the years, a variety of clothiers such as Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Huntington Clothiers, O’Connell’s, Ralph Lauren et al have provided a sure foundation in this style. With care, some of this stuff seems to last almost forever, which is saying something in a world of planned obsolescence. The latest gadget or computer will not be with me in 10 years, but a Harris Tweed jacket, Shetland sweater or madder tie (provided I keep the soup off of it) will be. With all of the stuff that one seems to be obliged to carry around today, it is indeed humbling to be reminded that some of life’s “simpler” things are often the most long-lived and satisfying.
Though I don’t wear nearly as many suits today as I used to wear, I do still wear jackets a great deal. This catalog contains all manner of jackets, some of which aren’t easily found today. This catalog also has a great selection of shirts, sweaters, ties and outerwear. The outerwear offerings are actually one thing that remind me how much things have changed. For example, I rarely wear a wool Chesterton style overcoat today. I suspect that I am not alone here, as many clothiers no longer offer a selection of more formal outerwear with this kind of breadth. Yet there is much here that stands the test of time. In spite of what some (including myself) might think of J. Press’s York Street range, on the whole, J. Press still does a very good job of policing itself and staying within its historical framework. Other clothiers could learn from this model. Human beings are a funny lot, we often seem to chase after that which is new, yet at times can forget the accumulated wisdom of previous generations. In that vein, this catalog is a small but healthy reality check before the weather turns truly cold again.
Finally, I also have the above envelope that this catalog originally came in, showing that it was sent from New Haven on September 21, 1981, containing the above self-mailing order form. If using this order form was still an option, I suppose I would like to place an order for one of the “Pure Wool Highland Tweed” suits in lovat/natural/brown on the first page, along with a “Presstablishment Sport Jacket” in an olive/white marl herringbone. Purely a dream, of course, but they would (I have no doubt) be serviceable even today.
As I looked at the stamped meter date on the envelope, I must have subconsciously reversed the numerals of the date, because September 21st further reminded me of a Grateful Dead show from September 12th, 1981 at the Greek Theatre at UC Berkeley. In 1981, J. Press still had its San Francisco store, so the link between New Haven and the Bay Area feels seamless. As the above catalog attests, J. Press was at the top of its form in 1981 and this show from the Greek Theatre also showcases the Grateful Dead in a very good place musically, as well. There are no less than six high quality audience recordings from this show in circulation. I’ve linked them below from the Internet Archive. So if you have time, give one of them a listen while looking through this old J. Press catalog. These sights and sounds from so many years ago still have the power to inspire and help one move from summer into the coming months of fall.