Since we were already going down to Brooks Brothers, we decided that it was a good opportunity to check out the other famous men's stores on the same block, because along with brooks, J. Press and Paul Stuart run sort of a gamut of men's classic clothing, all next door to each other. The three create a sort of mini-menswear district for the Grand Central area.
If you think Brooks Brothers is preppy, you are right, but it is a big chain, and its offerings are naturally broadened to appeal to a wide customer base. If you are in search of real, hard-core, Gin and Tonic swilling prepdom, you need look no further than around the corner on 44th street for New York's outpost of J. Press. This is a true prep haven that boasts it's collegiate roots. The company was started on the campus of yale, and still sells ties festooned with skulls and bones, as well as a great array of neackwear decorated with ducks and other fowl. While the general concept is similar to Brooks, one gets a time warp feeling here, as if you can tell that the merchandise has really not changed much in 50 years. Looking for kelly green cotton pants with whales? Look no further. Likewise for bright madras sportcoats, striped ribbon belts with buckles or d-rings, heavy knit fair-isle socks, brushed shetland sweaters in primary colors, grosgrain watch bands, wool fair-isle socks, fisherman knit sweaters, and blazers made in a harlequin-type style, with each panel of fabric a different color or pattern. It's like they stocked the store from The Official Preppy Handboook. It's all charming, and slightly scary at the same time.
We hadn't been into Paul Stuart in quite a some time, but upon entry we found ourselves in a time warp of a different sort. We would be willing to bet that the store hasn't changed in at least 20 years. The merchandise is as opulent as ever. It is geared more towards the Brooks customer who has been promoted, gone to Europe a few times, hungers for more sophistication, and has the means to pay for it. What struck us was the almost maniacal consistency of the layout, as if nobody had ever succeeded in suggesting that the sweaters might look good on the other side of the store for a change. Each section held the same exact sort of merchandise it always had in exactly the same place, all classic and timeless, but the effect was a little creepy. One might have thought that the 70's era décor would have become so hopelessly dated by now that it had actually come back into fashion, but it hasn't, and the store is in desperate need of a facelift. Whoever is running it is clearly focused on maintaining a tidy status quo, perhaps so the store's fiercely loyal customers will always know where everything is, but luxurious as it is, and there are lot's of beautiful things there, it would benefit immensely from even the slightest bit of shaking up.
J.Press 7 East 44th Street
Paul Stuart Madison Avenue at 45th Street