Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Jax

Jack Hanson in his Beverly Hills shop, 1965

In 1952 Jack Hanson teamed up with Walter Bass, and Rudi Gernreich in a commercial sportswear venture. Bass handled the manufacturing contracts, Gernreich designed the sportswear, and Hanson sold the line through his shop Jax, which he had founded with a $500 loan in 1944.  The store soon built a reputation for smart, sporty clothes including peasant skirts, slim pants, oversized tops, and shift dresses. The venture operated successfully until 1959 when Bass and Gernreich parted ways. Gernreich continued to design for Hanson until 1963 when they too parted ways over the issue of exclusivity.

By 1964, Hanson’s shop had expanded into a seven-store chain that stretched from Beverly Hills to Manhattan. The shops were known for their young-styled easy-fitting fashions as much as they were for their aloof salesgirls with their studied disregard of customers. Society women, movie stars, and chic young things flocked to the store for jeans and T-shirts, in the day when jeans and T-shirts were a new idea in casual wear. Tight fitting Jax slacks (which sold for $60 per pair), with a zipper up the centre back rather than the side, were a fashion rage in the middle of the decade and were worn by celebrities including Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood, and Candice Bergen. Elizabeth Taylor reportedly bought $3,000 worth of Jax slacks in March 1964.

Jax was one of the originators of the jeans and T-shirt look. The baseball cap was his own thing, but indicative of a trend that will never go away.

On October 8, 1965 Jack Hanson and his store Jax were featured in Life magazine: “He thinks he looks good in a baseball cap, which is his own business. But he thinks girls – some girls – look good in tight pants and snug T-shirts… ” remarked Life magazine.  During his interview, Jack Hanson explained the theory of his success “Too many young adults dress too old. They should dress as casual and young and functional as possible, and live that way. If you’re going to act old at 30, you might as well forget it.”

In 1975 Jack and his wife Sally divorced which resulted in the company being split. The store brand lost its edge to cheaper and brand name competition and quietly disappeared.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian. He was the founding curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, and the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. He has amassed a collection of nearly 8,000 items dating from the mid 17th century to the present, and has written various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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