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.
This entry was posted in Designers/Couturiers, Obscurier Couturiers, sportswear and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Jax

  1. Joan Fioravanti says:

    I worked at JAX in Manhattan during the summers of my college years in the early 1970s. I just found a photo of myself in a Jax dress that, unfortunately, I no longer have. My mother was the type who loved fashionable clothes but as soon as they went out of style, gave them to thrift and bought the latest thing. I now work as an appraiser of vintage fashion and textiles, so I certainly regret that she was like that and don’t share her philosophy. Looking back, and knowing what I know now, I realize how great the Jax concept was. You found a style you liked and could go through a fabric book and order it in a variety of fabrics & colors. Not quite “couture” but as close to custom made as one could get without one’s own personal dressmaker. And naturally there was a team of expert seamstresses in house who provided expert alterations. They had such great fabrics to choose from, mostly non synthetic back in those days, and cotton t shirts & t shirt dresses in a zillion colors. I remember spending a lot of time folding t shirts! If I came across anything from Jax that fit me, I would buy it in a minute. You don’t find stuff like that in today’s world – Jax clothing was classic, quality, and classy!
    Sigh, “those were the days”!

    Joan M. Fioravanti
    Appraiser – Vintage Fashion & Textiles

    • Jonathan says:

      That’s funny Joan because I am also from a family that didn’t save anything. I grew up in a mid century modern and NOTHING old was stowed was in the attic or basement! I think sometimes that is why we collectors were created – because we weren’t allowed to keep things when we were young!

  2. Carolyn McLaughlin says:

    I spent my summers in Beverly Hills during the 50’s. I knew Jack and bought his clothes. Do you know whatever happened to him? When he passed away, etc. I’ve often wondered about him all these years later. Carolyn

    • Jonathan says:

      I never found much information about him after 1975 when he divorced his wife and the company was split. If he was still alive he would be well into his 90s – I think he was born around 1921.

      • Carolyn McLaughlin says:

        Thank you for the reply. Some trivia you may or not know is when Jack was young he played baseball for a farm camp in Des Moines, Iowa which is my home town and I live there now. As I got older I worked for a retail dress shop here and flew to California with a 2,000 budget and begged him to let us carry the Jax line. He agreed and we constantly re-ordered.
        He was a really nice guy and at one point invited me to work for him. I didn’t but always regretted it.
        I think he told me the house he and Sally lived in was once owned by Howard Hughes. It was very pretty.
        I first met him when I was eleven years old. That is a long time ago as now I’m 73.
        Once again…thank you for replying. Carolyn

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