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.

39 thoughts on “Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Jax

  1. 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

    • 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.

      • 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

    • I visited him in 1986. I stayed in his home in Malibu. We knew each other for years. He passed long ago. His wife, Joan daisy. They had a child.

    • hi carolyn, jack died along time ago… it was sad, being pushed into the beverly hills hotel by his devoted wife joan, she loved him, i went to visit her in santa monica, she is perfect… i use to drive his convertible, lunch and dine with them in 1967 breakfasts at the coffee shop… call me to talk about jack… richard degrandcourt 949 6462005

  2. 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

    • 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!

  3. I have a long black coat dress with half blk/white lining by jax. I would like to have it appraised. Where can I go?

    • A proper appraisal should be done in person with someone who has experience in vintage clothing and textiles. It is not a field that is licensed or regulated, so you have to trust your instincts and find someone who has a lot of experience – maybe a vintage clothing store or local auction house. I find many appraisers over-evaluate items, which I don’t think necessarily serves anyone well. A realistic fair market value is what you are probably looking for. Hope that helps.

  4. I shopped at Jax in the 1960’s when I was in my 20’s. My favorite store. Jack at one point asked me if I would be interested in opening a shop for him in Honolulu. He introduced me to Steve McQueen and Sidney Poitier on separate days at his store in Beverly Hills. He had tennis and pool parties every weekend at his and Sally’s home and invited me to those as well and also encouraged me to join his Daisy Club that he opened, I think, in the late 60’s. During this time, Sally was the designer. Fond memories of times gone by. He was a very nice guy.

  5. I wish I’d saved the slacks. The low cut dress. I hung out with Jack. Helped him
    Open The Daisy. Spent so much time with Jack. Oh. The stories.

  6. I have a beautiful belt with a HUGE rhinestone buckle. The belt is deteriorating rapidly but the buckle remains gorgeous! I almost cut the buckle off and then noticed the JAX . Boy am I glad I didn’t. Nice to know the history of such a fine store.

  7. Hello, I’ve enjoyed this essay very much. I’m trying to learn more about Rudi Gernreich’s designs for Jax–and I’m wondering if you have a reference for Rudi continuing to design for Jax after the Walter Bass partnership ended in 1959 (you mentioned he continued with Jax through 1963). Thank you very much.

  8. I was a “JAX girl” in the summer of 1960. Never knew about Walter Bass, but Rudi was a frequent flyer in the Beverly Hills (the only one at the time) store. My understanding was that Sally had a considerable hand in designing the clothes, also. We worked on 4% commission, and we had to vacuum the floors and polish the mirrors. There was a pretty good movie star clientele – and I probably saw more famous people there than anywhere else in town. We got a good discount on the clothes, which I took advantage of – and the lovely shoes, too. We had to wear JAX clothes while we worked – and one significant feature of the “skinny” pants was that they had no side seams. And various items were named for stars – the “Marilyn” is a dress I remember. Retrospectively, we could wear most of those clothes today, because the lines and designs were classic. Also, Western Costume used to come in and go out with armloads of clothes to dress various women who were shooting movies. It was a memorable summer – a fun job – and Jack was great to work for.

      • Oh my, I was a Jax girl as well! I worked there in th late ’60s. I remember being told to put the attractive women in the front dressing rooms as he could see into them from his “aerie” on the second floor. Also remember being told not to smile at clients.

        Cathy, if you are still alive and happen on this thread, how are you?

        Cathy had all the best clients.

        What a hoot! I haven’t thought about this store in ages.

        To all those who may have had the unfortunate experience of working for this lech, he he, we’re still here and you’re not.

  9. It was an incredible time & Jack owned it . The women were the real champions & it was a shame , they did not get any credit.

    • There are a lot of people commenting on this thread – obviously the store was a fond experience for many people.

  10. When I was 14 years old I used to go to Jax and stayed outside I. Front of his beautiful windows, draw the outfits.
    The side zip pant, blazer checked and I. Solid cottons and a classic t-shirt.
    I also sketched the striped sweater that was a tank in olive green with Sunflower, or olive with powder blue.
    I than went home and made them and sold to my friends.
    He was my ideal, til this day.
    Since than in 1972 I went into the t-shirt business starting with the crew neck t in
    multiple colors.
    Could be time to bring all that back! Don’t you think?

  11. My wife Barbara (Beall) and her twin sister Bette both worked at the Jax BH store during the 60s. I played tennis at Jack and Sally’s most weekends, lots of stars and starlets, great weekend parties, movies in the basement, Sally was a great hostess, as Jack was good on the court and spent most of his time organizing doubles games. We moved to NY, Bette and her husband Guy Webster moved to Florence and had a great house on the Isle of Menorca…… those were the days. Everyone loved Jack and Sally.

  12. My mom had the skinny pants and striped knits in pink/orange and mint/olive. I dress dress in vintage 60s style likely due to my mom and this store.

  13. Thanks for the great blog post about a store I wish I could have visited and patronized. This is a long shot, but I’d love to know if the fabulous outfit worn by Hilary Thompson as the hitchhiking hippie girl in the Jacques Demy film “Model Shop” came from Jax? The film’s costume designer had shopped at Jax for a Hitchcock film she had previously worked on, so I must assume she considered Jax for the trendy hippie girl played by the adorably carefree Hilary Thompson. I love Hilary’s character’s poncho, black leggings (with a hole in the knee) and *stunning* olive leather granny boots. I must confess that I’d wear that outfit today, and feel utterly au courant, if a little unoriginal. I can recreate everything but the boots; if anyone has any leads on those boots (original or reproduction) I’d sure be interested! Many thanks for leading me down this fascinating rabbit hole of fashion!

  14. Oh, such great memories! My mom was a Jax regular in Beverly Hills from the late 50s to mid 60s. I was a teenager and loved to go to Jax with her. She had a pair of orange and white gingham skinny pants and sleeveless top. They were the softest of cottons and lined. Mom had a great figure and looked fabulous in them. I’m not sure if she purchased her shoes there too, but she had a rainbow of thongs (sandals) that she wore with her Jax outfits. I remember the shifts, too. I think I still have some of her Jax pieces.

  15. If you would like to see JAX fashions on a weekly basis find out what station carries METV in your area! There is an old series on that I remem!ber from when I was much younger called Peter Gunn. Created,produced, sometimes directed by and sometimes written by the great Blake Edwards. Music by his often collabrator Henry Mancini. Peter Gunn’s girlfriend Edie Hart (played by Lola Albright) wardrobe was always by JAX. Where I am it is on very early every Monday morning 4:00AM-5:00AM. It is a half hour show. You will see 2 shows and may get your JAX fashion fix. Most of her wardrobe consist of evening ware (she is a nightclub singer who evetuallly opens her own place)but, sometimes they have evenings together where she dresses casually. I hope this helps some of the JAX fans out there I just enyoy reminiscing of a simpler time (at least for me). So take care and be safe.

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