The story of casual sportswear giant Gant begins like a Frank Capra movie: at the dawn of what would soon be called the Great War, with an immigrant from the Ukraine finding himself sewing collars in the sweatshops of Manhattan’s garment district with little other than a dream and a crush on a button-stitcher. And like a good Capra hero, Bernard Gant would soon marry the girl and, after the Depression, they and their two sons, Marty and Elliot, would launch a fine shirt-making company on Ivy League turf in New Haven, Connecticut.
After their service in the war, the Gant sons returned to catapult their company, then the provider of shirts for classic American brands J. Press and Brooks Brothers, into one of the largest shirt makers in the world. Their sturdy construction, iconic double-pleated center back with a locker loop to match the casual-leaning times, and button-down collars—a detail originally introduced by Brooks Brothers at the turn of the century, which Gant ushered into the mainstream—made Gant a campus essential throughout the ‘60s prep heyday. Decades of foreign ownership followed the family’s sale of the business in 1967, but the brand’s continual commitment to quality and vanguard status in the realms of “heritage” and “Americana,” both of which reached a fever pitch in the ‘00s, kept Gant, and its rugby-inspired collection Rugger (introduced in 1973), at the forefront of American casual wear. Recent partnerships, including a storied collaboration with designer Michael Bastian (as well as one with Gilt MANual contributor Michael Williams), have only raised the stakes, profile, and quality of the label, which this year came home to New Haven with a new flagship store and a resurrected Yale Co-op line. For Gant, we might say, it’s a wonderful life.