Billy Taub: Clothier of Champions

By Clarence George on February 18, 2015
Billy Taub: Clothier of Champions
Joe Louis was also a patron of Billy Taub, introduced to the famed tailor by Duke Ellington.

Baer swelled “magnificently in the right places” and had an “exhilarating clothes sense, his taste running to orchidaceous tones and new designs…”

“Billy Taub
By Special Appointment
Tailor to the Royalty of Sportsdom”
—Billy Taub’s business card

Floyd Mayweather Jr. has a lot of money to spend, and he spends a lot of money on a lot of things (most recently 400 grand on a Rolls-Royce so that “his 14-year-old daughter can ride in style”), including clothes. It doesn’t look like he does; anyway, not to me. I’m reminded of that scene in Dr. No, when James Bond has to surrender his beloved Beretta. “‘I think we can do better than this, sir,’” the Armorer tells M. “It was the sort of voice Bond’s first expensive tailor had used.”

But Mayweather can’t do better. He doesn’t have a tailor. He doesn’t have Billy Taub.

Taub, like Madame Bey and Benjamin “Evil Eye” Finkle, is one of the Sweet Science’s peripheral characters, little remembered, but no less interesting for being so. He was written up several times in, of all places, The New Yorker. In “The Talk of the Town” of June 28, 1930, we read, “You may have wondered occasionally where the prizefighters get the natty suits, the golfing knickers, the dinner jackets they sport about in nowadays. Billy Taub is, principally, the answer.”

A crowd gathered outside his place at 1387 Broadway, hoping to catch a glimpse of Max Schmeling, who’d faced Jack Sharkey at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx for the vacant heavyweight title on June 12, 1930, winning by fourth-round disqualification. The new champ was “looking over materials for a few lounge suits.” Despite being accompanied by two private dicks, the German was a bit discombobulated by all the ballyhoo, but not so the unflappable Billy Taub. In the old days, Jack Dempsey bought 20 suits a year from Taub, “and the crowds would sometimes smash in the front windows of the shop, watching him do it.” Dempsey was replaced by Jimmy McLarnin as Taub’s best customer, averaging about 30 suits a year. “The Murderous Mick” left it all to Taub’s good taste and judgment, “only intimating that he likes stripes and fancy weaves.”

What’s with all the prizefighters and their suit-buying? Superstition, for one thing. Primo Carnera bought himself a suit from Taub shortly after arriving in New York. He promptly knocked out Big Boy Peterson in the first at Madison Square Garden on January 24, 1930, and was back in the shop the next day “to keep his luck running.”

It took almost three times more material to suit up “The Ambling Alp” than it would have Joe Schmoe—eight and a half yards instead of three. “The jacket of one of his suits would wrap twice around the average man, and hangs down almost to one’s knees.”

A tailor since 1919 (previously a trap-drummer who’d performed with Eddie Foy and Eva Tanguay), Taub knew how to fit athletes, even a Carnera, making them look less bulky than they were. Among his many satisfied clients was Max Baer, who won the championship from Carnera by 11th-round TKO at the Madison Square Garden Bowl in Long Island City, Queens, on June 14, 1934.

In the June 30, 1934, issue of The New Yorker, we learn that Baer, aka The Clown Prince of Boxing, swelled “magnificently in the right places” and had an “exhilarating clothes sense, his taste running to orchidaceous tones and new designs.”

Baer was a tailor’s delight, according to Taub. “When you fit a coat to that forty-six chest, Mother, you can come and take me home!” said the exuberant outfitter. “His selection,” continued Taub, “will influence the masculine mode in a way that it’s not yet conscious of.”

The champ, himself influenced by Clark Gable, favored a “half-belted back, shirred shoulders (small uneven gatherings from yoke to belting), peg-top trousers with narrow bottoms, and envelope pockets opening like a Gladstone bag.” He liked gabardine in white, green, and gray, as well as worsted in pastel.

Taub had to gather material from 15 mills for Baer’s visit to the establishment’s new location at 1435 Broadway, including the importation of Shantung silk for suits of white, baby blue, and cream tan.

When the champ learned that the King of England showed up at Wimbledon “with the outer seam of his slacks not stitched inside but lapped over,” he demanded the same of his tailor.

“With a champion like that, how can I go wrong?” Taub said. He couldn’t, given that he charged Baer anywhere from $85 to $125 per suit ($1,500 to $2,200 in today’s money), many of which the champ eventually gave away. “If he likes you and you are enormous, you get a suit, maybe two or three.” Thought Taub, “We’ll be dead before we get another like him.”

And for the ladies…Baer further emulated the King (of Hollywood, that is) by not wearing undershirts, “just trunks of a pastel shade.” And he eschewed garters.

The legendary Joe Louis was also a patron of Billy Taub, introduced to the famed tailor by Duke Ellington.

Following his win over “bruising, mauling and rushing” Arturo Godoy at the Garden on February 9, 1940, “The Brown Bomber” stood fast with tradition by buying himself a Billy Taub suit, according to the February 17, 1940, issue of The New Yorker.

Despite co-manager Johnny Roxborough’s attempts to downplay Louis’ interest in fancy duds, the champ was indeed one of the tailor’s best customers, buying 20 suits in 1939, some of them in the deep blue, “the sensations of Harlem,” favored by his other manager, Julian Black, though he often wound up wearing a suit coat of a “violently contrasting nature.”

Louis initially ordered Taub suits by catalogue in mundane blue and gray, but eventually developed a taste for such sartorial eccentricities as a “camel’s hair jacket with leather piping (his own invention) or a suit coat without lapels.” He also liked two-tones, especially in shades of green, “floppy trousers,” and eventually warmed to padded shoulders. Concerned that people were borrowing a favorite midnight-blue tailcoat, he asked Taub for his own label, “Tailored specially for Joe Louis by Billy Taub,” with his name in autograph form, a practice the tailor adopted for all his famous clients. According to Taub, Louis’ wardrobe was second only to that of Damon Runyon as the “finest in the sporting world.”

Clothes make not only the man, but the champ. Imagine if Floyd Mayweather had a Billy Taub suit (or at least one by Mohanbhai Ramchandani). Gone the sophomoric and ugly baseball cap emblazoned with its ubiquitous and delusional “TBE,” replaced instead with a pearl-gray fedora with charcoal ribbon. Manny Pacquiao is another one who could use some sprucing up, some sense of sartorial splendor.

They would have fought long ago. Their dignity would have demanded it.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Juozas Žukauskas "Jack Sharkey" vs Max Schmeling (1930)

Primo Carnera Boxer (1929-1930)

L'artiste de vaudeville Eva Tanguay

Max Baer vs Primo Carnera

Joe Louis vs Arturo Godoy, I

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  1. Gene 08:15am, 01/10/2017

    From above article, “Taub, like Madame Bey and Benjamin “Evil Eye” Finkle, is one of the Sweet Science’s peripheral characters, little remembered, but no less interesting for being so.” Madame Bey is now remembered in the new book of her life and that of the camp in “The Sweet Science,” called “Madame Bey’s: Home to Boxing Legends.” The book can be found at the link below.

  2. Clarence George 07:52am, 02/20/2015

    “Hanging out there,” eh, Irish?

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:53am, 02/20/2015

    Clarence George-I would wager that It’s every man’s dream….well maybe not Bruce Jenners’ “swell magnificently in the right places”....sorry….I just couldn’t restrain myself any longer and just leave that one hanging out there.

  4. Clarence George 07:40pm, 02/19/2015

    Delighted you liked it, Norm.  And what a great poem of “Old Blood and Guts.”

  5. Norman Marcus 06:54pm, 02/19/2015

    Great Story Clarence. A unique angle of the 30s and forties that brings those times alive again. What did George Patton say in one of those poems of his? “So as through a glass, darkly
    The age old strife I see
    Where I fought in many guises,
    Many names, but always me…
    So forever in the future,
    Shall I battle as of yore,
    Dying to be born a fighter,
    But to die again, once more.
    This story Clarence is like a time machine. Really enjoyed it.

  6. Eric 08:07am, 02/19/2015

    Carnera must have shrunk 3” after that appearance. I’ve seen Carnera listed anywhere between 6’5 3/4” to 6’7” but I’ve never seen him listed as high as 6’9”.  Just a tad bit of an exaggeration.

  7. Clarence George 08:54pm, 02/18/2015

    By the way, Hemingway had a cat named Big Boy Peterson…presumed to be the last living creature to see the famed author alive.

  8. Clarence George 08:18pm, 02/18/2015

    Thank you, Peter.  Yes, “orchidaceous” isn’t a word one comes across every day.  I don’t know about Battling Siki, but Kid Chocolate was indeed one of Taub’s clients.  I knew of Ramchandani, but not Certo…anyway, not as a tailor.  My father had a tailor, Marco Weisbard, but I don’t think he had any boxers as patrons.

    Always delighted to have your imprimatur, Irish.  Hey, did you hear the little guy asking if there was a gentleman—or lady!—in the audience who might want to go a few rounds with the nattily attired Carnera?  Huh?  What sort of women were present, a bunch of Hope Emersons?

  9. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:42pm, 02/18/2015

    Clarence George-Love this one….back in the day before briefs and thongs were popular tailors like Mr. Taub would ask the gents “Do you dress right or left , Sir?”....Hells Fire! Maybe they still do…as a sign of professionalism.

  10. peter 05:55pm, 02/18/2015

    Thank you for this “orchidaceous” story. It would be of interest if Battling Siki, another Beau Brummel, ever stepped foot into Billy Taub’s fitting room…..A follow-up article might be of Jersey City’s Al Certo, the present-day Billy Taub.

  11. Clarence George 12:05pm, 02/18/2015

    Informative and entertaining post, Chuck, thank you.

    A zoot suit?  Who did Sugar think he was, Cab Calloway?

  12. ch. 10:51am, 02/18/2015

    Clarence, i don’t know if Sugar Ray Robinson was clothed by Taub. But he related the story that when he took Edna May out on their first date he showed up at her house wearing a zoot suit. Edna May’s mother was horrified and Edna May subtly told Ray the successful men dress conservatively. Afterwards Robinson (usually) dressed down but turned out. He left most of his flashiness to his Fuchsia colored cadillac and his rapid fire combinations inside the ring.

  13. Clarence George 09:08am, 02/18/2015

    Thanks for the 411, Eric.  I had no idea that anyone dressed that way other than Antonio Fargas in “Sucka.”  Yes, I remember Frazier wearing a milk-green suit in “Rocky.”  Of course, pretty much everyone dressed like an idiot in the ‘70s.  I mean, what choice did you have?  One year, I recall, you couldn’t get pants that weren’t bell-bottoms, not for love or money…and love (sorta) was very much coin of the realm in those days.

  14. Eric 08:47am, 02/18/2015

    Clarence.. Just looked “Frenchy” up on wiki and it stated that Fuqua would occasionally appear in public with platform shoes but would place different tropical fish from his aquarium inside the heels. Seemed that Frenchy wanted the fish to match his outfit. I always thought it was only goldfish that Mr. Fuqua used in his heels. Damn. My bad, forgot about the Nation of Islam thing with Ali, still liked the way he dressed. Foreman would wear those funky hats and overalls, Frazier would be wearing green, orange, etc. Norton looked like he stepped out of disco.

  15. Clarence George 08:32am, 02/18/2015

    You’re right, Eric, but didn’t Ali have to dress conservatively, given his membership in the Nation of Islam?  Did Fuqua really have those shoes?  I thought that was a scene from “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.”

    Thanks very much indeed, KB.

  16. Kid Blast 08:02am, 02/18/2015

    Unique and interesting. Good stuff.

  17. Eric 07:38am, 02/18/2015

    I always liked the way Ali dressed back in the day. In a day of leisure suits, loud colors, platform shoes, Ali kept it simple and classy. Ali’s taste of clothing realy stood out during a time when athletes like Frenchy Fuqua were wearing platform shoes with clear heels containing live goldfish. Walt Frazier’s taste in clothing back then would make Bishop Don “Magic” Juan cringe.

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