I’m seventeen and attend a prep school in Louisville, Kentucky. I have a fondness for classic clothing, but it’s definitely not inherited. I’m middle class and my dad’s taste in clothing is as bland as white bread. Instead I came to appreciate classic clothes through my love of film, especially old Alfred Hitchcock movies like “North by Northwest,” “Vertigo,” “Strangers on a Train,” and “To Catch a Thief.” I’d feast my eyes on them when they’d show at the Palace Theater, an elegant Spanish Baroque theater with turrets, balconies, arcades that opened in 1928. It smells of ancient velvet dust and — so I like to imagine —Humphrey Bogart’s cigarettes.
One of my favorite style moments in old movies occurs in “Strangers on a Train.” Farley Granger’s character wins his tennis match, throws on a crested 3 button blazer over his white polo, ditches the fed who’s tailing him, slips on a pair of grey flannels, and rushes to confront Robert Walker’s maniacal villain. The formal and athletic in perfect harmony.
I’d like to think I was born with a sensitivity “regarding love and art,” as Christian recently mentioned in a quote from another classic film, “The Wizard of Oz.” I read a lot and have followed this website, along with several others, for about a year. I just got my hands on a copy of Boyer’s “True Style” and read it front to back in two afternoons. The mix of jazz, classic movies, and old-school cool make Ivy damn near irresistible to me.
Dress shirts and ties are required at my school. So is a clean shave; in fact there’s a sink with a razor in the office for especially stubbly students. Special occasions call for a navy blazer. As you might imagine, ponies and whales flood the halls, and Wallabees, desert boots, and boat shoes weather the stone floors. A friend and I want to sport penny loafers, since being seniors we can take risks, and see if anyone takes inspiration from us. Many wear crewneck sweaters and corduroy pants when the temperatures start to drop. Patagonia jackets are common. In the warm months, short-sleeved shirts in madras or seersucker are practically uniform. I don’t see Brooks Brothers worn very frequently, and unfortunately much of what I do see are non-iron shirts. Without a doubt I’m the only student who owns anything from J. Press — or has even heard of it. At parties, the garb is the same, but sans tie. Harris Tweed and grey flannel trousers for a teenager these days is a bit much to expect, but on the whole I’d say most are ahead of the pack.
Lacking money, I have to be clever when acquiring clothes. Gold can be struck at thrift and consignment stores. I’ve found $3 Lacoste polos, $12 bit loafers (not Gucci, but made in Italy), and flawless ancient madder ties. eBay’s strength is its size. There’s a lot of stuff, and much of it cheap: Shetland crewnecks, Gant popovers, vintage Brooks rep ties, Ralph Lauren madras shirts (with flap pocket, locker loop, and rear collar button). I love white Tretorn nylites. Their sporty silhouette provides a nice juxtaposition with clothes of navy, olive and charcoal. Mine were 20 dollars new on eBay. I beat the hell out of them and they look great.
Kentucky is an odd state, not quite Midwest and not quite South. We really do get asked if we own shoes. On that note, down in the least educated area of backwater Louisville, there is a store named Rodes founed in 1914 that stocks Alden. They also have Oxxford suits, which can be added to the lengthy list of things I can’t afford. Anyway, the one weekend the South does lay claim to us is in May, and that’s Kentucky Derby Weekend. Private jets soar into town from all over the world. In fact, there is a small airport near my house that for 363 days is desolate, but on Derby and Oaks is bursting with multimillion-dollar flying palaces.
The Derby, as I’m sure you’re aware, is as much a fashion show as it is a horse race. Pastel-clad youth show up in force, many in various states of intoxication, some puffing on cigars. You’ll see patch madras, seersucker, white linen, and oxford cloth in every shade imaginable. This year I wore a blue seersucker jacket, white OCBD, madras bow tie, navy chinos, and filthy white bucks. One of my friends wore his Brooks navy blazer with patch pockets, hook vent, white OCBD, bright motif bow tie, stone chinos, and a pair of Alden for Brooks cordovan tassel loafers gifted from his grandfather. (I’m not jealous in the least about that sort of inheritance…) It’s a weekend to dress crazily, drink a few too many mint juleps, and bet the mortgage on a longshot.
Louisville is a beautiful city. As a soldier, F. Scott Fitzgerald was stationed at Camp Taylor but made frequent visits downtown to the Seelbach Hotel. In arguably his most famous work, “The Great Gatsby,” Louisville is the place where young Daisy Faye and Jay Gatsby fall into a deep love which Gatsby would never recover. The most beautiful park is Cherokee, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. Forested hills, gorgeous vistas, and a gentle blue creek runs through it. There are also quaint stone and brick houses with thick green foliage growing wildly up to the sky.
I’ll buy one someday if I can hold onto a couple bucks. — PH