Previously I’ve written about the Boston Cracked Shoe look, a term applied to certain WASP patricians who would wear items that had far outlived their presentable lifespan. Members of the press discovered the concept during the presidential campaign of Adlai Stevenson when they observed Stevenson had holes in the soles of his shoes while working the campaign trail.
Moving into the Internet world of the past decade, another term describing well worn items entered the Ivy vernacular. Somewhere on the ‘Net, certain items that appeared to have seen better days began to be referred to as a “beater,” as in beater blazer, beater shoes or beater watch. But this time the term was applied not to the Old Money set, but to a certain kind of trad everyman.
Most devotees of Ivy fully believe that certain items of clothing can still be retained well past their presentable life, to be used in situations that call for something serviceable but thoroughly worn. An old blazer might become a beater blazer to be used for occasions when a blazer is needed, but a well worn one wouldn’t be out of place.
Being neither Ivy League nor remotely patrician, I felt I could never pull off the Boston Cracked Shoe look. A suit worn with holed-out shoes would just look shabby and pretentious. But when the beater concept started being discussed online around 2004, it made perfect sense to me.
At the time I owned two old favorites that were one step away from the church rummage sale. One was an old Burberry topcoat that gave up the pretense of being waterproof sometime during the Carter administration. The other was a favorite Brooks Brothers sack blazer with frayed cuffs and shiny elbows. Instead of getting rid of them, I decided to keep both these old friends in the rotation to serve during foul weather, when riding the New Jersey Transit, and other similar situations where being reasonably presentable was called for, but the environment was not kind to better jackets and topcoats.
The beater concept also applies to wristwatches. A beater watch is one that the Ivy stylist wears when a watch is needed but style is secondary. The faithful old LL Bean field watch, or a Timex with scars from heavy use, serves well as a beater watch for softball games, etc.
And getting back to cracked shoes, the beater concept is perfectly applicable to footwear. Old Weejuns or boat shoes with scars and even holes in the soles are useful when more presentable footwear would sustain unwanted abuse. Sunday brunch at a nice restaurant, during bad weather, might be the perfect occasion for a beater blazer, watch and shoes.
In a situation such as this, frayed cuffs, an old field watch, and worn out Weejuns still let you be more properly dressed than most of the other patrons in sweatshirts, jeans and running shoes. — BILL STEPHENSON
Seventy-seven-year-old Bill Stephenson graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1954. After serving in the Air Force, he spent 40 years in the insurance industry, including acting as executive vice president of Fidelity Union Life. He presently resides in Princeton, NJ, and frequently audits courses at the university.