You probably remember a few years ago, back when Ralph Lauren Rugby was still alive, and neo-preps were wearing collar pins with buttondown collars. The buttons were not fastened, and had sometimes been removed, but those of the old guard found the look an incorrigible affectation. I recall going into the New York J. Press store (when it was still alive) to pick up a collar pin and being admonished to never wear it with a buttondown. Thank you for the sound advice.
I also remember a conversation with Tom Davis, legendary head of Brooks Brothers’ custom shirt program who’s been with the company for half a century. Our chat invariably turned to buttondown collars, and Mr. Davis said he recalled guys wearing collar pins with fastened buttondowns. He seemed to characterize it not as gauche, but as a particularly GTH gesture by guys who knew better but did it anyway. That was the whole point.
I’d heard of the practice, but thought it just a sartorial rumor. Well here it is in all it’s gaudy glory, and on non other than legendary dresser Fred Astaire, who was fond of both collar pins and Brooks Brothers buttondowns, and in the 1935 photo above can be seen combining the two. If he looks a bit sheepish, maybe that’s because he’s wondering if perhaps he’s gone too far. A necktie worn as a belt is one thing, but this?
Astaire was a pretty uptight guy and perhaps that’s why the collar pin appealed to him. According to this 1957 profile in GQ, he’d even wear collar pins without a tie.
Lately I’ve been going through all of my style stuff — books, magazines and catalogs — trying to look at everything with a fresh eye. I’ve been refining my own tastes more assiduously than usual, and so far the one image I’ve found that best exemplifies my present preferences is this shot of Astaire. I’ve even got it propped open in a stack of books on the floor for constant reiteration.
Astaire is wearing a sportcoat in the Prince Of Wales pattern, which has become a favorite of mine (I just got my third, all three in different fabrics). He pairs it with dark trousers, white shirt and dark tie in a simple pattern. It’s a great formula, restrained but snazzy via the checked jacket, and with an even balance of light and dark. I find it far better looking than his outfits with light-colored ties.
Astaire had been a fan of Brooks Brothers’ shirts and ties since the 1920s. In the GQ interview linked above, he says, “As a kid I used to abide by the judgment of Brooks Brothers in New York. I think I’m away from that now.”
Perhaps that’s because by 1957 Ivy had simply become too popular, and Astaire was no fan. “I simply don’t understand [the Ivy League Look],” he told the magazine. “It may look well on some people, young ones, but it’s terrible on me.” — CC