Alternate History: What If The Ivy Heyday Had Never Happened?

Carmelo Pugliatti is a longtime reader of Ivy Style based in Italy. He is known in the comments section and on our Facebook group for his extensive collection of historic menswear images, as well as his incisive commentary on American culture from a European point of view. It’s especially admirable that he is brave enough to convey complex ideas with rudimentary English skills, and an apparent inability to find the keyboard’s space bar.

Our recent khaki post, which includes speculation that if World War II had never happened, khakis might never have become a staple of the American wardrobe, brought an extensive comment from Mr. Pugliatti that is worth its own post. It’s especially interesting in that it takes us from World War II right up to itself.

Here’s what he said, edited for ease of read.

* * *

Let us say that Hitler has died in World War I, Nazism had never took the power in Germany, and the Weimar Republic had in somehow survived. Mussolini stayed quietly satisfied with his little empire, Stalin was busy killing his own comrades, and Japan would not challenge the United States and European empires alone.

September 1, 1939, is only a peaceful day marking the end of summer.

For the United States, it’s probable that without the menace of the war, FDR would not look for a third term and the moderate Republican Wendel Willkie or the young Thomas E. Dewey (whose nomination, in a first time strong, was affected by the approach the war) is the new president in November, 1940.

Without World War II we would not have the Baby Boom, meaning no mobility of workers, no GI Bill (universities would stay elitist), and America would not become a superpower. So no Cold War, big corporations that work for the Military Industrial Complex, lower suburban migration from the cities — a different America.

From a wardrobe perspective, the ’50s and ’60s are more formal. The United Kingdom remains a global empire with unchanged power and wealth, so the influence of British style remains undisputed in the US. The London “lounge” suit remains the king of the elegant American male’s closet, with Ivy undarted/natural shouldered jackets for country and college only.

Italy stays fascist, but without the nasty Nazi influence is rose-colored glasses. But how long Italy can become rich and wealthy with the lybian oil (the only colony worth having), we would not have the explosion of fashion and creativity that Italy had in our timeline after the fall of fascist regime. So no influence of the Italian look on American fashion, and rule Britannia.

Without the Cold War and competition with the USSR, America is more socially conservative. There is less thrust for civil rights and integration, and obviously we would not have the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Without Nazism, German intellectuals would stay in Germany and not come to American universities.

Without World War II, technology advances more slowly, maybe the technological level of 1970 is the same as 1955 or so. There is less necessity for sophisticated computers, ARPANET would not exist, and probably in 2017 we would have in our home the same computer of 1990.

So this blog would not exist, and our host Chistian Chensvold would be writing editorials on the latest Savile Row novelties for Esquire Magazine. — CARMELO PUGLIATTI

Top image: Vassar’s first veterans on the GI Bill.

34 Comments on "Alternate History: What If The Ivy Heyday Had Never Happened?"

  1. Eric Twardzik | March 8, 2017 at 12:02 pm |

    This is great stuff, Carmelo. The alternate history game is one I never tire of playing. I will dispute your claim that FDR wouldn’t’ have pursued a third term—I’d wager he would have tried to cling to power for as long as his mortal coil allowed, war or not.

    Here’s another twist to consider: it’s possible that JFK never becomes president. The non-occurrence of WWII would have spared the life of his eldest brother Joseph Jr., who Joseph Sr. had been grooming for the presidency. And should JFK have entered politics, there would have been no tales of swift boat heroism to aid him.

    So if JFK was never inaugurated, men might still be wearing hats. JFK also chose to abandon the button down collar, so perhaps OCBDs would be more prevalent in positions of power.

  2. Yes, and I like Carmelo’s point about the ’50s and ’60s being more formal. The pace of change would have been slower. The ’50s would have looked more like the world of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” which is 1946, but you get the point. Small town people wearing their best clothes, hats and gloves, etc.

  3. If the Second World War never happened would khaki trousers would still be worn uncuffed, folded over at the ankle, and wrapped with puttees from the knee to the ankle as they were before the Second World War?

  4. P Partridge | March 8, 2017 at 12:42 pm |

    With an aristocrat in the White House (FDR), and no G.I. Bill, Ivy League style might have become even more common, as it spread more widely from the Ivy League westward.

  5. George Fencestack Stravine, IV | March 8, 2017 at 1:08 pm |

    Don’t forget, though, that the War years got the economy going. The Great Depression may have lasted much longer and people would have been less affluent. Not sure Ivy-style would have become more common. Colleges would not have expanded (no GI Bill), so maybe Ivy-style would have been more limited? We would probably have been wearing more Mad Men, traditional style rather than collegate.

    Technology would definitely not be as advanced. Who knows, we might still be smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey. Certainly, no microbrewing until about 2050.

    Probably no acid rock or maybe even rock & roll. Jazz and big band swing would have stayed popular longer, and no Moog Synthesizers.

  6. Good point about the Depression. ’30s tastes in fashion and music would have stayed around longer until a revitalized economy brought about change.

  7. Carmelo Pugliatti | March 8, 2017 at 1:13 pm |

    Well, let’s face english has improved in recent times( but what is a keyboard’s space bar ?)

    About alternate timeline,is impossible said what would do all those Americans died in WW-II if they had lived.
    Maybe the President of United States elect in 1960 would have been one of them,and for sure Joe Kennedy Jr would make political career.
    But maybe many politicians that were elect for theirs veteran past would not come to the Congress (or not so fast).
    Is probable that in this timeline JFK is only a brilliant journalist (womanizer),

    In 60s men wear still hats for sure,and fashion is certainly a bit different that in our world.
    Maybe the skinny/narrow trend has never happened and around are a lot of double breasteds as in London.

    In a Esquire’s editorial of 1948 about the “Bold look” is said that is “the true authentic fashion…opposed to pumped out styles and fads because it reflects the virility, the aggressivenes,the quality of the dominance of the American male….OUR EMANCIPATION FROM THE STIFF STILED TRADITIONALISM OF OLD WORLD…PALLID INEFFECTUAL SOCIETY IS CERTAINLY NOT THE ALLMARK OF A BREED OF MEN WHO IN FEW GENERATIONS HAD HACKET AND HEWN A NATION OUT OF WILDERNESS AND SMASHED THEIR WAY TO A WORLD DOMINANCE AND LEADERSHIP”.

    Well,the “bold look” was himself a fad,but replace “bold look” with “Ivy league” and you have the all American style of post war America “OUR EMANCIPATION FROM THE STIFF STILED TRADITIONALISM OF OLD WORLD”.

    But in a timeline without WW-II this feeling of pride of a new worldwide superpower probably not exist and “Esquire magazine” of this world in late 40s and 50s talk about the latest trend in London tailoring.

  8. George Fencestack Stravine, IV | March 8, 2017 at 1:16 pm |

    Another thing to think about is that we would have remained largely a nation of cities and small villages. Suburbia developed because of extensive road and highway construction after WWII. Military leaders saw the devastation of war in the European cities and wanted people to be able to leave the cities easily, hence the large road projects of the 1950s and 60s. Without WWII, no road network, and maybe no American love affair with cars and not as large an auto industry as we had.

  9. ‘What if….’ is a good game to play and I appreciate that it is not meant to be taken entirely seriously. However, if it were, I would repeat the unoriginal observations that ‘history makes people, people do not make history’ and that ‘nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come’. Strong individuals may give an inevitable historical process a particular form but, for example, the Second World War would have happened even if Corporal Hitler had succumbed to the shell that injured him in 1918. Further, ‘Reaganomics’ would have existed even if John W. Hinckley Jr. had been a better shot and, even after Lee Harvey Oswald’s aim proved superior to Hinckley’s, Kennedy’s ‘New Frontier’ essentially continued. Perhaps what we should be speculating here is what would have been the result of Henry Sands Brooks deciding to open a grocery store in 1818 or of Jacobi Press deciding to stay in Latvia in 1896? Scary thoughts.

  10. Yes Carmelo, I’ve noticed that your English has improved. We can follow what you’re saying as far as the words go, I’d suggest working on punctuation and the space bar and the “carriage return” button on the keyboard, to seperate paragraphs. We can follow the meaning of the words but the other stuff makes it hard on our eyes and you don’t want us to get a headache while reading your always interesting insights!

  11. I take issue with the idea that the 50’s & 60’s would have remained “conservative” in the absence of WW2 . The traditional society of the 50’s was a direct result of WW2. In an alternate history, society would have continued the wildly futuristic, socialist and amoral tendencies of the 1920’s. We likely would have had the hippies, blue jeans and long hair of ’67 a lot sooner. The women’s rights movement of the 1920’s would not have paused between 1930 and 1965 as it actually did. The civil rights movement that started in the early 1930’s might have continued and there would have been an MLK in the 40’s instead of the 60’s. What we consider the conservative 1950’s might not have even transpired as such. The USA may even have become more soviet! Strong male role models in formal attire would have been an anachronism (as it is now in 2017).

  12. Carmelo Pugliatti | March 8, 2017 at 1:34 pm |

    About khakis is a interesting story to tell.

    Maybe,if WW-II not happened the uniforms of United States Army would have been….slate blue!!
    In late 30s US Army began a series of tests for a brand new uniform that would replace olive and khaki uniforms.
    At the end was chosen the slate-blue color,but the coming of the war and the new draft mass Army stopped the change.

    So,without WW-II nothing “khakies” at all!!

    (see the links below):

  13. And a smaller auto industry and less suburbia would have affected the Sexual Revolution as well. The first big wave of change in the flapper era of the ’20s when cars became available. Then in the ’50s you get “Inspiration Point” and other make-out areas in every town. And the drive-in movie theater (see “Grease,” etc.)

    I just remembered a story I did some 20 years ago for a small paper in my hometown.


    The reader would have to be asleep at the wheel to fail to notice that car enthusiasts are virtually all men. For the male of the species, says Santa Rosa psychologist Bruce Denner, the car is “invested with a power and meaning way beyond its utility. It’s a symbol of freedom, especially sexual freedom.

    For the middle-aged classic-car buff, the restored (read: rejuvenated) car comes to represent his vanished youth. And for the young male, the first car brings to him freedom of mobility combined with a lack of parental supervision. Women seem to respond accordingly. Stag films from the roaring ’20s, that heyday of the newly liberated and hot-to-foxtrot flapper, often made use of the car as the ultimate, well, vehicle for sexual abandon.

    Says Denner, “The ’20s were a great period of sexual freedom for women, and they were willing to do things in the car that they weren’t willing to do in the parlor.”

    Indeed, owning a car has always boosted the young male’s chances of getting lucky. And owning a cool car would seem to boost them even more.

    Story here:

  14. Mitchell S. | March 8, 2017 at 1:51 pm |

    A very interesting question if the Axis powers had won the war. Perhaps men would be wearing kimonos and Italian chic would dominate the streets of NYC. would have to be renamed “Sprezzatura Style.” Savile Row would still be a Mecca for menswear, though. That never changes.

  15. Charlottesville | March 8, 2017 at 1:59 pm |

    This is a very fun post. Thanks, Carmelo. As for me, as long as air conditioning were widely available, I’d probably be pretty happy in the retro world you describe. The 30s Laurence Fellows illustrations in Esquire, or the Ivy style of the 50s would both make me quite happy. Of course, something else would have come up to take the nasty place of Hitler’s aggression. It always does. More rapid and violent Soviet expansion, perhaps. At any rate, I don’t need the internet, jet aircraft or cell phones to be content, although I certainly spend a great deal of time using them all.

  16. Carmelo Pugliatti | March 8, 2017 at 2:07 pm |

    Other change is in the transportation fields.

    Flying boats would probably have lasted longer (slower development of airfields with large concrete runways. The war got those built all over the world)
    Slow development of jet planes.
    The transatlantic liner ships era,that in our world lasted until mid-late 60s in this timeline lasted longer (until 80s?)
    In USA the interstate highway is developed decades later,
    Probably the railways are enhanced with fast comfortables panoramics trains.
    In this world 50s and 60s look alike to 40s in many aspects.

    Maybe you remember a strange movie of 90s entitled “The Hudsucker Proxy”.
    The movie is set in 1958,but atmosphere, flavor and fashion are late 30s-early 40s.
    This is probably as United States would have seemed in 50s in a world without WW-II.

  17. George Fencestack Stravine, IV | March 8, 2017 at 2:53 pm |

    No 007 James Bond. Sean Connery would probably have been limited to West End performances of Shakespeare (well, maybe not). Perhaps no CIA or MI6, or at least very different.

    Probably would not have gone to the moon and had no space race with the Soviets. And, no atom bombs! The Cold War would have been much warmer, if it had occurred at all.

    The post-was boom created big advertising, which created consumerism. We might not be so consumer oriented today. Cars were a consumer item, but so were houses, washing machines, microwaves and all the modern day items we take for granted. Madison Ave created the All American lifestyle: husband, wife, 2.5 kids, a dog and a house. And the Wall St banks created credit cards and mortgages to finance it all. Home ownership and material possessions might be different today.

  18. Mark Rose | March 8, 2017 at 3:00 pm |

    There are two schools of thought to consider here. Firstly does fashion simply reflect the times we live in or does fashion seek to evolve in order to challenge the status quo.

    The majority of clothing companies need to reinvent themselves in order to keep moving merchandise. What is fashionable must-have one minute needs to feel obsolete the next in order for these businesses to survive.

    Even companies that are the bastion of conservative taste have to consider evolving their offer in order to appeal to new customers as their old ones either die off or lose interest in clothes.The dinner jacket as an informal option being a case in point.

    The idea of fashion simply following social trends ignores the idea of creativity. This relates to either a genuine new idea or an item that has been taken out of its traditional context. Does any one remember the thankfully short leg warmer craze in the eighties ?

    Also, what seems in menswear terms quite “out there” has the unfortunate ability to become mainstream quite quickly. For example, look at the current tiny suit craze where trouser rise is far too short and jackets cut far too tight.

    Therefore, a simple cotton trouser could of evolved from a number of different sources – either a rejection of wearing a wool suit so you have a cotton one, a rejection of always wearing a jacket so you’re left with a cotton trouser or quite simply a manufacturer inventing a brave new look.

    The British army in India adopted many local ideas to create the Mufti or off duty look even before WW2. Possibly a hard wearing yet light weight cotton trouser would have eventually ended up in the homes and gardens of retired colonels in Surrey rather than a GI’s coming home to college life at Yale.

  19. The influence of World War II on menswear and Ivy Style reached far beyond Khakis.

    Wartime regulations in men’s clothing, first dictated by the British Utility Scheme of 1941, and later by the American War Production Board (WPB), set a maximum trouser leg opening and limited width of jacket lapels. Pleats and cuffs were verboten. This was all in a bid to conserve fabric for war production.

    Double-breasted coat styles were banned, as were 3-piece suits. These wartime garments were often marketed as Victory Suits. This new slimmed-down look proceeded to have a marked influence on the aesthetics of postwar suiting.

    There was another most welcome benefit bestowed by the WPB: the women’s two-piece bathing suit; developed in response to a 1943 edict that fabric used in women’s swimwear needed to be reduced 10%.

  20. Marc Chevalier | March 8, 2017 at 4:04 pm |

    If you haven’t done so already, take a look at the intelligently thought-out costuming in Amazon’s video drama series “The Man in the High Castle”, which shows 1962 America under the occupation of a victorious Nazi Germany and Japanese Empire.

  21. MacMcConnell | March 8, 2017 at 6:17 pm |

    WWII would have happened sooner or later, but this is fun. Retro is popular, I was reading a poll taken of US Army members that indicated a majority want to go back the the green and pink uniforms.

  22. Carmelo Pugliatti | March 8, 2017 at 7:34 pm |

    Wow!! This is great!

    I think that the actual blue uniform is fine for evening,but out of place as service dress,and the decision of delete the Army green uniform was silly.

    But back to pink & green would be fantastic!

    The brown-green service coat that was worn until 1957 with the tan-pinkish trouser was elegant and iconic..a timeless icon.

    Also the Ike jacket can be outdated changing the short coat in a soft barracuda style jacket in the same brown/green color of the service coat.
    And obviously away the berret and welcome back garrison cap.

    Why not “make the American uniforms great again”!

  23. How about this. Robert Kennedy is not murdered. He is elected president. Bet my last dollar we would of been out of Vietnam in 4 months after Robert Kennedy took office. No protests in the streets. No rebellion against traditional dress. Just long hair with odd jackets, button down shirts, rep ties, penny loafers, and Adler socks to boot.

  24. No Six Day war, no pissed off Palestinian/Jordanian shooting Bobby on it’s anniversary. Besides the New Left was radicalised long before 1968 and it had little to do with Nam.

  25. George Fencestack Stravine, IV | March 8, 2017 at 10:02 pm |

    Interesting comments, James Kraus. My late grandparents told me of all the conservation efforts during the war years, but not the things you are saying. Good stuff!

    Nylon was a new age material developed in the 1930s and first introduced as women’s stockings in the late 30s-early 40s. But the war effort appropriated nylon for parachutes, rope and other uses. Just think, we might not have gotten no-iron pants and shirts and the beloved leisure suits if it wasn’t for the accelerated applications of nylon in WWII.

  26. No Heyday? We wouldn’t see America’s most trad (former) public servant sporting this combo. I just came across this. Fantastic.

  27. We should have a Howard Dean vs. John Bolton trad-off. Because of the latter’s insistence on a fat windsor knot, Dean wins every time. Before Lincoln Chafee and David Souter left the arena, we could’ve looked to them.

  28. Who is that in the photo, SE?

  29. Never mind. I see it’s Dean by the file name.

  30. I agree with SE, in Howard Dean vs. John Bolton trad-off Bolton gets penalty points for the windsor. Dean’s tie needs a dimple, but that is hard to achieve with narrow ties. I love Dean’s jacket.

    Christian, didn’t you once quote a renowned social critic as saying that v-neck sweaters like faux early american furniture were middle class? 😉

  31. That would be Paul Fussell. Seems accurate.

    I have quite a few, mostly for golf and tennis, plus cashmere for Ivy Cool-Chic.

  32. I’m middle class, got a drawer full of them, but no faux early american furniture. I do faux english furniture. 😉

  33. I agree with most of the posters, change just one of Carmelo’s items and the entire timeline goes off on unpredictable direction(s) with unknown outcomes. However, it is fun to spectulate.

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