Barking Mad: An English Ad Man In Madison Avenue Clothing

There will always be Americans and Englishmen who find the other culture more appealing. You don’t have to look hard to find Anglophiles in the States, and “Downton Abbey” has relit the Anglomania torch that never really gets extinguished. But while having English taste points your class arrow upward in the US, having American taste in England appears to steer you towards the bohemian. It’s hard to imagine someone muttering over a cup of tea, “What a model gentleman Lord Billardcue is, he absolutely adores American culture!”

In 2013 The Observer ran an extract of a story from 50 years ago that reported on an Englishman who took his style cues from Madison Avenue. The timing of 1963 is especially interesting in the perennial give and take between the US and UK, since in the postwar years America’s global influence and exporting of popular culture was higher than ever, and yet the British Invasion, which would send fashion and culture back this way, was just around the corner. According to the article:

Another acquaintance, in advertising, covets that American Ivy League look, patented by Brooks Brothers: the trousers are slim and without front pleats, the jacket unwaisted and with the minimum shoulder padding. Altogether, it can miraculously make an overfed Madison Avenue executive look like an ex-football quarterback. My friend, after a long search round Savile Row, eventually crossed over to Soho and found a tailor who togged out American embassy personnel. Now, in Berkeley Square, he has the look of a fast-rising Manhattan executive and keeps his English suits for his annual trip to New York.

The chap certainly sounds more exception than rule, as Ivy never caught on in England the way it did in Japan. But most noteworthy is the part about American embassy personnel stationed in London — what many would consider a dream job with the added bonus of being in the world’s sartorial capital — who wanted their suits cut American rather than take advantage of England’s legendary tailors, which reminds us that it’s still a small number of us that wants to ape the other guys. — CC

12 Comments on "Barking Mad: An English Ad Man In Madison Avenue Clothing"

  1. I remember well the early-sixties Soho source of Ivy League items, on Shaftesbury Avenue not far from Piccadilly Circus. It was much favoured by the ‘Mods’ although they knew little about the style’s heritage.

  2. Jeff Jarmuth | March 10, 2013 at 1:04 pm |

    I have been following your blog with interest for several months and enjoy it greatly. I am especially intrigued by the English vs. American sensibility that you and your guest writers often opine on so compellingly. While I am anything but a fashion professional, I find it odd that the consensus of Ivy League style commencing with Brooks Brothers’ (BB) introduction of its iconic sack suit in 1895 goes unchallenged. While there’s little doubt that the BB sack suit was greatly influential in American men’s fashion, I think the photographic/historic evidence proves otherwise. BB used to take its fashion cues almost exclusively from England, in fact cribbing English styles and selling them here in the US with great success. I suspect that its iconic sack suit is a crib of the kind of simple three-button coats that English athletes sported by the late 1870s for after-workout wear. These coats were sold off-the-rack and were quarter- or half-lined and had no shoulder padding to keep costs low. They were worn after cricket or tennis or rugby, etc. when one was expected to socialize with the opposing team (and spectators). Of course, an Englishman can’t be expected to slog down a pint in his shirtsleeves as that would be vulgar, hence the utility of popping on one of these loose-fitting but enobling jackets.

    The coats were ubiquitous in Chicago, where I am from, and by the early 1890s sold by a local high-end men’s retailer called Lytton’s. Lytton’s was patronized by the best Chicago families, and the fact that these coats were inexpensive and simply piled on tables in the young men’s section of the store (called the “Hub”) did not damper the appeal, and perhaps even bolstered it since all the wealthiest old families (at least in Chicago) tended to be quite thrifty. The photographic record and advertisements in old newspapers attest to this style, especially photographs of post-tournament young men sporting them at the Aztec Tennis Club in Lincoln Park.

    I can send you some photographs if you’d like. The great thing about the photographs is that the young men wearing the sack coats look like they could stroll into the Princeton Club in NYC today and not look out of place. That’s the best testimonial I can think of as to why the three-button sack coat is still the best garment any man of any age can wear.

  3. As to the US Embassy personnel, during the Cold War period there would have been a rather decent amount of opposition to and even antagonism toward those who didn’t “look like a REAL American, buddy!” Our good friend J. Edgar Hoover had minions in each one, and the staff was probably a bit paranoid. Not to mention that “a little too much attention” to dress might have been considered….well, basically gay, another sure career ender. There were probably a number of staffers who really wanted that Guards officer mufti DB suit, and a pair of Lobbs, but just sighed and put in the same old order to Brooks or Press.

  4. A.E.W. Mason | March 10, 2013 at 11:47 pm |

    Mr. Jarmuth is exactly right. Brooks deliberately held itself out as “of British styling.” The point is made numerous times in BB’s book Generations of Style. As for the sack suit, and the ubiquity of soft American tailoring, its popularity was well established before 1900. Ivy League college boys were not its progenitors but rather the successful business class was. As aptly stated in Generations of Style: “Brooks Brothers saw their potential clientele increase considerably after the Civil War, as entrepreneurs in manufacturing, railroads and oil began to infringe upon the status of the old-time land-holders, merchants, military men and bankers.” That fact that young men at Ivy League schools sported soft tailoring was largely the product of imitating their fathers who, more and more, were part of an ascendant business and industrial class.

  5. whiskeydent | May 6, 2021 at 6:27 pm |

    When you have two countries divided by a common language, some back and forth is bound to happen.

  6. Preston Forrester | May 6, 2021 at 11:44 pm |

    I’d give anything to find a tailor here in London who could cut me
    an American-style–i.e.Ivy style–suit with an “unwaisted” jacket and minimum shoulder padding.

  7. An Unseen Scene | May 7, 2021 at 7:41 am |

    That would of been Austin’s mentioned in the first comment (not to be confused with Austin Reed). Time has moved on hugely since the 2013 article, Brooks Brothers gone (including in London of course), yet John Simons carries on. I’m the British Ivy style advocate in meetings with my American colleagues who generally now all dressed like golfers. Of course it is all still on screen only right now so doesn’t matter to anyone anyway. I’m generally the only person who bothers even wearing a shirt after more than a year of everyone engaging remotely. I doubt formality will ever come back to the level it was at before.

  8. G. Bruce Boyer | May 7, 2021 at 12:58 pm |

    It’s a wonderful irony that Gregory Peck’s grey flannel suit (pictured above) was tailored by Huntsman in Savile Row.

  9. We might even call that a delicious irony. Thanks for the trivia, M. Boyer.

  10. Minimalist Trad | May 7, 2021 at 3:51 pm |

    What a pleasure to see a comment by Mr. Boyer. It would be nice to see/hear more of him.

  11. Mark Rose | May 7, 2021 at 6:16 pm |

    There is a really simple reason why Ivy League clothes never caught on in the UK as they did in Japan – availability.
    Austins in the 50’s and 60’s as the main retailer of the look had only one store in London. It attracted a show-business clientele as well as a few enthusiasts. Outside of London it wouldn’t of been known.

    Also, the boom years of the Ivy Look in the States coincided with the UK increasingly looking towards France and Italy for fashion inspiration. The explosion of cheap travel to the sunny climes of continental Europe and higher levels of disposal income resulted in many Englishmen adopting styles they had seen on their travels.

    With the notable exception of the button down shirt, most things Brooks sold were readily available in the UK but sold in a slightly different cut/weight. By that I mean tweeds, brogues, shetland sweaters, flannel trousers.

    This is the really exciting difference that Ivy League clothes offer the UK male. They are similar to what we know but slightly different to be what everyone else wears. You can easily blend -in with the crowd whilst standing out in the eyes of the clothes obsessed. Wearing Ivy clothes in the UK also takes a lot of effort in hunting things down and being able to afford them.

    Once import duty and transportation is paid, even the most basic Ivy item from the States becomes significantly more expensive. On the one hand this can be a deterrent but it also adds a little mystique that is probably hard to comprehend.

    In the 1980’s there was a lot of interest in American clothing in the UK but this was driven by a mythical mix of James Dean, Marlon Brando, Jazz and 60’s soul, Levis 501’s, Champion/Russell Athletic and varsity jackets. The NFL was broadcast weekly and great TV shows like Hill Street Blues caught the imagination.

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