Buckskin Vest And Lilac Necktie: Page One Of Stover At Yale

A member of our Facebook group recently presented the opening page of the Owen Johnson’s 1911 novel “Stover At Yale,” a coming-of-age tale about a young freshman at New Haven.

Dink Stover, freshman, chose his seat in the afternoon express that would soon be rushing him to New Haven and his first glimpse of Yale University. He leisurely divested himself of his trim overcoat, folding it in exact creases and laying it gingerly across the back of his seat; stowed his traveling-bag; smoothed his hair with a masked movement of his gloved hand; pulled down a buckskin vest, opening the lower button; removed his gloves and folded them in his breast pocket, while with the same gesture a careful forefinger, unperceived, assured itself that his lilac silk necktie was in snug contact with the high collar whose points, painfully but in perfect style, attacked his chin. Then, settling, not flopping, down, he completed his preparations for the journey by raising the sharp crease of the trousers one inch over each knee — a legendary precaution which in youth is believed to prevent vulgar bagging. Each movement was executed without haste or embarrassment, but leisurely, with the deliberate savoir-faire of the complete man of the world he had become at the terrific age of eighteen.

As far as literary devices go, Johnson introduces us to his hero through the character’s wardrobe. And since most characters change over the course of a novel — what is called character arc — I’m assuming his ideas on natty attire among his fellow Yalies get challenged. I haven’t picked up the book in years and can’t seem to find it. Does anyone remember if Stover continues to dress in this manner?

In the meantime, I took the opportunity to dig up some of the illustrations that accompanied the book. The past is another world, as they say. — CC

12 Comments on "Buckskin Vest And Lilac Necktie: Page One Of Stover At Yale"

  1. “Stover At Yale” is available as a free eBook.


  2. Another world, indeed. I wonder if some kid going off to college next year would believe that it ever really existed. Very little description of clothing after this, except for the story of the Green Shirt. Wonder which of the New Haven clothiers hooked him, since this was pre-1910 or so.

  3. I just started college and I wish it were in this, the world of old. No one dresses that well for anything these days, let alone a freshman starting college.

  4. Opposite Saybrook | December 17, 2016 at 1:01 am |

    I knew a lot of Dinks at Yale.

  5. @ Roycru

    Thanks for the info. Downloaded the book and read a few pages. There’s no denying the era of Stover was a much better time to live and dress, especially if a person had the means to do so. But, that book and many others of the past, like the Horatio Alger stuff, did not give an accurate description of the life and times. I recall, at age 17, when my family moved into my grandfather’s house, I read many old books that my mother and her siblings read when they were growing up.

    The Alger books, in particular, were just fantasy. Even more out of touch, a series of books following a group of chums known as the “Army Boys.” The Army Boys, in the Trenches, and in the Air Corps, etc. followed the Boys’ exploits in WW1. What fun!

    Anyhow, I’ve always loved reading this genre of literature. I’ll always remember an article I read many years ago. It was in reference to the turn of the century, the early 1900’s. The writer informed the reader, that better than 90% of the populace was engaged in providing menial services to the wealthy of the world. The middle class was non existent.

    Unfortunately, the world seems to be reverting back to that.

  6. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

    ― L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between

  7. My favorite illustration, from another post:


  8. Wriggles
    There is no doubt that the “Army Boys” as well as other similar youth book series were published as propaganda for support of WWI. There is nothing wrong with fantasy, sometimes it inspires.

  9. Henry Contestwinner | December 17, 2016 at 5:52 pm |

    A century or so ago, one definition of middle class was the ability to hire servants, even if only part-time. Even Fibber McGee and Molly, portrayed as folks of modest means, had a part-time servant (in some episodes).

  10. @ HenryContestwinner

    Reading your comment, I immediately thought of a delightful old lady I knew. For years, I prepared her tax returns, and can attest that she was of modest means. I recall she told me a story how she had hired a maid, and one day, she found the maid in the kitchen, washing her socks in the dishpan. Maid was subsequently discharged.

  11. @Wriggles

    Don’t be so sure about the inaccuracies. The more formal manner of the writing of the times can put you off,, but even when I was at a public University in the late 1960s I met kids who’d gone to public high schools and yet did not know any “working class” people, except in the most superficial way. They immediately joined fraternities and sororities, and were as conscious of their “own crowd” as Tommy Bain or Hugh LeBaron.

    None of the characters were unfamiliar to me, and I suspect that in a society that was physically separated by race and class (money) they rang pretty true.

  12. All the illustrations are a lost art, similar in style to Leyendecker’s work. They really portray the period and the storyline to the best advantage.

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