In the history of the Ivy League Look, Arnold Gingrich should receive honorable mention status solely based on his consideration of naming his fledgling magazine Town and Campus. He chose, however, to name it Esquire, and if that was were the story ended it would not be enough to warrant the virtual ink on this page. But Gringrich’s true contribution to Ivy is the nearly forgotten tale of his involvement in the launch of the Bass Weejun.
For much of the 20th century, American fashion was a top-down affair. Fashions were observed in places like Palm Beach, Newport, and swank continental resort towns, and reported in publications like Apparel Arts and Esquire. This reporting was accompanied by the artistic rendering of Lawrence Fellows and Leslie Salberg, whose illustrated men were bronzed and handsome. Whether on the beach or in the club these figures sailed through life with beautiful raiment and broad smiles that never betrayed a hint of the Great Depression. Theses images of the good life gave the merchant a look to sell and offered the customer a little respite in the same way their less-clothes-conscious contemporaries would flock to the movies for a dose of escapism.
If the average American was expected to ape the style of his social betters, the moneyed vagabonds that set the trends were completely unshackled. They sourced with impunity from vendors ranging from the carriage trade to local crofters. These style setters were inspired by both high and low culture and blended them effortlessly. They seemed to always incorporate part of the native kit wherever they traveled. Notable items brought back to the States included Aran knits, Breton red sailing trousers and striped jersey top, espadrilles and huarache sandals. In the modern vernacular it could be said that they were appropriating workwear to suit a life of leisure. The clothes of the indigenous fisherman, coal miners and peasants found a whole new appreciative market, and in the march to popular acceptance would travel far both in terms of geography and intended use.
The same trajectory can be seen in the story of the Weejun. In the 19th century, English sportsman began flocking to Norway to fish salmon. An especially popular fishing destination, according to J.P. Myhre, a bespoke shoemaker in Norway, was the Valley of Aurland situated in Sognefjorden. Myhre relates that by the dawn of the 2oth century these “Lords of Salmon” had taken to wearing a locally crafted slipon called a teser. These Norwegian peasant shoes would have remained the private vice of the well heeled angler, but forces were in place by 1935 that would shatter the shoes’ amenity.
Esquire representatives first saw the shoes at European resorts, followed by Palm Beach in the 1935/36 winter season. The shoes seen in Palm Beach were true Norwegian shoes sourced from two London shops; at the time there was no American maker of the shoe.
The tale of exactly how the Weejun came to be is still a little murky and has hints of sartorial skulduggery. It’s clear that Esquire saw the shoes in 1935; perhaps sensing their potential, Esquire partnered with the store Rogers Peet, which agreed to carry the as-yet-unproduced shoe. Esquire and Rogers Peet then commissioned Bass to make the Weejun. (Continue)
Some five years ago, Tradsville personality “AldenPyle” started a thread at Ask Andy that included the above ad, which ran in the Yale Daily News in 1941. The ad touches on several themes we explored in our recent rise and fall essay.
First off, notice the split between clothes for campus and clothes for town, which consists of oxford shirts, albeit with spread collars, and wingtips.
The campus category, however, consists of sportcoats in Shetland and tweed, grey flannels “cut in your favorite university style,” buttondown shirts, argyle socks, and buckskin shoes.
As I asserted in the essay, the Ivy League Look clothing genre consisted of clothes for both city and campus, but it’s the campus look — in this case tweed jacket, grey flannels, buttondown oxford, foulard tie, argyle socks and bucks — that provided the lasting legacy, codified the “timeless” aspect of Ivy, and became the greatest influence on the clothing we wear today.
The ad also expresses what I called taste-driven natural selection. Macy’s sought to reach Yale students through their own newspaper, but assured them that the department store giant from New York understood the tastes of New Haven’s undergrads. The ad copy asserts that Macy’s knows Yale’s “traditions of dress,” and that its accessories are “correct” — not by the standards of Macy’s merchandisers, of course, but those of the students.
Whether this was actually true is another matter, but Macy’s believed it could make the assertion, and that it needed to.
There may have been some miscommunication between the copywriter and the illustrator, however, as the copy confidently states, “We know you don’t want jackets with exaggerated shoulders and fitted lines, so we bring you the traditionally Yale straight-hanging coat with natural shoulder,” and yet the illustration expresses straight lines a lot better than natural shoulder.
Finally, the ad is also interesting for showing that long before the heyday of widespread popularity, a big-city department store thought the Yale student market worth going after. There’s a world of difference between advertising in the Yale Daily News and sending road men to New Haven, as Macy’s did here in 1941, and selling elements of the look nationwide with campus-oriented ad copy, as Main Street retailers did years later.
But Macy’s knew the clothes had to be right, and that it was the students who would make that call. The fact that Macy’s had to assure the Yale community that its wares were adequate, while a local such as J. Press persumably would not, shows the difference between local shops and the outsiders who wanted a piece of the pie.
In his next “Golden Years” column, Richard Press will examine the New Haven menswear market back in the day, which was larger and more competitive than we would have thought. — CC
The above image, which comes from a 1928 Kuppenheimer catalog, ties in with themes explored in our recent rise and fall essay: namely town and country, or city and campus.
In it the three-button undarted suit is presented as “authentically designed” for the university man, while the postgraduate “Young Executive” model is a tapered two-button option.
These two different suit styles, offered by the same manufacturer, predate by several decades what Richard Press has said about the Ivy heyday, when J. Press’ two-button models were sold almost exclusively at the New York store, where they represented 40 percent of sales.
So while three-button jackets were associated with both city and campus, two-button models were associated with city only, reinforcing that the lasting influence of the Ivy League Look is the campus side of the genre. — CC
Ivy Style recently received a dispatch from scholar Deirdre Clemente, who is busy doing groundbreaking research on the history of college students as consumers. In fact, she said her career might be made if she can get a paper into a certain scholarly journal. When they say academia is publish or perish, they’re not kidding.
Now she sends the excerpt below, which has us wondering if Princeton guys essentially wrote the rulebook for dressing Ivy. Here they are credited with popularizing the wearing of brown odd jackets with grey flannel trousers in 1929. It’s from an April, 1935 passage in a publication called the Fashion Group Bulletin. According to Clemente, “You rarely get an exact date for a trend like this.” (Continue)
It feels like I’m in college right now, trying to get my “term paper” on Ivy ready for Monday.
I’ve been working on a long essay for some time now, and one of the themes it explores is the casual nature of campus dress, even when from our point of view the students of the past seem extremely formal.
Take the film “So This Is College” from 1929, for example. In the preview available on Rotten Tomatoes the young gentlemen — students at USC — are noteworthy for the formality (from our point of view) of their suits and ties yet also their general disregard for their clothing. Look at the way the plop down on the lawn without a second thought, and the way one guy teases his roommate by standing on his laundry.
The film also shows the difference between the early days of the Ivy League Look and what is remembered as “Joe College” garb from the ’20s. While the raccoon coat trend may have begun at Princeton, some of the more rah-rah outfits, such as oxford bags, seem to have been more of a Midwestern state school look.
According to the Brooks Brothers book “Generations Of Style,” Brooks “refused to sell” oxford bags. — CC (Continue)
On our recent white bucks and grey flannels post, Bruce Boyer left a comment mentioning the song “Harvard Blues.” Considering it’s been on our editorial calendar for about four years, I’d say it’s high time we do a post on it.
The song, recorded in 1941 by Count Basie, opens with these immortal lines:
I wear Brooks clothes and white shoes all the time
I wear Brooks clothes and white shoes all the time
Get three “Cs,” a “D” and think checks from home sublime
The lyrics were written by George Frazier, best pal of The Andover Shop’s Charlie Davidson. Odd then that when they played the duende game, they always placed Basie second fiddle to Ellington.
I’ll leave you with one more quote on white bucks and flannels, this time from Elizabeth Hawes’ 1939 book “Men Can Take It.” — CC
At Harvard they have something called “white-shoe boys.” I gather it is okay to be one if you feel that way. It appears to be the Harvard idea carried to its furthest extreme. These are the sloppiest and worst-dressed of all the Harvard men, I was told. They wear dirty black and white shoes which turn up at the toes, black or white socks and gray flannels, very unpressed, tweed coats — and collars and ties, of course… The thing that distinguishes a “white-shoe boy” is his shoes — and the fact he has the guts to wear them ansd still feel okay socially.