One summer day in 1946, Joseph Haspel, Sr. walked neck deep into the Atlantic Ocean wearing one of his family’s seersucker suits. He emerged from the ocean a part of clothing lore.
Haspel was attending a convention in Boca Raton, Florida, when he took his now famous dip into the sea. Afterwards he hung his suit over his hotel room tub to drip dry. Later that evening, those who had seen him in his unrthodox bathing attire were equally surprised to see him wearing the same suit, and his act was the hit of the Middle South Utilities Inc. banquet.
The seaside plunge, alas, was no personal idiosyncrasy. There was a practical reason for it, namely to demonstrate Haspel’s new easy-care cotton and Orlon suit.
Many readers have likely heard some version of this twice-told tale. We contacted Haspel to ask if it were true, and they were happy to provide this photo documentation. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP (Continue)
Next Wednesday marks the return of National Seersucker Day, when the US Congress temporarily resembles a gathering of Kentucky Derby spectators. In celebration, Ivy Style will present a truly epic presentation of seersucker coverage — all spearheaded by associate editor Christopher Sharp — including multiple galleries depicting campus advertising through the decades.
By the time it’s finally over, you’ll be calling the fabric “seersicker.”
We start off with this 1942 cartoon from the Yale Daily News. — CC
My latest piece for Ralph Lauren Magazine is on the shawl-collared cardigan, which was the favored warm-up gear for baseball players from about 1900-1930. Origins of exactly how and why the shawl cardigan became associated with baseball are murky, and very few of the sweaters survive outside of photographs. I was able to talk to several baseball historians, including MLB’s official, in an effort to shed some light on the handsome sweaters, which were eventually supplanted by woolen varsity-type jackets. (Continue)
A collection of six bow ties belonging to pioneering modernist architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969) are currently on display at the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Frances Loeb Library.
Gropius, along with fellow modernist Le Corbusier, helped cement the bow tie as an emblem of nonconformist thinking, creativity, and architectural genius. The bow ties in the collection provide a glimpse into Gropius’ personal taste, his connection to Harvard, and his thoughts about the small accessory that makes a big statement. (Continue)
No need to be long-winded, so I’ll keep it short: Jackets that are too short make men look like boys, while jackets of adequate length make boys look like men. Take it from these 1927 Whiffenpoofs — estimated ages 18-22. These gentlemen songsters may be doomed from here to eternity, but it’s not for being slaves of fashion.
Thanks to frequent comment-leaver S.E. for the excavation of this superb image. — CC
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