In the reliably lively commentary on the last post, commenter “Oxford Cloth Button Down” called attention to a couple of four-button jackets in the latest York Street collection. As divisive as York Street is, the jackets will no doubt fan the flames of distaste.
But what appears as another case of youth-market flippancy actually has its roots in the J. Press archives. When I first saw the York Street jackets, I was reminded of a post I wrote back in 2009 about a 4/3 roll jacket from J. Press featured in a 1952 issue of Gentry:
The Gentry article calls the 4/3 a reference to the 1920s, and I think there is a specter of ’20s influence at work in the York Street jacket. With its half belt, flapped breast pocket, and military-style pointed pocket flaps, it looks like a cropped, nipped version of a half-Norfolk shooting coat.
All this thinking of 4/3 jackets has me wondering how a traditional four-button coat would be received today if it was re-released by J.Press, unaldulterated, as it was in 1952. Is it an obscure classic that deserves a comeback, or an abomination that needs to stay dead? Cast your vote. — ZACHARY DELUCA
Zachary DeLuca is a freelance writer who also operates Newton Street Vintage. He was recently appointed Ivy Style’s assistant editor.
Commenting on our article “Is Ivy Cool?” reader “Camford” asked, “Are cigarettes and jazz cool?” I cannot say whether they are cool. Well, I could, but I won’t, as my physician, insurance agent and childhood music teacher might be reading this article. But I believe they are both addictive and potentially lethal.
When I was young and impressionable, I saw a jazz documentary on my local PBS station and have never been the same since. Years later I learned it was Bert Stern’s smoked-infused 1958 bacchanalia “Jazz On A Summer’s Day.” It should have come with a warning label. To this day I struggle with the compulsion to drink Rheingold beer and dance on rooftops, an endeavor I know is as foolhardy as a Lucky Strike habit.
…. the Guggenheim Museum opened.
One year later William Claxton took the above photo of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. A previous Ivy Style tribute to Coltrane (and the Claxton photo shoot) is here, while a post on striped sportcoats is here.
As for posts on buttondown-collared shirts, Mr. Erik J. has weighed in on the new “FIGHT!” (the term he used on Twitter) between Brooks Brothers and Kamakura Shirts for your oxford dollars. — CC
After a spell of breaking-news interruptions, we’re finally returning to the topic of rules when it comes to dressing. It all started, you may recall, with a Japanese graphic that included the word “rules” along with “snob.” This got me free-associating about a certain type of fusty clotheshorse who takes pride not in anything original or unique about the way he dresses, but in his ability to follow rules with scrupulous assiduity.
I may have been overreacting. Like many who weren’t raised in a sartorially advanced household or community, I learned a lot from Alan Flusser’s books, first getting “Clothes And The Man” when I was about 19. There’s much wisdom in what it teaches, and the old cliché about needing to know the rules before you can break them became a hackneyed old phrase for a reason: it’s pretty damn true.
Before Flusser there were plenty of other style writers eager to help men dress better. One of them was syndicated men’s fashion writer Bert Bacharach, who in 1955 published “Right Dress.” As you’d expect from a book aimed at the mass market, it presents pragmatic reasons for dressing better, such as having a better chance of winning love and money, the two most important things in life. Bacharach isn’t exactly interested in encouraging personal style as an existential statement. It’s practical advice for the practical, and the book’s subtitle is “Success Through Better Grooming.”
Most of the book’s advice is either common sense, banal, or simply archaic. But “Right Dress” provided some period insight for our “rise and fall” essay, and it’s worth repeating those passages here, as well as some others that pertain to the Ivy League Look, which was just entering the national spotlight at the time of the book’s publication.
As you can see, the alpha wooer in the above image is wearing a three-button suit, buttondown shirt and rep tie. But don’t be fooled that Bacharach is recommending the Ivy League Look to his Main Street reader. In fact, he thinks natural-shouldered jackets make you look like a wimp. Bacharach writes:
The well-dressed man avoids extremes in clothing models. He passes up the so-called Ivy League type which makes him look emaciated and underfed. He shuns the overly padded and overly squared shoulders which make him look like a muscle-bound wrestler. He picks, instead, a model that is midway between the two, with body lines and slight shoulder padding which flatters the figure.
The other night I was browsing the streaming Netflix options and ended up watching “Monkey Business,” the 1952 screwball comedy with Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe. I hadn’t seen the movie since starting this website, and a very interesting scene caught my attention.
Grant plays a chemist who thinks he’s discovered a youth serum (which, this being a screwball comedy, was in fact randomly created by a chimpanzee). Suddenly Grant, who was 48 at the time, starts acting years younger. In fact, about two-and-a-half decades younger.
Under the serum’s influence, Grant buys a convertible sports car and takes Monroe roller skating. He also makes a few changes to his appearance. He gets a haircut noticeably shorter than what he’d previously been sporting (might we call it a Princeton haircut?), and goes to a clothing store where he selects a bold plaid jacket. When he asks if there are matching trousers, the elderly salesman informs him that such jackets are typically worn with grey flannels. Grant then picks out a pair of argyle socks.
When the serum wears off and Grant comes to his middle-aged senses, he says he was “acting like a college boy.”
The primary theme of the “rise and fall” essay we posted at the beginning of the year is that the Ivy League Look is much more than a mere tailoring style consisting of natural shoulders and an undarted chest. The sack silhouette is merely the blueprint for the look, which owes more to a certain approach towards dressing — the acceptance of certain items and the rejection of others, the importance of being casual — so much of which was codified by college men of the interwar years.
The transformation of Cary Grant’s character from mild-mannered middle-aged scientist to rowdy college boy is not a radical one, but merely a matter of degree. His haircut is shorter but still conventional. We also get the sense that his jacket is from a reputable maker, even though it is bolder in pattern than the suit he was previously wearing. It’s also more casual, consisting of sportcoat and trousers. His argyle socks are also more casual and youthful than his sober business hose.
Brooks Brothers, J. Press, and all the other Ivy League clothiers catered both to men and their sons. It was young men who drove fashion, however, albeit within the confines of correct Eastern Establishment dress. With its emphasis on casualness under the constant shadow of recreation and sporting activities, the WASPy way of dressing confers dignity upon young men and youth upon older men.
And decades after the end of the heyday, it’s clear that the youthful approach won out. The sartorial legacy of the Ivy League Look is not grey sack suits, but what was once a college-boy approach to dressing: tweed jackets, grey flannels, argyle socks and loafers.
The quest for the fountain of youth goes back for centuries, but metaphorically Grant’s character shows us that all we need to do to shed the probity of middle age is cut our hair short and dress a bit more audaciously. Well, that and drive Marily Monroe around in a sports car. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD