White Christmas: Bucks, Flannels And A Shaggy Dog

Fri 14 Dec 2012 - Filed under: 1950s,Clothes — Christian
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With 10 days before Christmas with not a snowflake in sight, this bright and sunny day in New York with a high temperature of 47 is perfect weather — for those of us not office bound — for white bucks and grey flannels.

Unlike penny loafers and khakis, white bucks and grey flannels is one of those youthful combinations from the Ivy heyday that didn’t survive. Busting it out these days is neither for the fuddy duddy reactionary nor the neo-prep hipster, but someone in between. That’s probably why the two bloggers who’ve written about it on several occasions include myself and Joe from An Affordable Wardrobe.

Last year someone broached the topic at Andy’s Trad Forum, where the idea wasn’t met with much sympathy, especially from the Southerners.

Perform a Google search for “white bucks grey flannels” and you get some interesting results. In addition to mentions from me and Joe:

• Bucks and flannels were elements of the uniform for Brown University’s acapella group The Jabberwocks. The Jabberwocks are still around, though their clothes, along with their material, has changed a bit.

• The book “Secret Riches” by John Alan Masters includes this passage about Yale in the heyday: “Most of my classmates wandered around in white bucks, grey flannel trousers, and J. Press jackets.”

• The 1954 stage comedy “Father’s Been To Mars” includes specific costuming for a student character, who’s  to be clad in grey flannels, white bucks, and “a conservative tweed sport jacket.”

Pulling off something unusual comes down to attitude. With white bucks and grey flannels, people might think you’re stylish. Then again, they might think you’re from another planet. — CC

Getting Fitted At Chipp, 1965

Thu 1 Nov 2012 - Filed under: 1950s,Historic Images — Christian
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If you hold a mirror up to your computer screen, you’ll see that the gent being measured for a jacket is at the venerable clothier Chipp, as seen in this illustration from the company’s 1965 catalog.

Ivy Style asked Paul Winston, son of the Chipp founders, for any insight on the drawing. Here’s what he had to say:

The drawing was done by Al Herman, who was a top fashion illustrator of the period. The fitter pictured was Bob DiFalco, who was our designer and fitter. Back then all the ads and catalogs featured line drawings, not pictures of products and models wearing clothing.

That was what Chipp looked like before we bought the building. It was a walk-up with a narrow flight of stairs, which was negotiated by the Kennedys, Watsons, and Cyrus Vance to drop a few names.

In the background you see the wall of cloth. No swatch books; customers were shown bolts of cloth.

Paul is still making suits in Midtown Manhattan under the name Winston Clothiers. He also recently received a batch of grenadine ties which he now has in a dozen colors and sells for a very modest tariff. For more info, give him a ring at (212) 687-0850. — CC


The Post Of The Seven Gables

Wed 3 Oct 2012 - Filed under: 1950s,Film,Historic Images,Personae — Christian
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Clark Gable is largely remebered as one of the glamorous menswear icons of the 1930s, along with Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, and just about every other star from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

But as he aged and fashions changed, Gable evolved with the times and shed his double-breasted suits with nipped waists and squared shoulders, and settled into buttondowns, discrete ties and natural shouldered jackets. He kept the signature mustache, though.

Gable is seen here in a series of photos by Sid Avery taken in 1957. (Continue)


Putting The Fresh In Freshman: St. Johns Bay Rum & The University Shops

Wed 11 Jul 2012 - Filed under: 1950s,Clothes — Christian
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Ivy Style recently welcomed St. Johns Bay Rum as a sponsor. Turns out owner Jerry Woodhouse has a long history of dressing college men. Read on for Freshman Dressing 101, with an outfit that looks as cool today as it did 50 years ago.

* * *

I got started in the “Ivy” retail business in 1958 when I joined a company that had one store on the campus at Ohio State called The University Shop. That same year we opened our second store at Ohio University, where I became manager. From ’58 to ’71 we would open 23 University Shops at other major campuses, including Purdue, Bowling Green, University of Kentucky, University of Cincinnati, University of Georgia, Auburn, University of Alabama, Tulane, University of Florida, and Clemson.

The clothing formula for our customers was to put them in a Baracuta jacket, Gant shirt, Canterbury belt, Corbin khakis, Adler socks, Bass Weejuns, and St. Johns Bay Rum. Unbeknowst to me, I would one day come to be the owner of the latter. (Continue)


This Is Pennsylvania, 1957

Wed 6 Jun 2012 - Filed under: 1950s,Film,Historic Images,Sport — Christian
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Recently I ran across a video for Penn that was created in 1957 and documents campus life for a full 30 minutes. There’s some really great footage in here, and you are able to see a lot of detail that’s not as noticeable with still-frame photos like you get in “Take Ivy.”

Here are some highlights:

• 1:10-1:30, 2:20-2:35, 11:20- 12:30 and 17:30-18:00 are scenes straight out of “Take Ivy,” except a decade earlier.

• Check out the classroom close-ups from 9:15 to 10:00. Great examples of three piece suits, repp ties, and tortoiseshell glasses.

• At the 14-minute mark there are several examples of midcentury women’s style.

• Check out the tennis players in all white at 21:25, track and field at 21:30, and rowers starting around 21:40.

• And for scenes of Ivy League football in its heyday, jump to 23:30. Fun fact: John Heisman, pioneer of the forward pass and namesake of the trophy, was a Penn alum and head coach. — MARK CHOU


O’Connell’s, Where It’s Still 1959

Tue 22 May 2012 - Filed under: 1950s,Clothes — Christian
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The Saturday edition of the Buffalo News carried a story on independent men’s clothiers, including O’Connell’s, which has opened in Buffalo in 1959 and still carries basically the same stuff. “What we sold in the ’50s is very similar to what we sell today,” the store told the paper.

Here are some more excerpts on O’Connell’s history and customer base:

O’Connell’s, on Main Street near the University at Buffalo South Campus, was started by three Buffalo Bills players in the late 1950s.

Employee Bernie Huber bought them out a short time later, and the store has remained in the Huber family ever since.

The store draws customers from Western and Central New York, Pennsylvania and Ontario with its classic American suits and sport coats — such as an H. Freeman & Son sack suit with a natural shoulder — made from seersucker, madras and other fabrics. “We’re American-style, through and through,” said Bernie’s son, John. “What we sold in the ’50s is very similar to what we sell today.”

Wool suits start at $495 — with custom suits costing $2,000 or $3,000 — and their sizes have expanded as the American male has expanded over the years.

“We’re not faddish. Our best customer is a guy who can appreciate workmanship, who can appreciate value, who appreciates longevity of style,” said John Huber of O’Connell’s.

The store’s website includes a section of deadstock items, including the authentic Indian bleeding madras sportcoat above, and Bermuda shorts below: (Continue)


Bay Rum, The Scent Of Madison Avenue

Thu 3 May 2012 - Filed under: 1950s,1960s — Christian
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Nearly three years ago I wrote a story for The Rake on bay rum — they’ve been sitting on it ever since.

I was reminded of it this week when Valet posted a piece on the classic fragrance, and got the mag’s permission to post the text here. Enjoy. — CC

• • •

Between 1957 and 1963, fueled by growing sales, St. John’s Bay Rum was a regular advertiser in the pages of The New Yorker. Concurrently, in 1960 Brooks Brothers began carrying a line of fragrances — including bay rum — made by Royall Lyme Bermuda Limited.

If the Atomic Age Madison Avenue man had a scent — that is, besides the smoke of Lucky Strikes embedded in his grey-flannel suit and the three-martini lunch on his breath — bay rum was probably it. Of the countless concoctions man has created to mask his natural odor — from citrus to musk, lavender to leather — one in particular has thrived for 175 years. Bay rum, a combination of bay leaves, spices and caribbean rum, might just be what civilized man was destined to smell like. And the fact that it was invented by island natives is an irony almost as piquant as bay rum’s unmistakable scent.

Perhaps it’s the word rum (sometimes spelled “rhum”) in the name, with its connotations of maritime adventure, that accounts for bay rum’s longstanding popularity. Or perhaps women adore it. They must, or else bay rum would have been selected for extinction long ago. But compared to the luxury brands whose scents fill the pages of glossy magazines, bay rum seems made for the man who frankly doesn’t give a damn. He wears it because he knows he owes good hygiene both to his fellow man and himself, not for a direct payoff in the mating game. Bay rum is what men think a man should smell like. It’s not for the man who orders a bottled pheromone, discretely billed, that’s guaranteed to aid seduction.

The origins of bay rum begin in 1838, when Danish chemist Albert Heinrich Riise arrived on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. He found that natives  mixed rum with the leaves of the bay tree to create an emollient used to treat sunburn, sore muscles and joints, fever and headache. Riise began experimenting with distillation processes, eventually perfecting the technique, and sold his bay rum under the name A.H. Riise Apothecary.

The fragrance flourished throughout the 19th century. Later, during Prohibition, imports of bay rum were outlawed as Americans desperate for a drink took to imbibing the cologne. World War II brought a further blow to the various manufacturers as cargo space on ships was reserved for war efforts.

In 1946, American John Webb settled on St Thomas and saw the opportunity to reintroduce the fragrance. Webb founded The West Indies Bay Company and began producing St Johns Bay Rum, which he distinctively packaged in bottles hand-wrapped by natives with tyre palm fronds. Fueled by the postwar fascination with island exotica (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” hit Broadway in 1949, Hollywood in 1958), St. John’s Bay Rum was soon distributed to every major US city and most college towns.

While St. John’s and Royall Lyme Limited (which, nearly 50 years later, is still sold at Brooks Brothers) have storied connections to midcentury America, the English fragrance houses Taylor of Old Bond Street and Geo. F. Trumper have both offered bay rum for over a hundred years. Yet the most intriguing maker of bay rum today is Bonny Doon Farm, a small California upstart in Santa Cruz, 75 miles south of San Francisco, that makes, according to owner G. Edward Meehan, “the gold standard of the bay rum cologne world.”

Ingredients, Meehan says, are key. Bonny Doon Farm starts with pure, costly Virgin Islands Bay Oil directly from the source, adding fine aromatic cane spirits and Bulgarian Rose Water, “a major part of the compound dictated by the original Danish formula two centuries ago and exclusive to us,” says Meehan. The formula is then blended in small batches and cellar stored. No artificial colors are added, giving Bonny Doon’s bay rum a golden as opposed to amber hue.

Bay rums come in varying degrees of sweetness and potency. Most are considered after-shave grade and can quickly fade (Ogallala offers a “special reserve double strength” to help stay rummy all day). Experiment until you find the right rum suited to your taste, by which we mean your nose, not your palate. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

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