As the editor of Tradsville’s news gazette for the past three years, I’ve been obliged to work my beat with at least some attempt at assiduity. That includes keeping an unjaundiced eye on the discourse at Talk Ivy, a discussion forum hosted at filmnoirbuff.com whose members are mostly from the UK and Continental Europe.
From their discourse I’ve received the general impression that English Ivy fans are a kind of retro style-tribe subculture with a fanaticism for the music and clothing from 1955-1965. This fuels them with a tireless drive to dig up forgotten historical documents such as photos, films, record albums and advertisements. When it comes to putting these things into historical and social context, however, the English are severely hampered by two things: the need to see history in a way that fits their subculture’s sensibility, and the fact that they don’t live in America.
Their “talk,” then, is primarily fandom threads about favorite clothing items, records and movies, while their analysis of the Ivy heyday is speculative and interpreted rather than fact-based and reported.
I’ve previously written about the English following the publication of “The Ivy Look” by Graham Marsh and JP Gaul, a book almost baffling in its inability to articulate — a couple of sentences would have sufficed — where the Ivy League Look comes from, how it got its name, and other such basic information in what was intended as an introductory guide. And yet it’s not hard to see why this is squeamish territory: for London style-tribe scenesters, nothing could be more unhip than the thought of dressing in the clothing style whose original arbiters were the East Coast establishment.
Combined with an avoidance of the origins of the Ivy League Look and its chief merchants (who, outside of New York, were nearly all located in the communities serving Yale, Harvard and Princeton), was the curious inclusion of all sorts of randomalia, such as Zippo lighters, Porsche speedsters and French New Wave cinema, which may share the historical timeline as the Ivy League Look’s heyday but bear no direct relation except in the imagination of tribal members.
Perhaps opting to play it safe this time, the authors’ new follow-up tome, “Hollywood And The Ivy Look,” has minimal text. And in Marsh’s one-page introduction, England’s resident Ivy expert now sounds so confused he’s resorted to a wishy-washy cop-out when it comes to addressing his readers with the topic at hand:
There is a strong case to be made that the “Ivy League Look” was, in essence, pure Brooks Brothers and did not emanate from the eight East Coast universities. The jury is out as to the final decision and probably always will be. But now, back to Hollywood and the Ivy Look…
As Marsh returns to his comfort zone with an ellipsis, the book’s real content — rare photos — are fantastic and gathering them is something to be lauded. Though the second half, as in “The Ivy Look,” falls into the same trap of including many photos, films and TV shows that feel merely contemporary to the years 1955-1965 rather than expressions of the Ivy League Look, the book is a tremendous photographic documentation of the brief time when Ivy was popular and entertainers dressed with restrained good taste.
The text’s peccadilloes are largely confined to instances of scenester-geek chumminess (“kings of the buttondown,” “our man Perkins”) and calls to style-icon mimicry and tribal initiation (“wear this outfit and you’re guaranteed a passport to the Ivy Look”). There’s also a reference to Ivy as an “aesthetic,” but perhaps I’m the only one who finds that word pompous.
But as a counter to the many fusty dullards who have kept Ivy clothiers in business over the decades, the English provide a useful reminder that American natural-shouldered clothing can, in additional to being traditional and correct, also be cool. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
The Daily Mail recently reported on Franklin & Marshall — no, not the liberal arts college founded in Lancaster, PA in 1787, the Italian fashion brand.
Seems a couple of designers found an old college t-shirt, and, without bothering to research its origins, decided it would make a cool name for a logo-driven sportswear brand.
This year the company grossed $61 million.
The college eventually got wind of the name appropriation, and though initially miffed, ultimately decided to let the brand continue, since when you’re a school no one has heard of innocuous buzz is better than no buzz.
The tragic irony, however, is that the fake collegiate Franklin & Marshall sweatshirt (right), designed in Italy, looks more handsome and collegiate than the generic one sold in the real Franklin & Marshall bookstore (left):
Pictured at top are F&M students from 1956 wearing dirty white bucks. — CC
Ivy Style contributor and Newton Street Vintage proprietor Zachary DeLuca returns after a long absence with this dissection of two vintage Brooks Brothers suits. For additional photos, visit his tumblr The Suit Room.
One of the best things about my job is that every so often I come across a piece so good that I have to take a moment to admire the finer points of hand-tailoring that went into it. In this instance, I found not one but two such pieces, both from Brooks Brothers, both with the black label coveted by Brooks collectors.
The first is a strange bird considering Brooks’ die-hard affiliation with the three-button sack suit: A two-button darted jacket, with an ultra-soft shoulder.
The silhouette is not unlike the jacket found in this 1948 Brooks ad, although this jacket dates from the very late 1950s, 1962 at the latest. (Continue)
H.I.S Inc. may be the missing link between workwear and Ivy-styled clothing.
The company was originally founded as Honesdale manufacturing in 1923 by Henry I. Siegel. It specialized in workwear, including denim, and was a contract manufacturer for JC Penny and Montgomery Ward. The firm was headquartered in New York with manufacturing facilities in Tennessee. HIS continued its contract work through World War II, making field jackets for the war effort.
Upon Siegel’s death in 1949, his son Jesse, who was only 19 years old, took control of the company. A graduate of Columbia, Jesse Siegel decided to move the company into the fashion realm by making modifications to its existing lines. Among other things, he is credited with putting a buckle on the back of khakis, which started a campus fad.
In 1956 Siegel introduced the company’s first house brand. It was called h.i.s. and named after his father. The brand targeted the middle-market teenager and college student, and was very successful tapping postwar Baby Boomers. The company went from $9 million in sales 1949 to $18 million in 1956, and b 1964 the company was doing $42 million a year in sales.
The h.i.s product line included odd trousers, shorts, sportcoats and suits. As a mass-market Ivy-inspired brand, h.i.s was sold in stores like Irv Lewis, Morris’, and The Squire Shop in Ithaca, New York. A 1964 joint advertisement for the later two Cornell outfitters claimed, “They provide the classics — the ‘bread and butter’ — the uniform items in the curricula of college clothes.”
According to the advertisement, those other brands included Botany 500, Hathaway shirts, Keds, Alder socks, Pendleton and Viyella. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP (Continue)
During the Eisenhower years, Manhattan was an island of social, economic and cultural equanimity. The legal drinking age was 18, the bars stayed open until four in the morning, and the Biltmore Hotel advertised special student rates for Seven Sisters and Ivy Leaguers.
Here are some memories from those days of my misspent youth.
The hub was Under the Clock at the Biltmore, where everybody poured through the tunnel from Grand Central. The Palm Court was next to the hotel lobby and served convenient cocktails along with Emory Deutch and his violin, who serenaded a conspicuous and well groomed college crowd. On holiday weekends it took on the appearance of a freshman mixer in Northampton.
A couple of blocks away, social climbers patronized the Stork Club. Sherman Billingsley, a former prohibition bootlegger, was saloon keeper and arbiter of Cafe Society. He famously gifted samples of Sortilege, his signature perfume, and winked if your companion stashed a Stork Club ashtray into her handbag. For the price of a drink at the bar you gained entree to the plush Cub Room for a rhumba played by Payson Re’s orchestra. This was the upscale part of the evening. The nitty-gritty was at Jimmy Ryan’s.
Before Elvis or the twist, the popular sound of New York was Dixieland. The uptown headquarters was Jimmy Ryan’s, where Wilbur de Paris and his band turned 52nd Street into Rampart Street.
Ryan’s was a prep United Nations. The room was not restricted to the Ivy League, but was a democracy that also welcomed outliers from far-flung places like Rutgers, Lehigh, RPI or CCNY. The insiders knew when you bought intermission pianist Don Frye a drink; he never forgot and rewarded you at the door or even a trip to the men’s room with a six-step pianistic flourish.
Dixieland in the 1950s was a revival of the earlier Jazz Age chronicled by F. Scott Fitzgerald in “The Great Gatsby”:
All night the saxophones wailed the hopeless comment of The Beale Street Blues while a hundred pairs of golden and silver slippers shuffled the shining dust.
Dixieland clubs were all over town. Central Plaza Casino and Stuyvescent Casino were seedy second-floor union halls on Second Avenue with sawdust on the floor and spilled pitchers of beer. Bobby Hackett, Conrad Janis, Zutty Singleton and the regulars climaxed the evening strutting around the room while playing “When The Saints Go Marching In.”
Farther downtown, Nick’s specialty was Pee Wee Irwin in jam sessions. Eddie Condon’s provided the wayward horn of Wild Bill Davison, and the sotto voce tableside vocals of legendary trumpeter and proprietor Eddie Condon.
The marriage between Dixieland and Ivy was finally consummated at two sold-out concerts in Carnegie Hall during the 1955 Thanksgiving vacation. Princeton’s Tiger Town Five, led by clarinetist Stan Rubin (pictured above on a 1959 album), had appeared on Steve Allen’s “Tonight Show” and previously gigged at Jimmy Ryan’s. Their Friday-night concert also featured Eli’s Chosen Six, from Yale.
The Saturday-night concert began with Williams College Spring Street Stompers. The Indian Chiefs followed after intermission before a boisterous Dartmouth-loaded audience that prompted security to stop the show with a warning to the students to curb their enthusiasm.
The Broadway Musical was in its heyday during this decade. Orchestra seats on Broadway were reasonable, and we all went to the theatre and belted out the songs from “Damn Yankees,” “The Boy Friend” and “The Pajama Game” at parties. The Waverly Lounge at the Hotel Earle on Christopher Street was a great hangout for fans of the genre. Laurie Brewis, a fey bistro version of Noel Coward, was the featured pianist and lounge singer. He was accurately billed “The London Edition of Showtune Encyclopedia,” and made a specialty getting to know his college devotees on a first-name basis.
There was more on the fast New York track than the sound of music. Cerebral standup comedy was provided at the Blue Angel by Mort Sahl, who preceded Woody Allen in the hearts and minds of Ivy League Adlai Stevenson-type intellectuals.
At the other end of the spectrum, a $7 cover charge with a two-drink minimum was the price at the Copacabana for a bridge-and-tunnel spectacle of buxom chorus girls and comedian Joe E. Lewis in his drunken Damon Runyon act about bookies, barkeeps and broads. I can still remember the punchlines.
Last call and last dance, the morning sun peeking over the Queensboro Bridge, the goings on about town always closed with bagels, lox and eggs at Reuben’s. — RICHARD PRESS
Richard Press is the grandson of J. Press founder Jacobi Press. A graduate of Dartmouth, he worked at the family business from 1959-1991, ultimately serving as president. He also spent four years as president and CEO of FR Tripler. He lives in Connecticut.
The chaps at the Fine & Dandy Shop blog dug up these images from the 1956 Princeton yearbook. Say, is that Dickie Greenleaf’s graduating class? (Continue)