As a follow-up to this week’s earlier post about J. Press’ new cinch-back trousers, contributing writer Christopher Sharp sent in the above image showing buckle-back trousers in their original context.
The source: Gentry magazine
The year: 1954
The campus: University of North Carolina
The trousers: “Ivy League Narrows”
Paired with: Shell cordovan penny loafers
Note that the shoes and trousers are the same price. Today Alden’s Leisure Handsewn Moccasin in cordovan sells for $589.
Kind of makes the $375 J. Press trousers look like a steal. — CC
Over two years ago I wrote an open letter to American retailers suggesting they put a buckle on the back of chinos, a craze among students circa 1956. With the PITA trend in full swing, I even asked readers to speculate what brand might be first to freshen up a pair of quotidian khakis with this small but distinguishing detail. I neglected to include J. Press as one of the contenders, however, and sure enough it’s come through this season with “cinch-back” trousers made by Martin Greenfield.
There are two versions, both with stiff tarifs: The cotton trouser will set you back $275, the charcoal worsted a whopping $375.
“Chotto takai deshou?” ["a little expensive, don't you think?"], I said to J. Press’ Japanese general manager.
“More than chotto,” he replied. — CC
Despite the fact that you’re supposed to be learning to think for yourself, college has always been a conformist environment. Those with an excess of individuality may be respected, but are rarely popular.
And even during the heyday of the Ivy League Look, not every student was a perfect example of the style. What became codified and remembered as the look was what the top echelon wore, the nonchalant moneyed types.
In short, the guys who were “shoe.”
What follows is an article entitled “How Shoe Can You Get?” by Russell Lynes, kindly provided by Esquire fashion director Nick Sullivan. In it, Lynes writes:
White Shoe applies primarily to the socially ambitious and the socially smug types who affect a good deal of worldly sophistication, run, ride and drink in rather small cliques, and look in on the second halves of football games when the weather is good. They try so hard not to be collegiate in the rah-rah (or, as they would say, “Midwestern”) sense of the term that they are probably the most “collegiate” types now in college.
Lynes wrote the book “The Tastemakers,” which I highly recommend to those interested in the sociology of taste. Ivy Style wrote about him here. — CC
* * *
How Shoe Can You Get?
By Russell Lynes
Esquire, September 1953
At Yale there is a system for pigeonholing the members of the college community which is based on the word “shoe.” Shoe bears some relation to the word chic, and when you say that a fellow is “terribly shoe” you mean that he is a crumb in the upper social crust of the college, though a more kindly metaphor might occur to you. You talk of a “shoe” fraternity or a “shoe” crowd, for example, but you can also describe a man’s manner of dress as “shoe.” The term derives, as you probably know, from the dirty white bucks which are the standard collegiate footwear (you can buy new ones already dirty in downtown New York to save you the embarrassment of looking as though you hadn’t had them all your life), but the system of pigeonholing by footwear does not stop there. It encompasses the entire community under the terms White Shoe, Brown Shoe, and Black Shoe.
White Shoe applies primarily to the socially ambitious and the socially smug types who affect a good deal of worldly sophistication, run, ride and drink in rather small cliques, and look in on the second halves of football games when the weather is good. They try so hard not to be collegiate in the rah-rah (or, as they would say, “Midwestern”) sense of the term that they are probably the most “collegiate” types now in college. Brown Shoe applies to the general run of those who are socially acceptable but above thinking that it really makes any difference. They constitute the general middle class of the college that overlaps somewhat into both White and Black; their ambition is to be the average citizen raised to the highest power compatible with being a cultured and relaxed gentleman. Black Shoe implies some of the attributes of the “grind” and is applied to those who participate a little too eagerly in seminars, literary teas, and discussions of life, literature, and the pursuit of philosophy. They are in college because they consider it primarily an educational and not a social institution; they mind their own business rather intensely, are probably in love with the girls they will eventually marry, and in many respects appear a good deal more sophisticated and grown up than the White Shoe crowd.
The shoe categories obviously allow for a great deal more precise definition than this, as I have no doubt the first Yale man you meet will tell you. But pleasant as it is under the elms of New Haven, let us move into other groves of academe. We will have to take our “shoes” with us, however; the terminology may not be the same in all the colleges, but we will keep finding men whom the shoes will fit. (Continue)
Now that summer is over and the punctilious will put away their white bucks until next Memorial Day, it’s time to honor the collegiate tradition of wearing scuffed-up white bucks in autumn, preferably with grey flannels.
The fashion gave birth to the term “white shoe,” usually applied to a law or financial firm that hired WASPy guys from elite universities and catered to an Old Money clientele.
In 1997, language expert William Safire wrote an essay in the New York Times on the origins of the term white shoe:
The source is white ”bucks,” the casual, carefully scuffed buckskin shoes with red rubber soles and heels worn by generations of college men at Ivy League schools. Many of these kids, supposedly never changing their beloved footgear, went on to become masters of the universe on Wall Street and in the best-known law firms.
In its early days, the adjective was used in an envious, resentful way by those with less-privileged backgrounds; now it is either a dispassionate description of elitism or a passionate derogation of old-fogeyism. However, some of the nouveau-riche derogators of the old-line firms are classed by a different and more expensive shoe, the loafer with a brass link ornament made by the Gucci firm in Italy. In Washington, K Street, where many lobbyists make their headquarters, is known as ”Gucci Gulch.”
The Economist has also examined the archaic term “white shoe,” noting:
I was tempted to put “white-shoe” on our journalese blacklist, but I’ll hold off, and just file it under frozen terms. There isn’t a great replacement for it. The term used to hint at WASPishness, the kind of place that didn’t promote Jews, but times have thankfully changed. Still, the term wraps up not just prestigious professional-service and financial firms, but big, old, east-coast and fairly traditional ones. It’s faster to write “white-shoe” than “big, old, east-coast and fairly traditional.” So despite the fact that you’re more likely to see casual-Friday khakis than a white pair of shoes on a man at a white-shoe firm, we’ll give “white shoe” a pass.
In “Franny and Zooey,” JD Salinger has a character speak this line, which Salinger wrote in 1957:
“Phooey, I say, on all white-shoe college boys who edit their campus literary magazines. Give me an honest con man any day.”
Tomorrow we’ll present an historic article, kindly provided by Esquire and herein digitized for the first time, that explores the broader use of the term “shoe,” which in the 1950s was slang for the coolness hierarchy on campus, with White Shoe at the top of the pecking order, Black Shoe at the bottom, and Brown Shoe somewhere in between. — CC
In 1952, LIFE Magazine ran a profile on the Taft family, one of America’s great political dynasties, having produced President William Howard Taft.
The family also produced a prep school — The Taft School in Watertown, CT — which was founded by William’s brother Horace Dutton Taft, an early Skull & Bones member.
Pictured above is Peter Rawson Taft III, great-nephew of the school’s founder. The kid is the epitome of ’50s preppy sportiness with his good looks, well worn school sweatshirt, and roman numeral after his name.
The LIFE profile on the family can be found here. — CC
Yesterday an interesting auction ended on eBay: a polo shirt made by Lacoste for Brooks Brothers, putatively from the 1950s.
The shirt’s four-inch tails and artifact status, however, were not enough to motivate anyone to place a bid at the opening price of $499, and at the close of the week-long auction the shirt went unsold.
Lesson for the apparel industry: No matter how compelling your collaboration, price point trumps all. — CC (Continue)