Earlier this month the Dallas Morning News did a style tribute to JFK. There’s plenty to nitpick in the story, including the awkwardly oxymoronic line that Kennedy’s style influence is “arguably eternal,” but there were a few parts I thought interesting.
First off is this 1958 quote referring to “Brooks Brothers couture”:
“This night, Jack Kennedy — the young Eastern millionaire with the Harvard accent, the Brooks Brothers couture and the egghead ideas — had them standing on their chairs, whistling and shouting.” — Cabell Phillips, The New York Times, July 13, 1958
Later, the author paints this terse picture of Kennedy’s off-duty style:
Off-duty, Kennedy’s style was as refreshing. His upper-class, Ivy League life before Washington meant growing up wearing that echelon’s staples: tweed sports coats, Shetland wool crew neck sweaters, brightly colored polo shirts, khakis and loafers.
Then we get this quote:
“He never looked shabby. It was his culture to dress better than he had to.”
But the next part is most interesting as it reflects Main Street clothiers’ appropriating of the Ivy League Look during the heyday:
Said Derrill Osborn, the former vice president of men’s tailored clothing for Neiman Marcus: “Being a student of the Ivy League period, which took hold during John Kennedy’s three years as president, I can attest [it] was a great moment in clothes.”
“We copied him,” said Osborn, then a menswear buyer in New York for Saks Fifth Avenue stores. “I sold Ivy League by the carloads. It was really about the adoration the youth had with Kennedy and the Beatles. It was the early ’60s.”
Saks had long catered to the student population in college towns, but surely never sold Ivy by the carloads except during the heyday, which, like JFK’s Camelot, was fleeting. — CC
As a follow-up to our interview with “Take Ivy” author Toshiyuki Kurosu, here’s a post we discovered recently on a blog called Wax Wane. It features some photos we hadn’t seen before of Japanese Ivy enthusiasts in the ’60s, as well as some magazine covers such as the one above, and some of those cute little Japanese cartoon characters. (Continue)
I am currently working on a book about the importation of Ivy League fashion into Japan in the 1960s, and as part of the research I sat down with Toshiyuki Kurosu (pictured above second from left) in February at the Kamakura Shirts office in Tokyo.
Kurosu is legendary in Japan as one of the very first people to ever discover and wear Ivy League clothing. After joining brand VAN in 1961 at age 24, he convinced his boss Ishizu Kensuke to re-focus the whole company on Ivy style, a risky move that eventually brought the company incredible success, fame, and fortune. And as both a VAN employee and a writer for Men’s Club, Kurosu later became part of the team who created the legendary photo book “Take Ivy.” — W. DAVID MARX
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IS: How did you discover Ivy League style in Japan?
TK: The first time I saw the word “Ivy” was Spring 1954 in the very first issue of magazine Otoko no Fukushoku (later renamed Men’s Club). In the issue, there was a glossary of menswear terms, organized by A-to-Z, and there was an entry for “Ivy League style” that read “In America, Ivy is very popular among college students.” That’s all that was written, but I was intrigued. I thought, that’s probably something I would like.
I then realized that I had seen African-American soldiers wearing clothes like that out at the Tachikawa Airfield where I would play in jazz bands. These guys were incredibly stylish. This was the middle of the Korean War, so there were a lot of aircraft coming in and out of Tachikawa. Everyone had money, and there were a lot of suit tailors, shirt-makers, and shoe places located near the camp. My friends and I all loved America, so we’d go out to the clothing stores near the camp, and say, make us what those guys are wearing.
At the time Japanese tailors didn’t know anything about Ivy style. They couldn’t do a “natural shoulder,” so you’d end up with these huge pads. When I made my first Ivy suit at a normal tailor, they just put a third button on top of the normal two-buttons. The silhouette wasn’t Ivy or anything — it was just weird. But I of course wore it thinking it was great.
IS: What was so appealing about Ivy style to you?
TK: It was just the total opposite of Japanese fashion at the time. All the hip musicians wore one-button suit jackets with huge shoulders. I couldn’t even understand the Ivy look as fashion — it was too different. When I started wearing Ivy clothing, people would say, you look like a mayor of a small town in the countryside. That was the image. But that’s what made it fun. I didn’t like it because it was new, but because it was strange. The other people to get into Ivy early in Japan were mostly art school students. (Continue)
Today Nick Hilton sent out an email message with this 1965 image. The car may look dated, but certainly not the clothes. A couple of years ago son Nick resurrected his father’s name for a line of Ivy-cut jackets, and glad to see he’s still doing them. The spring trunk show kicks off this weekend and there’s a 20 percent discount offered through March 30. Call 609.921.8160 for an appointment.
There will always be Americans and Englishmen who find the other culture more appealing. You don’t have to look hard to find Anglophiles in the States, and “Downton Abbey” has relit the Anglomania torch that never really gets extinguished.
But while having English taste points your class arrow upward in the US, having American taste in England appears to steer you towards the bohemian. It’s hard to imagine someone muttering over a cup of tea, “What a model gentleman Lord Billardcue is, he absolutely adores American culture!”
This weekend The Observer ran an extract of a story from 50 years ago that reported on an Englishman who took his style cues from Madison Avenue. The timing of 1963 is especially interesting in the perennial give and take between the US and UK, since in the postwar years America’s global influence and exporting of popular culture was higher than ever, and yet the British Invasion, which would send fashion and culture back this way, was just around the corner.
According to the article:
Another acquaintance, in advertising, covets that American Ivy League look, patented by Brooks Brothers: the trousers are slim and without front pleats, the jacket unwaisted and with the minimum shoulder padding. Altogether, it can miraculously make an overfed Madison Avenue executive look like an ex-football quarterback. My friend, after a long search round Savile Row, eventually crossed over to Soho and found a tailor who togged out American embassy personnel. Now, in Berkeley Square, he has the look of a fast-rising Manhattan executive and keeps his English suits for his annual trip to New York.
The chap certainly sounds more exception than rule, as Ivy never really caught on in England as it did in Japan. But most noteworthy is the part about American embassy personnel stationed in London — what many would consider a dream job with the added bonus of being in the world’s sartorial capital — who wanted their suits cut American rather than take advantage of England’s legendary tailors, which reminds us that it’s still a small number that wants to ape the other guys. — CC
Sears called its Christmas catalog the “Wish Book.” It, along with other oversized glossy catalogs, came to American households every year heralding the Christmas buying season and giving children plenty of images to fantasize over.
Studying them is a remembered rite of passage. In the days before gender neutrality, girls’ thoughts turned to Mrs. Beasley Dolls and Easy Bake Ovens, while boys dreamed of Red Ryder BB guns and Lionel trains. The clothing pages were annoyance you had to flip through to get to toy nirvana. If the clothes were thought of at all, it was with certain trepidation that some well meaning relative might linger on one of those pages and buy something practical, like a snow suit.
What was unknown to us was that mysterious mechanism called puberty that would somehow transform neckties, briar pipes and pheasant-phestooned highball glasses into desirable Christmas gifts. With that in mind, I was a little surprised that the Sears catalogs were not as toy-centric as I remember. And on that note we present the Sears “Wish Book” of 1964. (Continue)