By 1980 it was crystal clear: “The sport shirt of choice is Lacoste,” declared The Official Preppy Handbook. “Only the all-cotton model will do, the one with cap sleeves with the ribbed edging, narrow collar and two-button placket (never buttoned).”
How did a French shirt with a crocodile for a logo become the go-to preppy polo? Our story both begins and ends with the initials RL.
French tennis great René Lacoste was an innovator on and off the court. With a smart rearcourt-based game, he won 10 major titles and made 51 Davis Cup appearances as part of a quartet of French tennis legends revered to this day as The Four Musketeers. After retiring he developed the first metal tennis racquet and tinkered with golf club designs. His New York Times obituary noted that he kept working on racquet patents and painting landscapes until his death in Southwest France in 1996. (Continue)
Last week a chrome statue of Andy Warhol was unveiled in New York’s Union Square. Sculptor Rob Pruitt opted to depict the artist circa 1977 in his Americana uniform of Brooks Brothers blazer and Levi’s 501 jeans.
Writes The New York Times:
Mr. Pruitt’s version of Warhol, which he devised on a computer, is young and beautiful with an uncharacteristically delicate nose and an unusually kempt fright wig. He resembles a taller version of Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry Potter, as well as the sleek preppy young men found in Warhol’s early drawings: the Andy that Andy, famously sensitive about his looks, would have liked to be. He wears the basic Warhol uniform of blazer, button-down shirt and rep tie with jeans and stylish oxfords. A Polaroid camera — impossibly bulky by today’s standards — hangs from his neck, and in his right hand he holds a Bloomingdale’s shopping bag, in which he usually carried copies of Interview, the celebrity magazine he founded in 1969.
Ivy-Style has just learned from a top-notch (and top drawer) source, who will be the subject of our next post, the identity of the creator of the late ’70s dorm-room poster “Are You a Preppie?”
Long before he went on to helm such films as “Patch Adams,” “Ace Ventura” and “Liar, Liar,” Tom Shadyac created the above poster as a fundraising effort for his fraternity while studying at the University of Virginia.
Subsequent research revealed this isn’t exactly news to the rest of the world, but the poster creator’s identity was news to me and probably a few others in Tradsville.
The poster is an important touchstone in preppy history as it falls between Nelson Aldrich’s Atlantic Monthly cover story and “The Official Preppy Handbook.”
The model for the poster was Shadyac’s fraternity brother Stephen Tunnell. To see what he looks like now, click here.
So much for preppies never changing. — CC
Over the past several decades, G. Bruce Boyer has distinguished himself as one of the most erudite writers ever to tackle the subject of menswear.
Born in 1941, he came of age at the Ivy League Look’s height in popularity. A graduate of Moravian, the fifth-oldest college in the US, Boyer went on to do graduate work at Lehigh University and taught literature for eight years at Moravian and DeSales University. He has lived most of his life in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Boyer’s writing career began in 1973 with an article about the Duke of Windsor, penned shortly after the British royal’s death. Boyer submitted the story to Town & Country, and soon became the magazine’s men’s fashion writer. He has since written numerous books, most recently “Fred Astaire Style” and the forthcoming “Black Tie.”
Ivy-Style founder Christian Chensvold recently spoke with Boyer about the heyday of the Ivy League Look, its abrupt end, the sprezzatura of the WASP establishment, and why he doesn’t spend much time in online forums.
IS: You entered college in 1959. What were the typical items of clothing you wore at the time?
BB: A button-down shirt in the traditional colors: white, blue, pink, yellow or striped, a shetland crewneck, khakis and Weejuns. The other thing was argyle socks, and in the summer madras everything. For tailored clothing, the ideal would have been a navy single-breasted blazer, a Harris Tweed jacket, a gray flannel suit, and a tan poplin suit or seersucker. That was the standard stuff.
IS: Madras quickly leads us to what’s known as the Go-To-Hell look. How much of that do you remember?
BB: I remember that stuff from the early ’60s. I started to go to New York for shopping and my favorite store was Chipp. That’s where I saw the patch madras and tweed, even before Brooks. Because Chipp is gone now, people tend to forget them. But they were probably the most interesting and most important and the best of Ivy League clothing stores. They were always a little more expensive, too. If Brooks introduced the shetland to this country, it was Chipp that promoted the wild colors like coral, hot pink and lemon yellow. I think I had a cable-knit shetland in bright raspberry in the ’60s. Chipp also did all of the wonderful, wild tweeds: You’d get a tan herringbone with a lilac windowplane overplaid.
I also remember going to Langrock in Princeton, which was for me the greatest campus shop that ever existed. By the late ’60s, the whole town of Princeton was divided into two kinds of people: It was either tweedy professors or freaky kids. It was either guys in Harris Tweed suits, tortoiseshell glasses and bow ties, or kids in tie-dye and jeans. Yet everyone got along.
IS: The OCBD-shetland-khakis-Weejuns-argyles look is considered a uniform today, as apparently it was then. In hindsight we seem to have conflicting images of the style: On the one hand everyone wore the same basic things, but on the other hand, as you pointed out with Chipp, there was tremendous variety.
BB: I think the variety came not so much from the items within the genre, but from color. It depended on how out-there you wanted to be. On the one hand there was a big interest in drab colors. Olive green was a huge color. I remember having an olive tweed three-piece suit. A lot of guys wore olive or gray flannel and brightened it up with a rep tie, a pink button-down and argyles. But then there were more guys of a more dandyish bent who were really out-there with the lime-green shetlands and animal corduroy trousers in bright orange, and bright plaid sport jackets. You got a beat on a guy from his sense of color more than anything. Some guys were more quiet and conservative, and others were more out-there. Some guys looked more like bankers, and others like they spent their lives on the golf course, but they were wearing the same clothing. (Continue)
This is the latest in Ivy-Style’s series of articles from the vaults of Time Magazine, which shed light on the evolution of traditional style through the decades.
The currents of change move slowly in menswear; there is always time, as TS Eliot put it, “to murder and create.”
Adherence to this adage may result in innovation, but more often than not the target of “murder” and the object of creation are one and the same. In short, menswear does away with certain items only to resurrect them a few years later.
In “Back to the Button-Down,” a 1972 trendspotting article by Time Magazine, the button-down collared shirt was one such item declared dead and then summarily revived. This piece dismisses the validity of the original (“found only at stubbornly conservative shops like Brooks Brothers”), in favor of the revamped, designer version of the button-down pioneered by Bill Blass. This new button-down for the new man of 1972 features longer collar points, vivid patterning, and is designed to be worn with the more fashion-forward suits of the era.
But it is Brooks, not Blass, who gets the final word, refuting the skeptics with evidence of strong sales in the old-school variety of oxford shirts. Now, as the button-down undergoes a second (or third or fourth) resurgence, the Brooks Brothers of 1972 provides a sound example to follow, bucking the “classic revival” trend by remaining simply classic. Its vice-president at the time, Ashbel T. Wall, says it best: “It’s nice to know you’re right.” — ZACHARY DELUCA
Image from O’Connells
Almost two years before “The Official Preppy Handbook” made preppy affectation accessible to all, Nelson W. Aldrich Jr. had already caught wind of the zeitgeist.
His January 1979 cover story for the Atlantic Monthly, “Preppies: The Last Upper Class?” is a seminal work of exposition on the manners and mores of the WASP establishment. It is also helpful in filling out the dark years between the fall of the Ivy League Look circa 1965, and the revival of what remained of it, combined with new styles and attitudes picked up during an intense period of social change, in November 1980 with the publication of “The Official Preppy Handbook.”
In honor of the article’s 30th anniversary, Ivy-Style herein presents this largely forgotten historic document now digitized for the Internet.
In the article, Aldrich — who authored the book “Old Money” and edited the oral history of George Plimpton Ivy-Style wrote about a while back — attempts to outline the behavioral characteristics of the prep-school set, their likes and dislikes, values and revulsions. Aldrich links the ideology of the preppy to his forbearer, the WASP, to whom the preppy owes his austerity, deference, and attitude toward money.
Aldrich devotes only a few paragraphs to preppy clothing; in his view the term “preppie” designates a group of people, not simply a style of dress. When he does mention clothes, he does so to illustrate the insularity of preppy society, in which the tiniest modifications of attire can carry great significance.
Worth noting is the passage in which Alrich argues that the distinguishing sartorial details of preppy style — presumably things like hooked vents, lapped seams and two-button cuffs, or perhaps embroidered whale belts — are relished by outsiders once they’ve figured out the secret code, but viewed as “oppressive” by the preppies expected to follow the code.
Along those lines, the famous preppy nonchalance envied by all may not come as easily as it appears. Writes Aldrich:
For the Preppie, on the other hand, gracefulness is less a gift than a standard, something to measure up to, a performance. The delight of the thing comes from the knowledge that it’s all contrived, that the effect of effortlessness requires a good deal of strain, that negligence requires attention, that indifference requires concentration, that simplicity and naturalness require affectation. The most delicious “in” joke of Preppiedom is the anxiety everyone feels about being carefree.
Aldrich’s attitude toward preppy culture is ambivalent. At times the article parodies the anxieties of preppies, yet Aldrich also seems to exalt their modesty and discretion. Although preppies may be the target of his satirical tone, he finds redeeming qualities in them which he suggests may be growing rare.
Ultimately his article is less the lampooning of a social class and more the taxonomy of an odd breed. Less than two years later, this taxonomy would reappear as a New York Times best-selling handbook.
The article is long and sometimes tedious, and so we’ve opted to present it in an excerpted format. This also presumably reduces our culpability in any copyright infringement accusation.
In addition to “Preppies,” Aldrich uses the terms Archies (from the Archie comic books) to denote the suburban middle class, and City Kids for the urban working class. — ZACHARY DELUCA & CC
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“Preppies: The Last Upper Class?”
By Nelson W. Aldrich, Jr.
Atlantic Monthly, January 1979 (excerpts)
“Preppie” is a catchall epithet to take the pace of words too worn or elaborate for everyday use, words such as privileged, ruling class, aristocrat, society woman, gentleman, and the rich. Ideological struggle is too shaming to talk about these days. Lifestyle rivalry is the new engine of history. In this sort of society, Preppies pass for an upper class. (Continue)