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
* * *
“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)
The following is part two of Ivy Style’s interview with Ken C. Pollock (pictured ca. 1985).
IS: What’s it been like to watch the steady decline in quality and availability of traditional clothing since your college days?
KP: It’s been sad and distressing. In the early ’70s, it became very hard to get any of it. Even Ivy League manufacturers started widening their lapels and tie widths. I did get some of it, then threw it away seven years later. It was the grimmest period, as far as trying to get clothing. Today may even be grimmer, as far as fewer people wearing the kind of clothes I wear, but there are a few suppliers like Southwick and Polo.
I wear a little Ralph Lauren Purple Label, but right now most of my suits are either Brooks Brothers’ Golden Fleece or Samuelsohn. I do go to Savile Row sometimes and have things custom made. I go to Anderson & Shepherd and Henry Poole, and have them make the stuff more Americanized, with more of a natural shoulder.
IS: You often lament the decline in variety since Ivy’s heyday.
KP: It’s a lot harder for me to find the traditional clothing that I really like. There’s such a limited amount, and nobody is really inventive anymore. It’s not a dynamic clothing now. Brooks and Press just turn out the same thing year after year, so I’ve moved into more English clothing for variety. I’d gotten used to much, much more variety because manufacturers had been selling to such a large market. I still don’t understand why Brooks Brothers has to turn out the same gray herringbone sportcoat for the last 50 years, when they could put a blue windowpane in it to vary it a little bit.
IS: When you say it’s not inventive, what would you like to get that you can’t?
KP: The most inventive person was Sidney Winston at Chipp. He was the one who invented, or at least took to the logical extreme, patching, such as with madras and tweed. I’m sure O’Connells and Cable Car Clothiers have been doing the same thing for 50 years, but there’s no reason why you can’t be more inventive. (Continue)
Ken C. Pollock wears fine shoes today, but there was a time when he held his Bass Weejuns together with duct tape.
Of course, that was for style, not because he was impecunious.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama and raised primarily in Roanoke, Virginia, the son of an immigrant from Belarus and a small-town Alabama girl of Austrian descent, the 67-year-old, Atlanta-based attorney has worn the Ivy League Look since he was a student at New Orleans’ Tulane University from 1959-1965.
In the above photo, taken with his fraternity brothers in 1962, Pollock is top row, second from left. (Talk-show ringleader Jerry Springer is top row, second from right.)
Pollock is known in Tradsville for his perspicacious observations shared on various forums, as well as for an essay in 2004 in which he says he took terms commonly used in the past — Traditional Natural Shoulder Ivy League — and coined the acronym TNSIL. “I may have been the first to coin the acronym,” he says. “I had never seen it used by anyone else.”
Ivy Style spoke with Mr. Pollock about traditional style through the decades, from his college days during Ivy’s heyday, to the decline of the look in the ’70s (“the grimmest period”) and the 21st-century era of menswear blogs and forums.
Ivy Style’s conversation with Mr. Pollock will be posted in two installments. Readers will especially want to stay tuned for the rousing finale, in which Pollock reveals the staggering size of his wardrobe. (Continue)
In honor of Election Day, Ivy Style presents the second in its series of articles from the vaults of Time magazine. For this one, commentary is provided by a Washington insider writing under the pseudonym Taliesin.
Traditional Ivy style is rarely exhibited by the most visible Ivy League graduates: politicians.
For instance, George W. Bush (Yale, Harvard) and Barack Obama (Columbia, Harvard) are never seen wearing sack suits, button down collars, or regimental striped ties.
So when and why did establishment Ivy Leaguers abandon the Ivy look?
“Goodbye to Wing Tips,” a Time article from 1973, captures the mood of an angry public that no longer wanted to see its leaders in traditional clothing. In the middle of Watergate, the establishment look — “three-piece Yale-gray suits, white shirts and club ties” — started to become a liability, and wilder, newer styles came to be seen as evidence of credibility — or at least as the absence of taint.
This, at least, was the contention of John T. Molloy, the “Dress for Success” author and wardrobe consultant. As America reeled from the political scandal that would force President Nixon’s resignation less than a year later, the article notes that “the more conservative the costume… the shadier the image.”
Thirty-five years later, it’s unlikely that the Ivy League Look is associated with disrepute. After all, some of the heroes of Watergate wore sack suits, such as Elliot Richardson (pictured above in a photo by Richard Avedon) and Archibald Cox.
It’s harder to say if the look still conveys snobbishness, or instead has become a fashion option without class or establishment connotations. Today’s politicians almost uniformly prefer the boardroom executive look — strong-shouldered suits, spread-collar French-cuffed shirts, and tastefully plain neckties — as the way to convey reliability and seriousness.
It is this latter trait that Ivy items such as whale ties, red trousers and rumpled oxford-cloth shirts probably lack in the eyes of the average voter. Indeed, the Ivy look seems to occupy an unusual position between the extremely casual, denim-and-fleece clothing of most Americans, and the dressy executive style favored by politicians. This is a paradox, as many items of Ivy clothing come across as both too fashionable and too old fashioned, too casual and too dressed up. It is therefore understandable that risk-averse politicians and their image consultants would shy away from such uncontrollable and conflicting messages.
And yet, Time notes that even as the political establishment self-destructed, all was not lost for the Ivy League Look. Molloy advocated basic Ivy staples to enhance Senator Ted Kennedy’s credibility: “short hair parted on the side, blue blazers and gray flannel slacks, loafers and preppy ties.” The style, handled correctly and executed in its most basic terms, could still convey both seriousness and innocence in the darkest days of Watergate, and it most certainly can do the same today.
This is not the case for the clothing that, according to Time, sought to replace it: “the mod suit with wide lapels and nipped waist worn over a pastel-patterned shirt.” — TALIESIN
Editor’s note: For more on George W. Bush’s uneasy relationship with his alma mater, including his eschewing of sockless Weejuns in favor of cowboy boots, see this Time article from 2001.