By William Hamilton in The New Yorker.
It’s been Duck Head week here at Ivy Style, and this third post will mark our last until the collection is unveiled.
In our first post we noted that the small Southern brand made it to outposts as far-flung as London. As this photo shows, an ad for Duck Head can be seen above the shoulder of English Ivy patron saint John Simons.
Mr. Simons told us via email:
We did indeed stock Duck Head chinos and shorts all through the ’80s and ’90s. In those days they were an excellent made in USA pile-’em-high, sell-’em-cheap brand of basics. Cost price on the pants was about 15 bucks; I would imagine that’s moved on good and proper since those days. In any event I have very fond memories of this iconic brand.
Speaking of the famous retail store, a documentary about John Simons is soon to be released. Ivy Style is on the story and will be reporting to you soon. — CC
Some time later today, according to the timer counting down on its website, Duck Head will relaunch. The brand has its genesis in the postwar workwear market, and when I say postwar, I mean the War Between the States. “For a preppy Southern college guy in the 1980s,” writes Eileen Glanton in a November, 2000 Forbes article, “Duck Head Apparel khakis were as indispensable as a pair of worn Top-siders and a pink Polo shirt.”
Brothers and Civil War veterans George and Joe O’Bryan started Duck Head in 1865, buying army surplus duck canvas tenting material which they repurposed for work pants and shirts. The business would become known as O’Bryan Brothers Manufacturing Company, and operated out of Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1892 the brothers attempted to trademark the word “duck,” but it was already in common use, even among those who didn’t hunt. Undaunted, they took inspiration from their sporting roots and registered the trademark Duck Head in 1906. The company turned out hardy vests, coats, pants and overalls as they entered the new century. The company would become a leading contract maker for the government during the Second World War, turning out over five million garments. After the war Duck Head returned to the civilian workwear market. It embraced country music, becoming a sponsor of the Grand Ole Opry and hitching their wagon to Hank Williams’ rising star.
The question one might ask is how and why did Duck Head did became a preppy staple? “The duck is the most beloved of all totems,” writes Lisa Birnbach in “The Official Preppy Handbook,” and as true as that may be, Duck Head khakis were born of one’s man foresight.
In 1978 a textile mill operator was trying to unload 60,000 yards of unwanted cotton khaki material. The operator approached Dave Baseheart of O’Bryan Brothers with his problematic material. Baseheart said, “They offered me a price and I bought it. I did not know what I was going to do with it.” Baseheart’s solution was to use an old workwear pattern, run up some khakis and slap on the now iconic yellow mallard duck label. He convinced a store in Oxford near the Ole Miss campus to buy 12 pairs, and they sold out in three days. (Continue)
Even an item as banal and unstylish as the hoodie can be elevated by its wearer. Case in point, that handsome old gent from Polo ad campaigns from the late ’80s and early ’90s.
I remember these ads — including the hoodie shot above, taken alongside a tennis court— from when they first came out, which was right when I became interested in style. I’d stare at the guy and, as with all narrative Polo ads of the time, couldn’t help but imagine the character’s backstory.
If anyone knows who the model was, please let us know.
In the meantime, here’s a small tribute to this unnamed gent. In addition to looking distinguished, he holds the distinction of being one of the few elderly beaux to ever have a starring role in a fashion ad campaign. And who else has ever made you want to stock up on yellow? — CC (Continue)
In 1980, the only thing hotter than the best-selling “Official Preppy Handbook” was blasting aliens at the local arcade.
Though they appealed to different demographics, three decades later the worlds of prepdom and video games have been combined in the form of Soxfords’ Space Invaders argyle sock, ideal for those who grew up in the ’80s or just wish they had.
You’ll have to forgive the bland headline. If the shoes in the photo had been Weejuns, I was toying with “Penny Arcade.” — CC