There was a time before JK Rowling. A time we spoke of other initialed authors JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, AA Milne and JM Barrie. An age of Young Fogeys, Sloane Rangers and “Brideshead Revisited.”
We called that time the 1980s.
Photographer Mark Draisey now shows us what we were not allowed to see. His book “Thirty Years On! A Private View Of Public Schools,” published earlier this month, takes us into the everyday life and rituals of 25 British public schools during the Thatcher years. Over a five-year period, Draisy had full access to schools such as Eton, Harrow and Sherbourne. The result is this belated photographic swan song to the decade. Draisey’s book captures public school life at the apex of its threadbare glory. Soon after the photos were taken these institution would feel the pressure to spruce up, and some would have to, shall we say, allow the ladies into the library for cigars.
It is too early to tell whether Draisey will be celebrated, pilloried for class crimes, or go wholly unnoticed. Whatever the reaction in his homeland, this book will delight American anglophiles and armchair social historians. Visit this Daily Mail link for a slideshow. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP
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
It was the summer of 1982, not quite two years after Lisa Birnbach wrote “The Official Preppy Handbook,” and I got a call from my agent in New York. After several rounds of auditions, I (then known as Susan Dow) was cast in “Preppies” and was rehearsing at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut.
The show was being directed by Pete Masterson, a fellow Texan, and straight off of his hit “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” His oldest daughter, Lexi, was in the show and his younger daughter who was still in high school would come and visit on the weekends. I don’t think any of us would have guessed Lexi’s baby sister would go on to be the movie star Mary Stuart Masterson. After performing the show for future backers, our four weeks were up we said our goodbyes and headed back to Manhattan.
Twelve whole months would pass before I got another call from my agent informing me that they were now ready to do “Preppies” Off-Broadway. Of course nothing is easy in show business, and my agent informed me that the show had a brand new director/choreographer named Tony Tanner, and we would all be required to audition for him. After singing and dancing several times, I was cast as Lallie deForest. I was more than surprised to learn that I was the only one from the workshop that had been cast in this new production.
Some fun little tidbits about “Preppies” are that the music was written by a very young Gary Portnoy, best known for writing the theme song to the hit TV show “Cheers.” The cast, of course, was in head-to-toe madras and Lily Pulitzer, had taps attached to our Top-Siders, and even did a number in the show with flippers on our feet. You can find copies of both the script and cast album on eBay, and I understand that “Preppies” is quite popular with high school drama departments.
I always thought that our producer, Anthony Fingleton, was a true blue-blood preppy, but I did a little research to refresh my memory and discovered that Tony came from quite humble beginnings in Australia. But he did go to Harvard, and that probably counts for something.
I would love to wrap this story up with a wonderful opening night, rave reviews and a long run, but that isn’t the way this show turned out. “Preppies” received less-than-stellar reviews and closed within a matter of weeks.
But great things did come from being in “Preppies.” I made and remain friends with most of the cast. We all got along, which I will tell you is quite rare. The saddest thing about closing was not being able to laugh every day with those funny and talented actors. I became best friends with fellow castmate, Karyn Quackenbush, and two years later she would set me up on a blind date with a guy named Scott Bartlett.
Scott and I just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and have two terrific sons. — SUSAN BARTLETT
Susan Bartlett — we kid you not — makes preppy clothes for dogs and sells them on Etsy (where she also occasionally sells vintage menswear). Her son Sam, a jazz pianist, graduates from SMU this spring and can be seen here performing the classic “Straight, No Chaser.”