A reader recently left a comment saying that collar roll is a fetish of the Internet age and that didn’t exist in the analog decades. Assistant editor Chris Sharp tapped his photographic memory, rummaged through his archives, and immediately produced an article from the April, 1983 issue of Esquire in which John Berendt opined on buttondowns and collar roll. Here are the highlights. — CC & CS
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The mere thought of buttondown shirts reminds me of the late, dapper George Frazier, freewheeling columnist for The Boston Globe and a contributor to this magazine over a span of many years. George Frazier possessed a highly refined sense of style, and he could be moved to eloquence on the cut of a Huntsman suit, the precision of a hunting gun, the elegance of handmade Lobb shoes, or the shoeshine at Ralph Kaufman’s place at the Cleveland airport, which was, in George’s estimation, “an achievement of such matchless glossiness” that on more than one occasion he changes planes in Cleveland just to avail himself of its artistry. “The roll of the collar,” Geoerge used to say apropos of buttondown shirts, “that is the most important thing.”
And, of course, he was right. The roll is everything when it comes to buttondown shirts, the roll being that parabolic curve, described by the forward edges of the collar. The whole idea of the buttondown, historically, has been that it was a soft, unlined collar with long points that would flap in the breeze if they were not tethered. This was the case when John Brooks of Brooks Brothers first laid eyes on them at a polo match in England in 1900. Players had fastened their collars with buttons to keep them from snapping in their faces. Brooks brought the idea back to New York, and from that day to this the white oxford-cloth polo-collar shirt has been Brooks Brothers’ biggest-selling item. The Brooks polo collar has a full roll to it, which is the only contour that makes any sense. Buttondown shirts with short straight collars and no roll are an anomaly; they do not need buttons, they need collar stays.
In its 82 years, the Brooks buttondown has seen very few changes. Colors have been added to the line along the way, most notably pink… As always, the shirt’s heavy oxford fabric is woven exclusively for Brooks…. The body of the shirt is slimmer these days but still “generously” cut. Otherwise, the only news is that in the past decade Brooks has broken its long-standing tradition and put a pocket on the front of the shirt — a move that would have dismayed George Frazier. George kept his pens in his inside jacket pocket and condemned shirt pockets as gauche — something you don’t wear, he said, “not if you know the score.”
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)