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)
Renowned menswear writer G. Bruce Boyer has generously given Ivy Style his imprimatur to reproduce several chapters from his 1985 book “Elegance.” It will mark the first time the articles have been digitized for the Internet.
We thought of no better way to launch the series than with Boyer’s chapter on Brooks Brothers, which is based on an article he originally wrote for the May, 1981 issue of Town & Country.
By G. Bruce Boyer
From “Elegance,” WW Norton & Company, 1985
When it phased out its custom tailoring department, the story was carried on the front page of the New York Times. The Daily News Record has called it the greatest men’s store in the world. It has a history going back over a century and a half and is in fact not so much a clothing store as an institution of American life. There is really nothing to compare with Brooks Brothers.
And of course, it is not just a men’s store any longer. In fact, it was something of a sociological event when Brooks, the bastion of masculine conservatism, opened a women’s department back in 1976. Not that women and Brooks discovered each other then for the first time, you understand, since the ladies had been lurking about the store for years, making off with raincoats and Shetland sweaters, ordering Bermuda shorts and polo shirts from the boys’ department. In 1949 Vogue photographed a woman in a pink Brooks Brothers button-down shirt. The decision to start a women’s department simply reflected an awareness of the arrival of the businesswoman and Brooks Brothers’ determination to accommodate her. After all, the firm has dressed her husband since the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Long before a Mary McCarthy heroine, in her short story “The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt,” picked up such a gentleman on a train ride, the relaxed Establishment Brooks look had more than a whiff of the right stuff. Once suspected an old school tie stuffed in the pocket, a library crammed with well-thumbed English essayists, and possibly a full-bent briar. Nothing outré, nothing exaggerated or self-conscious. The Brooks Brothers suit seemed to peg a man somewhere between Wall Street and his country house, by way of the Ivy League. (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)