Assistant editor Christopher Sharp takes the reins as we celebrate five years of news and commentary, words and pictures, clothes that make you cheer and clothes that make you cringe.
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As Ivy Style reaches its fifth anniversary, we are certainly now post-grads no plans on giving up the old alma mater.
Christian reminded me that I have gone from reader to comment-leaver to contributing writer and finally to staff member. Unknown to him, however, is that I had followed Ivy Style since the press release announcing its founding. I loved the collegiate masthead and recognized early how powerful a platform it would become.
I’d thought my writing days were over, but Ivy Style provided a new venue to explore a cherished hobby, and I’ve inadvertently become the resident rain man when it comes to sourcing Ivy miscellanea. I have officially participated for four years, provided 18 articles, and am now assistant editor. For any of you who like financial references, I kind of see myself as the Charlie Munger to Christian’s Warren Buffett.
Having neither the ambition to blog nor the desire to toil in the anonymous neither regions of the Internet, it was the place for me. I spend my time chasing butterflies and falling into rabbit holes and Christian trusts that I will come up with something worthy of our enterprise. I hope that you’ll agree, whether you’ve been with us for five days or the whole five years.
As I write this, I wonder if how I approach a project is not indicative of how the site on the whole presents things. I literally gather ephemera, articles (especially contemporary ones to the subject), advertising, catalogs, trade publications and first-person interviews. The material goes from random facts to compelling narrative, so in a way I feel like a storyteller. I believe we provide much for new arrivals as well something for the mature reader that raises it above just a nostalgic twice-told tale.
Anniversaries allow some latitude for chest-thumping, so let me present what I think makes this site special.
Love or hate the content of any given post, you know who we are. With just a couple of exceptions, the several dozen who have contributed to the site all did so under their own names in the full light of day. I am well aware it would take little effort for any of you to find your way to my doorstep, so I’ll let you know ahead of time that I keep plenty of good spirits around in hopes that you prefer boozing to brawling.
As for that stable of contributors over the past five years, what a wonderful world of diversity. When I used to pester Bruce Boyer with my questions as a young aficionado, I never thought we would become web colleagues, but here we are. As for Richard Press, forget Kevin Bacon and six — how about no degrees of separation? Is there anyone he doesn’t know? Richard represents an unbroken chain to the beginning of Ivy. Did you folks know he used to spend Sundays as a boy looking at fabric swatches with his grandfather? We’re all fortunate to capture and record his memories for posterity. As for others, our man in Japan W. David Marx illuminates the eastern perspective. Comment-leaver and occasional contributor James Kraus reverberates the “Mad Men” era in every projects he tackles. Deirdre Clemente and Rebecca C. Tuite, have shed light on midcentury college clothes and manners and both have forthcoming books, and Jason Marshall has penned jazz portraits as artful as his own playing.
We also offer trade news to our readers. Unlike vanity bloggers, we can stay neutral and give you the facts about new products. We introduce you to players that want to court your business, with no requirement that we endorse every product featured. We encourage you to make your own decisions and to make your voice heard. And trust me, it is heard in some rarified corner offices.
Writing for Ivy Style has also brought me the unanticipated opportunity to connect with my family history. I had almost forgotten — like finding the scarlet letter in the old custom house — that my introduction to Ivy was a childhood glimpse of my father’s class blazer stored in a cedar chest. Natural shoulders, undarted, three buttons with a hook vent. Because of my association Ivy-Style.com, when it came time for the MFIT exhibit I offered up some of the cedar chest treasures. They said no to the blazer as they had more harlequin ones, but they said yes to a graphically interesting sweatshirt. So I got the rare chance to tease my father with the news that he “was going to be in a museum.”
I’ll always recall the fall day when we went to the exhibit to view his sweatshirt together. A nearly ratty piece of cotton with a fuzzy appliquéd cigar-smoking, cudgel-waving bear that he gave to a young nursing student and teenage beauty queen over 50 years ago. He married her, and the sweatshirt went into the cedar chest only to recently emerge. Seeing the sweatshirt that day, I drew ever closer to the memory of a woman we lost too early to cancer, and that handsome blue-blazered, young undergraduate with a shock of black hair who became the father of my youth.
Finally, and here’s where we go from chest-thumping to corny, there are you readers. Our comments section reveals a diverse group of passionate individuals participating in a cavalcade of conflicting opinion. More than anything, you help make the site a lively place to spend some time. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP
It’s time to bring the recent run of Brooks-related posts to a close (if only so we can move on to J. Press), so in this post I’d like to address a few of the more theoretical notions to come from the vibrant discussion in the comments section over the past week.
First off, here are the results from Brooks’ website when you search for the term “sack.” As you can see, nearly all of them are the updated, shrunken Cambridge model. On the other hand, the jacket pictured above is from Brooks’ Japanese website. It may not be a platonic ideal, but it brings up a number of points that are both fascinating and frightening.
The first thing you’ll notice is the unironic, non-fashion-styled presentation. The jacket follows classic proportions, isn’t shown on a 22-year-old model, and isn’t paired with weird items. Blogger and comment-leaver “oxford cloth button down” recently delved more deeply into Brooks’ Japanese website, where he found a significant number of undarted jackets with a traditional, non-fashion presentation.
What does this mean? Well, you know how children, when explained that the world is round and not flat, can’t understand how the people on the other side of the world aren’t upside-down? Japan is on the other side of the world, but apparently over there things are rightside-up, and it’s here in the US where everything’s upside-down. To wit, the classic American cut offered by the quintessential American clothier is apparently easier to find in Japan (and manufactured in China) than it is right here in America. I can really see how you older guys who grew up on Brooks would be moved to tears.
The next idea comes from our post on Brooks’ new Own Make collection, and the recounting by my friend that a salesman told him it was “fashion forward,” an entirely apt description.
Yes, as if the world weren’t already upside-down, now it’s inside-out. The Brooks Brothers sack suit, epitome of conservative dress for a hundred years, has gone so far to the right that it’s wrapped around to the left. By changing the proportions, the reactionary has become avant-garde.
I’m reminded of the famous timeline graphic by fashion historian James Laver:
You can see how the basic concept applies to the Cambridge, Black Fleece and Own Make sack jackets. Forgetting the years in the right column (which refer to fast-changing women’s fashion), the sack jacket has basically gone from “dowdy” to “shameless” in the eyes of the traditional Brooks customer (or at least the eyes of Ivy Style comment-leavers) simply by changing the proportions.
The final point that’s bobbed around in my head this past week has been the insightful comment that the Own Make blazer recently pictured looks like a woman’s blazer. Ever since Thom Browne came along with his shrunken suit, everyone’s been quipping about Pee Wee Herman and Little Lord Fauntelroy. In fact, the suits may not make you look like a little boy, but rather a grown woman. The nipped waist, tapering trousers, and pocket angles make this guy almost look like he has child-bearing hips:
The more you look at him, the more androgynous he becomes. It’s almost like the costume from some “Gattaca”-like science fiction movie in which men have become sterile and human reproduction is taken care of in government laboratories. Compared to male costume from other cultures and eras, the sack suit disguised secondary sexual characteristics. It did not not seek to broaden shoulders and slenderize the waist, recalling the marble male torsos of antiquity. The new fashion-forward sack suit, however, does emphasize secondary sexual characteristics — but for the wrong sex!
Here’s a sack jacket on manly poster-boy Steve McQueen. Yes it’s not a full-body shot, but you get the point:
In this upside-down, inside-out world we live in, it’s hard to believe that clothiers think men would be better off looking like the gray-suited ephebe pictured above, rather than like McQueen, with the quiet masculine understatement of his natural shoulders and unpretentious waist line.
In closing, another recent comment mentioned wing and detachable collars, which I pointed out had been selected for sartorial extinction. Brooks Brothers appears to see the legacy of its iconic sack suit as something best used to serve fashion ends via distortion and irony, while offering the straight, non-ironic version to conservative businessmen in Japan. Both are signs that the sack suit is one step closer to extinction. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
After a couple of posts already on Brooks Brothers, the fodder keeps coming, and discussion points keep popping up, so we may be on this topic for a while.
First off, today on the Brooks website I noticed a plug for the first issue of 1818, its new lifesteyle magazine. The overall feel, as we’ve come to expect, is very much international fashion brand (I don’t think any of you are in denial about that being where the brand is). However, there are some dollops of Americana here and there, including articles about Brooks’ dressing 39 of 44 US presidents. Michael Williams of A Continuous Lean also provides a piece on made-in-America, and Patricia Mears of the MFIT presents a piece called “The Ivy Style” that looks back at the museum exhibit and Brooks’ role in it.
Purists may bemoan the ways in which Ivy style, now often referred to as “preppy” style, have been appropriated by the fashion world. Yet this classic look has stood the test of time and thrived for decades precisely because it is so brilliantly distilled and perfected; elements can be tweaked and even upended without losing its distinctive, spirited essence.
Now if your irony meter just started quivering, better hang on to your seat. 1818 Magazine also includes an interview with Thom Browne, head of the Black Fleece collection and whose ideas on proportion seem to be having an increasing effect on the brand as a whole.
Here’s some of what Browne has to say in a Q&A led by style writer Glenn O’Brien:
I think it will always stay true to what I set out to do at the beginning. That is to be a little bit younger version of what is true to Brooks Brothers. It’s always going to be classically inspired.
As an Ivy-Style.com comment-leaver recently pointed out, “everything is relative.” Perhaps in this case that old cliché is spot on. Point of view will determine whether you find Browne’s creations “classically inspired” and “a little bit younger,” or distortions of once-gentlemanly clothing by a conceptual artist.
I definitely have to be true to the brand. It has to be a little more classic-looking, but still really more youthfully spirited.
On one of our recent posts, a reader asked if anyone has actually seen someone wearing something that is obviously Black Fleece. This illustrates the important point that the kind of person who wears it and the kind of person who asks such a question probably travel in different circles (though both may find themselves walking down Madison Avenue). However, O’Brien sees fit to ask Browne if he still gets excited seeing his clothes walking down the street:
I guess you eventually get to a point that you see it a lot. But I’m still, you know… not huge, so when I do see it, I get a kick out of it. The most important thing is that Black Fleece was really something that I set out to do that really fit within the store and it enhanced what Brooks Brothers had done for the last couple of hundred years.
The last line is the richest one for debate. Has Thom Browne “enhanced what Brooks Brothers has done for the past couple of hundred years,” or caricatured it — like Duchamp putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa — which Brooks has oddly enough endorsed because we live in a postmodern age in which ironic is the new normal?
Finally, O’Brien also asks Browne if there’s any chance he’ll get President Obama in Black Fleece, to which Browne answers he’d love to see it.
I’m not sure how the rest of us would feel seeing our nation’s leader in clothing that would undermine his authority not only at home but abroad. Brooks Brothers may have dressed 39 out of 44 presidents, but it wasn’t in Black Fleece. — CC
When Charlie Davidson of The Andover Shop quips that Brooks Brothers today looks like “an Italian department store,” he knows whereof he speaks. He’s one of the few menswear professionals still around who’s known the brand since the late 1940s.
I attended Brooks’ spring 2014 presentation last week. When it came time to craft a post, I looked over my photos and without thinking it over too much, instinctively decided to show the one thing I thought noteworthy, both for its vices as well as virtues. It was a madras jacket I liked for the dark navy and green (so much madras lately has been patchwork or overly bright; I prefer something more subdued, like that jerk in “Dirty Dancing” wears). It was a jacket that seemed to look back to the Brooks jackets of yore thanks to a button stance of three rather than two, but it came with double vents, which would be a dealbreaker for me on such a casual American classic.
I don’t know what’s more frustrating: that Brooks merchandisers chose double vents to deliberately break with the American tradition, or that they’re locked in such a Continental mindset when it comes to the tailored clothing they don’t even realize it’s a break with American tradition. Most of the jackets in the presentation had nicely rolled 3/2 lapels and soft shoulders, but European-looking fabrics and double vents. Frequent Ivy-Style.com comment-leaver “Carmelo,” an Italian and clothes geek of the first order, pronounced the madras jacket “very Italian.”
There was plenty of American sportswear in the presentation, of course, and Brooks continues to do much of that well. But I think we’re all more interested in what Brooks is doing with its tailored clothing.
This fall Brooks Brothers has brought back its Own Make label, calling it “Inspired by iconic styles from the Brooks Brothers archives and made in the USA.” As with the new Natural Craftsmanship collection, prices are high: a tattersall sport shirt runs $225 and tartan trousers are $395. Of most interest to us here are the Own Make sack suits, sportcoats and blazers. The 101 model comes with a 3/2 button stance, no darts, natural shoulders, 3/8 lining, 5/16″ edge stitching and a hook vent. Own Make sportcoats start at $895, with suits and blazers in the $1,300-$1,400 range.
Although Brooks Brothers says the jacket silhouette is inspired by a 1960s model, don’t expect anything like this one below, from the brand’s book “Generations of Style”:
Own Make jackets seem to trace their lineage to the more recent creations of Thom Browne rather than the relaxed-cut sack suit the brand was known for from 1896-1987.
I asked Brooks the difference, if any, between the Own Make jacket and the Cambridge updated sack introduced last year. The company responded:
The Cambridge fit is a slim fitting version of our iconic sack coat but with a shorter length and more fitted. The Cambridge fit is undarted and is similar in proportion to our Milano.
Own Make is really inspired from our archives and fabrics we used in the 1960s. Jackets are the slimmed down versions of the original No 1 and No 2 sack silhouettes hence the names of the products #101 and #102.
It’s hard to tell from that description exactly what the differences would be when it comes to cut and fit, so let’s just get down to how the jacket felt on me — following a brief disclaimer.
After 800 posts, you readers have no doubt surmised by now that I’m not a tailoring geek. I don’t fetishize clothing, I don’t stockpile multiple versions of the same item, I don’t get tempted by weird items simply because they have a thrift-store price of $3.99, I don’t hang on to things I never wear, and I don’t do blog posts comparing the stitching of different shirtmakers. I like the social history and ideas that spring from man’s need to clothe himself, and I enjoy wearing clothes. This is all to say that I go by feel when it comes to selecting clothing: I go by how something looks to my eye and how it feels when I put it on. If you want to know what the stitching looks like inside of Own Make jackets where the sleeve is attached to the shoulder, you’ll have to go and look yourself, because I wasn’t paying attention.
I checked out Own Make at the Madison Avenue Brooks flagship, formed some impressions, and then went back a second time to see if my initial impressions stood. I also enlisted the help of a friend who’s very much like me in that he really enjoys clothes but isn’t a geek about it. Where we differ, and this is important, is body type. I’m tall and thin and generally take a 40 long. My friend has been a stout 44 but is dropping weight, and is somewhere between a regular and long.
Own Make jackets didn’t seem to fit either one of us.
First off, there is no 40 long, but that didn’t matter as a 40 was so small I couldn’t move my arms. Determining that a 40 wouldn’t work for me, therefore, took merely a matter of seconds. What was surprising, though, was how much of a jump there was in sizing to a 42. The 42 was too big across the shoulders, as a salesman I’ve known for two years immediately pointed out. But strange was that the waistline looked good along the sides when viewed in a mirror, and yet it felt like I could pull the button closure eight inches away from my abdomen. Here’s where we need a tailoring geek, since I can’t explain it other than by saying I had the impression that the jacket was cut in a way that made it fitted in the waist but large in the chest. Perhaps this has something to do with the sort of hybrid quality that comes from making a slimmed-down version of a jacket originally designed to be roomy.
There were no 41s in the store, and later Brooks confirmed to me that the sizing runs like this:
Own Make is offered from 36 to 48 (all even)
Shorts – 38-44
Regs – 36-48
Long – 42-48
So it’s possible that a 41 long would have fit with only minor alterations needed, but again there are no odd sizes. (For the record, last year I purchased one of Brooks’ higher-priced, full-canvassed Fitzgerald models, which did not pose a fit challenge and which quickly improved with each wearing, thanks to the canvassing. The jacket is available again this season with some minor changes.)
Now here’s the experience of my stouthearted friend with Own Make:
The fabrics and the cut both look very nice on the hanger, in particular the chalk stripe suit jacket I tried on. Hook vent, three button, no darts —overall promising. I was told by a candid salesman, however, that the line was “fashion-forward” and cut very short and slim.
Feeling he’s around a 43 these days and having just come from trying on 42s at J. Press, he tried on a 44 long:
The sleeves were long, but the body seemed as if it were from a different jacket, as if a short jacket had been extended at the bottom, but the stance had remained where it was. Most notably, the waist suppression seemed to cinch over my rib cage rather than close to my natural waist. This jacket fit me like no other garment I’ve ever tried on, even Black Fleece or York Street (both in size 44, both of which fit me better).
It seemed to be a well constructed garment, but the cut was puzzling. Perhaps I should have sized up to a 46(!), but earlier in the day I was trying on 42s at J. Press and discussing tailoring down my 43s, so if that is truly the case, Own Make should rethink its sizing.
In conclusion, those of us with narrow shoulders and meek chests or beer bellies and man boobs have no right to complain if a clothier wants to make jackets intended for a man with a no belly fat, broad shoulders and a muscular chest. The thing that leaves me curious, though, is why Own Make is offered in sizes such as 44 short and 48 long. I mean, if Own Make is a tough fit for a tall thin guy, what’s it like with a short, portly guy or a tall, muscular linebacker?
Own Make is not your father’s sack suit, and it certainly isn’t intended to be. The question is — based on price, cut and styling — just whose is it? — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
Last week US News & World Report declared Princeton the best college in the world (alas not for sartorial reasons). Yesterday Slate followed this up with an entertaining article on cocktails of the Ivy League. (Continue)
Pictured above is a madras surprise from Brooks Brothers, seen last week at the company’s Spring 2014 preview. It’s a nice dark fabric with soft shoulders, partial lining, and a 3/2 button stance.
What’s the surprise, besides the fact that it’s mid-September and you were expecting posts about tweed and flannel?
Can you guess?