The other night I was browsing the streaming Netflix options and ended up watching “Monkey Business,” the 1952 screwball comedy with Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe. I hadn’t seen the movie since starting this website, and a very interesting scene caught my attention.
Grant plays a chemist who thinks he’s discovered a youth serum (which, this being a screwball comedy, was in fact randomly created by a chimpanzee). Suddenly Grant, who was 48 at the time, starts acting years younger. In fact, about two-and-a-half decades younger.
Under the serum’s influence, Grant buys a convertible sports car and takes Monroe roller skating. He also makes a few changes to his appearance. He gets a haircut noticeably shorter than what he’d previously been sporting (might we call it a Princeton haircut?), and goes to a clothing store where he selects a bold plaid jacket. When he asks if there are matching trousers, the elderly salesman informs him that such jackets are typically worn with grey flannels. Grant then picks out a pair of argyle socks.
When the serum wears off and Grant comes to his middle-aged senses, he says he was “acting like a college boy.”
The primary theme of the “rise and fall” essay we posted at the beginning of the year is that the Ivy League Look is much more than a mere tailoring style consisting of natural shoulders and an undarted chest. The sack silhouette is merely the blueprint for the look, which owes more to a certain approach towards dressing — the acceptance of certain items and the rejection of others, the importance of being casual — so much of which was codified by college men of the interwar years.
The transformation of Cary Grant’s character from mild-mannered middle-aged scientist to rowdy college boy is not a radical one, but merely a matter of degree. His haircut is shorter but still conventional. We also get the sense that his jacket is from a reputable maker, even though it is bolder in pattern than the suit he was previously wearing. It’s also more casual, consisting of sportcoat and trousers. His argyle socks are also more casual and youthful than his sober business hose.
Brooks Brothers, J. Press, and all the other Ivy League clothiers catered both to men and their sons. It was young men who drove fashion, however, albeit within the confines of correct Eastern Establishment dress. With its emphasis on casualness under the constant shadow of recreation and sporting activities, the WASPy way of dressing confers dignity upon young men and youth upon older men.
And decades after the end of the heyday, it’s clear that the youthful approach won out. The sartorial legacy of the Ivy League Look is not grey sack suits, but what was once a college-boy approach to dressing: tweed jackets, grey flannels, argyle socks and loafers.
The quest for the fountain of youth goes back for centuries, but metaphorically Grant’s character shows us that all we need to do to shed the probity of middle age is cut our hair short and dress a bit more audaciously. Well, that and drive Marily Monroe around in a sports car. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
Part way through Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” the title character has ostentatiously orchestrated his reunion with lost love Daisy at neighbor Nick’s cottage. Gatsby brings over gardening and catering crews to ready the place, then fills the tiny cottage floor to ceiling with flowers.
“Do you think it’s too much?” Gatsby asks.
“I think it’s what you want,” Nick replies.
I’ve no idea if the director considered the lines a self-deprecating in-joke, but it certainly sums up Luhrmann’s all-amps-on-ten approach to filmmaking. And while the director certainly Luhrmannated his source material, neither his over-the-top style nor changes to the text are what leaves one feeling disappointed. No, all the pyrotechnics are fine, it’s the wooden storytelling that had me checking my watch just as the film was reaching its final act. “The Great Gatsby” is long and slow and Luhrmann manages to sap all the drama from the characters and story just when it should all be racing towards its tragic climax.
I haven’t seen too many movies on opening day, and certainly none at 10:30 AM, but I was eager to see the film and share my impressions. Also, the story has been kind of a recurring motif throughout my life. In high school we held a Gatsby party in English class after finishing the book, and I was chosen to portray Tom Buchanan. Not because my classmates thought I had anything in common with the Old Money jerk, I assume, but more likely because I was too popular to play Wilson but not popular enough for Jay or Nick.
Years later I fell in love for the first time at the San Francisco Bay Area’s famous annual “Gatsby Summer Afternoon,” a spectacular event and a pretty damn romantic place for first love. I’ve read the book a number of times, most recently last summer, and enjoyed it more with each reading. And the 1974 Robert Redford version, as Wolfsheim says of Gatsby, is certainly “handsome to look at,” and I’ve watched it many times.
The familiarity many of us have with the previous version, as well as dialogue direct from the book, haunts Luhrmann’s adaptation, as we can’t help but hear the lines spoken differently, either in our own imaginative voices or those of the 1974 cast. There wasn’t a single line I thought more poignantly delivered by the current cast. Most were grating.
If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and accept the changes in the story, the film starts out just fine. Much of the changes are to the Nick Carraway character, and I thought the differences from the novel more intriguing than the performance of Toby Maguire, whom I find miscast. Leonard DiCaprio’s long-delayed first appearance on the screen is fantastically fun, and he seems to do the best he can with the role, but ultimately the director is responsible, and Luhrmann clearly has more on his mind than drawing Oscar-winning performances from his actors.
“The Great Gatsby” is certainly eye candy. Gatsby’s house now looks like a castle, and is surrounded by a kind of fairy-tale forest. Sartorially the film is flat, whereas I always enjoy looking at the clothes in the ’74 version. Gatsby’s parties are filmed like music videos, and all of the spontaneity and sense of genuine revelry is lost. The ’74 version makes you gawk in amazement at how they partied during the Roaring Twenties, and laugh when the partygoers start jumping in the pool in evening dress. Luhrmann’s parties are as artificial as can be, and the pool dives just an empty gesture for effect.
Period music, though used sparingly, is used well, making you wonder why Luhrmann felt he needed the contemporary music, the movie’s most annoying quality for me, but perhaps less so for those who like that sort of music.
I chose the humorous graphic above because in addition to the camped-up filmmaking style, Lurhmann’s script feels packed with Cliffs Notes. The novel’s metaphoric devices — the green light, Dr. Eckleberg’s watching eyes — are literalized and stiffly explicated, as is the clash between Old Money and the nouveau riche. This isn’t a filmmaker who challenges you to figure things out. Meanwhile, the novel’s deeper themes about American culture are totally lost amid the hyped-up love story.
Gatsby’s unbelievable fidelity (he even has the motto “ever faithful” in Latin above his castle gate) will surely fuel the dreams young female moviegoers, many of which were in the theater with me. And, as in the book, Nick remarks on Gatsby’s tremendous capacity for hope.
Once this project was announced, it would have been naive of us to have hoped for anything but a Baz Luhrmann film. And on that he has completely delivered. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
After you’ve seen the movie, come back and vote on whether you found it bubbly or flat:
Yesterday at Ivy Style headquarters the phone did not stop not ringing, a sign that the cool people, who of course were too cool to bother complaining, were not pleased with the prospect of an entire month (save for Gatsby coverage) devoted to squares.
So in the interest of never pleasing all the people all of the time, we’re doing a cool post.
Recently GQ put together a 91-slide Steve McQueen “lookbook” of candids and movie stills. That means in some of the slides he’s wearing cowboy duds, but it’s an interesting look at the man’s life (such as his jazz collection) and work, the style he exuded no matter what he wore, and how he aged, which, not surprising, was pretty damn well. These kind of rugged handsome types always seem to look their best on the back nine of life. Sorry, squares.
Here are some of our favorites around Ivy Style HQ. You can see the full slideshow here. — CC (Continue)
I just did a story for Billionaire.com on the Plaza Hotel’s Gatsby tie-ins, and now here’s Brooks’. Downmarket companies get Pixar tie-ins and put toys in Happy Meals. This is what plays upmarket. (Continue)