As we reach the heart of summer, I sense a deprivation. It goes virtually unnoticed, and yet it is there for any Ivy enthusiast to investigate. The stores are full of the requisite madras and seersucker, but little else. Compared to the Ivy boom years, or even the golden age of the 1930s, it appears as if part of the color palette is missing, pattern is virtually nonexistent, and ethnically diverse fabrics are nowhere to be found. Some will contend that this is natural selection, that madras and seersucker won fair and square. Others will point out that in a shrinking market, you offer what sells and no longer take risks. A third faction will wish we not peruse the subject at all. But we are going there.
Before the full ascent of the counter culture, back in the days of in loco parentis, there was a burst of sartorial hedonism on campus that students took to with Tahitian abandon. This was expressed in an appreciation for native fabrics. The first fabric family are those that use a dye-resistant technique. This style of cloth dates back at least 1,500 years, and is found in Africa, the Middle East, India and China. For many enthusiasts, the pinnacle of this style is represented in the batiks of Java and the East Indies. Batik takes it entomological roots from the word “ambatik,” which means “to write with little dots.” The word harkens back to the Dutch colonial period, when various forms of the word like mbatek, batik, batek and battik were used. Dutch records from the 17th century report “highly decorated fabrics,” but it wasn’t until the importation of fine quality cloth in the 19th century that allowed the elaborate style to flourish. (Continue)