Over the past few years, the Ivy Trendwatch has helped bring scholarly attention to the clothing and social customs of college men during the heyday of the Ivy League Look. “Take Ivy” shined an outsider’s lens on college life in the mid-’60s with a specific eye for what men were wearing. Then came the MFIT exhibit, and previous contributors Rebecca C. Tuite and Deirdre Clemente both have books coming out on postwar college life and style. Meanwhile, Richard Press is also cranking out his memoirs.
All this has helped bring us to the point today where a kid can say he wants to do an independent study course on the history of prep-school fashion and the teachers actually go for it.
Pictured above is George Cleveland, a student at The Hill School, a private institution founded in 1851 in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He’s an Ivy Style reader who seeks to connect with guys who prepped in previous decades in order to gather their sartorial recollections for his research paper.
Here’s his project in his own words:
In the fall I will return to The Hill School for my senior year. Throughout the summer and next year I will complete an independent study on the history of culture and clothing at boarding schools in the United States.
My final project will consist of an in-depth analysis of culture and clothing at boarding school and its influence on society. Moreover, it will show the history of “preppy” clothing. I will attain this goal with the following endeavors:
The Boarding School Look Book This book will depict the current and past styles expressed at boarding schools across the East Coast. It will contain pictures and snippets of writing. The snippets will articulate historical research, advice on attire, and interesting facts.
Research Paper This paper will be roughly 20 pages. It will weigh heavily on the history and influence of clothing at prep school. However, it will also touch on aspects like seniority in school, coed vs. single-sex schools, and socioeconomic influence on status. Lastly, the document will include first person memories of boarding school.
Exhibit An exhibit containing “preppy” clothing, sports equipment, short clips from boarding school films, and in-depth research will be on display in the coming year at The Center for the Arts at The Hill School. I will be accepting any items to be donated or on loan to the exhibit for the display, in case anyone is willing to provide relevant artifacts. (Similar to the Ivy-Style exhibit at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.)
Please contact me at gcleveland [at] thehill.org if you would like to be interviewed for the research paper, or if you have anything to donate to the exhibit.
Follow @takeprep on Instagram to stay connected with the project.
Some five years ago, Tradsville personality “AldenPyle” started a thread at Ask Andy that included the above ad, which ran in the Yale Daily News in 1941. The ad touches on several themes we explored in our recent rise and fall essay.
First off, notice the split between clothes for campus and clothes for town, which consists of oxford shirts, albeit with spread collars, and wingtips.
The campus category, however, consists of sportcoats in Shetland and tweed, grey flannels “cut in your favorite university style,” buttondown shirts, argyle socks, and buckskin shoes.
As I asserted in the essay, the Ivy League Look clothing genre consisted of clothes for both city and campus, but it’s the campus look — in this case tweed jacket, grey flannels, buttondown oxford, foulard tie, argyle socks and bucks — that provided the lasting legacy, codified the “timeless” aspect of Ivy, and became the greatest influence on the clothing we wear today.
The ad also expresses what I called taste-driven natural selection. Macy’s sought to reach Yale students through their own newspaper, but assured them that the department store giant from New York understood the tastes of New Haven’s undergrads. The ad copy asserts that Macy’s knows Yale’s “traditions of dress,” and that its accessories are “correct” — not by the standards of Macy’s merchandisers, of course, but those of the students.
Whether this was actually true is another matter, but Macy’s believed it could make the assertion, and that it needed to.
There may have been some miscommunication between the copywriter and the illustrator, however, as the copy confidently states, “We know you don’t want jackets with exaggerated shoulders and fitted lines, so we bring you the traditionally Yale straight-hanging coat with natural shoulder,” and yet the illustration expresses straight lines a lot better than natural shoulder.
Finally, the ad is also interesting for showing that long before the heyday of widespread popularity, a big-city department store thought the Yale student market worth going after. There’s a world of difference between advertising in the Yale Daily News and sending road men to New Haven, as Macy’s did here in 1941, and selling elements of the look nationwide with campus-oriented ad copy, as Main Street retailers did years later.
But Macy’s knew the clothes had to be right, and that it was the students who would make that call. The fact that Macy’s had to assure the Yale community that its wares were adequate, while a local such as J. Press persumably would not, shows the difference between local shops and the outsiders who wanted a piece of the pie.
In his next “Golden Years” column, Richard Press will examine the New Haven menswear market back in the day, which was larger and more competitive than we would have thought. — CC
Ivy Style recently received a dispatch from scholar Deirdre Clemente, who is busy doing groundbreaking research on the history of college students as consumers. In fact, she said her career might be made if she can get a paper into a certain scholarly journal. When they say academia is publish or perish, they’re not kidding.
Now she sends the excerpt below, which has us wondering if Princeton guys essentially wrote the rulebook for dressing Ivy. Here they are credited with popularizing the wearing of brown odd jackets with grey flannel trousers in 1929. It’s from an April, 1935 passage in a publication called the Fashion Group Bulletin. According to Clemente, “You rarely get an exact date for a trend like this.” (Continue)
On our recent white bucks and grey flannels post, Bruce Boyer left a comment mentioning the song “Harvard Blues.” Considering it’s been on our editorial calendar for about four years, I’d say it’s high time we do a post on it.
The song, recorded in 1941 by Count Basie, opens with these immortal lines:
I wear Brooks clothes and white shoes all the time
I wear Brooks clothes and white shoes all the time
Get three “Cs,” a “D” and think checks from home sublime
The lyrics were written by George Frazier, best pal of The Andover Shop’s Charlie Davidson. Odd then that when they played the duende game, they always placed Basie second fiddle to Ellington.
I’ll leave you with one more quote on white bucks and flannels, this time from Elizabeth Hawes’ 1939 book “Men Can Take It.” — CC
At Harvard they have something called “white-shoe boys.” I gather it is okay to be one if you feel that way. It appears to be the Harvard idea carried to its furthest extreme. These are the sloppiest and worst-dressed of all the Harvard men, I was told. They wear dirty black and white shoes which turn up at the toes, black or white socks and gray flannels, very unpressed, tweed coats — and collars and ties, of course… The thing that distinguishes a “white-shoe boy” is his shoes — and the fact he has the guts to wear them ansd still feel okay socially.
A couple of weeks ago we posted a collection of vintage Dexter advertisements, and here’s an interesting follow up. In 1968, as the Ivy League Look was plummeting in popularity, the shoe that would cement itself as a preppy staple in the 1970s was gradually garnering greater attention.
The above ad is from The Palm Beach Post and plugs the Squire Shop, the in-store campus shop of Florida department store chain Burdine’s. Here Dexter bit loafers are paired with Gant buttondowns and a Hunter Haig three-piece sack suit in the ’60s Ivy palette of gray and olive.
Bit loafers may be a common sight today in Palm Beach; three-piece sack suits not so much. — CC
In 1969, when the Ivy League was shedding Weejuns and growing sideburns at an alarming rate, three students — Andrew Tobias, Arnold Bortz and Caspar Weinberg — published “The Ivy League Guidebook.” Exactly as its title would suggest, the book is aimed at incoming freshman and devotes a chapter to each school, plus general sections on campus life.
Although things were rapidly changing, the clichéd image of the Ivy League student was still germane enough to gently mock in the book’s opening pages:
Few labels in Ameirca today conjure up as strong an image of sophistication and success as that of “Ivy Leaguer.” Stereotypically attired in three-piece English tweed suit and stoking his pipe, the well-bred, well-read, well-heeled Ivy Leaguer stands confidently atop the American totem pole.
Well, there’s certainly no arguing with the totem pole part.
Not suprising, Princeton gets the tiger’s share of credit for male vanity. Here the book quotes a Smith College newspaper columnist:
Princeton is the only place in the world where when a boy and his date walk past a mirror, it’s the boy who stops to comb his hair. Your Princeton date will spend the whole weekend worrying whether you might possibly look better than he does.
In the Yale chapter, Press gets a mention:
… new admissions policies placing more emphasis on abilities than bloodlines (over 60 percent of the Class of ’71 attended public schools). The New Yalie is less likely to be a product of Choate, debutante parties, and J. Press Clothiers…
The following passages on preppies is one of the most interesting one on prepdom I’ve come across since starting this site. It uses that much-maligned term to characterize the twilight of the old values (not to mention legacy students) in the wake of open admissions and the Age of Aquarius. Check out this useage, from 1969 no less, in which “preppie” is essentially used to characterize a kind of reactionary ethos:
While the eight Ivy League schools may still be the bastion of preppiedom, and while in the popular mind the tweed-suited, Bourbon-sipping Groton man may still be the Ivy League archetype, preppies themselves know that even at Princeton they are a steadily decreasing minority. For the preppie is not defined by having attended private school, but by having the moderate, sometimes conservative behavior, the cliquishness, sometimes snobbery, and the traditional good taste, sometimes stuffiness, that are now being swept from the college scene by the frenetic sensuality of the plastic hippie. Preppie clubs and fraternities are being infiltrated increasingly by intellectuals, activists and artists…
On the plus side, however, the sentence concludes:
… anti-Semitism and racial discrimination are dwindling.
Certainly a good thing. But the very next paragraph whisks us back to prepdom:
Nonetheless, it seems that as long as there are football games there will be preppies. Any fall Saturday the stadiums are full of neatly shod and coifed girls from Wellesley and Mt. Holyoke, draping their braceleted arms over boys with flasks and Brooks Brothers scarves. After the game there are cocktails and dinner at the club and a party at the friends of friends.
The book’s final chapter is entitled “Student Activism: The Ivy Left,” and there’s also extended discussion about marijuana and LSD, none of which is worth quoting here. But make no mistake: The hippies won. — CC