After a spell of breaking-news interruptions, we’re finally returning to the topic of rules when it comes to dressing. It all started, you may recall, with a Japanese graphic that included the word “rules” along with “snob.” This got me free-associating about a certain type of fusty clotheshorse who takes pride not in anything original or unique about the way he dresses, but in his ability to follow rules with scrupulous assiduity.
I may have been overreacting. Like many who weren’t raised in a sartorially advanced household or community, I learned a lot from Alan Flusser’s books, first getting “Clothes And The Man” when I was about 19. There’s much wisdom in what it teaches, and the old cliché about needing to know the rules before you can break them became a hackneyed old phrase for a reason: it’s pretty damn true.
Before Flusser there were plenty of other style writers eager to help men dress better. One of them was syndicated men’s fashion writer Bert Bacharach, who in 1955 published “Right Dress.” As you’d expect from a book aimed at the mass market, it presents pragmatic reasons for dressing better, such as having a better chance of winning love and money, the two most important things in life. Bacharach isn’t exactly interested in encouraging personal style as an existential statement. It’s practical advice for the practical, and the book’s subtitle is “Success Through Better Grooming.”
Most of the book’s advice is either common sense, banal, or simply archaic. But “Right Dress” provided some period insight for our “rise and fall” essay, and it’s worth repeating those passages here, as well as some others that pertain to the Ivy League Look, which was just entering the national spotlight at the time of the book’s publication.
As you can see, the alpha wooer in the above image is wearing a three-button suit, buttondown shirt and rep tie. But don’t be fooled that Bacharach is recommending the Ivy League Look to his Main Street reader. In fact, he thinks natural-shouldered jackets make you look like a wimp. Bacharach writes:
The well-dressed man avoids extremes in clothing models. He passes up the so-called Ivy League type which makes him look emaciated and underfed. He shuns the overly padded and overly squared shoulders which make him look like a muscle-bound wrestler. He picks, instead, a model that is midway between the two, with body lines and slight shoulder padding which flatters the figure.
Last week Ivy-Style.com presented Julien Dedman’s 1954 Playboy article on Brooks Brothers. In this post, Rebecca C. Tuite, whose book on Seven Sisters style is forthcoming, examines the author’s parody of life at Yale.
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“Yale men everywhere join in one brotherhood at eventide to remember the golden days of yesteryear and the great gothic towers of this university whose flying buttresses and grinning gargoyles symbolize a Yale Spirit that will not die – not even if you beat it with a stick,” wrote Julien Dedman (Yale Class of 1948) in the introduction to his 1950 compendium of cartoons, “Boola Boola! A Satirical Peek at Yale, Its Foundations and Other Unmentionables.”
Perhaps it’s just as well that the Yale spirit was so unshakable, as Dedman took aim at everything from boring Whiffenpoof performances to Burberry sportcoats, dastardly Dostoevsky assignments to disappointing dates with Vassar girls in his lampoon of life at Yale in the 1950s. Blending original caricatures and reprints from Dedman’s work at the Yale Record, “Boola Boola!” is not only an amusing snapshot of Yale campus life over 60 years ago, but an homage to the work of America’s oldest college humor and cartoon publications, the Yale Record.
In our last post we mentioned a 1954 LIFE Magazine article entitled “The Ivy Look Heads Across US.” It’s been referenced several times here, including in a few of Richard Press’ columns, as J. Press was largely featured in the article.
But we’ve never actually presented it here and new readers may not be familiar with it. We’ll follow up the presentation of it below with Richard’s next column, in which he’ll recount his 15 minutes of fame when the LIFE issue came out and he was a wee lad in prep school. Trust me, it’s one of his most amusing columns to date.
Following that, Rebecca Tuite will examine “Boola Boola,” the 1958 book about life at Yale by Julien Dedman, author of the Playboy article on Brooks Brothers featured in our last post.
I can think of a couple of other things that would be apropros to this series as well, so stay tuned for a nice run of interelated historical posts.
Now back to LIFE. The story ran in the November 22 edition of the weekly magazine, the entire contents of which are viewable here via Google Books.
Here are highlights from the text:
The “Ivy League look” identified with determinedly inconspicuous New England males for over 50 years and with Madison Avenue advertising men for the past 10, has now got out of eastern hands and is making its way across the country.
It has also got away from upper-bracket tailors and into the hands of cut-rate clothiers like S. Klein, whose advertisement gives as complete and compact a definition of the look as has ever been written. The popularity of the natural-looking suit has widened quickly in the last two years as men became dissatisfied with pale bulky suits and flashy ties left over from their postwar splurge.
Although the authentic Madison Avenue uniform perpetuated by Brooks Brothers and campus-originated shops like J. Press has nonexistent shoulders and fits so snugly that it looks a size too small, facsimiles from volume clothing manufacturers and tailors are less severe in cut. To reaffirm their individualism beleaguered Ivy Leaguers are considering adding a fourth button to their jackets or resorting to a radical new silhouette.
And on the second page:
A New Haven institution which rivals Yale in some well-tailored hearts is J. Press, established in 1902 and now carried on by the founder’s two sons. Its slope-shouldered product, which the Press boys consider the only acceptable dress for a normal Yale man, has scarcely changed over the years.
Press has branch stores in New York and in Cambridge and maintains traveling representatives to replenish the wardrobes of scattered alumni customers. Sometimes regarded as more of a club than a clothes shop, J. Press is delighted rather than dismayed that its look is now capturing the country.
In closing, the other day another reference to 1954 came to me: That’s the year that Charlie Davidson recalls dressing Miles Davis, which he told me in the “Ivy League Jazz” story for Ralph Lauren that inspired me to create this site. It’s an anecdotal reference, to be sure, but I think we have a solid case for the bookends of the Ivy League Look’s broad popularity: 1954-1967.
Up next, Richard Press. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
Recently on Ivy Style’s Facebook page a reader posted an article by Julien Dedman entitled “That Brooks Brothers Look.” A quick investigation revealed that the article comes from the February, 1954 issue of Playboy, and that Dedman had graduated from Yale in 1948.
I’ve argued several times for the year 1967 as an end of the heyday, and I think we may now have a strong candidate for the beginning. Nineteen-fifty-four is the same year LIFE Magazine published its “Ivy Look Heads Across US” story. The Ivy League Look must have been new enough to warrant these mass media stories, but not popular enough to feel like old news.
The article includes the above illustration from Shepherd Mead’s book “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” which Playboy had modified to show that all the items should be sourced at Brooks Brothers. Scans of the full article, which is a bit difficult to read, can be seen on our Facebook page (scroll down to the entry from July 13). (Continue)
Gentleman’s Gazette just published a great story on the history of madras. There’s much on the origins of the fabric in India, but even more interesting is Sven Raphael Schneider’s recap of the bleeding madras damage control at midcentury, when irate consumers were quickly educated that authentic madras was “guaranteed to bleed.”
According to Schneider, in 1958 a textile importer named William Jacobson went to India searching for madras. He found a firm producing an exceptionally vivid version of the fabric that smelled of vegetable dyes and sesame oils. The producer warned Jacobson that the fabric required carefully laundering or its colors would bleed, but he neglected to mention this when he turned around and sold 10,000 yards of it to Brooks Brothers.
Backlash ensued, with Brooks customers first sounding the alarm, and the chain of complaint working all the way back to the Indian textile firm with threats of a lawsuit.
Schneider picks up the story:
Instead of fighting each other, they came up with solution that was sheer marketing genius! One of the attorneys arranged an interview for Mr. Nair with the editor of Seventeen Magazine in which he created a story about this miracle Madras fabric from India that was exclusively made for Brooks Brothers in New York. In the following issue, the editor ran a seven-page article about fabric titled “Bleeding Madras — the miracle handwoven fabric from India.” And since pictures say more than 1,000 words, they added beautiful photographs with the caption “guaranteed to bleed.”
Within a days of the magazine hitting the newsstands, Brooks Brothers was flooded with thousands of requests for the Madras items and it became an overnight success. Both, Mr. Jacobson and Mr. Nair made a fortune from the sale and paved the way for future Indian fabric exports of millions of yards of Madras cloth. In the 1960s, David Ogivily, one of the leading “Mad Men” of the era, would further a very similar campaign for Hathaway Madras shirts, and all of a sudden customers couldn’t wait to see their Madras shirts fade fast enough.
Head over here for the full story. — c C m
Our recent post on striped sportcoats included a vintage ad by Clipper Craft Clothes, and so we thought it worth following up with a gallery devoted to the brand. During the heyday of the Ivy League Look, Clipper Craft was a brand that explicitly touted its Ivy authenticity in advertorials placed in mainstream magazines.
In 2009 a short thread was started at the Ask Andy Trad Forum in which a member dug up some info on the origins of the brand, which was founded in Boston. By the heyday, the brand was championing its “New England tailoring” along with its affordable prices. It also created a campaign with tiger heads grafted onto its suits, from back when “tiger” was common slang for a ladies’ man: (Continue)