Yesterday on our Facebook group a young lad wondered where he could read the famous essay by George Frazier mentioned in our previous post. While it’s certainly googleable, we figured why not present it here. There is a section on New Haven and the natural-shoulder look, plus plenty of fine general observations on dressing. Also, you may consider this version a director’s cut; for a “theatrical” version, you may wish to view Maxminimus’ epic post illustrating each of the men mentioned. — CC
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The Art of Wearing Clothes: The history of this rare masculine art and of the men who practice it supremely well
By George Frazier
Esquire, September 1960
Many a vagrant vogue has prevailed and perished in the hundred-and-fifty-odd years since George Bryan (Beau) Brummell resigned from the tony Tenth Hussars upon being denied permission to wear a uniform of his own design, but the criterion by which men are adjudged either beautifully or badly dressed is still what it was in that dandified day when people cherished the belief that the Beau achieved the flawless fit of his gloves by having the fingers made by one man and the thumbs by another. Now, as then, an impeccably turned-out male is characterized by the same “certain exquisite propriety” of dress that Lord Byron admired so abundantly in Brummell. “If John Bull turns to look after you,” the Beau once observed, “you are not well-dressed, but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable.”
This was Brummell’s bequest — his irreproachably tasteful simplicity. What’s more, it is the one constant in the fickleness of fashion, nor has any mode, no matter how maniac, ever proved it spinach — neither the cult of pipe-stemmed perfection that caused any true Edwardian dandy to shudder at the thought of having, as Max Beerbohm put it, “the incomparable set of his trousers spoilt by the perching of any dear little child upon his knee;” nor the autograph-slickered, bell-bottomed callowness of the “cake-eaters” and “sheiks” who found their laureate in John Held, Jr.; nor the casual coolness of all the beer jackets of Princeton springtimes; nor the abortive and itinerant “Italian style;” nor, for that matter, even the natural-shouldered, pleatless-trousered look that is known as “Ivy League,” but that by any name at all would still be the Brooks Brothers No. 1 sack suit.
Prior to Brummell, men had dressed to almost freakish excess. Thus, according to Hayden’s Dictionary of Dates, Sir Walter Raleigh wore:
“. . . a white-satin-pinked vest close-sleeved to the wrist, and over the body a doublet finely flowered, and embroidered with pearls, and in the feather of his hat a large ruby and pearl drop at the bottom of the sprig in place of a button. His breeches, with his stockings and ribbon garters, fringed at the end, all white; and buff shoes, which, on great court days, were so gorgeously covered with precious stones as to have exceeded the value of 6,600 pounds; and he had a suit of armor of solid silver, with sword and hilt blazing with diamonds, rubies and pearls.”
Nor was Lord Buckingham, James I’s favorite, any shrinking violet either, for, as Hayden has it, he “had his diamonds tacked so loosely on [his robe] that when he chose to shake a few off on the ground, he obtained all the fame he desired from the pickers-up.” And then, too, there was Prince von Kaunitz, who achieved the desired shade of his wig by strolling back and forth while four lackeys sprayed it with different tints of scented powder. Indeed, in those pre-Brummell years, men were such peacocks that The Times of London used to describe their clothes in as minute and fascinated detail as it did women’s.
With the Beau’s arrival in London, however, restraint in male attire became the order of the day and, for that matter, of every debonair day thereafter. It is, in fact, almost impossible to exaggerate Brummell’s influence, for as Virginia Woolf has said, “Without a single noble, important, or valuable action to his credit, he cuts a figure; he stands for a symbol; his ghost walks among us still.” Indeed, because of him alone simplicity became the hallmark of the well-dressed man, whether he be a Victorian Prime Minister named Lord Melbourne, an American general named A. J. Drexel Biddle, a former Secretary of State named Dean Acheson, or a song-and-dance man out of Omaha named Fred Astaire.
But Brummell, far from being a prophet without honor, was a legend even in his own lifetime — a circumstance, incidentally, that he helped propagate by circulating rumors to the effect that, among other primping practices, he mixed champagne in his boot polish, employed three different coiffeurs to do his hair (one for the temples, another for the crown, and a third for the front), and had once jilted a rich and beautiful noblewoman because he couldn’t abide the way she ate cabbage. Nevertheless, his fussiness was genuine and it was a matter of record that he refused to take off his hat to ladies for fear that he might not be able to get it back on his head at the precisely rakish angle. Furthermore, his concern for himself was so rapt that he was able to identify his troop only because one of its members had “a very large blue nose.” Yet for all his affectations, he was possessed of a sense of beauty that bordered on genius. So flawless was the fit of Brummell’s coat that, according to Byron, “It seemed as if the body thought.”
Indeed, next to the Beau himself, Byron must have been Brummell’s most ardent admirer — a circumstance, by the way, that must seem a little incredible, for, as famous as he was, as handsome, as talented, as nobly-born, and as much a lion among the ladies, Byron, who achieved his own wind-blown “Byronic” look by putting his hair up in curlers at bedtime, spent sleepless nights tossing over his inability to tie a neckcloth with any of Brummell’s surpassing skill. (Continue)
Associate editor Christopher Sharp follows up on our last post, a slideshow on the Brown engineering department, with these late ’60s recruitment ads from Brown’s college newspaper.
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While perusing the archives of a Brown University student newspaper, I found myself venturing where most traditionalists dare not tread: the late ’60s.
My intent was to investigate how the former captains of cool, the campus haberdashers, navigated the choppy waters of the counter culture. Before long, however, I was distracted by advertisements for Tiny Tim albums and lost myself in pondering how great it would have been to have attended the Cream concert the paper was promoting. Although I never got back on track, I discovered some advertisements that speak not only to their time, but also to ours.
The first advertisement I encountered was for Gant shirts. Rendered in an illustration style associated with the ’60s, the figure is serene in his buttondown shirt as he lights his briar pipe:
With this image fresh in my mind, a few pages later I was struck by another ad featuring a young man smoking a pipe. Still modern in style, the image of a second smoker also conveys a sense of ease. His pipe, buttondown and rep tie, however, are juxtaposed with state of the art computer equipment. Guess the advertiser. IBM? Rockwell Aerospace? Bell Labs? Nope, the National Security Agency (see top illustration).
In case you hadn’t heard, tomorrow is Tartan Day. To celebrate, we’re sharing a LIFE Magazine article from 1950 (scroll down to page 123) that showcased Yale students in plaid vests and Andover preps in plaid caps.
The article opens with this:
When the British caught wind of the fact that American men were developing a fancy for bright tartan dinner jackets, they were unhappy. In London, tailor and Cutter, the haberdasher’s bible called them “deplorable,” then was forced to backtrack when King George ordered a couple himself.
In this passage, Chipp (whose team is pictured above) and its role in pushing the whole concept of go-to-hell is further cemented:
Tartans have been worn for some time by a few individualists, mainly in the east and mainly customers of a New York tailor called Chipp.
Main Street, or at least urban department stores, soon took notice:
This winter the Florida resort season established them as a real fashion. Now the big department stores are about to break out with plaid dinner jackets for what is expected to be a wide market.
Below are some outtakes from the photo shoot from the LIFE archives. Have a great Tartan Day. I’ll be celebrating with Blackwatch boxers. — CC (Continue)
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