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)
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. (Continue)
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