Buttondown and Desert Boots: The El Capris’ Ivy League Clean, 1958

Mon 18 Apr 2011 - Filed under: 1950s,Clothes,Historic Texts — Christian
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How cool was it to dress Ivy during the heyday? Cool enough for the El Capris, an African American doo-wop band from Pittsburgh, to cut a B-side called “Ivy League Clean” in 1958.

The song failed to chart, however, and the band became just another forgotten doo-wop band whose name starts with “El.”

That is until the days of YouTube and blogs. So let’s raise a glass (strawberry milkshake seems appropriate) and toast those long-gone days when pop artists would actually sing about wearing a buttondown collar, striped tie and Tyrolean hat. My favorite line is:

When I come to the gig
I’m sharp as a tack
With the tassels on the shoes
And a belt in the back

And make no mistake: Those who fail to dress clean-cut will be swiftly punished:

If you wear big shoes
And a wide open shirt
When you come around
You’re sure to get hurt

The funny part is that a hipster band singing the same lyrics today might actually be kinda cool.

What goes around comes around. One of the great laws of physics. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt

Tue 25 Jan 2011 - Filed under: 1920s-'40s,Film,Historic Texts,Lit — Christian
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For Ivy Style’s 300th post, London-based contributor Rebecca C. Tuite examines the most important piece of literature about The Ivy League Look’s most important brand.

There is little doubt that Mary Mccarthy’s short story “The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt” is now probably more famous for its punchy title — a dream for the Brooks Brother’s marketing team —  than it is for the actual story. But it remains a classic part of the mystique of the Brooks Brothers Look, and indeed, the Brooks Brothers Man.

Taken from Mary McCarthy’s 1942 novel “The Company She Keeps,” which is less a straight narrative and more a collection of six short stories, “The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt,” forms the third chapter in the story of Margaret Sargent, a young woman trying to redefine her life following a Reno divorce. “Floundering in a world of casual affairs and squalid intimacies,” Sargent is self-destructive, reinventing herself as a bohemian and rebelling against society, all of which finds a perfect counterpoint in Mr. Breen: a Cleveland-based executive at a steel company and the “hearty stranger in the green shirt” she meets on a Pullman car heading west to Sacramento.

The story opens with the first description of the man, who at this point remains nameless:

The new man who came into the club car was coatless. He was dressed in grey trousers and a green shirt of expensive material that had what seemed to be the figure “2″ embroidered in darker green on the sleeve. His tie matched the green of the monogram, and his face, which emerged rather sharply from this tasteful symphony in cool colours, was bluish pink.

Less than impressed, Sargent sees him “like something in a seed catalogue,” and although feeling “full of contempt for the man, for his coatlessness, for his colour scheme, for his susceptibility, for his presumption,” she still allows herself, firstly, to enter into conversation with him, and secondly, to spend the night with him (subsequently enduring the following morning). All of this is peppered with Sargent’s own disgust for the promiscuity her aunt has always warned her about — “I don’t know why you make yourself so cheap,” and “It doesn’t pay to let men think you’re easy.” (Continue)

 

Crashing the Boys Club: The Birth of the Brooks Brothers Woman

Wed 3 Nov 2010 - Filed under: 1950s,Clothes,Historic Images,Historic Texts — Christian
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As a follow-up to our previous post on the Brooks Brothers women’s collection moving back into the Madison Avenue flagship, we take a look at a 1954 LIFE Magazine article and newly discovered LIFE archive photos depicting the trend of women buying boys and mens clothing at Brooks. The photos also reveal what the store looked like in 1954, when clothing was predominantly laid flat on tables.

Although Brooks Brothers didn’t officially launch a full women’s department in its flagship store until 1976, young American women had been infiltrating the bastion of sartorial masculinity for quite some time. Since launching its pink shirt for women in 1949, Brooks had begrudgingly acknowledged the large number of females who wanted to wear the brand.

But within five years women were no longer satisfied with a tiny customer service desk located in a dark and secluded area of the store: They expected to roam freely through the store at will — including, presumably, the changing rooms. This growing inclination was reported in 1954 by LIFE Magazine, which suggested it was a case of Brooks giving an inch and girls taking a mile, like roaming the store in dressing gowns. (Continue)

 

Terminal Preppies: Skewered, Stuffed, And Put To Good Use

Fri 10 Sep 2010 - Filed under: 1980s,Historic Texts — Christian
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With this post Ivy-Style bring Preppy Week to a close. Click here to have the Dead Kennedys’ “Terminal Preppie” play in another browser window as you rejoice in the demise of Biff and Muffy.

Every trend carries within it the seed of its own negation. The hype and expectation over “Take Ivy” has made it fashionable to take a blasé attitude towards the book, complaining online how the photos aren’t in HD. The middle road, as usual, is the best: The tome is neither the Rosetta Stone of Ivydom, but nor does it warrant flippant dismissal. Likewise, perhaps the current Preppy-Ivy-Trad-Americana trend will give birth to a hippie revival in a few years, the very trend that followed the original heyday of the Ivy League Look.

In the early ’80s, the immense success of “The Official Preppy Handbook” saw an immediate backlash by would-be humorists looking to cash-in by lampooning the new popped-collar zeitgeist. Kate Reed’s “101 Uses for a Dead Preppie” came out in 1981, followed by “The Joy of Stuffed Preppies” by Randall C. Douglas III and Eric Fowler the next year.

If you want copies, better act fast. I picked mine up for a few bucks each several months ago — about the same price I paid a few years ago for the Preppy Handbook, which is now commanding a premium on eBay. (Continue)

 

Somewhere in Time: The Preppy ’80s

Thu 9 Sep 2010 - Filed under: 1980s,Historic Texts — Christian
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Preppy Week continues with this impressive bit of research from Greg Moniz, a student at Connecticut’s Trinity College, who brings back our “Somewhere in Time” series by compiling highlights from Time Magazine’s coverage of the ’80s preppy trend.

“If one more person comes in here and asks for Bass Weejuns, I think I’ll scream,” says an Atlanta saleswoman in a 1980 article from Time Magazine. A more muted but equally frustrated voice can be heard from a Time writer in an article several months later while writing about New York’s soon-to-be-closed Biltmore Hotel: “Years before alligator shirts covered every second American torso, long before artifacts of Ivy League style were mass-merchandised, before anyone dreamed of writing an ‘official handbook’, Manhattan’s Biltmore Hotel was the premier place for preppies.”

The writer goes on to paint a dazzling scene: “Within its vaulting rococo spaces, numberless Princeton boys leered at an endless parade of Vassar girls, while Dartmouth seniors, a little tight, chatted up Smithies. The bubbliness was swell and incessant.”

Both the saleswoman and the writer express a certain anger, but for different reasons. The saleswoman can’t keep buyers from flooding the gates in search of “Oxford-cloth shirts and Shetland sweaters, khaki slacks and tartan skirts.” (After all, the reason she’s interviewed is because of a burgeoning preppy America.) But the writer sees the demise of a stale, previously grand hotel as representative of the state of prepdom in the 1980s. With the Biltmore gone, what do preppies have left to define themselves? Certainly not the clothes on their back, as every Brad and Tiffany now have the same.

How is it that one single media outlet was painting two vastly different portraits of prepdom? Because just as it was making its grand appearance on the national stage, with its lifestyle glorified, replicated, exaggerated and mocked, classic prepdom was also on its deathbed — its subtle, idiosyncratic, authentic self mourned by its faithful, destiny-driven band of originals.

A review of Time articles from the 1980s reveals the two parallel storylines, with death and a culturally dominant, more egalitarian rebirth as two prevalent themes.

So here’s the best of Time‘s coverage and commentary as the old preppy order was dying off and a new one was being born. I’ve provided some of the more colorful excerpts; you can click the links to read the complete articles for free at Time.com. (Continue)

 
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