Ivy isn’t Ivy anymore. Now it’s called “preppy.” Except Brooks Brothers is back in the fold announcing, “American Ivy” and “Trad & True New Arrivals for Fall.” It all gets very confusing. Last year’s items weren’t “trad and true?” Maybe they were just preppy.
The Ivy Style exhibit, which opens September 14 at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, lets viewers make the choice whether the historic Ivy League Look I grew up with has evolved naturally into preppy or been vulgarized beyond repair. There’s plenty of old Brooks Brothers in the FIT mix, together with J. Press, The Andover Shop, Chipp, Gant, Langrock — all the old standbys.
Preppy and Ivy was the life that late I led. It was in my blood, genes, and most of the air I breathed. The Ivy League Look was officially declared dead in the late ’60s? Baloney.
The Ivy campuses exploded in the ’60s. The assassinations, Vietnam protests, and civil disorder all cast their mark on the Ivy League as on the rest of America. Amid the unrest, corporations continued to prosper, the suburbs fostered a second-tier business elite which fulfilled its business and social obligations wearing Ivy League suits to the office and patchwork madras on the 18th hole. It was the best of times in the worst of times and I was on the fringes of glory.
“Dick Cavett’s Clothes by J. Press,” appeared weeknights for a long run on ABC-TV beginning in 1968. Ryan O’Neal, the first preppy pop icon, was outfitted for “Love Story” at J. Press’ Cambridge store. Robert Redford’s corduroy for “All The President’s Men” was chalked on our mezzanine floor. Lisa Birnbach’s preppy sendup included J. Press in the Locust Valley Lockjaw Hall of Fame. PYG (pink, yellow, green) worked the margins, but corporate America did not tolerate sloppy dress. There were no casual Fridays.
In 1980 Harvard and Yale banners hung over the counters, Ivy League songs played in the background and old-fashioned Ivy League was aggressively merchandised by J. Press licensee Onward Kashiyama in 75 stores throughout Japan. Jesse Kornbluth’s article in the June 15, 1980 New York Times Magazine headlined, “New Boost For The Old Guard: Japanese men are discovering the (American) stores synonymous with good taste.” Paul Stuart and Brooks Brothers also joined the frenzy across the Pacific. (Continue)
English Ivy guru and Weejun fetishist JP Gaul, co-author of “The Ivy Look” (see our review here), has written a piece for Yale University Press’ blog. YUP is the publisher of the upcoming book created in conjunction with the MFIT exhibit.
While discussing his discovery of Ivy as a teenager in the ’80s, Gaul writes:
The key elements of Ivy style – the button-down shirt, the narrow-shouldered ‘sack’ 3-button jacket, the penny loafers and the heavy brogues, are all such strong, simple designs, form following function, and modernist to their very core.
Considering the items mentioned were all created well before midcentury, one wonders exactly how they can be “modernist.” Nevertheless:
Miles Davis saw this, so did Gerry Mulligan and the Modern Jazz Quartet.
Clothes certainly have meaning. Exactly what is a matter of debate. Here’s Gaul once more:
The meaning of clothes shift as they cross borders, both geographically and socially, and the conservative mutates into the radical. The Bass Weejun penny loafer, one of the great design items of the 20th century, was no doubt a great shoe for strolling around the privileged halls of the Ivy colleges, but I can personally testify to its qualities as the ideal shoe to wear when sliding across talcum powder coated northern soul dancefloors – radical conformism in action!
On this I think we can all agree: The meaning of clothes shifts when they leave their native soil. It happened to all the European items the Ivy genre absorbed and repackaged with American flair, and it happened again when American items returned across the pond.
Head over to Yale’s book blog for Gaul’s complete article. — CC
Yesterday Gant announced it will open three new retail stores later this year in Boston, Georgetown and Los Angeles. Today former J. Press president Richard Press talks about his New Haven partners and rivals, who got their start in the J. Press stock room.
When his sons got out of the army at the end of World War II, Bernie Gantmacher asked his pal Jacobi Press if he could give his sons Elliot and Marty a job in the stock room at J. Press.
Gantmacher had owned a shirt factory in New Haven since the ’20s and occasionally supplied J. Press. Packing the ties, shirts and arranging the haberdashery in the York Street store, the Gant boys inhaled the scent of Ivy and the rest is history.
They formed Gant Shirtmakers in 1949 and by the mid-’50s the discreet “G” on the bottom front of every Gant shirt became part of American menswear history. Soon campus stores in and outside the Ivy League, menswear shops beyond the Northeastern seaboard, and upscale department stores opened up Ivy League sections (before the invention of the clothing genre “preppy”) coast to coast. And a signature product was the Gant buttondown shirt.
I remember going head to head with Elliot and Marty at a party in New Haven. “We worked in your stockroom and you only buy a few sport shirts from us,” they said.
“Good luck selling to our competitors,” I replied. “We are grateful for your success.” The postprandial conversation continued merrily amongst the New Haven shirt cognoscenti.
Success prompted a similar situations at Paul Stuart, known in the ’50s as “the poor man’s Brooks Brothers.” The Gants also engineered a hundred-plus store contract with the Hart Schaffner Marx Retail Group, including Wallach’s, which maintained one of its many thriving stores around the corner from Paul Stuart on Fifth Avenue. That was the end of Gant at Paul Stuart, but Gant gained hundreds of new retail store customers.
Brook Brothers, J. Press, Chipp and The Andover Shop were the retail merchants serving the niche market of the boarding-school-to-boardroom Northeastern Elite.
Gant sold its Ivy-styled buttondown to American men who didn’t want to look like Main Street Babbitts. I recently visited the Gant shop in my old neighborhood on York Street, across from the Yale campus. It’s the same roost occupied once upon a time by Langrock and Arthur M. Rosenberg. Gant’s Yale Co-op line offers a keen glimpse of the past with much opportunity for future enhancement. The shop is archival without being dowdy and is a necessary stopover with visits to the British Museum of Art, the Yale Rep, or the Yale Admissions office — or Sally’s Apizza on Wooster Street.
The photo above was taken as I gathered some remnants of the past for the MFIT’s Ivy Style exhibit. — RICHARD PRESS
This afternoon the press release for the MFIT’s exhibit was sent out. Here it is in its entirety. — CC
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The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) presents Ivy Style, an exhibition that celebrates one of the most enduring clothing styles of the 20th century. From its origins on the prestigious college campuses of America in the late 1910s to the many reinterpretations seen in contemporary fashion, the “Ivy League Look” or “Ivy Style” has come to be viewed as a classic form of dressing. However, in its heyday, Ivy style was once a cutting-edge look worn by young men of means. Far more than a classic or static way of dressing, Ivy style spread far beyond the rarified walls of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to influence the evolution of men’s clothing for decades. Focusing almost exclusively on menswear dating from the early 20th century through today, more than 60 ensembles, both historic and contemporary, will be intermingled to illustrate the creation and subsequent reinterpretation of Ivy style.
Ivy Style will present the three main periods of the look: the interwar years of the 1920s and 1930s, the post-war era to the end of the 1960s, and the style’s revival from the 1980s to the present. During the interwar years, from 1919 to the onset of World War II, classic items, such as tweed jackets and polo coats, were appropriated from the Englishman’s wardrobe, modified, and redesigned by pioneering American firms such as Brooks Brothers and J. Press for young men on the campuses of elite East Coast colleges. The second period, from approximately 1945 to the late 1960s, will illustrate the rise and dissemination of the Ivy look across the United States. The staples of Ivy style – oxford cloth shirt, khaki pants, and penny loafers – were being worn by a whole new, diverse population that included working-class GIs as well as leading jazz musicians. The final section of Ivy Style will present the revival of the Ivy look that began in the early 1980s and endures today.
The ensembles in Ivy Style will be arranged thematically in an environment that evokes an Ivy League university campus. The central part of the exhibition gallery space will be designed to look like a grass-covered quad, or quadrangle, positioned in front of a Gothic-style building façade covered with ivy vines. Archetypal garments, both old and new, such as tweed jackets, khaki trousers, and madras shorts, will dominate this space. Opposite the quad will be a platform devoted to sport. This area, designed to resemble period athletic clubs, will feature both activewear and spectator clothes. Surrounding the quad and the sports platform on two sides will be typical university environments, such as a classroom, dormitory room, and fraternity house. Each of these “rooms” will present clothing and accessories in surroundings appropriate to their specific use: daywear, outerwear, clothing for sports, and formal wear. A re-creation of a mid-century university shop will pay homage to the purveyors of Ivy style that for decades have been near campuses in Cambridge, Princeton, and New Haven, as well as in cities such as New York City and Washington D.C.
Period material will include suits, letter sweaters, university reunion and class jackets, athletic wear, and textiles from the permanent collection of The Museum at FIT and private lenders. Objects by the following firms will be represented: Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Chipp, Gant, The Andover Shop, Bass, Arrow, Ralph Lauren, Jeffrey Banks, J. McLaughlin, Tommy Hilfiger, Thom Browne, Michael Bastian, and others. Many unique Ivy League objects, such as period photographs and sports ephemera, will be on loan from The Cary Collection, a New York City repository of rare books, fine art, and vintage memorabilia.”
This exhibition is organized by Patricia Mears, deputy director of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and consultants Richard Press, former president of J. Press, and G. Bruce Boyer, leading menswear writer and editor.
The exhibition will be on view from September 14, 2012, to January 5, 2013.
A more in-depth study of Ivy style will be featured in the accompanying book, also titled
Ivy Style, edited by exhibition curator Patricia Mears and published by Yale University Press. Content will include essays by Patricia Mears; scholars Dr. Peter McNeil, Dr. Christopher Breward, and Dr. Masafumi Monden; leading menswear writer G. Bruce Boyer; and founder of the Ivy Style blog, Christian Chensvold.
Dr. McNeil will analyze the style of the Duke of Windsor, arguably the most stylish man of the 20th century. This essay will focus on his years as the youthful Prince of Wales and his creation of the “Soft Look.” The Duke was influenced by the Ivy style look that he encountered on his trips to America, and his adoption of the style subsequently influenced others.
Dr. Breward will present a cross-cultural study of the relationship between the Oxbridge and American Ivy style, beginning with the “Bright Young Things/Brideshead” generation of the 1920s, then moving to the post-World War II era of Cold War “Spies at Cambridge” and Rhodes scholars in the 1950s and 1960s. Dr. Breward will also explore the concurrent celebration of English academic styles in mid-century Hollywood movies and issues of style and modernization in post-war British universities.
Dr. Monden will explore the all-important appropriation of the Ivy style in Japan. He will examine how the craze took hold in Japan in the mid-1960s and then demonstrate how the Japanese preserved and transformed Ivy style – and then exported their unique version of it back to America.
Also included will be short excerpts by G. Bruce Boyer, a leading menswear writer and historian, from his 1985 book Elegance. The publication contained chapters on madras, Harris Tweed, the camel hair polo coat, and other elements of Ivy style. The importance of this period publication is that more than a documentation of these fabrics and garments, it captures the atmosphere of a time when Ivy style experienced a great resurgence in popularity. Mr. Boyer will also contribute a short essay on the influence of Ivy style on leading jazz musicians of the mid-century such as Miles Davis and Chet Baker.
Christian Chensvold, the founder and main contributor to the leading blog documenting menswear, appropriately titled Ivy Style, will contribute an in-depth interview with Richard Press, grandson of Jacobi Press.
The main essay of the book, written by Patricia Mears, will be a general historical overview of the Ivy look in the 20th century. She will discuss the issues of the style’s enduring popularity and its influence on contemporary fashion as well as the cultural and aspirational aspects of Ivy style’s creation and allure.
The museum’s annual fashion symposium will take place on November 8 and 9, 2012, in conjunction with the exhibition, Ivy Style, for which it is named. Speakers will include contributors to the book that accompanies the exhibition as well as other scholars and designers.
A Fashion Museum
The Museum at FIT is the only museum in New York City dedicated solely to the art of fashion. Best known for its innovative and award-winning exhibitions, which The New York Times has described as “ravishing,” the museum has a collection of more than 50,000 garments and accessories dating from the 18th century to the present. Like other fashion museums, such as the Musée de la Mode, the Mode Museum, and the Museo de la Moda, The Museum at FIT collects, conserves, documents, exhibits, and interprets fashion. The museum’s mission is to advance knowledge of fashion through exhibitions, publications, and public programs. Visit www.fitnyc.edu/museum.
The museum is part of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), a State University of New York (SUNY) college of art, design, business, and technology that has been at the crossroads of commerce and creativity for nearly 70 years. With programs that blend hands-on practice, a strong grounding in theory, and a broad-based liberal arts foundation, FIT offers career education in more than 45 areas, and grants associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees. FIT provides students with a complete college experience at an affordable cost, a vibrant campus life in New York City, and industry-relevant preparation for rewarding careers. Visit fitnyc.edu.
The Couture Council is a membership group of fashion enthusiasts that helps support the exhibitions and programs of The Museum at FIT. The Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion is given to a selected designer at a benefit luncheon held every September. For information on the Couture Council, call 212 217.4532 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday-Friday: noon-8 pm
Saturday: 10 am-5 pm
Closed Sunday, Monday, and legal holidays
Admission is free and open to the public.
Yesterday trade publication Apparel Magazine posted what I believe is the first article to appear on the upcoming “Ivy Style” exhibit at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology. It’s the most detailed account yet on what you can expect in just a few short months.
Here’s an excerpt:
Ivy Style will present the three main periods of the look: the interwar years of the 1920s and 1930s, the post-war era to the end of the 1960s, and the style’s revival from the 1980s to the present. During the interwar years, from 1919 to the onset of World War II, classic items, such as tweed jackets and polo coats, were appropriated from the Englishman’s wardrobe, modified, and redesigned by pioneering American firms such as Brooks Brothers and J. Press for young men on the campuses of elite East Coast colleges.
The second period, from approximately 1945 to the late 1960s, will illustrate the rise and dissemination of the Ivy look across the United States. The staples of Ivy style – oxford cloth shirt, khaki pants, and penny loafers – were being worn by a whole new, diverse population that included working-class GIs as well as leading jazz musicians. The final section of Ivy Style will present the revival of the Ivy look that began in the early 1980s and endures today.
Head over here to get the full scoop. I’ve also created a new category for all posts related to the exhibit and book. — CC
Mark your calendars, guys: You have a four-month window to visit New York and see the Ivy League Look exhibit at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology. The exhibit will run from September 14 to January 5.
Though I met with the organizers again a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t know they’d settled on the title “Ivy Style” for the exhibit. Cool.
I’ll be playing a role in all this (in addition to the exhibit there will be a book and a symposium in November), as will Richard Press, G. Bruce Boyer and many others, including Muffy Aldrich, who recently gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the exhibit in development.
I’m sure there will be some sort of opening night reception, and if it’s not open to the public then I’ll arrange our own little Ivy-Style.com rendez-vous, so readers can meet and stroll through the exhibit together. Sounds fun, non?
Start planning what to wear now: This will be the world’s biggest Ivy convention. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
Update: The MFIT has shared the following description of the exhibit:
Many of the most enduring sartorial images of the twentieth century can be traced to the prestigious college campuses of America. However, what is known today as the “Ivy League look”—or “Ivy Style”—has spread, decades after its creation, far beyond the academic confines of top echelon schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Ivy style has become so popular, in fact, that countless contemporary fashion companies have been built upon this look, and many of today’s leading fashion designers pepper their runway collections with current interpretations of it. One of the most compelling aspects of the Ivy look is that it has endured for so long. A relatively small array of classic items—from tweed jackets, polo coats, and seersucker suits to madras shorts, “Weejun” loafers, and khaki trousers—attests to Ivy’s longevity. This exhibition will examine the genesis of Ivy style in the early years of the twentieth century, as well as its subsequent codification and global influence over the past one hundred years. The exhibition will also investigate what has made and what continues to make Ivy style relevant, and it will also dispel a key misconception: that it has always been a classic and static way of dressing. In fact, at its height in the mid-twentieth century, Ivy style was a cutting-edge look, and it went on to inform the evolution of menswear for decades.
Ivy Style will focus almost exclusively on menswear dating from the early twentieth century to the current day. Since English menswear provided Ivy style with its initial vocabulary, British clothes dating as far back as the 19th century will be included. On view will be authentic clothes dating from the 1920s to the 1960s, worn by young men who attended Ivy League and preparatory schools (where “preppie” style, Ivy’s junior offshoot, began). These objects will include daywear, formal wear, and even sports clothes. The exhibition will also include material from firms such as Brooks Brother, J. Press, and designers such as Ralph Lauren who led the resurgence of the Ivy look prior to the 1980s, Tommy Hilfiger, J. McLaughlin, as well as examples of its contemporary re-contextualization by Thom Browne. Some women’s clothing, if appropriate, will be on view to illustrate the influence of this male style on women’s wear.
Here’s what the layout will look like:
The introductory gallery of Ivy Style will display a small selection of historical and current menswear that illustrates Ivy’s trajectory from its beginnings in the immediate post-World War I era, to the height of its popularity in mid-century, its fall in the late 1960s and its resurgence in the 1980s, to the current interpretations by designers who have collectively redefined it. Also on view will be a group of photographs that further illustrates the scope of Ivy style.
The main part of the exhibition will be arranged thematically in an environment that evokes an Ivy League university campus.
The central part of the gallery space will be designed to look like a grass-covered quad, or quadrangle, with a printed backdrop of a Gothic-style building façade covered with ivy vines. Archetypal garments both old and new, such as tweed jackets, khaki trousers, and madras shorts, will dominate this space.
Opposite the quad will be a platform devoted to sport. This area will resemble period athletic clubs and will feature both active wear and spectator clothes.
Surrounding the quad and the sports platform on two sides will be typical university environments, such as classrooms, dormitories and fraternity rooms. Each of these “rooms” will present material appropriate to the environment and range from casual to formal.
Installations that pay homage to the purveyors of Ivy style menswear shops that for decades have been seen in cities such as Cambridge, Princeton, and New Haven, as well as New York City and Washington D.C., will also be on view.
And finally the book:
A more in-depth study of Ivy style will be articulated in the accompanying publication (by Yale University Press). Also entitled Ivy Style, content will include essays by Patricia Mears, Dr. Peter McNeil, Dr. Christopher Breward, and Dr. Masafumi Monden.
Dr. McNeil will analyze the style of the Duke of Windsor, arguably the most stylish man of the twentieth century, and the great impact his look had on Americans, especially when he was a young man in the 1920s. Dr. Breward will present a cross-cultural look at Ivy style as worn in the prestigious English universities of Oxford and Cambridge; he will also show how the look these young men cultivated would eventually be absorbed and re-interpreted in Hollywood films, primarily of the 1950s. Mr. Monden will write about the Ivy style craze that took hold in Japan from the mid-century to the present and its manifestation over the decades.
Also included will be short excerpts by G. Bruce Boyer, a leading menswear writer and historian, and an interview with Richard Press by Christian Chensvold, founder of the Ivy Style blog. Mr. Boyer’s 1985 publication, Elegance, contained a number of chapters on madras, Harris Tweed, the camel hair polo coat, and other elements of Ivy style. The importance of this period publication is that it not only documents these fabrics and clothing items, but also captures the atmosphere of a time when Ivy style experienced a great resurgence in popularity. Mr. Boyer will also contribute a short essay on the influence of Ivy style on leading jazz musicians of the mid-century such as Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.
Mr. Chensvold is the founder and main contributor to the leading blog documenting menswear, appropriately entitled Ivy style. His in-depth interview with Richard Press, grandson of J. Press, will be included.
The main essay of the publication (by Patricia Mears) will present a general historical overview of the Ivy look in the twentieth century. Not only will the issues of the style’s enduring popularity and its role as a cutting edge influence be discussed, so too will the cultural and aspirational aspects of its creation and allure.