From Peasantry To Palm Beach: The Story Of The Bass Weejun

Mon 1 Apr 2013 - Filed under: 1920s-'40s,Top Drawer — Christian
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weejunsIn the history of the Ivy League Look, Arnold Gingrich should receive honorable mention status solely based on his consideration of naming his fledgling magazine Town and Campus. He chose, however, to name it Esquire, and if that was were the story ended it would not be enough to warrant the virtual ink on this page. But Gringrich’s true contribution to Ivy is the nearly forgotten tale of his involvement in the launch of the Bass Weejun.

For much of the 20th century, American fashion was a top-down affair. Fashions were observed in places like Palm Beach, Newport, and swank continental resort towns, and reported in publications like Apparel Arts and Esquire. This reporting was accompanied by the artistic rendering of Lawrence Fellows and Leslie Salberg, whose illustrated men were bronzed and handsome. Whether on the beach or in the club these figures sailed through life with beautiful raiment and broad smiles that never betrayed a hint of the Great Depression. Theses images of the good life gave the merchant a look to sell and offered the customer a little respite in the same way their less-clothes-conscious contemporaries would flock to the movies for a dose of escapism.

If the average American was expected to ape the style of his social betters, the moneyed vagabonds that set the trends were completely unshackled. They sourced with impunity from vendors ranging from the carriage trade to local crofters. These style setters were inspired by both high and low culture and blended them effortlessly. They seemed to always incorporate part of the native kit wherever they traveled. Notable items brought back to the States included Aran knits, Breton red sailing trousers and striped jersey top, espadrilles and huarache sandals. In the modern vernacular it could be said that they were appropriating workwear to suit a life of leisure. The clothes of the indigenous fisherman, coal miners and peasants found a whole new appreciative market, and in the march to popular acceptance would travel far both in terms of geography and intended use.

The same trajectory can be seen in the story of the Weejun. In the 19th century, English sportsman began flocking to Norway to fish salmon. An especially popular fishing destination, according to J.P. Myhre, a bespoke shoemaker in Norway, was the Valley of Aurland situated in Sognefjorden. Myhre relates that by the dawn of the 2oth century these “Lords of Salmon” had taken to wearing a locally crafted slipon called a teser. These Norwegian peasant shoes would have remained the private vice of the well heeled angler, but forces were in place by 1935 that would shatter the shoes’ amenity.

Esquire representatives first saw the shoes at European resorts, followed by Palm Beach in the 1935/36 winter season. The shoes seen in Palm Beach were true Norwegian shoes sourced from two London shops; at the time there was no American maker of the shoe.

The tale of exactly how the Weejun came to be is still a little murky and has hints of sartorial skulduggery. It’s clear that Esquire saw the shoes in 1935; perhaps sensing their potential, Esquire partnered with the store Rogers Peet, which agreed to carry the as-yet-unproduced shoe. Esquire and Rogers Peet then commissioned Bass to make the Weejun. (Continue)

The Brooks Brothers Questionnaire

Mon 18 Mar 2013 - Filed under: Top Drawer — Christian
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In the history of the Ivy League Look, Brooks Brothers takes center stage. The brand has changed over the years, but so has society and the way men dress.

In the interest of research and to better understand this website’s readership, its perception of the Brooks Brothers brand, and its shopping habits at the retailer, kindly asks you to respond to the following questions.



Reader Poll: How Ivy Are You?

Sat 2 Mar 2013 - Filed under: Top Drawer — Christian
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How Ivy are you? Or rather, how Ivy is your wardrobe? Do you take the heyday as your guide and reject any items not part of the genre during the ’50s and ’60s?

Or do you simply enjoy reading about the heyday and looking at vintage photos, but dress with a contemporary sensibility?

Recently I left a comment suggesting that only those who live outside America and for whom Ivy is foreign and exotic would attempt to dress according to the dictates of Ivy genre parameters from 50 years ago.

Sure enough, soon thereafter I received an email from a young man in Poland who’s fascinated with the Ivy League Look yet has pangs of conscience over the urge to replicate it:

It’s also interesting that you reminded me of foreigners being the only ones that bother about Ivy style rules. I’ve noticed that, yet still cannot free myself from trying to act by the book.

Then yesterday reader “DCG” left this comment on the site:

I think there’s an interesting poll somewhere here measuring how many readers wear strictly vintage or exact replica ’50s-’60s Ivy League clothes versus how many incorporate such items into an otherwise modern wardrobe.

Actually no such poll existed, but it does now. (Continue)


Arts of Asia: A Japanese Ivy Illustration Gallery

Mon 18 Feb 2013 - Filed under: Historic Images,Top Drawer — Christian
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In addition to meticulously researched vintage reproductions, plus the regular dispatching of photographers and reporters to capture American collegiate style in its native habitat, the Japanese have long used illustration as a way of expressing their fervent admiration of Ivy style. From stark line drawings to realistic paintings and silly cartoons, the Japanese continue to honor the art of fashion illustration decades after the American media abandoned it.

For the rest of this week I’ll be trickling out an assortment of Japanese “trad” images from Free & Easy and other sources. To avoid visual overload, I’ll present five or so per day. But for Internet archive purposes, I’ll add them all to this one post so there will be a single URL for future access. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

Updated 2/18/13



The Rise And Fall Of The Ivy League Look

Mon 7 Jan 2013 - Filed under: Top Drawer — Christian
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On October 1st something began bubbling in my subconscious. Ivy Style had reached its four-year anniversary, the MFIT exhibit had recently opened, and the accompanying book had been published.

I found that after four years of trying to look at this topic as objectively as possible, and talking to the men who were actually there during the heyday — Richard Press, Bruce Boyer, Charlie Davidson and Paul Winston — something unanswered remained.

I started thinking about Brooks Brothers and the college campus, which was chosen as the focal point of the MFIT exhibit, wondering about the connection between these two things. I soon found myself asking the most fundamental question: How do we explain how the Ivy League Look came about?

It’s easy to make generalizations, but hard to precisely articulate.

I next began thinking about the interplay between clothiers and their customers, focusing on the why as much as the what. Buttondown oxfords, plain-front trousers with cuffs, rep and knit ties — these are the whats, but what are the whys behind them? The answer couldn’t be simply “because that’s what Brooks Brothers sold,” when Brooks Brothers sold so much more that never became part of the Ivy League Look.

I telephoned Charlie Davidson and told him I was working on a piece though wasn’t sure where it was going. I started by asking him, “What portion of the Ivy League Look comes from Brooks Brothers, and what comes from the culture of young men on campus?” When Charlie, who’s been selling these clothes since 1948, responded, “That’s a good question,” I knew I was on to something.

The following essay is the result of my investigation. What began as an attempt to articulate Ivy’s origins grew into an overview about the whole broad arc of Ivy, how it codified and how it shattered into the complex “post-Ivy” era we’re in today.

In it I will argue:

• The Ivy League Look was as much about styling as the ingredients. And while the ingredients were relatively fixed and admitted new items slowly, the styling came from the campus and was always in a state of flux.

• It was the casual nature of the college environment and the importance of dressing down that led men in the 1930s to prefer rougher, casual fabrics — oxford cloth shirts, brushed Shetland sweaters, Harris Tweed jackets, flannel trousers — that has been the standard of good, understated taste for men on the East Coast ever since.

• The Ivy League Look included clothes for every occasion, from resort to formalwear, from city to country. However, the country element influenced the city far more than the other way around, and remains the most lasting influence of the genre.

• The Ivy League Look can be said to go through the stages of birth, maturity and decline, corresponding to specific points on a timeline.

• Once the look in its original, purist form ceased to be fashionable on campus, it ceased to be fashionable in society as a whole.

This lengthy piece will be presented throughout the week in five parts. New installments will be added at the bottom to preserve one cohesive post and comment thread.  — CC

• • •

The Rise And Fall Of The Ivy League Look
By Christian Chensvold

Part One: The Rise

In the late 1930s a new shoe became an instant hit on the Yale campus. First seen in Palm Beach in 1936, the “Weejun” penny loafer by GH Bass & Co. was immediately embraced by the students of New Haven. By 1940, the shoe store Barrie Limited was advertising its Horween penny loafers in the Yale Daily News, saying the shoe had “taken the university by storm.” (Continue)


Young Man With A Horn

Tue 23 Oct 2012 - Filed under: 1990-present,Clothes,Jazz,Top Drawer — Christian
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He was a prep-school dropout
From the Donegal Mist Academy,
Fortune’s fool who dared to love
The girl forbidden to everybody. (Continue)

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