I’ve seen every masculine change in fashion from the “drape shape with the reet pleat” zoot suit of the WW II years to the latest “New Bohemian” look from Dries Van Noten, and the way I dress is still imprisoned by the years of my youth. But my appreciation of style is not, so I have indeed come to appreciate a great variety of looks that I wouldn’t myself attempt. Thom Browne and Junya Watanabe are creative and important, but not for me personally.
I’m stuck in the Anglo-American years of the 1950s and early 60s. I’m not the only one who can tell this story, but I’m the only one who can say what it meant to me. When the Ivy League style grabbed me in the early 50s, I sold my prole gear and bought a Harris Tweed sports jacket. And you never forget your first one. But I soon discovered what has remained for me the epitome of elegance: the gray flannel suit.
I’d saved the money I made from a part-time job when I was a junior in high school, and commissioned a made-to-measure medium- gray flannel suit from a local shop: single-breasted, three-button rolled to two, side vents, narrow trousers. I can see it as though it were yesterday, and I’ve never been without a gray flannel suit ever since. At the moment I’ve got three: a single-breasted, three-piece Cambridge gray solid flannel, a medium gray, chalk-striped single-breasted three-piece, and a medium gray double-breasted gray flannel.
In the 50s, the medium- and charcoal-gray flannel suit were the classic uniform of the EE (Eastern Establishment), “the man in the gray flannel suit” became the American national symbol of corporate conformity and conventionality, as the Great democracy assumed a sartorial stance of exaggerated understatement. The suit – with no padding, no darts, no pleats, and a single vent and narrow lapels – represented a balance between comfort and sobriety, and was accompanied by small-brimmed fedoras, purposefully casual buttondown shirts, narrow neckwear, and slip-ons. For the British, who watched their empire disappear in the wake of the war, it was a difficult pill to swallow, as English fashion historian John Taylor makes clear:
But Americans came to power parallel with the universal acknowledgement of the tenets of democracy, and their relative riches were a perennial source of embarrassment to them. Perforce, they tried to avoid any too vulgar indication of it in front of a penurious world or, alternatively, to convince themselves and the world that the trappings of success did not really matter.
Taylor hated what he thought was the “simulated negligence” of the buttondown and the rest of the Ivy League look, but that was what believed – and still do believe – was the great strength of it. The gray flannel suit is the epitome of this approach for me precisely because it has a dehabille, a slightly rumpled nonchalance denied to crisp worsteds. It’s got an easy elegance that can’t be beaten in a tailored garment. And of course I can always wear the trousers with my Harris Tweed sports jacket. — G. BRUCE BOYER
Bit loafers are one of those polarizing items in the genre. But love them or hate them, they’re certainly a step up in sophistication from penny loafers (which is why the OPH calls them “strictly post-collegiate”). We last featured them on Ivy Style with this photo of Fred Astaire, who is surprisingly sporting them with double-breasted flannel suit, oxford buttondown and satin tie (a recipe for elegance right there).
On Tuesday Oak Street Bootmakers released its new bit loafer in black and brown. Made in the US of Horween calfskin, it is priced at $328. That’s a fair price for American-made footwear that shouldn’t polarize anyone. — CC
The Lands’ End “Drifter” sweater has been an old faithful for years. An inexpensive beater sweater that looks better as it fades, but is also easily replaced if ruined in an overly aggressive touch football match.
But the sweater’s most redeeming virtue was its saddle shoulder, a defining trad detail and what seperated the Drifter from the countless other cheap crewnecks from department stores and low-end retailers.
But have the Drifter and its saddle shoulder drifted apart? (Continue)
Don’t be fooled by the full-page color photos by FE Castleberry, the write-ups in the likes of Vanity Fair ,and the big launch party at the new Polo flagship. “Rowing Blazers” is a serious book and a thoughtful appreciation of a trad staple, such as the “Henley” blazer by Ben Silver at left.
Author Jack Carlson begins, in a ten-page introduction, by debunking the story that the blazer “has its origins in the jackets worn by the crew of the HMS Blazer in the mid-nineteenth century.” Instead, he traces the origin of both the word and the article of clothing to the mid-19th-century world of English rowing.
Boating jackets “served a practical purpose, keeping oarsmen warm during chilly training sessions,” while loud colors helped “distant spectators tell which boat was which during races.” Indeed, in the first-known use of “blazer” in reference to clothing, in 1852, “the vivid scarlet boating coats of Lady Margaret Boat Club at St. John’s College, Cambridge, were nicknamed ‘blazers’ on account of their ‘blazing red’ hue.”
True sartorial scholars can consult a two-page bibliography (which suggests that it’s not even an exhaustive list of source materials). It lists everything from Bruce Boyer’s 2010 Rake article on “The Perfect Blazer,” to, of course, “The Official Preppy Handbook,” to “Notes on the Word Blazer” (Cambridge Review, 1950), to Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog).”
But the bulk of the book are 200-plus pages of photos and descriptions of the rowing blazers of schools and clubs in the US, the UK, the Netherlands and beyond. Some are blazing red, others dark blue. Some have loud stripes, others elegant crests.
But it’s not just a menagerie of preening preppies, and if you consign “Rowing Blazers” to the fate of most coffee-table books – to sit prettily on a pile of others and be perused absent-mindedly during the cocktail hour – you’ll miss some good anecdotes.
For example, the colors of Georgetown University were actually first selected by its Boat Club in 1876. As the Georgetown College Journal reported at the time, “These gentlemen have decided on Blue and Gray as appropriate colors for the Club and expressive of the feeling of unity that exists between the Northern and Southern boys of the College.”
Carlson even goes beyond blazers to other accessories. It turns out that that the traditional knit varsity tie with horizontal stripes – once common “at many New England universities and boarding schools” – was revived at Groton School in 2012, thanks to a student from Milan “who just happened to know a little workshop in Italy that could make them.”
Such colorful photos and histories got me thinking about the regular old blue blazer hanging in my closet. The rowing jacket that comes closest is that of the Oxford University Boat Club (OUBC): dark blue, with a dark blue grosgrain trim and Roman galleys on the gold buttons. These blazers are known simply as “Blues.”
In such simplicity lies the versatility of the blue blazer. “Wear it with Oxford shoes, deck shoes, or no shoes; with gray flannels, white ducks, blue jeans, or Nantucket reds; at Christmastime or on halcyon summer days,” Carlson writes. “A blazer is almost always the ‘right’ thing to wear; it is no wonder that the famous ‘Official Preppy Handbook’ referred to the blazer simply as ‘the exoskeleton.’”
Versatility and longevity: I’m 37 years old, and I’m on only my second blue blazer since middle school. I was a little sad four years ago when I realized that my old one, with crossed golf clubs on the gold buttons, had gotten too shiny at the elbows. I’m not a rower, but I too have a sense of (personal) history: I had worn this blazer to high-school dances in the early 90s, to my first real job interview in New York in 1999 and the night in DC in 2008 when I first met my wife. “It is astonishing what the sight of a Blues blazer can do to many a sensible, well-adjusted girl,” reads the quotation at the start of the section on the Oxford University Boat Club. Quite. — MATTHEW BENZ
Yesterday I popped into Paul Winston‘s place and immediately noticed something different. Paul was wearing a jacket. In all the times I’ve visited him, it’s either been balmy weather or the heater’s been cranked up. But yesterday was cool and crisp outside with no climate-controlling inside, and Paul confessed to feeling a bit chilly.
I immediately took out my iPhone and snapped a few shots, only to discover when I got home that they were all a blurry, disappointing mess. I’ll never again count on a telephone to do the job of a camera. I’ve tinkered with the files in iPhoto in the vain effort of amelioration, but the shot above doesn’t do justice to the great full-body I took that unfortunately l00ks like Paul is sitting across from you at a three-martini lunch.
The addition of the tweed jacket made Paul the epitome of the Old Money Look, and all you young fogeys should immediately copy this outfit for an air of degagé sophistication. The sportcoat is 35 years old and made by his family brand Chipp. It’s three-button and undarted, but with shaping at the waist — one of the things that distinguished Chipp from Brooks and Press, Paul pointed out. His emblematic tie depicts vintage fire trucks.
But my favorite part of the outfit is the contrast between the frayed shirt cuffs and the collar pin, a masterpiece of Advanced Style.
Below the waist the tour-de-force of nonchalance is complete: grey trousers, white athletic socks, and half-destroyed camp moccasins. I want to be old enough to be this cool. — CC (Continue)
In the previous post, the discussion broached the subject of knit ties. Fittingly, I had a post ready for that.
Above is a new tie at Brooks Brothers which I spied in the store about a week ago. I plan to be wearing it incessantly throughout the season. Black flecked with blue (there are other color options), It’s the perfect kind of mixture of Ivy (the blue) and chic (the black) that I’ve been playing with the past year or so. Simple but stylish, blending restraint with flair, this is the kind of item I’ve loved wearing since my twenties, though I keep getting distracted by and acquiring handsome items that alas don’t speak to my soul.
If that sounds pretentiously philsophical, it’s probably because I feel glad to be alive today. Last night I was hit by a car (again), this time while on my bike. I’m only here because I leapt from the bike at the last millisecond in a defiant gesture that asserted, “I will live to dress again!”
A few years ago, menswear omnivores no doubt noticed that knit ties became popular among Pitti Uomo types and their sycophantic followers. Soon polka-dotted knit ties began to proliferate, but I had a strong aversion to them. The one above is more like a birds-eye pattern.
Since someone in the comments section recently opined that knit ties are ugly, it’s probably time for a vote. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD