Bruce Boyer has noted that the two most prominent colors during the heyday of the Ivy League Look were charcoal and olive. But while charcoal remains a default basic, olive is an often overlooked accent color.
We asked Boyer what he remembers of olive during the heyday, and he penned this little ode on its military origins and power to charm the fair sex.
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Olive and khaki were enormously popular colors for Ivy-styled civilian clothing directly after WW II, through the Korean Conflict (fighting ended in 1953), and a decade beyond.
We can only surmise that the wealth of well made but inexpensive military clothing on sale in Army & Navy stores throughout the country after 1945, as well as the personal clothing and uniforms worn by soldiers pouring into colleges on the GI Bill, were responsible for this popularity on campus. It’s staggering to think how much military surplus there was floating around back then.
Olive in all its various shadings from drab to dark was particularly favored in Shetland crewneck sweaters (with or without cables) and tweed sports jackets. The color also turned up in silk and challis neckwear and wool hosiery.
All of this is just prefatory to what I came here to tell you about: my absolute coup de high school.
I was a junior at the time and there was an important autumn school dance on the horizon. I was planning on wearing my prized — and only — sports jacket: a Harris Tweed gray and brown, district-checked one that had done such heroic duty on movie dates, record hops, parties, holiday events, and any other cool-weather social occasion that called for neckwear and a coat.
And then one Saturday morning, idly strolling through one of our local department stores on an errand for my mother, I saw it. In my time I’ve visited the best tailors Savile Row and Milan have to offer, and I can tell you that none of those experiences can match the thrill I got by what I saw hanging on a plain pipe rack in Hess Brothers Department Store in Allentown, PA when I was seventeen.
It was a three-piece, single-breasted suit in dark olive herringbone tweed, with a 3/2 button stance, narrow lapels, swelled seams, patch-and-flap pockets and hooked vent, paired with trim plain-front trousers with a belt in the back.
I went home as fast as I could and begged and pleaded with my mother. Finally she relented — may God bless her — on condition that it would have to serve as my graduation suit the following year. Of course I agreed — I would have agreed to be dipped in rancid yak blubber.
I got back to the store before closing time and the suit was still there. It fit beautifully. The tailor made the chalk marks for the sleeve and trouser adjustments and told me it would ready the next week. I was delirious. The blonde in my chemistry section would be at the dance, and this time I’d be prepared to make my move.
I went to that dance wearing my olive tweed suit, and I will say no further than I’ve had a great love and respect for the alluring qualities of olive tweed ever since. — G. BRUCE BOYER
Pictured above is Matt Damon in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” wearing the Ivy purist combination of olive corduroy sportcoat, white oxford-cloth buttondown and black knit tie.