Country Gentlemen: Norman Hilton And Princeton In The Thirties


Nick Hilton is not only a clothier but a great writer who has just lent his prose skills to a tribute of his father Norman, who made some of the finest natural-shoulder clothing during the heyday and who was one of the first to bank his money on a rising new talent named Ralph Lauren.

Nick recounts his father’s days at Princeton (where Nick today runs his own shop):

At Princeton in the late ’30s Norman was surrounded by young men who’d come from patrician families, grown up in Brookline or Greenwich, graduated from prestigious preparatory schools and were generally known as the “St. Grottlesex” crowd (an amalgam of those schools’ names). This socio-economically elite class of men had a style that made an indelible impression on a kid from Newark Academy. They dressed in the style of English “county” gentlemen: a Yankee adaptation of the shooting wardrobe of English manorial weekends, reconstituted for indoor wear and modified somewhat by American taste. Along with ankle-length, narrow-legged trousers of gabardine or corduroy, cotton Oxford shirts and narrow repp ties, they wore softly tailored “sport coats”: unpadded jackets in naturally colored tweeds – solids, herringbones and patterns taken from the clan tartans and district checks of the Scottish Highlands and the Outer Hebrides. Thus did the “natural shoulder” and “Ivy League” styles become synonymous with the style that we, as children in the ’60s, called “preppy.”

Nick continues with a lengthy history of how his father came to launch his business and watched it grow as the Ivy League Look became the uniform of America’s professional class during the late ’50s and early ’60s. It’s a wonderful piece of history and you can find it all right here. — CC

12 Comments on "Country Gentlemen: Norman Hilton And Princeton In The Thirties"

  1. Chewco L.P. (master) | October 14, 2016 at 2:06 pm |

    What a devilishly handsome gentlemen.

    Anyway, it’s interesting how we lament the loss of this sense of style on campuses today whilst ignoring a rather important variable.

    Specifically: “Nowadays the cost of manufacturing the true Norman Hilton quality was above and beyond what the market for youthful fashion would bear.”

    The clothes are just becoming too expensive, even for young professionals, let alone undergraduates.

  2. Too expensive?
    Have you never heard of Lands’ End?

  3. Chewco L.P. (master) | October 15, 2016 at 12:00 am |

    I’ll concede that there’s a distinction between “true Norman Hilton quality” and Lands End quality: a distinction that is congruous with their respective costs.

  4. Re: “the style that we, as children in the ’60s, called “preppy.””

    Was it really called “preppy” in the 1960s?

  5. I too didn’t think the term “preppy” originated in the 60’s. The OPH states that the term was popularized by Ali McGraw in the 1970 hit film “Love Story”. So the term but either comes from the 60’s or earlier but was popularized in the 80’s.

  6. Lands End is 100% Southeast Asian imports. You can’t manufacture a hand detailed, Harris wool or Johnston cashmere sport coat in the US or UK and survive as a mass market, OTR manufacturer

  7. Hang on to your dollars just a bit more. Tomorrow I’m meeting with the rep from Kent Wang, who approached me wanting to develop a trad sportcoat project. The prototype came out great (DCG also saw it and agreed), just one fix we need to make and then we’ll be unveiling it.

    Although it’s made in China it features a lot of hand work and is made from Abraham Moon tweed. Price is reasonable and there are some fun bells and whistles.

  8. Wonderful bit of history and writing craft. It had special meaning to me as I spent some enjoyable years with the Hiltons conveying their clothing and Burberry’s outerwear to some of the finest retailers in the country during the 70’s.

  9. Gucci Gucci | October 17, 2016 at 1:35 pm |


    Does the jacket have the sort of gigolo cut for which KW is known or will it be a correct full cut?

  10. It’s a bit of a hybrid. We’re actually going to be calling it Collegiate Gigolo.

  11. The Loafer Lawyer | October 17, 2016 at 3:56 pm |

    @CC – I hope I did not miss the link to the “Collegiate Gigolo”.. I am more than curious for those times when my leisure wear requires a jacket, but my business suit “uniform” is a tad too much.

  12. Give me Asbury Park over Princeton any day. It is, and has always been, insufferable, suburban, ersatz.

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