Gentlemen, I just found out that photos and video of Richard Press’ talk at J. Press last week have been delayed and it will be a couple more weeks until they’re ready. So in the meantime, let’s do one more piece from Princeton before we give the Tigers a break.
Apparently 1964 was a watershed year for declining standards, at least in the eyes of a few fogeys who scribed for The Daily Princetonian. Maybe they just hated the Beatles. In another piece from ’64, entitled “Informal dress reflects declining tradition,” there’s more longing for the aristocratic pre-war years. In fact, in a little historical detail I hadn’t pondered so precisely before, the very postwar GI Bill students who helped spread the Ivy League Look nationwide were also credited with killing off prewar traditions, including sartorial ones. They were simultaneously making and breaking Ivy.
Once again — and for ease of read — the piece is worth quoting in full:
The Princeton country club which F. Scott Fitzgerald ’17 described so graphically is gone forever, and nowhere does it show up more than in the traditions which the old Princeton tried so hard to maintain. Where once there was a tradition to cover every aspect of college life, the few which still remain are all but meaningless. Fifty years ago, freshmen wore a black turtleneck jersey and corduroy trousers. When sophomores or upperclassmen approached, yearlings were expected to get off the sidewalk until their elders had passed. A quarter of a century later, the freshmen wore a black tie and a “dink,” or beanie. “Clearing the walk” had disappeared. When members of the class of ’68 arrive at Princeton, they will dress and walk as they wish. If anything, they will be distinguishable from their upperclass fellows only by their informality—standard freshman wear runs to sweatshirts and blue jeans.
The change in dress is symptomatic. No one ever laid down rules for what to wear when, except for the coiat-and-tie-at Sunday-dinner rule, but the undergraduate always conformed to a standard of dress known for years as “the Ivy League Look.” The five Nassau Street clothiers who catered to that look once relied on students for half of their income; now, says one, “we are lucky to move handkerchiefs and underwear.” The T-shirt school of dress which prevails during the week does not fully disappear on the weekend, when dates arrive. Back in the ’20s, the standard costume at dances was tails. (Even as late as five years ago,most students wore tuxedos. But, with the advent of the rock & roll prom, they disappeared and, as the evening progressed, the sport coat was easily shed too. This reached a nadir in 1962, when some beer-filled juniors danced with nothing but ties above the waist. General student revulsion squelched that trend immediately, and a general upswing seems to be in progress. At the last Junior Prom, a smattering of tuxedos was even apparent. If the high standards of dress which were once traditional here have lapsed, so have traditions in the proper sense of the word.
The most important body of tradition surrounded the freshman class. When they arrived, they were always greeted by a sophomore class armed with the accumulated tricks of dozens of sophomore classes before them. There was the “flour picture,” a pasty mess which resulted when the sophs stormed a class with bags of flour and pails of water. There were the rushes, in which the sophomores would mass around the cannon on Cannon Green or the gym steps and dare the yearlings to get inside.
Of the freshman rites which still remain, headshaving is the most controversial. The idea is to catch a member of the rival class and cut your class numerals in the back of his head. Because someone might be hurt, university officials frown on the practice, but do not interfere if nobody gets hurt. Alternative means are peroxide and paint. The most important freshman obligation is the Nassau Hall clap tradition. Freshmen must steal the bell clapper early in the year; when they do, no one goes to classes until it is restored. The deed is normally done by scaling the outside of Nassau Hall, but one ambitious group surprised the night watchman, bound and gagged him, and used his keys to sabotage the bell. There is a whole host of other traditions affecting all classes which cannot be mentioned here. But most are weakening, and many more are dead. Why have so many fallen by the wayside, why are those which remain so little observed? The answer may lie in the years following the Second World War. The influx of returning veterans mixed with normal admittees six and seven years their juniors led to a destruction of all class bars from which the traditions based on that separation never recovered. Also, tired of the regimentation of Army uniforms, the veterans turned to informal clothing. That influence, too, remained after they had left. A final reason may lie in the changing nature of the Princeton student. He is certainly more serious land studious than his predecessors; as far as traditions go, he just does not care.