Daily Princetonian, 1964: GI Bill Students Spread New Ivy League Look, Killed Off Old One

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.

Check out the original layout here. — CC

11 Comments on "Daily Princetonian, 1964: GI Bill Students Spread New Ivy League Look, Killed Off Old One"

  1. I’m always in favor of better dress standards, but I think eliminating “clearing the walk,” the “flour picture,” and forced head shaving was for the better.

    The military veteran GI Bill students did change campus life and customs. There is a story from my own “little Ivy” college, perhaps apocryphal, of a 20-year-old college junior calling out to an older, GI Bill freshman after dinner at the fraternity house, “Hey pledge, light my cigarette!” After a pause, the GI Bill freshman looked him in the eye and responded, “Light your cigarette? I’ve killed better men than you.”

  2. “the very postwar GI Bill students who helped spread the Ivy League Look nationwide”…

    But at this point the question is,was that the REAL “Ivy League Look”?
    My impression after many years of research on “Ivy” style is that the post war Ivy was a bastardized version of the real “collegiate” style of pre war.
    The collegiate style was a sort of country look; lapels and fabric patterns were never minimalistics and monochrome as in Ivy look of 50s and 60s; just look a Brooks Brothers advertising of 30s or early 40s and one of 50s for see it.
    Post war Ivy was a middle class reworking of the style and the rules of the old patrician collegiate style.
    Another thing is that the pre-war collegiate style was more mixed up: we had double breasted darted and undarted,we had slanted darts on sack suits and gently waist suppression we had flat front and reverse pleats on pants,and the sack wass mainly “for college and country” (as said the old Brooks Brothers advertisments),less for town where the lounge suit triumphs.
    The post war “Ivy legue” rules are more pedants as the rules that a inexperienced beginner learn by heart.
    The difference between pre and post war style are the same that exist between a rich Brooks Brothers 1939 three piece tweed sack suit with a stately roll in lapels and a 1955 minimalistic boxy charcoal sack suit with narrow lapels and monochrome tie.

    https://s18.postimg.org/gdc2rggax/prewarivy2.jpg

  3. A number of these “fine old traditions” (clearing the walk, flour picture, beanies) look like continuations of adolescent practices carried over from the prep schools that once provided most Ivy populations. Not something that a 20 yr. old veteran, or, e.g., an 18 yr. old ranch kid from Idaho was going to put up with.

  4. Craig Holstrom | January 31, 2018 at 12:16 am |

    After reading this, I’m more convinced than ever to use the term “Trad” rather than “Ivy” to describe the style that I’ve adhered to for more than 50 years. Everything else about Ivy League seems to be offensive, to use a mild adjective.

  5. It’s always been my impression Ivy in its homeland is fundamentally Trad, whereas outside the US it’s Ivy, in all its multifarious, often cooler, forms.

  6. caustic man | January 31, 2018 at 7:31 am |

    The comments, thus far, have been asking some interesting and fundamental questions. Just what IS Ivy style? Are always to decry further casualization, or is it something that has merit in certain circumstances? The nuance with which Ivy Style’s readership handles these subjects is always fun to see.

  7. “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.”

    This makes sense, and who can blame a 28 year old G.I. for looking upon certain “traditions” as ridiculous?

    Agree about the need for another phrase. If it’s true that hardly anybody uses the word “trad,” then it’s equally true, as of 2018, nobody uses the word “Ivy.” “Preppy” is still heard and may very well survive the test of time. “Traditional” and “conservative” may be used to describe the guy who wears OCBDs and khakis.

    The adolescent/sophomoric aspects of club culture have largely disappeared, which is a good thing. There was always a species of undergrad who was above all that nonsense anyway, right? Chances are good he looked upon glee clubs, earnest ra-ra cheering at football games, and hail-fellow-well-met types as forms of silliness, or, worse, idiocy. We all know the fellow in question: really and truly above it all. Robert Redford handsome, quietly self confident, and despairing of hijinks. Wouldn’t have been caught dead using the word “Shoe” to describe anything, and had no reason to prove bona fides to kids who prepped at “the lesser schools.” The condescending stare was/is deadly. We know him when we see him.

    Seriously– can anybody imagine Cyrus Vance or Averell Harriman raising beer steins and joining arms with fellow “chums” in a round of fight songs? Calls to mind the verbal darts the (great) Kingman Brewster tossed at all the Boola-Boola crap and “Bonesy Bullshit.” He was so cool he turned down an invitation to Skull & Bones, right? Now that’s cool. No wonder genuinely patrician cool frightens the hell out of rising aristocrats and young strivers.

  8. This Princeton stuff works better as parody for me. Otherwise, I’m stuck with a 50-year-old story bemoaning the loss of 100-year-old traditions. Hell, I would not be surprised to learn that the author actually wrote it as a send-up of fussy snobs.

  9. Too bad that the photos and video of Richard Press’ talk at J. Press last week were delayed.
    I really can’t mourn the passing of the Ivy heyday if this is what it was all about. Chinos, OCBDs, etc. have survived and left behind the unpleasant side of the Ivy ethos.

  10. I wonder, was this piece written by an old fogey who could actually recall the tailcoats worn to dances in the 1920s, let alone the black turtlenecks of 1914? Or was it written by a Princeton undergraduate repeating campus hearsay about the old days? It’s hard to believe that a man of 60 or more would think forced head shaving or scaling the outside of Nassau Hall were good ideas. I did find record of a Princeton alum with the same name as the author, who served in the military in the Vietnam War era, and who went into journalism.

  11. I did a few years as a grad student at Penn State in the early 90s. In the main library on campus, and at one of the bars downtown, there were many examples of vintage posters from the early 20th century relating to a tradition probably very like the Princeton “clearing the walk” tradition. Apparently Penn State upperclassmen would post instructions that all freshmen were supposed to observe, but they were written in an obtuse manner, so that they really couldn’t be observed, which led to the main point of the ritual: that the upperclassmen would beat the freshmen with paddles during a particular week.

    I looked with great curiosity at those posters, as they were interesting windows into a vanished past. (Lots of ideas into what students wore at the time, and old-fashioned slang as well.) And I noticed that the latest that I saw of them referred to the Class of 1923. The class of 1923 would have entered as freshmen in 1919 – and probably a good number of that class would have recently been demobbed from the military, and a substantial number of them might have actually seen combat on the Western Front.

    Those beat-the-froshes-with-paddles traditions at Penn State simply didn’t survive interaction with freshmen who’d seen the trenches of the Great War.

    There was probably another erasure of ridiculous tradition after the WWII generation entered the colleges.

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