Dateline 1929: Princeton Invents Brown Tweed & Grey Flannel Combo?

Ivy Style recently received a dispatch from scholar Deirdre Clemente, who is busy doing groundbreaking research on the history of college students as consumers. In fact, she said her career might be made if she can get a paper into a certain scholarly journal. When they say academia is publish or perish, they’re not kidding.

Clemente presented at the MFIT’s “Ivy Style” symposium, and did a piece for us years ago on Princeton, which is one of her specialties.

Now she sends the excerpt below, which has us wondering if Princeton guys essentially wrote the rulebook for dressing Ivy. Here they are credited with popularizing the wearing of brown odd jackets with grey flannel trousers in 1929. It’s from an April, 1935 passage in a publication called the Fashion Group Bulletin. According to Clemente, “You rarely get an exact date for a trend like this.”

Of course this was much more than a trend, but one of the cornerstones of the Ivy genre ever since. As we explored in the recent rise and fall essay, wearers of the Ivy League Look may owe more to style-setting Princetonians from the inter-war years than we thought. — CC

44 Comments on "Dateline 1929: Princeton Invents Brown Tweed & Grey Flannel Combo?"

  1. Very cool Christian! I have to say that I really enjoy scholarly pieces and would love it if you published some of the more interesting points from Ms. Clemente’s upcoming piece, after she gets it published of course. I have never worn grey flannel trousers with a brown tweed, but now I just might give it a try.

  2. That is fascinating! So many things we take for granted started some where.

  3. An import, no?

  4. Roy R. Platt | February 6, 2013 at 9:33 am |

    There might have been some people in the UK who wore grey flannel trousers with with brown tweed jackets. Here is a paragraph from a 2006 “Daily Telegraph” book review…..

    “Mosley won a seat in parliament at the age of 22, as a Conservative-supporting Coalition-Unionist, and then crossed the floor to join the Labour Party. He soon became disenchanted and formed the New Party, which evolved in 1932 into The BUF. Harold Macmillan considered following him, but his antennae twitched in time. He did offer his friend some advice though. He told him he was doomed when he tried to get his fascists to wear black shirts. ‘You must be mad,’ he said, ‘whenever the British feel strongly about anything, they wear grey flannel trousers and tweed jackets’.”

    …although the color of the tweed jackets is not mentioned, is is possible that some of them could have been brown.

  5. No doubt English country gents first sported this combo. What I think is interesting about this is that it’s a specific citation of when the combination was first worn in an Ivy context.

  6. My interest is that this all about the marketing of a ‘new’ fashion trend to potential future customers. The trend is given the provenance of coming from Princeton originally, rightly or wrongly. Whatever, it is all about the selling of clothes and to those not from Princeton, who would already be aware of the trend if it was indeed all over their doorstep.

  7. Andrew Yamato | February 7, 2013 at 11:45 am |

    Definitely an English precedent for this combo, dating back to at least the early 1920s. In Brideshead Revisited, Waugh (who knew of what he wrote) has Charles Ryder’s elder cousin Jasper offer his charge the following advice upon Charles’ arrival in Oxford in 1922 or 23:

    “Dress as you do in a country house. Never wear a tweed coat and flannel trousers — always a suit. And go to a London tailor; you get better cut and longer credit.”

    Clearly this mode of informal dress had become widespead enough in the university context that the prudish Jasper feels compelled to warn against it as an uncouth fashion. This is what American Ivy students studying abroad become so enamored with and brought back with them along with all things Anglophile more generally.

  8. I think Jasper is a figure of ridicule (though not as much as Mr. Samgrass). I always assumed that line was to show that Jasper was wrong. Wouldn’t you wear tweed and flannels in a country house?

  9. Sorry to throw my two cents worth in. After World War I, Jacobi Press, was overloaded with an inventory of multiple bolts of unused tweeds and flannels of due to limiting bespoke during the conflict to gabardine for military garments of uniforms made for candidates in the Officer Training Program at Yale. He decided to use up the mismatched stock by producing ready made odd sport coats and trousers a decade BEFORE the style was recognized in the plantation province of Princeton, New Jersey.

  10. A quick dabble with google books comes up with the following quotation from The Lost Girl by D.H. Lawrence, first published in 1920:

    “The man was quite nicely dressed, in the regulation tweed jacket and flannel trousers and brown shoes. He was even rather smart, judging from his yellow socks and yellow–and–brown tie.”

    So, even by 1920 someone like Lawrence could refer to an outfit like that as “regulation”.

    I suspect that this mode of dress originated with sportsmen pulling tweed coats on over the clothes they wore for activities like cricket and tennis, which typically featured flannel trousers.

  11. A couple of you guys seem to be missing the point here: The 1935 article referring to Princeton six years earlier refers to wearing a BROWN tweed jacket with flannels. The point is the color combination, not the fabric combination.

    Obviously the components and most certainly the combo as well come from England.

    But what we have here I think is very interesting: It’s a specific date and location for when the pairing of brown tweed and grey flannel became popularized within an Ivy context.

    It’s just one source and fashion things like this are very hard to pin down, but here’s one example that offers a date and location.

  12. I wonder how reliable it is. The source is a trade paper to the fashion industry. What was the motivation for the piece? The selling of clothes to the wider demographic. The author offers no proof, just supports an existing trend by saying it came from Princeton to back it up.
    Waugh fans will remember the writings of ‘Mr. Chatterbox’. Why is this so different?

  13. The word “marketing” always seems to put an Englishman’s mind at ease. “Princeton,” however, fills him with doubt.

  14. I only live in the UK at present. Maybe I’m becoming infected? Please God no!
    But who says this wasn’t all made up? Photos would help. Actually, no they wouldn’t. There is no ‘new trend’ here, just a piece of fluff to sell clothes.
    Damn! Marketing again! (Time I got out of here!)

  15. To make peace with this website I will meet the world halfway and say that I’m with Mr. Press (Squeeze). The Princeton story is too late to be true. Let’s give the prize to Yale instead.

  16. In the above illustration, that gentleman appears………..to have side vents on his jacket!

  17. Is there anybody else out there who thinks that a darker shade of grey trouser would complement a brown jacket far better than the light grey depicted in the illustration?

  18. An unspoken aspect to this story is the nature of the scholarship on display. Thank goodness that Mr. Press via Ivy Style provided some fact checking here. Taking advertorial fashion industry content as a reliable primary source is hardly wise.

  19. Roy R. Platt | February 8, 2013 at 9:18 am |

    Mr. Uncle, I am still waiting for someone to comment about the pinned (or tab) collar and the dark blue (or is it black?) vest.

  20. More nonsense, I’m afraid, Mr. Leitmotif. Mr. Squeeze seems merely to have overlooked that the point of the report was the combination of brown and grey, not the combination of tweed and flannel.

    And your reference to the source as “advertorial” is completely absurd.

    The lengths the English will go to in their discussions of Ivy to downplay any assocition with the world of the campus is fatuousness to the extreme. Your doubting of the source says more about your nationality than the source itself (yes, I’m not yet convinced there’s any reason not to paint all English Ivy fans with the same brush).

    I wonder if the Japanese would disparage an historical citation as “advertorial” in order to preserve their own Ivy construct?

  21. You mistake the location of my IP address for my nationality, but I have no problem with that. If I will live amongst the barbarians then it’s my own fault!
    I merely would question the source quoted, surely always a good habit? I lack any agenda other than that.
    The source quoted is a fashion trade paper which startes off by talking about a new trend in Vogue magazine. I just see the rag trade talking to itself here. I don’t see much more.
    With the greatest respect and good wishes.

  22. A dose of skepticism is always healthy, but you seemed to be more than merely questioning. You can certainly see how the knee-jerk doubting of Princeton, when it was the most important style incbubator for the Ivy League Look, combined with “btcentralplus” on your IP set off certain red flags. Perhaps you simply misused the term “advertorial.”

  23. I am very happy to say I might have.
    I only thought I saw a phony trend being given a phony provenance to back it up.
    I still can’t believe that nobody combined those two commonplace colours before Princeton in an Ivy context.
    However, I will only offer that opinion as an opinion. A contribution to the discussion, nothing more.
    Beware of the importance of Princeton – It is open to being abused by others for financial gain.How better to sell Ivy fashion trends than by saying you saw them first at Princeton? And the piece quoted in question was the fashion trade talking to itself: The industry talking amongst themselves about future potential sales.

  24. I don’t doubt Princeton. I doubt the exploitation of Princeton to sell clothes.

  25. Do you have an example of this from the same time period?

  26. This is a great find! I wore a similar combo last week. Light gray (as depicted in the illustration) goes surprisingly well with brown tweed.

  27. A.E.W. Mason | February 8, 2013 at 12:46 pm |

    The jacket has not only side vents, but it appears as well to be a 2-button job with substantial waist suppression. I agree that, normally, a darker shade of gray would better suit the color scheme except that, here, the lighter shade better compliments that sweater, which I would hope is a charcole color close the the color of the window panes of the coat. Finally, am I imagining things or do the trousers appear to have pleats? Well, whatever the case, it works well; and in part because the brown of the jacket has an element of red or rust in it.

    I’m interested, though, whether Messrs. Press and Chensvold believe this Picture reflects “Ivy style” as we’ve come to understand it.

  28. @ Christian.

    No I do not, but I do understand the fashion industry, which is what your piece is entirely about. To just accept what the industry says without questioning it seems unwise, both for a scholar and a journalist. Always look not only at what is being said but at who is saying it and question why. All this you know yourself as a journalist. Your piece is about the selling of a fashion trend. It is entirely about selling clothes. In England Oxford might have been provided as the origin of the trend. In America Princeton was used. It was actually a trend that wasn’t a real trend, another very common fashion industry trick, creating trends just to sell clothes. Brown and grey is a very banal combination, as is tweed with flannel. I mentioned Waugh’s Mr. Chatterbox from Vile Bodies before and recommend those unaquainted with him to investigate his entirely made up fashion trends. The book is from 1930.

  29. “Beware of the importance of Princeton – It is open to being abused by others for financial gain.How better to sell Ivy fashion trends than by saying you saw them first at Princeton?”

    Empty Marxist speculation until you actually come up with an example.

  30. I can promise you that I am far from being a Marxist. It is because I am a committed Capitalist that I know how markets work. I approve of marketing and advertising 100%, but I do not confuse them with being primary historical sources.
    You and I will not agree on this and so let’s just enjoy each others points of view.
    My very best to you.

  31. Indeed we evidently have very different points of view when it comes to interpreting social phenomena. I see primarily cultural forces at work, whereas you appear to see primarily market forces. I suppose it’s the Romantic in me.

    Curious, do you think people choose to smoke cigarettes, or do evil tobacco corporations seduce them into buying their addictive products?

  32. I would advise you to never lose your romantic streak.
    Regarding smoking I see it as a two way street, Ivy fashions were much the same too. People join in with things.
    Cancer is a terrible thing, of that there is no doubt, but can a legal market be evil? The international arms trade is the best example to think of in this situation as it goes far beyond what tobacco could ever do in reducing the population and inflicting misery on people. I have no answers. Capitalism is all light and shade.
    Did people choose to wear Ivy or were they sold it by clothing companies? Both!

  33. Revisiting our differences in point of view, in an odd way we agree because I see our Western culture as being primarily a commercial one. The cultural forces you see I see too, but I attribute them to the underlying culture in which we live which is a commercial one. There is still art and beauty in the world, but there is also an art market and a price put on what is decided to be most desirable.

  34. You say “in which we live.” Has it always been thus?

    It’s always interesting to hear foreigners’ take on American culture. When Charlie Davidson opened the Andover Shop in Harvard Square, was he engaged in the “marketing” of Ivy? I’m curious if you see him as a haberdasher or purveyor of clothing to a local community, or if he was exploiting Harvard (you used the term in regards to Princeton earlier) to foist Ivy onto consumers who lived in Cambridge but didn’t attend Harvard, but wanted people to think they did (?????) so they bought into a class-riddled fantasy of the campus because they were aspirational.

    Forgive this clumsy hypothetical; I’m trying to piece together the gist of what other non-Americans say who talk Ivy and invoke the vague term “marketing.” Don’t mean to put words in YOUR mouth, but I am curious about this marketing business, especially in a 1947 context.

    In other words, as a retailer of clothing, was Charlie in 1947 retailing clothing to actual students and faculty and extended members of the Harvard community, or was he “marketing” an image of the campus connection?

    What about Langrock in Princeton?

    Or J. Press in New Haven, Cambridge and Princeton. Is selling clothing to students and faculty at Yale, Harvard and Princeton “marketing” Ivy?

    Again you’ll have to indulge me because I’m a bit of a Romantic.

  35. It’s just the selling of clothes. It’s that simple. It’s buisness. Mr. Davidson was selling clothes.
    Please don’t think that the word “exploiting” is a negative one. Think of in the way that one might talk about exploiting a great opportunity.
    1947 or today, if you don’t sell clothes you don’t stay in business. That’s all that matters.

  36. Sorry – You extended your post while I was replying.
    All I can add is that we are talking about shops and products here. This conversation is entirely one of commerce.

  37. As I said, it’s always interesting to hear foreigners’ take on American culture.

  38. Thank you for indulging me. I’m really talking about Western culture as a whole. I admire America as a money making machine a great deal. Sadly our banks have let us all down, but the business sense of America I still rate as one of the best. Most of what I admire you invented: Modern advertising especially.
    Fond regards.

  39. Ivy Advocate | February 8, 2013 at 4:16 pm |

    The illustration represents one variations of Ivy/University style for the fall of 1934.
    It pictures an undergraduate and the text reads “three- button notched lapel Shetland jacket that carries a dark overplaid and has side vents(an important fashion note) and patch pockets with flaps, blue and white stripped oxford with collar attached, striped crochet tie, blue cashmere sleeveless sweater, brown snap brim hat and brown suede shoes. The outfit is also suitable for general country wear and for golf”

    Some thoughts, my understanding is that contemporary trade journals are considered primary sources for research.

    In the future any writer who talks about this will have to mention this Fashion Group Bulletin to have any credibility in the same manner previous writers have quoted the fall 1934 Apparel Arts publication on the same subject.

    My read on the excerpt is that the writer is saying “You ladies might think you are doing something new but I saw this six years ago in Princeton and there was enough folks doing it I felt confident in selling men’s retailers on the look.” The author might be practicing one-upmanship but it certainly in not a fake provenance.

    Deirdre should certainly be proud of her discovery and if it fits into her work it will certainly add to its gravitas. I am happy for her and glad she shared this.

    Since research is always on going, one day there might be more information on this subject that will add or alter our understanding of this find. Knowing that fact neither diminishes her current contribution or that of previous fashion historians.

  40. Brown and grey is a classic and timeless combination of a warm color that both contrasts with and compliments a corresponding cool color.

    I often wear this combination, not only as jacket and flannels, but often on warm autumn days in the form of a Port Bown Lacoste polo over grey linen slacks.

    Even one of my current automobiles displays a variation of this theme, being finished in metallic silver with brown leather.

  41. The objectivity and reliability of the author of the clip must be taken into account. There is no definitive date and it cannot be confirmed. The author states that the trend “started at Princeton *about* six years ago.” More vague than exact. Maybe the author is making it up in order to place him or herself in the position of being an authority and in the know.

    Second, the author does not compare seeing this combination at Princeton to *not* seeing it at any of the other Ivy league schools. Maybe the author only visited Princeton. Therefore, how could he or she know it didn’t exist at other schools. We have no way of knowing. This is a limited case selection and is very close to selecting on the dependent variable.

    Also: “After seeing several, in fact dozens of them at that same May Time House Party…” This is a small n and in light of the other problems noted could be cooking the data. There could be overestimating of this small n since it is a recollection and likely not supported by notes taken at the time.

    Professor Clemente’s research methods are not robust here. She is really stretching it.

    CC: what is with your constant obsession with the British? You really get bent out of shape over the opinions of a very small group of guys across the pond. Unless I am missing something and there is a metaphorical British Navy charging towards shore in the 100s of thousands to take over the whole Ivy style aficionado academy through egregious scholarship maybe it is time to let it go. It is a little weird.

  42. @barnaby

    Professor Clemente merely shared a finding. Perhaps you should hold off on judging her research methods until you’ve actually read her research.

    As for the English, they’ve stooped to pretty much every lie and slander imaginable contra moi. As a riposte, I point out their biased and faulty reasoning when the opportunity arises.

  43. Dickey Greenleaf | February 10, 2013 at 4:53 pm |

    Boy, that was some good virtual chin-wagging, however, I’m on Chris’s side this time, I really feel like some of you guys embellished you’re ideas to bismirch Mrs. Clemente and Chris to the point that they look and sound inaccurate. The truth is that no one can specifically ascertain the exact time, origin, circa of this Jacket and Trousers combination, only one who is positioned in those times, in the 30’s and in the 40’s, who could, or who have would seen or heard of this trends birth into exsistance, could have reasonable credibility. Ivy-style is responsible for content and discussion only. Could anyone really prove that a case such as the date, time, and circa of a style being born?….and be accurate?….does any clothier, designer, or purveyor ever say, well this particular style, trend, etc, was started back in 1930, 1940, or etc. to authenticate it?…well, some of the time, but most of the time no. Unfortunatly, no, it’s all by accident, with minimal intention to do so, however, the strike of genius is formed by accident in the subconscious, making a conscious reality, an epiphany.

  44. Albeit a little late to the party, I can confirm that Jasper was quite wrong (except about using a London tailor). You absolutely may wear grey flannels in the country with a brown tweed jacket. “Always a suit” is the dead giveaway — at a country house? Utter nonsense. There may not always be an England, but there will always be an Eton.

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