Dateline 1954, The Ivy League Look Heads Across The US


In our last post we mentioned a 1954 LIFE Magazine article entitled “The Ivy Look Heads Across US.” It’s been referenced several times here, including in a few of Richard Press’ columns, as J. Press was largely featured in the article.

But we’ve never actually presented it here and new readers may not be familiar with it. We’ll follow up the presentation of it below with Richard’s next column, in which he’ll recount his 15 minutes of fame when the LIFE issue came out and he was a wee lad in prep school. Trust me, it’s one of his most amusing columns to date.

Following that, Rebecca Tuite will examine “Boola Boola,” the 1958 book about life at Yale by Julien Dedman, author of the Playboy article on Brooks Brothers featured in our last post.

I can think of a couple of other things that would be apropros to this series as well, so stay tuned for a nice run of interelated historical posts.

Now back to LIFE. The story ran in the November 22 edition of the weekly magazine, the entire contents of which are viewable here via Google Books.


Here are highlights from the text:

 The “Ivy League look” identified with determinedly inconspicuous New England males for over 50 years and with Madison Avenue advertising men for the past 10, has now got out of eastern hands and is making its way across the country.

It has also got away from upper-bracket tailors and into the hands of cut-rate clothiers like S. Klein, whose advertisement gives as complete and compact a definition of the look as has ever been written. The popularity of the natural-looking suit has widened quickly in the last two years as men became dissatisfied with pale bulky suits and flashy ties left over from their postwar splurge.

Although the authentic Madison Avenue uniform perpetuated by Brooks Brothers and campus-originated shops like J. Press has nonexistent shoulders and fits so snugly that it looks a size too small, facsimiles from volume clothing manufacturers and tailors are less severe in cut. To reaffirm their individualism beleaguered Ivy Leaguers are considering adding a fourth button to their jackets or resorting to a radical new silhouette.


And on the second page:

A New Haven institution which rivals Yale in some well-tailored hearts is J. Press, established in 1902 and now carried on by the founder’s two sons. Its slope-shouldered product, which the Press boys consider the only acceptable dress for a normal Yale man, has scarcely changed over the years.

Press has branch stores in New York and in Cambridge and maintains traveling representatives to replenish the wardrobes of scattered alumni customers. Sometimes regarded as more of a club than a clothes shop, J. Press is delighted rather than dismayed that its look is now capturing the country.

In closing, the other day another reference to 1954 came to me: That’s the year that Charlie Davidson recalls dressing Miles Davis, which he told me in the “Ivy League Jazz” story for Ralph Lauren that inspired me to create this site. It’s an anecdotal reference, to be sure, but I think we have a solid case for the bookends of the Ivy League Look’s broad popularity: 1954-1967.

Up next, Richard Press. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

27 Comments on "Dateline 1954, The Ivy League Look Heads Across The US"

  1. “The “Ivy League look” identified with determinedly inconspicuous New England males for over 50 years and with Madison Avenue advertising men for the past 10!….

    Some pictures of Madison avenue men in 1940s with Ivy league suits?

  2. Christian | July 26, 2013 at 9:39 pm |

    You don’t have any?

  3. Anybody know where I can get a can of Qwip?



    “The Grieco Bros. signature line, the Southwick suit, was developed in 1945 and made in the tradition of the British “sack suit.” The sack suit had soft, natural shoulder tailoring and was marketed nationwide through exclusive specialty retailers. Initially, only one retailer per city was chosen. Kaps in Lawrence and the Andover Shop in Andover were among those locally selling the Southwick label.”

    From the Brooks website:

    “…What emerged from the Grieco Brothers premises (Southwick, as it would later be known) was a composite of multiple influences. The suits were assembled using the meticulous, hand-sewn techniques expected of Italian craftsmanship, but found inspiration in the natural-shouldered look of the English sartorial tradition. Though popular trends at the time favored a more exaggerated look in men’s suits, with padded shoulders and a tapered waist.”

    Any good history of Ivy style–natural shoulder clothing–will include some light shed on Grieco Bros. and the clothing they made retail shops.

    Included in the above piece, memtion of two of the mid century Grieco Bros./Southwick models:

    “There are two distinct models of the natural shoulder with gradations in between. The Warwick model, as one manufacturer calls it, has a high and not overly narrow lapel, a rounded bottom to the jacket, and the first button is set slightly above the pocket.

    On the Andover model the buttons begin lower, the lapel is longer and narrower, and the cut of the bottom of the jacket is squarer, giving a less sporty look than the Warwick suit.

    Both styles omit waist suppression, narrowing the middle by darts over the side pockets. Unpleated trousers are an important concomitant of the natural shoulder look.

    Worn by about nine out of ten Harvard men, the Ivy look is smart and trim. It is supposed to make a man look masculine without the phoniness of padding. However, these effects are attained only by wearing a natural shoulder model which suits you. The Warwick model is slightly clubbier than the Andover model which hints of Madison Avenue. Both are appropriate for almost every occasion the college man encounters.”

    Later, there is an exaltation of “rich tweed.” It is contrasted with Harris. Loomed in small island cottages. I suspect the author was thinking about Shetland.

    I too prefer Shetland, and I long for robust 6-ply hopsack.

  5. “Clubbier.”

    Just noticed that.

  6. Cable Car stocked the Warwick, btw.

  7. No.
    Only some few fashion sketch from “Esquire” early 40s.

  8. Great Poupon | July 27, 2013 at 1:31 pm |

    Rest assured that these gents’ polos were navy or white.

  9. Christian | July 27, 2013 at 1:35 pm |

    The whole GTH concept is based on the fact that these guys wore such sober clothes to the office:

  10. Actually, the “rich tweed” might’ve been Cheviot.

  11. Straight Arrow | July 27, 2013 at 11:57 pm |

    These guys also didn’t wear polos to the office; hence, for many of them, the polo itself was an article of GTH clothing,

  12. The polo itself is GTH? We’ve hit a new low.

  13. Straight Arrow | July 29, 2013 at 1:29 am |


    Adhering to traditional standards of appropriate dress can hardly be considered to be “hitting a new low”.

  14. Straight Arrow,

    Making silly comments that the polo itself is/was GTH is absolutely a low. Your comment is utter nonsense.

  15. Phılly Trad | July 29, 2013 at 1:55 pm |


    I’m afraid I have to concur with Straight Arrow.

    In the 1950s, casual meant taking off our necktıes.
    GTH meant putting on a polo.

  16. Christian | July 29, 2013 at 2:22 pm |

    I don’t mean to present my Rake story “Damned Dapper” as some kind of gospel (and after all there’s little opinion from me in it, mostly historic records and quotes from Flusser, Paul Winston, O’Connell’s and others), but it’s staggering to me how a regular reader of this site interested in this genre of clothing could suggest that generic sportswear (chinos, white canvas sneakers and a white polo shirt, perhaps?) constitutes what we mean (or what Tom Wolfe was describing) when we say “go to hell clothing,” rather than crazy colored blazers, pink Shetland sweaters, and canary yellow trousers embroidered with green frogs.

  17. A.E.W. Mason | July 29, 2013 at 2:36 pm |

    The “classic” GTH garment is something like lime green trousers with little crossed tennis rackets. I’m 2 years shy of 60 and I still consider myself too young to wear them.

  18. Philly Trad,

    That’s more nonsense. Polos are nowhere near GTH. In fact, polos are so far away from GTH that claiming otherwise raises suspicions concerning the sartorial knowledge of the claimant. In otherwords, I can’t value the opinion of someone who would claim that polos are GTH. You’re that wrong.

    Historically, GTH has encompassed blazers and pants. Shirts are not included in the category.

    I disagree with Christian here and there. I’ve said so here. Nonetheless, where Christian excels are in his historical pieces and “Damned Dapper” is pretty definitive. (Christian is being modest above.) Also, Birnbach has some interesting comments on page 193 of TOPH. I note this as I don’t see those comments in Christian’s article–though she is quoted from what appears to be an interview.

    Please stop equating causal with GTH. You’re comparing apples with oranges and you’re looking quite ridiculous in the process. You deserve to treat yourself better.

  19. Please replace casual for causal in the first sentence of the last paragraph above.

  20. GTH is like porno, you know it when you see it.

  21. Straight Arrow | July 29, 2013 at 11:32 pm |


    I was there; I assume you weren’t. You are suffering from the delusion that grown men dressed like nursery school kids in the 1950s.

    By the way, didn’t your moniker go out with Death of a Salesman?

  22. Straight Arrow,

    Your last post is incoherent. You’ve gotten the best of yourself.

    Are you still attempting claim that polo shirts are GTH pieces? Or are you on to some other inanity now?

  23. Straight Arrow | July 30, 2013 at 12:04 pm |


    Allow me to explain:

    Polo shirts today are GTH pieces when worn in Crayola colors.

    In the heyday, polo shirts were the height of informality, hence I jocularly called them GTH. They were worn in white or navy; other colors were considered to be flashy and inappropriate.

    I would argue that even today, purist Ivy followers adhere to the navy or white rule.

  24. Straight Arrow,

    You’ve pulled the old “I was joking” trick when you’ve finally realized how wrong you were in your original claim. And you still have a warped and highly inaccurate sense of GTH.

    I’m weary of whatever it is that you’re up to.

  25. Straight Arrow | July 30, 2013 at 9:58 pm |


    GTH today means not caring at all what other people think about one’s juvenile manner of dressing.
    Purist Ivy style means caring so much about what the right people think that one strictly adheres to a conservative manner of dress.

  26. Some things have changed since the heyday:

    The length of buttondown collars
    The width of lapels
    The width of neckties

    Anything else?

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