Dateline 1957: Ivy School, But Not Ivy Style

 abbotts

A couple days ago I participated in a little forum banter, pointing out that in my opinion the ubiquity of the Ivy League Look during the heyday can sometimes be overstated. What’s more, once certain items became so mainstream they certainly ceased to have any direct connection to the campus and Eastern Establishment, even if therein lay their origins. Case in point, picture John Travolta as a juvenile delinquent in “Grease.” Sure he wears penny loafers to the big dance, but they’re black. And he has grease in his hair.

Kind of like the guy above.

By chance last night I was browsing the streaming Netflix titles and ended up watching “Inventing The Abbotts.” Filmed in 1997 and starring Joaquin Phoenix and Billy Crudup, the movie is set in a small Illinois suburb and contrasts two middle-class boys brothers with three sisters from a rich family.

In the scene depicted above, Phoenix’s character shows up to a big lawn party, complete with orchestra, dolled up in his best. The costume designer has him in a white buttondown with nice collar roll, but look at the rest of his outfit: atomic-flecked ’50s sportcoat, equally radioactive Main Street necktie, and penciled-on sideburns in homage to Elvis.

Is he dressed Ivy simply because it’s 1957 and he’s wearing a buttondown, or is it more accurate to simply say he’s dressed like a suburban ’50s teenager?

Oddly enough, both Phoenix’s character and his brother end up attending the University of Pennsylvania, where their deceased father had gone. But in post-enrollment scenes the boys show virtually no sartorial development, still clad in the same pointy-collared, double-flap-pocket sport shirts and gabardine casual jackets. Was this oversight on the part of the costumer, or a deliberate decision to show that they were still small-town guys?

As a final note, I was starting to doze off when I looked up and could swear my high school was right there on the screen in high definition. I leapt to the computer to check, and sure enough “Inventing The Abbotts” was filmed at Santa Rosa High School. I was even in town at the time and don’t recall any local hoopla, which I do when it comes to “Peggy Sue Got Married” with Nicolas Cage and Kathleen Turner, which had filmed on campus the summer before I started.

Other scenes in “Inventing The Abbotts” were filmed in Petaluma, about 15 miles farther south toward San Francisco. That’s where George Lucas shot “American Graffitti,” another movie whose setting is contemporary to the Ivy heyday and shows buttons on collars, trim haircuts and penny loafers.

In other words, basic early ’60s Americana. — CC

18 Comments on "Dateline 1957: Ivy School, But Not Ivy Style"

  1. Worried Man | May 30, 2014 at 3:01 pm |

    The hair and burns are horrible. And the jacket has obviously pronounced shoulders and is two-button. That shit’s not ivy. Travolta in Grease ain’t ivy either. My vote – ’50s – ’60s Americana.

  2. Worried Man | May 30, 2014 at 3:18 pm |

    And movies from the ’70s – ’90s that try to portray the ’50s and ’60s are notoriously bad at it. The costumes are usually blatantly overdone and completely fraught with caricature. If you want real authenticity to see how the clothes really looked, watch a few episodes of Leave It To Beaver. It was actually filmed in the late ’50s and early ’60s. The clothes usually look great, IMO.

  3. Worried Man | May 30, 2014 at 3:30 pm |

    I don’t recall liking the movie much, but I do remember thinking the set and costume designers on the 2009 movie A Serious Man, did a convincing job of capturing the era.

    http://www.focusfeatures.com/a_serious_man

  4. Worried Man | May 30, 2014 at 3:31 pm |

    Granted, it’s set 1967. So, dateline 1967.

  5. Roy R. Platt | May 30, 2014 at 4:24 pm |

    “American Graffiti” was made by people who actually were in school in America in the fifties and sixties with actors and actresses who actually were in school in America in the fifties and sixties. (I was at school with two of them.)

    “Inventing The Abbotts” was not made by people who had actually been at school in America in the fifties and sixties and some of the actors and actresses weren’t even born in the fifties or sixties.

    Compare “Inventing The Abbotts” to “The Graduate”.

  6. Costumes of this movie are bad, in my opinion.
    Said this,i remember very few genuine “Ivy” in movies and TV series of 50s and 60s.
    Perry Mason not dress Ivy, Peter Gunn not dress Ivy, Roger Thornil/Cary Grant not dress Ivy I not remember Ivy in Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies.
    Frank Sinatra,Peter Lawford,Jerry Lewis Tony Curtis,Bobby Darin, Dean Martin,President Kennedy…are not in Ivy League clothes.
    All these peoples wear in middle atlantic style: Natural shoulders,two or three buttons,darted coats,often pleats to trousers (at least until 1963).
    The only feature recognizable for late 50s-60s are the narrow lapels and the narrow ties (often solid,navy or black).

    http://c590298.r98.cf2.rackcdn.com/YMM4_096.JPG

  7. Worried Man | May 30, 2014 at 4:35 pm |

    Oh yeah. American Graffiti is pretty darn authentic. Good call there, Roy.

  8. Worried Man | May 30, 2014 at 4:39 pm |

    @Carmelo
    I love that. Not Ivy, but I love it.

  9. Worried Man | May 30, 2014 at 4:47 pm |

    Comment by Carmelo — May 30, 2014 @ 4:35 pm
    “Perry Mason not dress Ivy, Peter Gunn not dress Ivy, Roger Thornil/Cary Grant not dress Ivy I not remember Ivy in Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies.
    Frank Sinatra,Peter Lawford,Jerry Lewis Tony Curtis,Bobby Darin, Dean Martin,President Kennedy…are not in Ivy League clothes.
    All these peoples wear in middle atlantic style: Natural shoulders,two or three buttons,darted coats,often pleats to trousers (at least until 1963).”

    …and often in suits without rear vent.

  10. J.I. Rodale | May 30, 2014 at 10:50 pm |

    Fortunately, I have grown up since my college days in the 1960s and have come to realize that two-button jackets look far more dignified than three-button jackets with that weird turned over top button, that pleated trousers are far more elegant than flat-fronted ones, that black weejuns look better with gray flannels than oxblood ones do, and that personal style that derives from ivy is far more important than mindless adherence to ivy rules. (Yes, I have my jackets tailored, so that I can have them undarted, but with natural shoulders and two buttons). I still stick to tweed jackets, navy blazers, gray flannels, OCBDS, and reppe ties.

  11. Pluperfect | May 30, 2014 at 10:53 pm |

    That photo reminded me of how grotesquely large the collars were at the time.

  12. To Worried Man’s point – in addition to “Leave it to Beaver,” “Father Knows Best” is great for suburban teenage attire as son Bud was suppose to be a typical teenage boy. All from memory, but he was very Ivy / Trad – flat front khakis (sometime with buckle back), jeans with rolled up cuffs and natural high waists, button down shirts, knit ties, sack-style sport coats, cardigans, baseball jackets and more. While this might have been distorted by 1950s TV versus the real world of the 1950s, all other sartorial evidence argues that it was closer to the mark than the movies made in the 80s and 90s portraying the 50s.

  13. The dance scene in American Graffiti was filmed in the boys’ gym at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley.

  14. One buttondown collar does not an Ivy make.
    Many of us chose Ivy League style as a reaction against such creeps.

  15. Alden Pyle | June 1, 2014 at 10:43 pm |

    In the Life magazine archive, there is a pretty good collection of photos of a fraternity house at the University of Illinois in 1957. That would correspond pretty closely with the social group that the brothers in “the Abbots” belonged to at that particular point of time.

    Those photos seemed to contain a mix of Americana and what might have been called Ivy. Tweed and flannels and khaki abound, argyle socks are worn with loafers, saddles and wingtips. Still, the cut of most of the jackets isn’t strictly Brooks Brothers, shoulders remain wide and pleats are common. The pointy collared sport shirt seems particularly common. These guys would be identifiably collegiate, compared to Phoenix’s rockabilly get-up (which I gather was got up to look intentionally outlandish) without necessarily looking exactly like they shopped at J.Press.

  16. The Big Bopper | June 5, 2014 at 9:59 am |

    The look very much reminds me of Myron Lee and the Caddies. A real crossover of rock n roll and collegiate style.

    http://www.redpowermagazine.com/forums/uploads/monthly_12_2013/post-51479-0-31668200-1387218247.jpg

  17. The point to take fron that is that the “collegiate” look really WAS Ivy League. It really did not dominate outside the northeast, and indeed, before the 50s was pretty much a non-starter in the rest of the country.

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