Don’t Sweat It?

In Thursday’s post about Brooks Brothers, some readers expressed horror at the pairing of tailored clothing with sweatpants. While I certainly made fun of the forced nonchalance of adding a pocket square to the mix, combining athletic wear with jackets and trousers gets to the very heart of how college men revolutionized the way the world dresses throughout the 20th century, as recounted in our recent posts about the work of professor Dierdre Clemente.

A gray sweatshirt worn with khakis and an OCBD is the main outfit in the 1956  prep school movie “Tea And Sympathy.” I can also visualize sweatshirts in the prep school movies “School Ties” and “Dead Poets Society,” and I’m sure they’re paired with tweed jackets, peacoats, or at least khakis and OCBDs at some point.

In contrast to the Brooks outfit, here are some marketing images from Ralph Lauren, which from the ’70s up through the Rugby years in the early 2000s has always juxtaposed traditional sports wear (flannels, tweeds, sweaters) with athletic wear.

An intrinsic part of Ivy/prep dressing, or sartorial sacrilege? I suppose it depends on whether or not you like working out.

Thanks to GS for assistance in image research. — CC

26 Comments on "Don’t Sweat It?"

  1. Caustic Man | July 16, 2017 at 12:59 pm |

    I do a sweatshirt with khakis and OCBD all the time in the Fall and Winter. I don’t think there is anything wrong with mixing the two kinds of clothing. Of course, it takes some effort to look unconsidered (ironically) so it can certainly go wrong. I have no rules or guidelines to impart on the issue, just a feeling, or a hunch, about how it should look.

  2. Well, I think the sweatshirt is a whole lot less casual than the sweatpants. However, it’s probably because we’ve seen it so many times that it seems more ‘appropriate’ to wear. I’ve yet to see a vintage photo of a man in sweatpants with Ivy garb. Perhaps that would change our tune.

    Also, “An* intrinsic part…”

  3. If the combination is something you literally threw on going from practice to meet friends, with little time to spare, that’s at least marginally acceptable.

    If you took the time to make up an “outfit” like that, it looks like you’re trying to prove you’re a jock.

  4. G. Bruce Boyer | July 16, 2017 at 3:55 pm |

    I wouldn’t want to defend either Brooks Brothers or Polo these days, but it’s almost too obvious to say that Ralph Lauren knows what men will wear much better than his critics do.

  5. Did you ever see anybody on the street dressed like that? Other than the khakis,ocbd,and sweatshirt I never have. Costume.

    • Caustic Man | July 16, 2017 at 6:09 pm |

      The implication is that the people who would wear that wouldn’t be on “the street.” Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. But I wouldn’t take what the public wears as any indication of the effectiveness of the add.

  6. Mitchell S. | July 16, 2017 at 7:26 pm |

    I think Polo is trying to be like blue-blooded Anglophiles in the Stewards Enclosure. Tradition dictates that past winners in the Henley regatta never wash their blazers. I imagine the smell must be awful! All advertising these days is aimed to shock.

    I was shocked when I was in Harvard Square a few weeks ago and saw guys in sweatpants and blazers on their way to class. Atrocious and disrespectful, even if Ralph Lauren features the look in their ads.

    Now that Brooks features the look in their ads, I’m not going back to them.

  7. Mitchell, they were wearing blazers????

  8. Mitchell S. | July 16, 2017 at 7:57 pm |

    Yes, and plaid sport coats like they have at J. Press with stained sweatpants. I was aghast! They seem to like the “homeless teen in Harvard Square look, complete with scruffy beard” look. I bullsh#t you not!

  9. I think they should be applauded for wearing sport coats like they have at J. Press.

  10. Mitchell S. | July 16, 2017 at 8:41 pm |

    Christian, I found this thread on Quora titled “Are Harvard students tolerant of those who wear sweatpants?”. The consensus among Harvard, Princeton, and Caltech students is that yes, sweatpants are the new khaki-a uniform for going to class, working out, and socializing:

  11. Ah, but are they tolerant of dissenting views?

  12. I have to confess to wearing a well-loved OCBD with BB sweatpants and a cotton crewneck sweater on some longer haul flights. All of this with a sports jacket or blazer. It’s a combination that draws some looks at times and is certainly not one I would wear when not traveling.

  13. Given the general style of the masses, I’m thankful for those, especially the youth, who try to upscale their appearance.Most of us, at various times in our lives, and certainly during the earlier times, dressed out of emulation rather than a natural understanding or desire for a style (ivy or otherwise). If the option is between these bewildering choices and not wearing a jacket, yielding the grungy sweatpants and holey t-shirts look, then I for one am glad that some of the youth are electing the former.

    The reality is, we live in a considerably more casual and relaxed world… a trend that is very unlikely to ever reverse. If these kinds of images help to bridge the gap between the formal and the casual, and set an example that you can dress up an otherwise casual outfit and that it’s okay even to do so, then keep them coming…. leave it to the historians to determine whether Ralph, BB, J. Press, and the like have contributed to the decline or are helping to claw back from the sartorial abyss.

  14. whiskeydent | July 16, 2017 at 10:22 pm |

    I never found RL’s smug-stupidly-handsome-idle-rich model aesthetic particularly attractive. To my eye, these guys don’t build businesses, fight wars, oppose injustice, create great art, or explore the world. They make another G & T and try to decide whether to buy that RL jacket with the stolen military unit patches.

    Oh damn, I dropped another lighted match in the gas…

  15. Priti Manek | July 17, 2017 at 11:20 am |

    Did you all know that people were terribly upset when powdered wigs were no longer the fashion? It’s true. Shocked and chagrined, many despised those who dared to wear their hair au natural. The so-called sartorially sophisticated of the day viewed natural hair wearers as “dirty” “just something dumb that the masses would do”, “probably homeless and certainly looking like it”, “uncaring – how could they go out like that!”, and “deplorable”. It was the most important issue of the day. It took generations before regular hair was fully acceptable.

    I suppose it is too bad sweatpants and other vestiary calamities weren’t around then. We’d might be over it by now, though probably not.

  16. @whiskeydent: but “smug-stupidly-handsome-idle-rich” moves a lot of merch. Always has; always will.

  17. Vern Trotter | July 17, 2017 at 12:23 pm |

    Sweatpants on non-athletes remind of culottes worn by the French upper class as they dealt with the mobs of “sans-culottes” fighting their ancien regime during the French Revolution. Sweatpants often are difficult to keep up if you wear them outside their natural habitat, the gym, where it doesn’t matter. I recall Plaxico Burress had a revolver in the waistband of his and shot himself in the leg as they fell down to his ankles.

    Sweatshirts, on the other hand, can look nice on Saturday mornings or very informal settings, especially if from one’s favorite places: Northeast Harbor, Sea Island, Vail, branch of service, university. Be careful wearing a hoodie in NYC where they can still result in one being stopped and frisked.

  18. Willard Straight | July 17, 2017 at 1:24 pm |

    Vern Trotter,

    Re:”Be careful wearing a hoodie in NYC where they can still result in one being stopped and frisked.”

    With due cause.

  19. rvpress59 | July 17, 2017 at 2:42 pm |

    When the idle poor become the idle rich, you’ll never know who is who or who is which.

  20. whiskeydent | July 17, 2017 at 4:14 pm |

    I have noticed that the marketplace and me are often at odds.

  21. Whiskeydent

    You are not alone. The marketplace and I are also often at odds.

  22. We humans have developed all sorts of methods for keeping score–some of them less than savory. It’s just what we do–compare/contrast ourselves with others. I do not judge. Here I merely observe.

    On the one hand, what could be more vulgar than a logo sewn onto the chest of a shirt? What’s the point of that (it doesn’t improve the durability or comfort of the shirt, after all) if not to advertise one’s place in some sort of contrived pecking order? Not much. What’s the point of an ornament on the hood of a car? Does it advance the performance or reliability of the car? Of course not. It sends signals. “This is a Mercedes…BMW…Porsche…” Fill in the blank.

    Ralph Lauren’s genius coincided with an era–the 70s, 80s, 90s–that was perfectly suited for the polo pony/player logo. The comic aspect of the brand borders on ridiculous: middle-class suburbanites who have never stood within 100 feet of a polo field buy gobs of the stuff (at the local outlet store). Again, genius.

    Some will look back upon that era with a sigh of disgust. And maybe it’s true the gaudy, the overdone, and the garish thrived. Did it set the stage for catastrophes that followed? Who knows.

    Ah, this vale of tears. What we do to create a self. Sorry for going all existential, but let’s be honest: “Ivy” as a style wouldn’t have grown wings without the vigorous aspirations of men who, well, wanted more.

  23. whiskeydent | July 18, 2017 at 10:18 am |

    H. Korn

    Thank you for the artful grammar corrections.

  24. Many stores, especially gas stations, here in St. Louis will not allow a person to enter if they are wearing a hoodie with the hood up. No backpacks either. It has nothing to do with slovenly fashion, of course, we just happen to be prone to considerable crime. Many of the gents in the above photos appear to be the idle rich-ish, but in St. Louis they are just another potential criminal, regardless of gigantic logos or whatever arrangement of oars. Somewhat sad, really, because many of the above outfits look comfortable to wear…around the house or campus. However, Ralph Lauren’s idea of adding a houndstooth or tweed jacket (in the bw photos) is a bit out there: the fit would be tight and constricting if worn with sweats or loose and sloppy if worn without a sweater underneath.

  25. Jonathan Sanders | August 2, 2017 at 10:46 am |

    Rolling out of bed on a Autumn Saturday morning in Greenwich Village or Back Bay to go down to your local coffee/bagel/danish place and to buy a newspaper while you walk the dog. Your sports jacket is your man purse. But now you have your Keurig coffee maker and the newspaper is on line, there’s no need to leave the house.

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