Dr. Claire-Marie Brisson Talks Ivy, Zoë Talks Ducks, And A Few Other Notes

Dr. Claire-Marie Brisson

Dr. Claire-Marie Brisson is a faculty member in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University. She resides in Cambridge, MA and is originally from Metro Detroit. A foodie and oenophile, Dr. Brisson recognizes that a life well-lived combines aesthetics, form, function, and (of course) food.

It’s often been said that Ivy is a fashion that develops from a life lived thoughtfully – a lifestyle that combines hard work and tradition with an appreciation for aesthetics. Put simply, to be Ivy is to strive for continuous self-amelioration, stitching together education, mindfulness, and excellence.

Dressing well is not at all a past tense, yet fast fashion trends have dominated the world of women’s fashion for generations, reducing the quality of materials used and thought that has gone into the process. Combined with the garish collection of prints and metallics cut into clothes destined for a short lifespan, classic outfitters like Brooks Brothers, J. McLaughlin, or Ralph Lauren stand as safe havens in a sea of fad fashion.

I am often told that I dress with an eye for the mid-century. I usually reply that I have an affinity for the past, but I’m bringing that to the present. I’m dressing for now, because Ivy style is timeless. Women’s Ivy is anchored to an attention to form and function, and women can find it through traditional staples used in menswear just as in womenswear – Oxford shirts, loafers, or blazers – and should feel free to combine them with other pieces of womenswear. Classic cut dresses and skirts enrich the sartorial palate of women’s Ivy.

As a young academic, it is inspiring to see the scope and reach of Ivy style. It is a reminder that academic environments are transformative in multiple aspects of life, fashion not at all excluded. It is exciting to see the emergent voices of women interested in developing a more vibrant community on sites like these and via social media. These connections have already demonstrated three important facts: Ivy style is alive and well, Ivy style is more than just a pair of trousers or a Harris Tweed suit, and Ivy style is for everyone.


Drake’s Duck, original illustration by
Zoë G. Burnett

The holidays are a fraught season for many reasons, not least of which is the etiquette that surrounds the “season of giving” part. It’s sometimes difficult to gauge social and even familial relationships as to whether or not they warrant the exchange of gifts, and then, how big or small the gift should be. There’s also how much one should spend on a gift with consideration of how much can be spent. It might then present an awkward situation if one has incorrectly assessed a relationship in any of the ways previously mentioned, and the receiver has nothing to give in return. Furthermore, there are the people in one’s life who just aren’t that into stuff. It can all be very confusing. 

Friends, our troubles for this season may be over. While browsing Drake’s ‘Festive’ section, I was surprised and not a little amused to find the Orange Casentino Wool Duck. Among the luxurious knitwear and intricately patterned scarves for which the brand is so well known, the duck seems out of place. Its bright orange color isn’t so jarring next to vermilion lambswool cardigans and egg yolk Shetland jumpers, yet the duck’s comical roundness seems out of step with the usual elegance of Drake’s collection. It’s certainly the most huggable item I’ve ever seen the brand produce. “Call it an objet d’art, call it a paperweight…” I call it an unexpected fix to many of our last minute gift-giving anxieties. 

Ducks are an established motif, canonized by The Official Preppy Handbook and seen in most of our parents’ homes on one decorative surface or the next. The Drake’s duck is a worthy addition, doesn’t take up too much space, and is certainly a conversation piece. Indeed, it completely refutes the idea that gifts should have any practical use whatsoever. Made in England from the bouclé Casentino wool that Drake’s sources in Arezzo for its outerwear, the duck should age well as long as the dog doesn’t get to it. At $85 it’s one of the least expensive products on the website, yet still a respectable sum for an in-law gift or better, for the friend who always just buys what they want and leaves few gift options. Surprise them, I doubt they’ll be expecting the duck.


And finally, a few things from me.  In no particular order:

(1) Tom was nice enough to forward me an article from Mr Magazine that summarized the findings of Stitch Fix’s Inaugural Style Forecast.  This is what happens when we ask people who just bought denim from us if they think jeans are back on trend.   I was alarmed at the report.  Usual suspects:  Nearly one-third (31%) of consumers say they would rather take a 10% pay cut than dress up for work every day. Nearly 4 in 5 Americans (77%) have sworn off at least some business clothes for good, with nearly half (45%) of people dying to ditch business suits and a third (31%) wanting to ditch dress pants.  Until I got to this: Over half (51%) of Boomers say they will never wear a business suit again.   There is no way.  Thankfully, the researchers at Stitch Fix (here’s an SAT question for you – Researcher is to Stitch Fix what Dog Walker is to ________ (answer: Veterinarian) have provided us with their Methodology.  I’m not kidding, like a real white paper.  It’s cute.  In it they reveal that they surveyed their Athleisure-based customer base who, wait for it, said they were going to wear Athleisure.  Oh, and TikTok influencers.  FOR BOOMERS.  … Well, maybe that does make sense.  If you are a Boomer on TikTok, you probably are wearing Athleisure.

(2) A few of you sent me the article about”Why Don’t Iranian Men Wear Neckties?” so


“The directive having come from the Commander, I gave it its due attention.”

I took a look.  I did not know that ties were banned in Iran in 1979.   While things have loosened up with regard to ties there, it still appears that ties in Iran are like marijuana in 2018.  You can have it, you just can’t sell it.

(3)  You were also kind enough to send me an article from the WSJ about How ‘Succession’ Stoked a Frenzy for Status Baseball Caps.  The article cites Loro Piana baseball caps, that go for around $600.

If I have done the math right, that is $1,200 in cashmere ball caps. All that money just to miss the point.

Ball caps are Ivy, clearly, whether worn backwards or not.  I have a draft of an article sitting here that I am going to finish about how one ages in to, out of, and then back in to prep.  I think too there is a window for a backwards ball cap.  It not the biggest window in the house.  It does not open very far.  It is the window in the powder room.   There is, however, NO window for a $600 ball cap.  Ever.

I would have blurred the A&M but I didn’t go there so…
  • JB

19 Comments on "Dr. Claire-Marie Brisson Talks Ivy, Zoë Talks Ducks, And A Few Other Notes"

  1. Another interesting string to pull when the prep website comes out is how/ why Prep has seen so many “cash grabs” while Ivy’s seen comparatively few. Maybe some of that is due to the fact that tailored clothing is harder to quickly monetize than casual, but there are certainly plenty of folks in the prep-adjacent #menswear field pushing expensive ballcaps and champion sweaters, etc – thinking of FEC here as well as 18th amendment with the ballcaps.

    That IS interesting. I think that Ivy does not allow much by way of trend, while Prep may very well have some room for trend in there. – JB

  2. Did you hear about the Aggie who hijacked a submarine? He demanded a million bucks and a parachute.

  3. Would you believe that Dr. Brisson’s name rings a bell? Can’t remember where I’ve come across her thinking (about other things) before, of course, but there we are. She certainly exhibits an admirable mindset.

    Kind Regards,


  4. Why can’t they make ice cubes at Texas A&M? They lost the recipe.



  5. It’s great to hear from a current academic (at Harvard no less) who is a young proponent of the value of enduring style and substance. Dr. Brisson’s commentary is reassuring. I don’t know about Harvard, but when I think of the kinds of things one usually sees worn at universities, it’s mostly pajamas and athleisure (are those the same thing?). Adidas slides are often involved. It’s great to see a young professor set a much higher example.
    Zoë’s insights about holiday gift-giving are very relatable. I have a hard time knowing what to get, so I’m trying to pay more attention through the year and pick up something as a gift for someone when I see it and think of them, rather than scramble anxiously in November and December for something they might like. (Of course, this year, like any, I still have a few gifts to scramble for.) The orange duck from Drake’s is a hoot.
    …And the A&M jokes gave me a laugh.

  6. As an alum of the University of Texas at Austin, I can never get enough of the Aggie jokes. When my wife and I met at UT she always remarked how I “got dressed up for class.” Bearing in mind this was the heyday of grunge(90s)it didn’t take much. I usually just wore a polo shirt with flat front chinos and sperrys. I always had a navy blazer on hand for any meaningful event. My professors at the time always wore ties and jackets for the most part.

  7. I had to lookup the word oenophile. As a bourbon drinker, I appreciate language and words. They facilitate the ability to express agreement to the question, “Would you like another Makers?”

    Here, here to learning!!

  8. Baseball caps on backward came — fifty years ago — from WHITE construction workers (ALL were white in those days) who didn’t/wouldn’t wear a neck drape nor SPF sunscreen (which didn’t exist then), but DID turn their baseball cap around backward to protect from sunburn, aka “rednecks.”

  9. I am finding that I appreciate this blog more with each passing day! Thank you for the thoughtful, well penned articles sprinkled with clever wit.

  10. JB,
    It seems to me that the real question is “Why Don’t American Men Wear Neckties?”

    You make a good point. – JB

  11. Old Bostonian | December 17, 2021 at 12:22 am |


    It’s “Hear, Hear” not “Here, Here”.

    One of the few things I learned at college.

  12. Here’s a vote for more from the good Doctor, and from Zoë as well.

  13. Did you hear they found a skeleton in a storage room on the A&M campus? Turns out he was the 1958 hide and seek champion.

  14. James A Bandy | December 17, 2021 at 8:34 pm |

    The slovenly appearance of a great majority of the public is disgraceful.

  15. Minimalist Trad | December 18, 2021 at 9:55 pm |


  16. Many western religious clerics also discourage the wearing of suits and neckties. Are they aware that in the Islamic Republic of Iran, “Neckties – and bowties – were said to be decadent, un-Islamic and viewed as “symbols of the Cross” and the oppressive West”? Do they seek to enforce a more pietistic asceticism? On the other hand, maybe they just do not know how to tie a necktie? Perhaps they, too, view it as a symbol of decadence and oppression. I have a hunch many of them are much more liberal concerning marijuana. The times, they are a changin’.

  17. Old Bostonian | December 20, 2021 at 11:25 am |

    Changin’ for the worse,I daresay.

  18. Did you hear about the small, since-engine plane that crashed into the Texas A&M cemetery? So far, the Aggies have recovered 257 bodies.

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