Frat Pack

College fraternities of the past offered male bonding in a stylish setting. The photo above, plus the two below, are from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, 1949.

Dig Joe College here in newsboy cap and varsity sweater:

The chap in the bottom center providing the smoky atmosphere reminds us that for 400 years it was completely normal for a young man to puff a pipe. For the past 40 years, its connotations have been entirely geriatric. The pipe hasn’t changed, but we have:

A recent grad at his first job interview? Nope, just a typical student pledging a fraternity. A different era indeed. The next two are from the University of Illinois, 1956:

Here we have a fraternity brother practicing for field sobriety tests while proving that if you’re young and athletic you look good in anything. Talk about minimalism: Three solids, all conservative wardrobe basics. The twist? — a pair of white bucks. If you’re going to wear white bucks in 2009, this is the way to do it. If you’re going to wear white bucks with a seersucker suit and bow tie, then you’d better have a horse in the Kentucky Derby.

Finally, here are some frat boys from the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, 1940. Check out the pipe and saddle shoes on the chap on the left. Sort of Bertrand Russell meets Andy Hardy:

The school’s juniors and seniors were required to wear gowns in class and chapel. —CC

Photos from the LIFE Magazine archives. 

23 Comments on "Frat Pack"

  1. Considering how college students dress today, I shudder to think what they’ll be wearing a decade from now.

  2. College_Student | January 7, 2009 at 7:36 pm |

    For the record, many fraternity students in the south still dress in much the same fashion, if not everyday, then at the very least on football game days.

    Repp ties (albeit as of late there are quite a few Vineyard Vines ties being worn as well), oxford button-downs, seersucker, chinos, and even blazers are all customary on game days at schools such as Vanderbilt, the University of Virginia, and University of Georgia.

  3. I’ll tell you what, it’s not so in the South of California. When I attended USC I was looked at as if I had three heads when I wore my cardinal and gold repp tie to football games.

  4. Please do not include UGA with the likes of UVA. As for Vanderbilt, the once-revered southern gentlemen is near extinct.

  5. East Coast prep style trumps West Coast. The traditional classic wardrobe is laughed upon in the WC, even Stanford. I adore EC style.

  6. Mom on the Run | January 16, 2009 at 1:23 pm |

    My daughter has friends who attend Sewanee, and they are still required to dress up for class–the girls have to wear skirts unless the temperature dips. They still have gowns, too, I believe for upperclassmen.

  7. College_Student | January 16, 2009 at 5:50 pm |

    “Please do not include UGA with the likes of UVA. As for Vanderbilt, the once-revered southern gentlemen is near extinct.”

    Just curious, but do you attend/did you attend UVA or Vandy?

  8. I may start smoking a pipe now…

  9. I attended UVA and yes, the majority of us still dress up for football games. The Girls look georgeous in sundresses, the guys look distinguished in our seersucker, oxfords, blue/orange repp ties, and khakis. There are drinks abound during the pregames, and plenty of imbibed cheering w/friends during the games. It’s a tradition here we have maintained for awhile. Southern prep does indeed live on.

  10. Arthur McIlwaine | December 3, 2016 at 3:26 pm |

    Even Uni of Kentucky, while arguably not geographically southern, certainly has the southern reverence and elegance in many respects. Many girls (if well-bred) wear skirts to class and men, button downs. No one wears ties, of course, save for classes in which you’re giving a presentation that day.

    All in all, sweaters, button downs, skirts, and khakis are the accoutrement of the student body found at UK, even these days.

  11. Regarding first comment from OldSchool:

    Well, it’s officially a decade from now.

  12. Sagging diapers cannot be far off (for undergrads as well as the general population).

    Best Regards,

  13. “The school’s juniors and seniors were required to wear gowns in class and chapel.” Those gowns signify the highest level of academic achievement at Sewanee. Membership in the Order of the Gown [est. 1873] is an earned honor – not a dress requirement.

  14. Charlottesville | February 1, 2019 at 2:48 pm |

    No bucks with seersucker? Looks like I am once again on the wrong side of history, at least in summer.

    From what I have heard and seen, Sewannee deserves its reputation for a sharply dressed student body. Blazers, khakis, OCBDs and repp (or Vineyard Vines) ties are still fairly common around UVA, but not like they were a few decades back, and certainly not in the classrooms. Penney loafers, camp mocs, topsiders and Bean boots are still to be seen as well, although a lot of students wear sneakers, even with blazers. I think the same is true at Washington & Lee, or was fairly recently.
    Sadly most (but not all) students dress like slobs most (but not all) of the time, as indeed I did in my school days, and as practically everybody in the country does now. The upside, I suppose, is the pleasant surprise we get when we see a young man who is well dressed.

  15. CC, it’s just over a decade and, reporting live from a college in the Northeast, the kids still aren’t well dressed for the most part. However, I don’t think that we’ve gotten much worse. Plenty of prep where I am. The ones who know better wear khakis but with t-shirts on most days, and that’s dressing up compared to the non-preps’ garb. Blazers and ties for special events, too.

  16. Old School Tie | February 1, 2019 at 5:34 pm |

    Those pictures nearly always look off, particularly the interior shots, because of the stark lighting that is used with those razor sharp shadows everywhere. By and large they are technically awful photographs even if the subject matter is quite charming. And the chap with the white bucks looks great because trousers ought to have pleats….

  17. I am with Charlottesville on white bucks with seersucker. I used to wear that with silk shantung ties in the summer while pounding the pavement selling magazine advertising in NYC in the 1980s. The cotton suit helped with the heat and humidity and rubber soled bucks are easy on the feet.

  18. john carlos | February 1, 2019 at 9:16 pm |

    Charlottesville, I believe you are on the right side of history.

  19. Christian,
    My shuddering, a decade ago, was obviously well-justified.

  20. With the temperatures supposed to rise into the mid 30s for a few hours tomorrow, after several days in the freezer, my thoughts are naturally turning to Spring. This discussion of white bucks is reminding me that I haven’t worn my navy blue bucks in a couple of years. I don’t think I’ve even seen them in a while. I have a general idea of where they are – hidden away in the little bags they live in. I’ll have to remember to dig those out in a few weeks.

    The navy blue bucks are a nice item to have – the only drawback to wearing them is that I get the old Carl Perkins rockabilly chestnut “Blue Suede Shoes” stuck in my head all day. Perfectly good song, of course, but an annoying earworm to be stuck with.

  21. Greg Parker Winston | February 2, 2019 at 4:24 am |

    Old School Tie:
    I find those old analog photos to be particularly charming because of the stark lighting and the razor sharp shadows.
    Who needs digitalized photography and photoshopped images?

  22. Old School Tie | February 2, 2019 at 11:12 am |

    Greg Parker: they ARE charming, of course, at least the subjects are, but there are lots of wonderful images from that era with beautiful natural lighting that hit the mark perfectly.
    Lighting is very evocative, so here is a question for you all – I find that the light in photographs really gives you an idea of when those pictures were taken. In terms of published material such as advertisements, I personally find this effect noticeable. In particular I have a theory about 1980s RL ads and many movies from the same era – it seems to me that everything from the mid-80s has this sunset tinge to it, all those RL pictures of Buzzy Kerbox and the like. Before then the light was colder, more bluish. By the end of the 80s it seemed to have returned to this state. Does anyone know if this mid-80s effect was caused by Mount St. Helens dust in the atmosphere? Our family photos display the same effect.

  23. Trevor Jones | February 2, 2019 at 12:53 pm |

    Just curious, where do you teach?

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