Golden Years: The Ivy Look, a Dispatch from Dartmouth, 1955

In his previous columns, Richard Press has shared his memories of the Ivy heyday and his decades at J. Press. This time he shares something he wrote in 1955 while a freshman at Dartmouth. It has the triple importance of being authored at an Ivy League college by a family member of one of the preeminent Ivy clothiers and written at the dawn of the heyday.

Entitled “The Ivy Look,” the article appeared in DART, the school’s humor magazine, and was co-authored with Art Zich, who later became a foreign correspondent for Time-Life and associate editor of Newsweek.

Pictured above is the original artwork that accompanied the story.

* * *

“Who is that fellow in the Ivy League suit?” It’s being whispered on campuses everywhere and not without reason. With the resurgence to conservative dress, people are finding it difficult to tell one friend from another. What’s more, it’s getting so that people can’t even tell themselves from each other. The social implications of this situation are obvious when one considers brushing your teeth, or borrowing a necktie from someone, who, when you return it, turns out to be yourself.

The problem is not a new one, however, as members of the turn-of-century classes will admit once they have admitted they are members of the turn-of-the-century classes. The well-known “Ivy Look” had its beginnings at New Haven in the days when McKinley was president, starting the day McKinley was shot. Students usually purchased their clothing from small, modest shops, and for this reason “Ivy Look” tailors made little or nothing. Gradually, however, there emerged the distinctive, sophisticated attire of the Ivy Leaguer (in many ways similar to the Texas Leaguer, the Bush Leaguer, and the Real Eager but much more distinctive, of course).

The most popular outfit in those days was the custom-tailored suit, so-called because it was the custom to tailor the suit so you couldn’t afford it. The custom-tailored-suit gave way to the ready-made-suit, which in turn gave way, but could be held together with safety-pins. Other popular “Ivy League” numbers are the Summer (summer expensive and summer cheap), the Gasuit (to be worn by people with head colds), and the bridal suite (ten dollars night and breakfast in bed with coffee and rolls).

The first important change in the manner of “Ivy Look” dress after 1900 was the arrival of the “odd jacket” or sports coat, worn with “slacks” so called because of the condition of your wallet after purchasing. The “sport coat” is named after the good sports who were the first to wear it; they were later stoned to death. Today it is not uncommon to see Madison Avenue executives in the same campus tweeds that were popular during their own college days.

There are arguments concerning just what constitutes the “Ivy Look.” The originators are specific. Conversely, the specifiers are original. Carefully nurtured peak is the rule. The coat of the true gentleman must consist of unpadded shoulders, padded wallet, three button notch high lapels, and deep hooks and vents to let in hot and cold air. The back-strap on the trouser back is preferred being superior to the back-strap on the trouser front. The belt should be worn as high as possible, leaving none of the trouser visible above the belt line, let alone the person inside of them. Sox should be supported by garters, while garters should be supported by muscular calves. If muscular calves are not available any form of livestock will do just as well. Shoes should be of sturdy English cut, heavy enough to keep feet out of elements and fast enough to keep the wearer out of reach of the creditors.

Only a few varieties of shirts are permissible, and naturally, those with sleeves are preferred. The rule for college-correctness dictates button-down, round, or English tab. When confronted with the tab, it is always smarter to allow the other fellow to pick it up. The button-down demands a button on the back and pleated backs are mandatory. The wearer who has a pleated back to begin with is thus ahead of the game. The prescribed daytime shirt color is blue on Oxford, bowling on the Green, and drinks on the house. White is proper for evening wear, unless you are spending the evening in the tub.

There is a wide choice in the selection of ties. Although some Ivy Leaguers look down on on challis, a good many challis look down on Ivy Leaguers also. The exquisite foulard is always permissible, coming as it does from the French word which means “artistic fool.” It goes without saying that the hard and fast rule of the Ivy Leaguer is his insistence on the four-in-hand knot. A Windsor knot, according to our sources, is strictly gauche, and should only be worn by gauchos.

Dark colored suits are the usual rule, but a clever blend of light and dark coupled with the right tie and a sheepish grin can often lend the needed sophistication, creating the illusion of correctness. When one feels he is correct enough, he may hand himself in to be marked. Brown is still the most stable color in sport coats, and also in stables.

The cloth put into the finest of the Ivy League suits is invariably imported from the British Isles. Recently the trend has been toward the importing of the British Isles. The cloth is usually produced on the antique spinning wheel of a Scotsman whose ancestors have been weaving for generations as a result of producing antique Scotch.

The “Ivy Look” will be seen throughout the East this fall. The question remains: “Who is the man in the Ivy League suit?” It’s his roommate from Exeter. — RICHARD PRESS & ART ZICH

20 Comments on "Golden Years: The Ivy Look, a Dispatch from Dartmouth, 1955"

  1. As much as i enjoy reading anything Richard contributes, this bit suffers from an affliction common to freshman writing:
    the piece seems to be more about the author trying to draw attention to himself, rather than the topic at hand.

  2. Very cute. Nice work for a freshman. Captures the time and place very nicely as well. Richard has a nice feel for the language as well as for nice tweeds.

    Thanks to Richard for writing it and to Christian for sharing it with us.

  3. I think it’s quite clever. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. @J.Ivy
    No freshman today could possibly write that well.

  5. It’s quite a funny article.


    Ivy Style = American children inthe ’50s mimicking English dress from the ’30s, taking to comedy lengths, and then making up a faux history to explain it.

  6. Christian | July 15, 2011 at 1:59 pm |

    Sounds accurate.

  7. I don’t know about “fake history”.
    I would have to see examples.

  8. @Hans

    Sounds like a snide jealous opinion from a different country.

    I can assure you that no one in my family had any Anglophilia or “fake history”. Quite the opposite.

  9. an incredibly fun read.

  10. What is a Texas Leaguer, Bush Leaguer and Real Eager? Ive looked all these up and cant find what it means.

  11. Dutch Uncle | July 17, 2011 at 9:37 am |


    I hope you’re kidding and that this isn’t representative of the level of cultural literacy of readers of this blog.

  12. A “Bush Leaguer” is a synonym for a Teabagger.
    Richard had a crystal ball.

  13. Delightful. Love the punning.

  14. J. Ivy denigrates people whose views he disagrees with by using a pornographic insult.

    Never would have seen that coming.

    It’s the “Tea Party.” People who participate are often called “Tea Partiers.” Is that so difficult?

    Also, the Tea Party movement didn’t start until around 2009, after Bush left office, and many participants were opposed to Bush’s economic policies. So your clever definition is not so clever after all.

  15. @Henry

    wow…. who would have EVER guessed that Henry was a Teabagger? Everyone could see that one coming.

    Actually Henry, they DID call themselves Teabaggers in the beginning, before they found out the other hilarious connotations. It’s pretty well documented on video for all posterity.

    Teabaggers are just Republicans who were/are too embarrassed to be affiliated with the GOP after the utter disaster that was the Bush administration. And you KNOW that. Everyone knows that.

    So, my clever definition is spot on. Which is why you’re so pissed off.

  16. @Henry

    When the rightwing stops saying things like “Obamacare”, “Death Panels”, “DemoCRAT Party”, “Job Creators”, etc. etc etc… etc…then I’ll consider not saying “Teabaggers”.

  17. J.,

    Didn’t you ever learn that two wrongs don’t make a right?

    And you are wrong. Again. As usual.

    Incidentally, I have no affiliation whatsoever with the Tea Party, nor with the Republican Party.

    You listed terms you dislike. Unlike the term you used for Tea Partiers, not one of them is vulgar or offensive on its face. Giving one’s opponents unflattering labels is a longstanding tradition, and I see no problem with continuing it. However, I am just as opposed to obnoxious terms like “Dummycrap” for “Democrat” as I am to the disgusting alternative to “Tea Partier.”

    Finally, would you be so kind as to point out the part(s) in my most recent post that indicate my being upset? If there’s any emoting going on, it seems to be in your posts.

  18. @Henry

    Sorry to disappoint you, but “Teabagger” in the political sense is now a genuine legitimate term whether you like it or not. Just because the naive simpletons in the Tea Party didn’t realize the other connotations until after they became a national laughingstock, doesn’t change the fact that they actually DID call themselves that.

    And now we all call them that.

    I’m aware that Tea supposedly stood for “Taxed Enough Already”, but these pinheads aren’t even aware that taxes are the lowest that they have been in 50-60 years!

    Here is the difference Henry: those other terms I mentioned are deliberate rightwing attempts to lie, deceive, belittle or irritate. They serve no other purpose whatsoever. Turning their own words back on them in their own game is fairplay.

  19. @Henry

    How many times are you going to keep embarrassing yourself like this?

  20. @J.Ivy

    Some of the fake history is here in this article. Personally I think America once counted among the best dressed nations in the world, and the so-called ‘Ivy League’ was part of it, but not the exaggerated comedy fancy-dress version. Especially the manufactured rebirth of it dressed up like barbershop quartets.

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