Last week I spoke at “the dear old Temple Bar we love so well.”
Mory’s, founded in 1863, moved from “the place where Louis dwelled” of “Whiffenpoof Song” fame to its currently shabby chic colonial quarters on York Street in 1912. Originally a private club, townies were never allowed on the premises unless they were employees. One of them, Carl, was a famously surly waiter for whom my dad provided gratis wardrobes to steer his Mory’s clientele to J. Press.
Here’s a fable from the heyday: Bill DeVane, venerable dean at Yale, was at a booth when Carl approached the table, threw a menu down and stood glaring. DeVane noticed Carl was scratching his behind. “Do you have hemorrhoids, Carl?” the dean asked. “If it ain’t on the menu,” Carl snapped, “we ain’t got it.”
Growing up in a college town is priceless, whether it’s Berkeley, Charlottesville, South Bend or Princeton. You can never say, “Goodbye Columbus.”
In the 1940s, New Haven classmates at my public elementary school came from surrounding Irish, Italian and Jewish neighborhoods. I never had a WASP peer until my parents sent me to private school. I sold football programs with some of my sixth grade pals at the Yale Bowl. We were always regulars at all the Eli athletic events. Our heroes included Levi Jackson, former star at Hillhouse High School before entering Yale. His father was a dining-room steward at the college, and Jackson became the first black football captain in the Ivy League. We also worshipped balletic hook-shots of all-American basketball star Tony Lavelli, a scholarship kid from Somerville, Massachusetts, who made pocket change playing accordion at the Loew’s Poli movie palace before each feature.
All the memories flooded back at my night at Mory’s. The place reeked of tradition adjusted for the 21st century. Now the booming camaraderie of undergraduates is no longer burdened by the gender, ethnic and clothing restrictions of a bygone era. Mory’s is now a semi-private club welcomes the public with only the slightest Yale credential. The Whiffenpoofs and other men’s and women’s a cappella groups sing regularly at dinner midweek. The New Blue vamped us to a generational mix of Amy Winehouse paired with Rodgers and Hart’s “The Lady Is A Tramp.” Anything goes.
The magic of their singing still casts a spell on York Street. New times doing an old time gig. — RICHARD PRESS
A taste of The New Blue:
This article is a great example of why the term “Ivy” to describe a manner of dressing is hopelessly archaic.
Agreed, and explored in the rise and fall essay. When the Ivy League Look fell, what remained had a new look as well as a new name: preppy. Decades later, some took to calling it trad.
“Trad” is not a new name for “preppy”. “Preppy” applies to the trendy stuff produced by Brooks Brothers Black Fleece and J. Press York Street, to J. Crew, to Tommy Hilfiger, and to countless other companies. “Trad” applies to non-trendy Brooks and Press, as well as to LL Bean and Lands’ End items.
Great “rare buts” of Nostalgia. However, that backdrop on the lp cover photos looks more like Colonial Williamsburg than the dear, old Temple Bar….?!
According to whom? Esquire’s Dictionary of Men’s Style? The Ask Andy Trad Forum? Who says that’s what preppy means, and who says that’s what trad means?
For at least 13 years, there was general popular concensus about what was meant by the term “the Ivy League Look.”
How about “Old Ivy” or “Old Yarvton” for a term? But what’s wrong with the “hopelessly archaic” anyway? “Ivy” refers to a style of dressing made popular at Yale and a few other places in the postwar decades. It’s not how Yalies dress today, and it’s not how Sons of Eli dressed in the 1850’s. So what?
Mr. Wilder is correct about the photo, but they’re drinking songs and not Yale PU Toasting Session songs, so I suppose it doesn’t matter.
Thank you for your speech last Wednesday, for your anecdotes, and for your memories. You are a raconteur – the genuine article!
Having Whim & Rhythm serenade us for a while was a great treat! It was a treat to meet you, your New Haven friends, and your sometimes competitors. A rare – and authentic – trip down memory lane.
Sorry, meant “rare BITS”!
Simply wonderful! And thank you Mr. Press. You are able, in so few words (a true gift), to capture and evoke the richness of a time you treasured but also its enduring influence up to the very present. If you’re not already working on it, you should write a memoir.
Interesting subjective associations, Mr. Hunter. Sounds like for you “preppy” is something you see as a 2013 fashion industry term. You may wish to revisit the movie “Love Story,” Nelson Aldrich Jr.’s 1979 Atlantic Monthly cover story on preppies (which can be found on this site), as well as the “Official Preppy Handbook,” for some historic perspective.
It sounds like you’re suffering from presentism.
Trading Places followed by Ben Hur
Preppy is Gay Ivy in my book, to put it diplomatically.
@Camford you have a book about Gay Ivy?
M. Arthur, loved Stephen Boyd’s button-down chambray and neat challis tie in the chariot race scene! Anyhow, nobody seems to want to play my little game, so noted and processed as officially inappropriate. Let me just say if anyone cares, the answer is “Psycho.” Both Tony Perkins and John Gavin wore their own clothes for the film so that TP looked like a Columbia grad student and JG like an honors grad from Stanford (which he was). Much has been noted about Perkins’ “boyish” appearance, and the wardrobe is a big part of that. Not so much has been said about Gavin, whose B-Bro herringbone, chinos and OCBD and always-tight tie make no sense on a hardware store owner in a rural California town far from big city. But Hitch was interested in the theme of “doubling”, suggesting multiple personalities (note the many many mirrors) and so made Gavin a near-mirror image of Perkins, frequently posing and lighting them the same, which, even if you don’t notice, gives the movie its queasy undertone quite apart from the shower scene. OK, enough said.
Preppy is perhaps one of the more subjective terms for style that is still used by both normal people and companies. It’s been discussed here before that to some people, preppy can simply mean wearing Abercrombie & Fitch(!!!), or as basic as combing your hair a certain way, or tucking your shirt in. “Preppy” is far too nebulous to be a useful term when comparing modern clothing with what was worn in the “hey-day” of the Ivy League Look, something that is far easier to pinpoint and define.
I’d in fact argue that the modern concept of “preppy” is really more useful when describing women’s apparel.
@Steve I’m not convinced by your analogy. You’re going to tell me that prep school students rubbing charcoal on their new white bucks or taking sandpaper to their button downs weren’t self-conscious?
I still believe Heston in Toga is as Preppy as Perkins in BB!
Preppy is adolescent.
Ivy is adult.
Unfortunately, the terms “ivy” and “ivy league” have apparently disappeared from U.S. sartorial vocabulary to the extent that many/most American consumers indiscriminately use “preppy” to refer to a wide spectrum. That, as others have noted, is why some of us now feel obliged to use the term “trad” to distinguish adult style.
I grew up in San Francisco adhering to the tenets of Ivy League style, as we called it, and until Ms. Birnbach’s TOPH appeared in 1980, I do not recall ever having heard the term “preppy”.
I agree M.T., I grew up in the military and moved often. I lived in the south and midwest. Ivy League was called Ivy, Collegiate and Traditional, depending on the location and time. The look and brands were all the same regardless of where I lived, with minor variations. For instance, everyone wore Weejuns, but one might move to a new town and there seemed to be a chukka boot fetish or for Pringle sweaters.
Although I was aware of the word preppy, kids going to prep schools, we called them rich kids. Preppy wasn’t ever used till the 80’s, many that had always dressed “ivy” felt the word was offensive. I alway felt that it was just ivy sports wear, weekend wear.
I don’t think Ali Mcgraw’s “preppy””Love Story” comments were so much a reference to clothing or style, but a derogatory statement about wealth and entitlement from a working class girl.
Well preppy is named for prep schools and Ivy for universities, so we’re talking a difference between high school and college, as far as adolescent versus adult.
Of course, they’re just the names that stuck. But they stuck for a reason.
Ivy was codified by young men, who always drive fashion. If you like wearing Weejuns, argyle socks, khakis, oxford buttondown, and a sportcoat, you have men under the age of 22 largely to thank for it.
Okay Christian, I shall modify my above to:
Preppy….Ivy…..Trad. Would you classify Trad as the catchall?
I like the word trad, though I can only bring myself to use it half-ironically.
I thought the lesson of the Ask Andy Trad Forum is that the term came along so late attempts to define what it encompassed were futile.
Chris Sharp has found an intriguing early use of the term, which we’ll be presenting in about a week, though it’s certainly an anomoly. Would be quite interesting if it turns out to be a game-changer in the discussion of natural shoulder clothing.
I too don’t remember use of the word preppy, certainly with any regularity, until The Handbook came out. I prefer to refer to the style as natural shoulder or soft American tailoring. I’ve expressed my opinion before that I believe the cut we love originated with the American business class–hence Brooks Brother and Rogers Peet were well established long before Press and the other “Yale tailors.” (I welcome push back on this, by the way.) When they prospered they sent their sons to Ivy League schools where they (the sons) simply wore what their father’s wore; an on-campus demand existed, was met, and, yes, evolved thereafter. J. Press added a wonderful and distinctive take on things. Remember, too, this was before the advent of the obligatory rebellion of the son or the quest to “find” one’s self–whatever that means. Come to think of it, at college age my father “found himself” building a certain gadget in the New Mexico desert and my uncle “found himself” dodging flack and fighters 6 miles from earth over Leipzig. But, happily, they both lived to be outfitted by J. Press.
Preppy made sense to me in 1978 before ‘Ivy’ and ‘Trad’ had been invented. The latter are both great fun, but eminently bogus, though not much the worse for it. Anyone who has heard a Dixieland jazz band in a German bar will understand this.
I continue to use “Ivy League”, the only term that was around in the early 60s, long before “preppy” was invented. The term, like the clothing, and like me, is dated, which makes it all the more interesting.
The populist inside of me appreciates the small-d democratic nature of the look. While it’s true that the clothing, well made of good cloth, usually wasn’t “cheap,” it’s equally true that most young men weren’t expected to have several of many pieces (jackets, suits, ties). As someone has noted, a blazer, a tweed jacket, a few oxfords, a gray suit, a handful of ties, a pair of Weejuns, a leather belt, a raincoat, and a duffel coat sufficed nicely. A little bit of a good thing went a long way.
The HeyDay ‘happened’ in the late 50s and early 60s. The economy was strong and growing, bipartisanship was the rule of the day (see Michael Barone’s recent, excellent piece on this topic, and the future was mostly bright. Thanks to the flourishing of a new establishment that had less to do with your father’s connections (or name), nearly anybody who was willing to work hard and achieve would be welcomed into the ranks of this new, merit-based establishment. The “Chairman,” John McCloy, represents the type as well as any.
Relative to other approaches toward dressing that are more aggressive or ostentatious, Heyday Ivy Style (H.I.S.) was and still is a modest, dressed-up-but-somehow-still-casual look. Discreet; subtle. Maybe it’s slope of the unpadded shoulder; maybe it’s the full skirt of the jacket or the preference for loafers and soft, unlined collars. It’s all of one piece.
Why the demise? It may suffer a bit from two possible facts: it’s too “dressed up” for some (academics, for instance) and too casual for the “high powered professional,” including the Wall Street lawyer who, once upon a time, embraced the look.
My mother, who grew up in Connecticut in the 50s and 60s and spent much of that time at prominent private clubs (Fishers Island, Watch Hill, etc. etc.) and schools while wearing Weejuns, certainly believes that the word preppy was in use in New England at that time. But she drinks, so.
The problem with “Ivy” is that it references something that still exists (the Ivy League, duh) that in its present form bears no relationship to what the term seeks to describe. That’s simply confusing, and makes it poor usage, archaic at best. That is an equivalent problem with “preppy”, though (since prep schools have mirrored the Ivies, to a significant degree), so maybe they are equally bad terms. In which case, I prefer preppy because it doesn’t continue to burnish the reputation of any particular institution(s), and is less nostalgic.
Preppie is a person. Preppy is a style. Radioactive Pink, Electric Blue, and Molten Purple sweaters are Preppy. Ivy, too. But not Trad. Dull, boring, shapeless are hallmarks of “Trad.” My cousin married a Harvard hockey player — and I remember going to see “Love Story” simply because he was in the movie. Preppie & Preppy were both in use in his time, even though he was more Hippy and certainly was Canadian.
madaket: I believe your mother. I would ask my Aunt who was at Farmington in the 1960s if I could. She drank pitchers of martinis — as did everyone she knew — but never seemed to lose sharpness of mind until after the second refill when she simply fell asleep.
@ Pale Male
Dull. Boring. Shapeless.
A most welcome alternative, I daresay.
Well said in all respects. By the way, I thought Michael Barone’s article one of the most insightful on why we’ve changed in the ways we have. I felt one of his residual points was that adversity is essential in life; it helps us grow up. And the common adversities of the great depression and WWII had a salutary affect–however awful they were to endure for those who lived through them. Almost everyone was compelled to shake frivolity from his or her life and deal day-to-day with matters of first importance. Our common survival literally came to depend upon it. In the post-war period, this reality fed what has been criticized as a conformist society, of which, I might add, the Ivy style we love became, or was already, a part; it had become the accepted but, more importantly, the expected mode of dress of the professional man. And, as you say, it was the uniform of the Wall Street lawyer, McCloy being a perfect example.
Trad is like Dorothy’s bland-dustbowl Kansas before she went to Preppy Oz.
Many thanks, Mr. Mason.
A few years ago, I approached a tailor about having a few jackets made. He asked, appropriately, about cut and/or style. I said, “J. Press.” He smiled, nodded, and responded, “Right. Got it.” He knew immediately what I was talking about. No further explanation needed. No on-and-on about “what Brooks used to be” or “Ivy” or “American traditional.” The uttering of “J. Press” was more than sufficient.
I dare guess this still holds true in sartorial circles across the land.
Last week, George Will came to town. He spoke at a graduate school reunion. Following the speech, I approached him, noting the sack blazer. “J. Press?”, I inquired. “Of course!”, he said.
Well, there it is. Maybe, in this instance, all the catch phrases fall short of a label that evolved into (and embodies) a style: J. Press.
Mr. Press has relayed that there was flirtation with innovations, including 2-button, darted jackets. So be it; so it was. But the style for which J. Press is known is synonymous with the shape that prompted my tailor’s affirming nod. “J. Press. Right. Got it.”
Which is a high compliment indeed. No labels needed. No polo player on a horse or snapping croc or aerial view of a New England island. It’s the style–the silouette. It’s J. Press.
The style–the silhouette. It’s gone.
I feel compelled to add that I am no great admirer of McCloy’s record. And, even after diving deeply into Kai Bird’s biography, I can’t quite muster admiration for the man.
Even Thomas’ review of the book and assessment of McCloy’s life are worthy of attention.
I’m not alone is arguing that if Buckley and other journalists were the public face of the rising conservative establishment (the more intellectual/philosophical side), McCloy represented the quiet, behind-the-scenes lot. Equating the interests of the uber rich with the interests of America. It’s some hideous, stomach turning stuff. But, if you work 18 hour days in order to make the rich richer, you too can join the Anglers Club.
Where was the noblesse oblige that gives the ruling class its abiding patina? Difficult to find. The son of a hairdresser who learned (as a boy) how to cater to the interests of the self-interested rich (mostly investment bankers), he never relinquished that role.
It’s funny. Another glance at the Bird biography reveals a man who preferred high shouldred, double breasted suits and stiff collars. Nothing J. Pressesque to be seen. He looks positively stiff. Decidedly unrelaxed and uncomfortably formal.
@S.E. Concerning McCloy:
On his tailoring: In the Bird biography I count 21 photographs showing McCloy in business suits or jackets (I don’t include the tuxedo shot because it can’t be determined from the shot what the jacket closure is). Of these 21, McCloy is wearing a double-breasted coat in four photographs. You site this compilation as representing McCloy’s preference. Then you should have concluded that he favored single-breasted jackets over double-breasted 81% to 19% of the time. Also, the majority (granted, not all) of his single breasted coats are as softly tailored as anything offered by J. Press or O’Connell’s today. For example (and there are many), the coat he’s wearing in the picture with Kennedy has softer shoulders than does Kennedy’s coat (which, we might surmise, was made by Chipp). As for his shirts, take a closer look at the collars. They’re not stiff—the forward points can be seen to turn up in at least several shots, suggesting they are of the long, soft, forward point variety favored by, for example, Gary Cooper. (See, e.g., Edward Steichen portrait of Cooper.) I’d critique his lapels but there are more pressing points.
Concerning McCloy’s record, Thomas himself describes McCloy as “sharing a vision of public service as a lofty calling and an aversion to the pressures of partisan politics.” He’s described as an internationalist aghast at American isolationism who believed America should do its best at protecting freedom around the globe. McCloy’s reputation as a lawyer was of the finest. He was, and Kai Bird at least got this much right, able to “yellow-pad” the most complex problem down to its essence in half the time of even the most adroit practitioner.
McCloy’s “18-hour days” as a young Cravath associate were in service to railroad clients, not investment bankers. Bird briefly describes McCloy’s efforts as a new Cravath associate working on the alleged fraudulent receivership of the Denver & Rio Grande road around 1928; the deal allegedly funneled assets to the road’s bankers (Kuhn, Loeb) and out of reach of its creditors. This stuff makes for a ripping good yarn, but it’s anomalous. Neither Thomas nor Bird is a scholar; both write for mass readership and are deeply naïve about the identity or aims of railroad executives in this period who were clients of the New York white shoe firms. The Southern Pacific Company is instructive and more representative here. The parent of the country’s largest railroad and for a time itself the largest corporation in the U.S., it labored mightily and successfully to avoid receivership during the depression with the help of … dare I say it … Wall Street lawyers working 18 hour days. Thousands of jobs were preserved in the bargain. “Rich investment bankers” had long since left that stage. The “uber rich,” autocratic and overbearing E.H. Harriman died in 1909, and the injunction breaking up his so-called “integrated Union Pacific-Southern Pacific System” (then the world’s largest transportation system) was fully implemented by 1917. (For an in depth, scholarly analysis of the roots of the corporate lawyering McCloy and his ilk were doing, see Levy, Daniel W. “Classical Lawyers and the Southern Pacific Railroad.” Western Legal History: The Journal of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society. 9.2, 1996: 176-226. This is part of a rich literature for the serious reader and scholar.)
And, yet, it must be said that in the main, investment bankers back then could lay claim to being men of actual business. No so, today. Today, the bankers—central, investment, merchant, commercial, retail—are functionaries for the new ruling class which sits in D.C. The political class is a self-anointed “noblesse” which, while careful not to proclaim itself as such, affirms that status by exempting itself from the laws it imposes on others and granting itself extraordinary retirement benefits designed to insulate its member from the “oblige” haft of the equation; the “oblige” will one day come due as an invoice America will not remotely be able to pay. According to the government’s own actuaries for Medicare and the Social Security Trust (looted decades ago), the aggregate unfunded but accrued liability of these two programs is $62 trillion (yes, trillion!). Add to it the federal employees’ accrued future retirement benefits and the number jumps to $86.8 trillion. Now, that’s a patina which really qualifies as “hideous, stomach turning stuff.”
I am surprised that, in the interest of detail gathering, you didn’t further your argument by referencing what appears to be a Brooks #1 Repp stripe on cover (photo) of Bird’s well researched book–the writing of which, you well know, McCloy initially opposed.
I dusted off my old, tattered copy, and, well, yes, I’ll grant your take on the ratio (having not done the actual math) is about right. I’d stand by my claim that there’s not much J. Pressesque to be seen, but photos 33 and 34 act as a possible (and, I promise, welcome) counterpoint. I don’t see button-down on McCloy , yet I’ll happily grant that your eye for softness (of collar) is better than mine. If you’re willing to describe his style as old Brooks or Ivy, you may. Actually, to be fair, you don’t make that argument. Rather, you conclude they’re as softly tailored as the stock at Press and O’ Connell’s “today.” Perhaps.
Maybe this colored my recollection:
“His habitual double-breasted suit, baggy gray suits, topped off with a Stetson hat, made him appear shorter than his five-foot-ten-inch frame.” The Chairman: chapter 7, paragraph 1.
Well, Even Thomas has offered a good bit more than the one quote you mention. But I think we should leave it at that. No need to pull out our copies of The Wise Men and begin the page-flipping, eh? I’ll try to find Thomas’ review, as well as a few others.
Regarding your assessment of his work: Railroad clients, yes. But nothing more? Hardly. His firm (and he, more specifically) represented a variety of clients, including banks.
If I may, from page 105:
“This indictment of investment banking, a profession that McCloy had spent the better part of his legal career serving, was given wide currency.”
Bird’s conclusions are too many to count. It’s a long read. 663 pages. One among the many is that McCloy, “at critical moments in his stewardship, blurred the boundaries between private and public interests.” But the same might be said about most men and women who move back-and-forth, from private to public sector and vice versa. should have said as much.
But not much of this will matter to you, for you dismiss Bird and Thomas because they’re not–how do you put it?–“scholars.” You add that they are naive and write for mass readership.
Was he a patriot? Of course. Was he a hard-working statesman and a devoted family man? Yes. And much more. And, as you point out, a gifted lawyer. Further, most who knew him found him likeable. And he was fierce on the tennis courts. Much to praise.
McCloy’s record may be assessed by anyone with eyes to read and a mind to think. You’re right that the more important facts, extend well beyond the width of his single-breasted lapels. Which, I maintain, are not J. Pressesque.
I’ll heed your suggestions for further reading.
The quote should read “His habitual double breasted, baggy gray suits…”
I’m well rebuked; I missed the tie indeed. To make an end, sorry about too much detail and the lack of restraint regarding the two authors. That was unfair. You’re right about McCloy’s banking clients and career, of course. I focused on his work at Cravath for the railroads because one could get the wrong idea from these books–which, by the way, I think are excellent–about what was going on with the roads generally back then. I think I felt your initial verdict unduly harsh, but you’re entitled to it. Personally, I think McCloy, as lawyer, is an excellent example; he was not, at least as a law practitioner, concerned with personal glory. It’s difficult even to explain that to a young lawyer today. That’s too bad.
If this link works, take a look. The shoulders on his coat look quite acceptable to me.