Gunn Control: You’re Under Arrest For Promoting Athleisure

We’ve been covering the underworld lately, with con men, spies, the CIA, and now a private eye.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of “Peter Gunn,” who was a new kind of TV detective when he made his debut in 1958. With his neat hair and simple gray suits, Gunn could have fit right in on Madison Avenue (or “The Dick Van Dyke Show”). I’m not sure if that makes him hip or square — from our perspective, that magical hybrid of both, I think — but he definitely favored hip music. The character’s local watering hole featured jazz musicians also all but indistinguishable from Madison Avenue types.

In honor of the anniversary, the Wall Street Journal has a fine write-up:

Sixty years ago this month, “Peter Gunn” began airing on NBC, reinventing the private detective as a clean-cut, stoic hero. Unlike previous TV gumshoes, Gunn was virtuous and understated—cast as a hatless young executive rather than a rumpled and morally flawed investigator running down facts.

By the late 1950s, cool had already begun to penetrate several corners of popular culture. Cool could be found in the sound of Miles Davis’s trumpet, Jack Kerouac’s unconventional prose and the quiet confidence of “damaged” movie characters played by Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Lauren Bacall and Lizabeth Scott. In all these cases, cool meant elegant minimalism and detachment from conformity and the status quo.

Gunn was created by a young Blake Edwards, right around the time he directed “Breakfast At Tiffany’s.” Check out the story here.

Also by way of news roundup is a piece several readers sent me. It’s an Atlantic piece called “How did athleisure take over American fashion?” and features an expert source that will be familiar to serious Ivy buffs. Fashion historian Deirdre Clemente, who penned an early piece for Ivy Style, says that athleisure is the natural culmination of a casualization trend that began well over a hundred years ago:

To Clemente, the athleisure story doesn’t begin in the late 20th century, with the birth of Lululemon. It begins in the late 19th century, a sort of Cambrian Explosion moment for basic fashion when sports changed the way young people dressed—both on the field and in the classroom. In other words, when I asked Clemente to explain the sudden rise of athleisure, my request was one word too long. There is nothing sudden about the influence of sports on the way Americans dress. In fact, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that all modern fashion is athleisure.

… Around the same time as the invention of the rubber sole, intramural sports took off at American universities, Clemente told me. That meant more young men playing tennis, golf, polo, and croquet. But lacking the means or inclination to fill their wardrobe with non-sports clothes, many of these men simply kept their athletic attire on for class. Athleisure dropped the prefix and became, simply, leisure.

There’s much more about the evolution of trad staples such as polo shirts and sweaters, so check it out.

It all means, of course, that we who carry the torch of Ivy-prep are complicit in the decline of dress standards, accessories to the crime. Looks like slippery slopes are a lot more slippery than we thought. — CC

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16 Comments on "Gunn Control: You’re Under Arrest For Promoting Athleisure"

  1. My wife and I still watch Peter Gunn reruns on one of our many satellite dish stations. Followed by Perry Mason. Mason’s private investigator Paul is the dapper dresser on that show…

  2. Vern Trotter | November 5, 2018 at 4:27 pm |

    He had leggy Lola Albright as his singer girlfriend. Music was by Henry Mancini and piano playing by John Williams. How could this not last forever? Film noir on the small screen. Suddenly I want to see this again. Golden days.

  3. Vern Trotter | November 5, 2018 at 4:53 pm |

    Just read that the model for Gunn was Cary Grant.

  4. Just watched a Perry Mason episode this morning. Drake was on a case, he was parked in front of the house of his investigation. In his Ford Thunderbird, with the roof down, in the evening, after dark. He’s trying to act nonchalant, in his hounds tooth jacket.

    No wonder he was arrested by a couple police officers. Perry vouched for him and everything was ok.

    Loved the Plymouth Fury droptop, Peter Gunn drove. I don’t recall one episode filmed in daylight.

    Great shows, however implausable.

  5. J.V. Gaiter | November 5, 2018 at 7:59 pm |

    One Funny thing about the article linked, they say “like Brooks Brothers in the United Kingdom” when talking about the polo shirt. I thought it funny that a piece about long term style history would name Brooks Brothers a company of the UK when it is the Quintessential American clothing brand.

  6. Great piece Christian! But I’ve always thought slippery slopes were very slippery!

  7. @Christian: the vast majority of your readers are *not* college students, nor are they the youngsters responsible for the athleisure apocalypse.

    College students are too busy Instagraming the yoga pants they bought at Lululemon on their iPhones at Starbuck’s.

  8. Trevor Jones | November 6, 2018 at 5:59 am |

    The article makes a great point and I think we’d be remiss to not understand our role in the gradual casualization of style. Even though we look back on ivy/preppy as being more formal than today’s garb, it was once looked upon as more casual than what had been worn before it. Also, I must add that as someone who plays four sports (tennis, squash, badminton, real tennis) at a highly competitive level, I wear some lululemon products when training and they’re highly performance-oriented and supremely comfortable. Not that I’d wear them out and about like I do with button downs and chinos, but that’s not to say they don’t have a place.

  9. @Mitchell

    Trevor is correct. The trad staples we all love were codified from the ’20-’60s and are an integral part of the process of casualization.

    I was saying we’re all guilty.

  10. @Christian, I agree with what you’re saying, but my point is that technology played a larger role in the casualization of fashion.

    Businessweek had an article called “The Death of Clothing” in which they pointed out that Americans spend more on technology than clothing. Thanks to technology, clothing has become a commodity and is so cheap now that it’s disposable. People would rather spend money on iPhones, dining out, and entertainment than on clothing.

    Ironically, the internet, including fashion blogs like this one, are hastening the demise of classic menswear and ushering in the death of the suit. While I don’t feel the suit (and tailored clothing) is dead yet, it is definitely on life support.

  11. I’ll check out that story. I agree things are on life support, and I’m slowly working on a piece on the “sartorial apocalypse.”

    I’ve walked through a few fast-fashion places for the first time, including a Uniqlo on Fifth Avenue which is the size of a Wal-Mart. There’s so much variety (especially for women) and it’s so cheap that it’s hard to see much point in spending on quality clothing for the middle class.

  12. I do not regard a button down oxford shirt, olive drab shorts and sockless boat shoes to be athleisure-my casual attire for this summer like election day in Virginia.

    Go conservatives.


  13. Jojoandthecats | November 6, 2018 at 11:46 am |

    The trope about casualization being as old as the hills (“I suppose former tricorn hat wearers damned the new-fangled casual fashion for top hats”) has a kernel of truth. In the multi-century scheme of things, f we measure ‘causality vs. formality’ as the decrease in construction/stiffness and the increase suitability of garments for sports or other exertions (hunting/warfare/physical work).

    However, from the standpoint of the late 20th/early 21st century, looking at the issue at higher resolution, it is equally true that between 1960 and 2000 the speed with which ‘tailored’ clothes were largely supplanted by utilitarian knit clothes has no obvious precedent; quite beside the point of why this happened or whether it is a bad thing.

    Limiting ourselves to the last 150 years or so, I realise that each major shift in fashion (frock coat > cutaway coat > lounge suit was perceived as a significant change and one towards less formality but if you’ve worn any of those garments and considering how ‘built’ and dark business suits were for most of that period, I would argue it was actually a pretty subtle, pretty minor set of changes (and over a century). Still wore comparable leather shoes, shirt, tie. A blocked hat for much of that period. Equally, while the type of formal / semi-formal / informal garment changed, there remained a very strong separation between the appropriateness of each of these. The 1960-s onward marks a clearly much greater shift in type of typical garment and in the degree of distinction between dress environments.

    My (somewhat belaboured) point is that it’s NOT been a fairly smooth continuum but rather a very slow drift punctuated by a few (one>?) MAJOR change(s). That’s what people remark on (or complain about, etc.).

  14. @Christian, Sartorial Apocalypse is the perfect title for the piece you’re working on. Americans today have a reputation for being the worst dressed people in the world despite being one of the richest countries in history.

    Probably ground zero for the sartorial apocalypse is the website, a catalogue of the worst dressed Americans ever to darken the doorway of Walmart.

  15. Jojoandthecats has made some good points on the shift from “tailored” to “utilitarian”. It seems to me that in, e.g., the “heyday” even high school and college males would feel the need to go and change from general everyday wear to specific “work” or “play” clothes. Nowadays it’s often the same thing.

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