It’s Time We Crossed Our T’s

Ok, first I went to Take Ivy. Because it’s Take Ivy.

You get about 3 pages in before you see the first t shirt.  This is actually a t shirt with leather shoes.  


But the problem is this, the argument for the t shirt in the Ivy Canon (I capitalized that) stops there.  So the rest, we have to sort out ourselves.

Yes, you can see Steve McQueen in a t shirt.

This really rides the fence. Plain white is always an Ivy Trigger. I capitalized that, too. Are there Ivy Triggers? Anyway, I would say the sneakers are Ivy, but the sunglasses on the head is a completely non-Ivy move, those pants are a little tight around the ankles. This doesn’t make the case in either direction.


But of course just seeing someone who wears Ivy sometimes in a piece of clothing doesn’t make that Ivy.


You can “have worn” Ivy and not be Ivy anymore.


There are popular cultural references to the t shirt and the Ivy League that push for addition into the Canon.


Never watched Grey’s Anatomy but her Dartmouth t shirt is a thing.


Or, for those of us who swear by Mad Men:


That’s the guy, right? Cigarettes aren’t Ivy.


But here’s the problem.  The balance of our Ivy icons don’t really wear t shirts.  Is it possible that t shirts, which canonical, are an Ivy item you age out of?  That doesn’t make sense either.  One of the things I really love about Ivy Style is the fact that the clothes look as good on you when you are 80 as they did when you were 20.  Maybe George Will wore t shirts in college, but he doesn’t anymore.

The t shirt is practical.  It gets better as it ages.  It can frame the body appropriately.  The best ones are made of natural fibers.  That’s all Ivy.

I call for a vote.  T shirt is Ivy or no?


34 Comments on "It’s Time We Crossed Our T’s"

  1. I think a t-shirt as a casual item is certainly Ivy, if not a general staple of any wardrobe. I mean, I guess you could wear an OCBD while mowing the lawn, but… I mean…

    • Exactly the example I was going to give. I think you could make an argument that wearing a t-shirt until it disintegrates is very Ivy. The school I went to, concerts I’ve seen, beach tourist shops on vacation, etc. George Will may not be photographed in a t-shirt, but if you just stumbled out of bed to clean up after a sick child? Bring on the t-shirts!

    • John Burton | August 3, 2022 at 9:00 am |

      Do you think though, that you age out of t shirts? Or no?

  2. Hardbopper | August 3, 2022 at 8:34 am |

    An undershirt is Ivy when worn under a shirt. I’m wearing a tee shirt right now. A “Budweiser” tee shirt. But, as there are no cameras around, I retain plausible deniability.

  3. John Burton | August 3, 2022 at 8:59 am |

    As an aside, my birthday fundraiser this year is for 988 – the National Suicide and Mental Health Crisis hotline. If you are so inclined, you can participate here:

  4. Hoops McCann | August 3, 2022 at 10:31 am |

    A T shirt can be Ivy. It depends on how it is used/ worn.

  5. White cotton t-shirts are Ivy like cotton boxers are Ivy. Both are underwear.

    The Take Ivy and Dartmouth shirt are probably best described as athletic t-shirts. Same rules should apply as wearing gym shorts or tennis shoes: during the athletic activity. Same downsides apply. Most people do not look better or more athletic while wearing it.

  6. whiskeydent | August 3, 2022 at 11:04 am |

    Before WW II, I assume t-shirts were merely seen as underclothing. They came out from hiding in photos of servicemen during the war and the wave of war movies that followed. I would further guess this paralleled the growth in popularity of khakis, which were also a common and iconic item of military clothing during and after the war.

    So yeah, I think tees are Ivy, but that does not mean you are dressing Ivy if you wear one. Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski famously wore a tee in 1951 and the character was certainly not an Ivy enthusiast. As I type this, I’m wearing a tee from a mid-90’s New Orleans Jazz Fest, which has never been associated with Ivy like the Newport Jazz Festival.

    Frankly, I think tees had a larger impact on the development of American style than Ivy. They were worn by men from the working class to the upper class and today are worn widely throughout the world. I’d guess an Italian would tell you that tees are definitely an American style. If you asked if one is Ivy, he’d probably think you’re a little nuts for asking if a t-shirt is a plant.

  7. Laura Arnold | August 3, 2022 at 11:08 am |

    Only one note–the image from Take Ivy most likely features a short sleeve raglan sweatshirt and not a t-shirt. The banded sleeves and bunching around the bottom are solid indicators. I do side with t-shirts being Ivy though.

  8. T-shirts transcend. They’re Ivy and a whole lot of other things besides. I feel practically naked wearing a t-shirt anywhere other than under a wool sweater or in bed. But yah, I’ll side with them being Ivy.

  9. Gary Glazer | August 3, 2022 at 11:58 am |

    In my opinion, a t shirt can be Ivy under certain circumstances. In a very casual setting on a weekend yes. Wearing a t shirt with a blazer, not so much. I guess the short answer -sometimes yes, sometimes no.

  10. Charlottesville | August 3, 2022 at 12:16 pm |

    Ivy? Maybe, but personally I am with Nevada. For me, T-shirts are primarily a summer pajama top, or underwear beneath a wool flannel shirt in winter. That being said, I suppose a T is acceptable in very casual circumstances, even though I might prefer a polo shirt. Generally a short-sleeve madras or seersucker BD is about a casual as I go in public even in summer.

  11. I like T-shirts. There is a time and a place for T-shirts. I will wear a T-shirt to a concert tonight. But they are not Ivy.

    • (I notice my reply is awaiting moderation. I haven’t seen that notification before. Is this because another Eric trolled in the other day’s post? Should I change my username?)

  12. I recall a photo of a young JFK (with Lem Billings?) taken during their undergraduate days.
    Both men are wearing white tee shirts and Khaki trousers. That’s a vote for Ivy.

  13. Charles Dana | August 3, 2022 at 2:34 pm |

    Are T-shirts “Ivy?” I guess it depends on how you define “Ivy.”

    I doubt if any solid-color T-shirt is “Ivy,” inasmuch as such a garment has never been especially associated with any Ivy League schools. As Nevada stated, “T-shirts transcend.” (OCBDs transcend, too, but they are nonetheless Ivy because they first gained popularity among the Ivy Leaguers and the prep school kids who became Ivy Leaguers. White T-shirts and, later, other solid-color T-shirts have just been…there. T-shirts are noted for their thereness rather than for any Ivyness.)

    What about T-shirts emblazoned with the logo or colors or name of an Ivy League college or university? That’s a different matter. Those are Ivy and have been cherished items on campus for decades.

    “But I saw a photograph of an Ivy League kid wearing a white T-shirt in 1951.” That’s nice. Ivy League students wore Jockey shorts, too, at least according to the advertisements in long-ago editions of the Yale Daily News. Doesn’t mean that Jockey shorts are particularly “Ivy.” Underpants transcend, too. (And when they do, that means it’s time to pull up your grey flannels. Sagging is not Ivy.)

  14. whiskeydent | August 3, 2022 at 3:59 pm |

    My hero closes the argument (hope this link works):

  15. T-shirts are ubiquitous enough that they belong to men’s fashion in general but emphatically are not part of Ivy canon. The main requirement of something being in “the canon” is that it is broadly accepted, without debate.

    If you have to ask, it’s not canon.

  16. Hey, Whiskeydent, your hero also provides an eloquent argument for the classic bucket hat. The guy looks great.

    • whiskeydent | August 4, 2022 at 9:32 am |

      I was horrified by the bucket hat when I found the picture yesterday. Nonetheless, I soldiered on and posted the picture here. I suppose my devotion to the community is stronger than my hatred for bucket hats.

  17. MacMcconnell | August 3, 2022 at 5:54 pm |

    Is navel gazing Ivy? How about toilet paper or Q Tips? Ivy canon, so only three button sack coats? Then most of us here aren’t Ivy according to “canon”. Don’t excommunicate me for occasionally wearing a T, 501s, a G-9 jacket a nd sockless Weejuns to the hardware store or youth football game. ;-O

  18. NaturalShoulder | August 3, 2022 at 9:22 pm |

    I suspect that there are not many photos of men in tshirts from heyday Ivy or earlier given different standards of public attire. I am sure many a gent who wore Brooks donned a tshirt for work around the house, raking leaves, or exercise. I generally wear mine for the same purposes but also walk the dogs in the early morning in a tshirt. I also prefer cotton over the newer performance athletic shirts of synthetic materials when running or working out.

  19. David H. Leach | August 4, 2022 at 1:23 am |

    T-shirts were underwear until they weren’t. Grey T-shirts were gym/athletic field wear until they escaped to become street wear. Worn with khaki shorts and deck shoes while getting your sailing dinghy ready for the “club” races is Ivy. Wearing a T-shirt under a sports jacket is……… Well, I rather not go there.

    • Hardbopper | August 4, 2022 at 9:16 am |

      I’ll go there. A tee shirt, be it an undergarment or athletic gear or workwear, covered by a blazer or sport coat or a suit might be California formal, but it is not Ivy.

  20. Definitely yes if you are exercising or participating in an athletic endeavor. Definitely yes if you were wearing it as an undergarment. Otherwise, not so much.

  21. Definitely yes if you are exercising or participating in an athletic endeavor. Definitely yes if you are wearing it as an undergarment. Otherwise, not so much.

  22. I wear collared polo shirts when/where many men wear t-shirts. I wear oxfords when/where most men wear collared polo shirts. I wear oxfords with a tie when/where most men wear a collared dress shirt without a tie.

    Dress better than you have to.

    From a 30 Rock episode:
    Liz Lemon: “Why are you wearing a tux?”
    Jack Donaghy: “It’s after 6:00. What am I? A farmer?”

  23. Charlottesville | August 5, 2022 at 2:16 pm |

    S.E. You are a man after my own heart. I even got to use that line one evening when a friend saw me in black tie. Fortunately, he got the reference.

  24. My opinion is that a particular type of t-shirt or sweatshirt can be preppy but not Ivy and thus acceptable for the traditional Ivy man or woman on certain occasions such as raking leaves, watching the game (or The Game) on TV with friends, or running to the grocery for milk on the weekend. That being said the t-shirt like a sweatshirt is preferably long sleeved and sports the logo of a previous school affiliation. Long sleeves and shorts seem to work well in this scenario.

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