Ivy Is The New Preppy

If you keep an eye on our Ephemera column of news links, you’ve no doubt sensed there’s something zeitgeisty going on. The overall preppy trend in fashion has been around for several years now, reaching the point this summer where patch-madras shorts became available at retailers like Target and JC Penney.

Likewise, star bloggers like Hollister Hovey and A Continuous Lean have helped fuel a resurgent interest in vintage Americana, and the ’60s photo book “Take Ivy” has been covered by the New York Times and recreated by hy(r) collective. All this has added a piquant soupcon of fun to blogging here at Ivy-Style, beyond the excuse to pair words together like “piquant” and “soupcon.”

But as of today I think we can officially say there’s an Ivy League Look micro-trend afoot, as Harvard University has announced a new fashion collection called Harvard Yard that will “channel the simple all-American style of Harvard men back in the ’50s and ’60s.”

WWD Men’s, which has replaced DNR as the menswear industry’s bible, requires registration to read its articles, but the teaser of its Harvard Yard report runs:

American prep is having a moment as increasing numbers of style-conscious men sport sockless loafers, stiff oxford cloth shirts, tapered khakis and Ray-Ban Wayfarers like it’s 1959.

There’s more coverage of the Harvard Yard line by Black Book and New York Magazine. Also, the trend isn’t just brewing in menswear, as this fall Bobbi Brown introduces The Ivy League Collection for women.

While “Ivy League” may just be the fashion industry’s new term for “preppy,” the fount of inspiration is definitely coming more from the ’50s and ’60s than the ’80s.

People get understandably grumpy when their own style gets co-opted by the fashion industry. But if there is a resurgence of the Ivy League Look, perhaps it will bring about a kind of reclaiming of our national style in the realm of tailored clothing, where more natural shoulder and sack-front options are needed, and where the hooked vent could serve as a national symbol, like the bald eagle.

Italy and England produce fine clothes, but Americans shouldn’t feel that Europe has the last word in how to wear a suit and tie. As we’ve chronicled in the photos gathered in our Historic Images category, there was a time when the American male in the limelight of international business and politics stood out from his foreign peers instead of blending into the anonymity of what’s considered global good taste.

And if an Ivy trend produces truly good clothes and not just high-priced fashion novelty (as the Harvard Yard collection, whose entry-level price point is $165, unfortunately suggests; then again, it’s not a cheap school), then we can all enjoy a greater variety of pickings, at least for a little while. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

14 Comments on "Ivy Is The New Preppy"

  1. Re: “commodities.”

    I’m not sure I follow. From my reading the pants begin at this price–not exactly what I would call commodities. Also, I’m not sure I follow your use of the hook vent as a “national symbol.” Perhaps this was a bad joke? Sarcasm?

  2. Yes, “disposable fashion,” “commodities,” and $165 was hard to follow. I’ll smooth that out.

    I’ll stick by my bad joke, though.

  3. Great article as always, Christian!

    It figures Harvard would license their name for apparel…
    I am quite sure you will not find Yale doing the same…


  4. Since Yale granted you an MBA, I’m sure you could come up with a better idea. And don’t you work in luxury branding and fashion design?

    I think it’s time to stir up the old rivalry some more.

  5. And should any readers be confused by my previous comment…I am being sarcastic & I am NOT fond of Harvard…at all….

  6. It’s OK, I feel the same way about Long Beach State.

  7. Lol…stop it, Christian..you are so silly…

  8. God, I knew Harvard was having a bit of fiscal issues( http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2009/06/harvard.html) ..but is this really necessary? lol….this is just truly sad….

  9. A riposte, Taliesin?

  10. As a Princeton man ‘ 85 GS ‘ 87 and a southern wasp male. I am at once elated,horrified and amused at the prospect of seeing a repeat of the 1980s. With the sudo-prep and wasp. That said, I for one, am for any movement that will cause American men to dress better .
    As we all should know; being a preppie and a wasp comes with a responsibility to guide those that do aspire to become better men. Thank you for your time in doing this site. I have found it refreshing.

  11. The clothes don’t look terrible, so maybe the project will be a force for good. The old Harvard Coop used to sell decent tailored clothes to Harvard students. I think they should have started this line _at_ Harvard, established some legitimacy, and then considered expanding it, rather than licensing out the name right at the start. Seems less authentic.

    I doubt Yale could do this, since most Americans would wonder why “the world’s favorite lock” is now making clothing.

  12. This is a fascinating article. Love it. On an entirely different note, I’ve been noticing this subtle (or maybe not-so-subtle) resurgence in the Ivy/Prep trend, too, and have actually wondered about its social implications. In other words, since fashion is, in a sense, art-you-wear, I wonder about what this return to Preppy says about us as a culture and our mood right now. At a rudimentary level, since our economy and government is in chaos, could this lust for clean lines and bright colors be a way to soothe our cultural anxieties? Who knows. Just something I’ve been pondering.

  13. Like many others, I at once welcome a return to sartorial sanity, and dread the prospect of 80s-like preppy lemmings. Too many designers are producing atrocities like the photo accompanying this article: individual items: good; overall look: bad.

    Let us hope that most men will not be led down the path to excess and will find a way to dress more nicely without looking like preppified clowns.

  14. Does it seem ironic to anyone that the guys wearing patch madras today are the same type of guys who would have beat up guys who wore patch madras only a few short years ago.

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