Before I forget, Jay Butler is running 15% off the entire site today. Famous for the bit loafer, they do a great penny loafer too, belts, etc. My impression after wearing the bit loafers and the penny loafers is that everything Jay Butler sells is worth more than you pay for it. And the owner is another good guy here, I profiled him a while back. Go check the site out: Here.
In discussion about Ivy Style, you here the position put forward quite a bit that Ivy Style, because it had a period of prominence unfortunately labeled a Hey Day, that the style is outdated and anachronistic.
One of the ways that I manage my head (if you are new here, and since January approximately 2,800 of our daily readers are – if you are new here I had a depressive episode, I write about it every once in awhile, I manage myself without medication after being misdiagnosed and mismedicated about a million times) – sorry, one of the ways I manage my head is to seek clarity first, and the way that I seek clarity is to first ask if a thought is true.
Is it true that Ivy Style is dated? Not if you consider the following:
- Almost all of the elements of Ivy Style remain popular today. The penny loafer, the OCBD, khakis, even repp ties (amongst the tie wearing crowd), all prominently sold. You can walk into any mall, anywhere, and buy these elements.
- Part of the disconnect of the argument that Ivy has dated is that observers note that while you can walk into any mall and buy the pieces, there is no store marketing or banking on selling all these elements together anymore. I am talking stores in a mall, popular stores. Of course there are stores where you can put together an entire Ivy outfit (the Gap is one of them) but no mall stores market Ivy. And that is true, but irrelevant. The paucity of all-Ivy retailers is not a function of the dissipation of Ivy Style as much as it is a function of the gig retail economy and the function of hitting a trend instead of slowly building a business. You can’t buy spaghetti in a wine store, but that doesn’t meant that spaghetti and wine are outdated.
- The second disconnect of that argument is a knee jerk to the term Hey Day. And that position has grammatical merit, I suppose. If something has a Hey Day, by definition it cannot be as popular as it once was, right? Except ask Brooks Brothers if they sold more OCBD’s in 1963 or 1993. That’s why I never liked the term Hey Day. It implies a fade. Is Ivy the craze it once was? No. But that doesn’t make it anachronistic, it simply means the Ivy has become presumed. Chubby Checker released The Twist in 1960. In 1979, we were all playing Frampton Comes Alive. But in 1994 John Travolta danced The Twist in Pulp Fiction. The Twist hadn’t become anachronistic, it was a staple move of a gazillion other dance combinations. The Twist wasn’t a craze anymore, it had evolved into a fundamental.
- John Travolta is my generation’s Fred Astaire. It isn’t even close, and had he chosen that path, he would be in the same exact sentence. I grant you this might not be related to the argument, but it is true, and I support John Travolta wholeheartedly. I once saw him do an interview about his son Jett who had autism and whom Travolta kissed. And Travolta defended his love for his son with such authenticity. A good, good man who has seen a lot of loss.
If you reconsider the label Hey Day and you are willing to take a deeper dive into the I-don’t-see-it-at-the-mall mentality, if you accept the premise that just because Ivy isn’t seen everywhere doesn’t mean it isn’t seen anywhere, and if you are willing to walk a mall one time through and note the separate elements, you find two things:
1. I’m right about Travolta and
2. Ivy is not remotely anachronistic (ask J. Press and Todd Snyder), it isn’t dated, it owns a decent slice of the pie.
I wonder, for those who do say Ivy is dated, what is the split between its detractors and proponents? A significant portion of online Ivy discourse consists of, well…
Q: How many Ivy style enthusiasts does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: One hundred — one to change the bulb, and 99 to talk about how great the previous bulb was.
This. Is. Perfect. – JB
@K.E. …except that Ivy style enthusiasts don’t need to change that light bulb, because it still works.
PBS used to have a show called Enterprise in the late 70’s (early 80’s?) One of the episodes was about Levi Strauss’s attempt to launch a line of upscale sportswear. Levi’s market research divided menswear customers into five quintiles:
Q1 Guys who wear jeans and tee shirts to work and for almost all of their social lives.
Q2 Guys whose wives, mothers or girlfriends do all of the clothing shopping. Their primary concern is comfort.
Q3 Guys whose overwhelming concern is price.
Q4 Peacocks John Travolta’s white disco suit was used as an example.
Q5 Guys who crave high quality fabrics and workmanship in their garments.
I really doubt that Q5 has grown since then, and my SWAG* is that Ivy purists make up about 10% of Q5.
Folks, this is a tiny market!
*SWAG — Scientific wild-ass guess
Ok, first off, kudos for working Travolta in. And great note man. A few thoughts to add to the conversation. First, the jeans and tee shirts thing. We say that, but then look around. How much of it in grown men do you see? And then start bracketing age groups. How many people over 40 do you see in jeans and a tee shirt? Not that many. To the wives and girlfriends thing, I think when a partner is doing the shopping (The Laney Project, remember?) they buy what they want to see you in. That is fraught for OCBD’s and khaki’s. Third, if your overwhelming concern is price, Macy’s (yes Macy’s that store that caters to – Pretty Much Everyone – sells Eagle OCBD’s for $20, as does the whole JAB think we just did. Price is not a deterrent to the look (you can walk through Old Navy and put together a reasonably Ivy outfit for $40 easy). Peacocks, agreed, but how many of those are there? Name them. Take the first ten people you know well, and what percentage of that is the peacocking population? Low, right? And then finally, the quality people – there has to be a percentage of Ivy in there. – JB
Interesting point re: the “Heyday.” I’m inclined to agree. It implies things were better in the past. The “Heyday” wasn’t such a great time for a lot of folks. While it’s nice to see certain things through sepia-toned glasses, all the pretty pictures of people wearing better clothes than they do now don’t account for the enormous social and moral failings of the time.
Style is never permanent. Fashion changes faster and faster as time goes by. Just look at how people of means dressed in the 1600s. Or the 1800s. Here we are now in 2022, 55 years out from the year most Ivy-types see as the downfall of society. It’s frustrating to me that the end of the “Heyday” was the beginning of some deeply important correctives to some entrenched issues that persist to this day. I hope the general population can find its way back to a better-dressed lifestyle, but I’ll take the real pursuit of equality over a generally stylish populace any day.
I’ll stick with Alden. And Crockett & Jones.
A lot of Heyday-era Ivy was (very) subpar. Some of the off-the-rack stuff was good, but a lot it wasn’t. Poorly made–fused and stiff and cheap ‘fabric.’ To repeat: subpar. Sometimes I pause to recall that J. Press started out as a custom tailor (cloth is chosen, measurements are taken), and it does indeed seem that Ivy is now full circle: the increasing emphasis on made-to-measure/order. This is most welcome. It suggests a return to (high) quality goods.
I would put the Mercer OCBD up against any Heyday shirt, including Troy Guild, and I’m pretty sure the Hickey Freeman (MTM) blazer I just bought (flannel by Fox Bros.) is far superior to about 99% of what men were buying at the local “college shop” in 1964. Generally speaking, and I’m now quoting business school wonks, ubiquity/popularity is bad for quality.
* Which is why those of us who continue to prioritize quality should not complain about Ivy’s identity as small niche. Smaller almost always means better.
also: I’ll venture a guess that “Heyday” is a bit of a misnomer vis a vis Ivy because, at the pinnacle of the Heyday (let’s go with ’62), no more than 5% of the American male population were choosing/buying/wearing the style with anything resembling consistency. Ivy has always been small(iche) niche, and, to repeat, the smaller the better.
High quality and fairness, including wages/labor practices, are Ivy values. So, the stuff at the mall isn’t Ivy. My truth.
Approximately 1950 to 1967 was Ivy style’s “heyday” in only one sense: it was when Ivy style was one of several which dominated the American menswear market across the board and from coast to coast. The other dominant styles of that era were the so-called “Mister ‘T’ look” from around 1950 to 1953, the “Continental style” from 1952 until around 1960, and the “updated traditional style” which began in 1960 or so, and is with us still.
Ivy style’s so-called “heyday” was not its best time in terms of merchandise design, coloring, fabric, construction, and fit quality. In my opinion, that best time reached its apex in the early 1940s, before the Pearl Harbor attack.
Ivy style is quintessentially American, also described as Traditional American clothing. IMHO that makes it timeless.
So I collect mostly Ivy style clothing from mostly the 50’s and 60’s,a few weeks ago I was having a conversation that I think drives home the point of Ivy still being relevant even if its not as popular.
We were talking about the reactions we get when we go out in public dressed in all period clothing. To paraphrase the conversation he gets people wondering why he is dressing like he is in old movie, while people simply wonder why I’m so dressed up, or if I just got off work.
Chevalier NAILS it– twice.
I went with the Fox midnight Covert for the HF blazer. A sturdy 18/19 mammoth of a cloth:
* You won’t find this at the mall.
the style is not anachronistic; the name “Ivy” or “Ivy League” for the style is what’s anachronistic. that term is a deliberate throwback to a specific set of marketing campaigns from the 50s. Brooks Brothers was the origin of the style, but never used that term in their own marketing.
JB, I’m going to push back a bit on the sightings of guys in tee shirts. Here in fast-growing Austin, I see a lot of construction workers and other guys who get their hands dirty wearing tees. However, I also see them on a lot of young, highly educated techs who will never be able to dance as well as Travolta (even when he sucked in Urban Cowboy).
Could it be that you hold this view because there is a shortage of working guys and young nerds in Rye?.
Hey Whiskey! I totally see your point. It could very well be regional. Do you think that goes for the over 40 crowd too? I mean, they have to wear shirts as well. You WANT them (me) wearing shirts. – JB
JB, About jeans and tee shirts, the summer after my junior year I worked on a road maintenance gang for the state highway department. Some guys live their lives in jeans and tee shirts, trust me. Fast forward half a century +. A few months ago I was watching CNBC in jeans, a tee shirt and a “hoodie” (Remember when that was an adjective for a hoodlum? I digress.) Barry Diller, billionaire media mogul and husband of fashion designer Dianne von Furstenberg was being interviewed. Guess what he was wearing? Jeans, a tee shirt and a “hoodie”, although probably more expensive than my ensemble. Wives, moms and girlfriends buy nice stuff for guys who care about their clothiers, otherwise, not so much. It’s nice to see the Eagle name appear. In the 60’s I considered them one of the Big 4 — Eagle, Gant, Hathaway and Troy. When I was an undergrad Eagle shirts were made in Quakertown, Pa. Their REAL factory outlet store (adjacent to the factory) sold overruns for $4 and slight irregulars for $2.50! That wasn’t far from Moravian and Lehigh; I wonder if Bruce Boyer ever shopped there. I must admit that I don’t know any peacocks. They don’t flock to PA Dutch small towns like the place where I grew up or bank trust and investment departments where I spent most of my working years.
Fox Bros. has great cloth, and now is the time to get it done, so it will be ready to go this fall. Where did you go to order it up, and is HF willing to make a piece with any of the hey day features?
Maybe Q5 is bigger than assumed. I for one am not going to spend a dime if I can’t get what I want. If that means I have to wear jeans and a Miller High Life tee shirt, then so be it.
“How many people over 40 do you see in jeans and a tee shirt?” I live in the rural South and I see a plethora of them.
I think people consider Ivy style dated not because they don’t see a popular store, but because they see few people in the real world wearing the full regalia.
@John Burton I believe that a more accurate term for Ivy style’s purview during the 1950-1967 era would be “Mainstream Ivy” rather than “Heyday Ivy”.
A little off topic, but since you mentioned spaghetti, the peak season for the spaghetti harvest is approaching and soon fresh picked spaghetti will be available again.
@Roy R. Platt:
In another region of Switzerland:
I live in New York City. The only places you can still see outfits that resemble “Ivy Style” (or, as most people would describe it — “preppy”) are private clubs and “old-money” “WASP” churches on the Upper east side. That’s about it. And that is surprising, because, as the author mentions – the elements of the style can be found in almost any mainstream department store. So, who buys all this stuff and why it’s never seen on the streets, in offices and restaurants, is a mystery.
The “WASP churches” comment is worthy of exploration. Lots. Probably more so than any other cultural/sociological hypothesis vis a vis this style.
Previously, during the Chensvold era, I posited that Mainline Protestant Religion (denominations) in America and (certain) traditional manners and mores, including dress/clothing, are not only intimately connected, but thoroughly and inextricably connected–always going way back, and forever. Much more than any other subculture mentioned here (jazz-embracing hepcats, Preppy Reagan-era Yuppies, Southern traditionalists, etc.), the Mainline Protestant–Preppy/Ivy/Trad alliance is essential to gestalt. If/when Mainline Protestantism finally dies (let’s hope never, for a variety of reasons), this look’s final breath will follow.
IT gets it right: the hub (capitol) of this style is probably Brick Presbyterian Church. Their grandchildren are responsible for keeping Onward (mostly?) pleased with J. Press’ annual numbers.
A friend who buys more than he should at Ben Silver (Charleston) once observed that with First Scots (Presbyterian) and St. Philip’s (Episcopal), they’d “go out of business next month.”
Call Izzy at LS Men’s Clothing and ask about how a former Southwick lieutenant is leading has rejuvenated the American natural shoulder at HF.
* edit: ‘without’ First Scots and St. Philip’s. I’ll add Grace Church Cathedral.
Not directly, but perhaps tangentially, on point, Richard Press notes the success of the MTM suit sale at J. Press in NY and DC in his column this week: https://jpressonline.com/blogs/threading-the-needle-with-richard-press/the-suit-capital-of-america?utm_campaign=TTN%3A%20The%20Suit%20Capital%20of%20America%204.18%20%28TbgBv7%29&utm_medium=email&utm_source=email&_kx=yuF28jgLhLTkql5tebXZasFJAxiB5OHle6RyFvnPuGM%3D.Mhfb34. Among his observations:
“[Manager] Edman Puerto attributed its success to post-pandemic wardrobe refurbishing. Topping the charts are 9-10 oz. mid-weight Fox of England worsted suits. Navy blue is running even with charcoal gray with a smidgen of pin/chalk stripes added in the mix. Another [major source of sales was] a surge of weddings … . Favorite number — dark blue tropical worsted garnished by white OCBDS and regimental stripe ties. Mr. Puerto also noted a full range of new J. Press customers he attributes to the disappearance or the diminutive circumstance of past menswear stalwarts. He also hailed preponderant attendance from Washington university circles particularly boosted with an influx of Johns Hopkins attendees of their recently completed local campus quarters.”
I welcome this additional sign that classic Ivy is thriving, even if suit-and-tie wearing may still be more of a niche phenomenon than a major national trend. And as JB pointed out, OCBDs, repp ties, khakis and penny loafers seem to be here to stay in malls everywhere.
IT and SE – Very true about the Wasp church connection, at least based on my unscientific observations in Virginia, DC, NY and Charleston. Mainline protestant denominations may not be the only source of classic Ivy customers, but I would bet that O’Connell’s, J. Press, Ben Silver, Eljo’s, The Andover Shop and others are thankful to have them around.
Sorry JB, I just remembered to circle back. I totally agree about men over 40 and shirts. It should also apply to any guy with a done-lop (as in my belly done lopped over my belt) and fat Travolta.
A shorter link to this week’s Richard Press column mentioned above by Charlottesville:
Thanks, Linkman! Much better.