Ivy Trendwatch: The Ivy League By Daniel Cappello

Today Assouline sent out an email announcing the publication of “The Ivy League” by Daniel Cappello, my colleague at Quest magazine.

The book starts by examining the history of the Ancient Eight and its place in American (and increasingly, global), culture, and goes on to devote a chapter to each school and what makes it different from the rest.

Though primarily about the schools themselves, there are some great vintage photos and some passages about the style of American dress that takes its name from the Ivy League.

Below are some sample shots from the book (the final one, from freshman orientation at Harvard, is a spectacular shot of a sea of madras sportcoats), as well as Harvard alum Cappello’s first interview as he goes into promotion mode. — CC

• • •

IS: How did the idea or the inspiration for the book come about?

DC: I had been consulting with Assouline on several editorial projects over the years, and one day I got a phone call from Martine and Prosper Assouline asking me if I could come in to talk with them about the Ivy League. Their son was applying to college at the time, and they couldn’t find any one book that brought all of the Ivy League schools together at once, to really give a flavor for what each one was about. They knew I had gone to Harvard and spent a lot of my undergraduate days visiting friends at Brown, Yale, Columbia, and Princeton. They were full of questions about what made Harvard different from Yale, or Cornell different from Dartmouth, and so forth.

By the end of our conversation, we had an idea for a book of our own. In a way, they asked me if I was willing to go back to school with them—or, maybe better put, to go through the process of applying to college all over again.

IS: What were some of the interesting things you learned along the way? In what ways did you get a new perspective on the Ivy League or your alma mater Harvard?

DC: There were so many facts and figures that surfaced, and I kept finding myself wanting to explore certain ones further or dig deeper on others, but I knew I wouldn’t have the scope or space to do it in this book. So there were all of these little details and bits of trivia that endlessly fascinated me, like finding out that only five original manuscripts of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address exist, and Cornell is the only private institution to own one. Or that Cornell is the only university in the U.S. with its own hydroelectric plant. I could have done an entire book on sciences and engineering at Cornell. So editing, and learning where to begin and where to end with these broad subjects, was a big challenge on this book.

I suppose I did walk away with a different perspective on the Ivy League, and my alma mater in particular, though this perspective was something that was there all along—it’s just that doing the book gave me some distance and a new eye on things. I had to approach all of it as someone who was disinterested—it became a subject I was treating, not a personal attachment (though of course my personal experience informs it and gave me a handle on it). Having gone to Harvard, I think I had stopped thinking of it as “Harvard” a long time ago. Ever since stepping into Harvard Yard on my first day of freshman year, Harvard became less about what it represents to the outside world, and more about just my good-old college days: first dates, all-nighters, football games, lectures in Sanders Theatre, long brunches in the dining halls. But “Harvard” as a brand certainly has followed me ever since graduation, and in a way that I never quite sat down to think about, until I did this book. And in researching the many great things about Harvard—its impressive resources, its faculty, its student body, its long history of academic and moral excellence—I couldn’t help but get that feeling that stirred inside of me when I was first applying there as a 17-year-old.

IS: In general was there more preppy style or less than you expected on the campuses today? And how would you rank the schools, from preppiest to least, here in 2012?

DC: I think an easy answer might be that in general our sense of decorum is slackening when it comes to style. This is happening everywhere, from college campuses to corporate offices. One Princeton student I interviewed admitted she was sad that “sweatpants had taken over” on campus, and I did see a lot of that on all campuses—sweats, tees, running shoes. Not exactly the quintessential preppy or collegiate look that comes to mind when we think of the Ivy League.

But this, remember, is not untrue to the spirit of Ivy style. What we exalt today as good fashion—the so-called “Ivy style,” which you know so well and approach with almost academic rigor—was in fact a rebellion against formality, and a move toward more relaxed sportswear. Cute tennis sneakers, rugby shirts, and fitted letterman sweaters might have been a little chicer than baggy sweatpants, but the idea behind the impulse toward each isn’t actually so dissimilar.

I also think there are different variations of “preppy,” and it’s hard to classify or rank them all here, but certainly I think there’s a Princeton type of preppy versus a Yale type of preppy versus a Dartmouth type of preppy, and so on. Princeton is like the haute prep—bright colors, unexpected combinations, alternatingly prim-and-proper and rules-be-damned. But always well put together, no matter what’s at play. At Yale, there’s more of what I call a Maine ilk of preppy, or the “Land’s End look,” a sort of old WASPy heritage of sticking to basic staples and not caring so much if your rain parka doesn’t coordinate with your shirt or if your chinos are starting to become threadbare. One professor I spoke with who’s taught at both Brown and Yale said the difference between the two is that at Brown you can tell the richest kid in the class by the best-looking clothes, and at Yale you can tell the richest kid in the class by the worst-looking clothes. And I think that speaks to palpably different senses of style—many of them “sub-categories” of prep, if you will—that persist through today on many Ivy League campuses.

Daniel Cappello portrait by Hannah Thomson.

All images courtesy of Assouline Publishing.

1) Skimmer Day, 1956; courtesy of U of Penn archives. 2) Panel of students from Cornell University cheering in relief during the Radio Quiz Between Colgate and Cornell, © Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images. 3) Students playing pool circa 1962; Pictures of student life at Yale, 1779-1988 (inclusive). Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University. 4)  Students crossing the street near Berkeley College, 1950/1959; Pictures of student life at Yale, 1779-1988 (inclusive). Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University. 5) Freshman orientation meeting at Harvard; © Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

15 Comments on "Ivy Trendwatch: The Ivy League By Daniel Cappello"

  1. This looks quite tasty, CC. Unfortunate that you won’t be able to get us the scoop before the heavy hitters. Ah, well. Them’s the breaks of blogging.

  2. I politely requested one sliver of exclusivity. I think we talked about seeing the photos that didn’t make it into the book. Might be a possibility.

  3. Urban Haute Bourgeois | January 19, 2012 at 7:30 am |

    I have this great old book, published in about 1969, called something along the lines of “The Ivy League Guidebook.” It was written by the son of Reagan Defense Secretary Cap Weinberger, who was then likely himself fresh out of college. You can see some vestiges of trad in the pictures–funny enough, most amongst the students at Brown–but it is clear that the end had come. The book goes through and describes the various schools, their flavors, their peculiarities. There is also some wonderful stuff about the various types of fellow you will encounter once you arrive at the Ivies–the Bohemian (pictured with round glasses and a fur coat), the Jock (plain sweatshirt and lacrosse stick) and the Preppie (in his tweeds, with a smirk on his face and a glass of whiskey in his hand). There’s a whole section on campus protests and poetry readings and several mentions of how the Day of the Prep was passing. It is noteworthy that they were so conscious of The End while in the midst of it.

  4. @UHB — sounds like a great old book. However, given the preppy renaissance of about 1975-82, the Day of the Prep had at least one last gasp remaining.

  5. Just contacted UHB and he’s dispatching the book. Stay tuned.

  6. Sounds very interesting and the pictures have piqued my interest, good stuff.

  7. I know this site is called Ivy Style and all, but I’m somewhat amused that the book apparently grew out of a conversation among people so pretentious as to consider the only valid choice for college to be an Ivy League school. (Anyone taking bets that the kid ended up at Cornell?) Also love how the author wiggles around the straight fact that authentic “Ivy” style is basically absent on-campus these days, no matter how hard one wants to strain to find it.

  8. @Macgill

    Wow so many assumptions you make there. You really don’t have to try so hard to troll.

    You do realize the name of the site you’re reading, right? While there are many other fine institutions of higher learning out there, nobody really has any interest in reading about your thoughts concerning the awesome unpretentiousness of your days at the local community college.

  9. I hate to sound like a jerk, but there was a reason this type of thing was never put in a mass produced book. If you had to ask, you couldn’t afford it- so to speak.

  10. Richard Meyer | April 13, 2012 at 3:31 am |

    In the older pictures, the college students are trying to look like adults. Now, they too often try to look infantile-as do many of their elders.

  11. Dutch Uncle | April 13, 2012 at 7:40 am |

    @Richard Meyer

    “İnfantile” is certainly the right word. Many college students look like they’re dressed for nursery school.

  12. “One professor I spoke with who’s taught at both Brown and Yale said the difference between the two is that at Brown you can tell the richest kid in the class by the best-looking clothes, and at Yale you can tell the richest kid in the class by the worst-looking clothes.”

    That’s a great quote.

  13. @trip

    Long live Brown!

  14. As someone who goes to Yale, LOL what is this.

    Stop classifying an entire campus by how just a small number of people dress.

    The “lands ends look” does not exist here.

    Thanks.

    But we do wear a lot of navy and black. That is true. Just minimalist, dark, north eastern colors.

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