True University Style: Kuppenheimer, 1928

The above image, which comes from a 1928 Kuppenheimer catalog, ties in with themes explored in our recent rise and fall essay: namely town and country, or city and campus.

In it the three-button undarted suit is presented as “authentically designed” for the university man, while the postgraduate “Young Executive” model is a tapered two-button option.

These two different suit styles, offered by the same manufacturer, predate by several decades what Richard Press has said about the Ivy heyday, when J. Press’ two-button models were sold almost exclusively at the New York store, where they represented 40 percent of sales.

So while three-button jackets were associated with both city and campus, two-button models were associated with city only, reinforcing that the lasting influence of the Ivy League Look is the campus side of the genre. — CC

24 Comments on "True University Style: Kuppenheimer, 1928"

  1. HS&M, made in the USA! Bravo!

  2. I’m a shorter stocky kinda guy (5’9″) and always though I looked better in a 2 button. I’ll leave the 3 button to you tall athletic or skinny guys :)

  3. The Drape and other variations of the breed have earned a place on the sartorial map, and I guess it makes sense that midtown clothier would sell a lot of the more fitted kit. The structured, tapered, stiff tailoring with which urban business formality is rightly affiliated–roots in the military tradition. For me it’s overdone, unnecessary, less comfortable, and even slightly silly looking. But, well. There it is.

    The suit on the right looks like a version of the hard tailoring that’s everywhere these days–sometimes done really well (Dege & Skinner), but usually done very poorly. Go to your local mall for proof. Fitted, tapered, extended shoulders. Stiffness. Ugh.

    Brooks interpreted the old, 19th century four button sack: the softness acheieved by way of hand stitched shoulders, a light canvas, thin chest piece, no darting, and thin wadding in the shoulder instead of a pad. The American Soft Tailoring tradition. It was alive and well long before Anderson & Sheppard opened their hallowed doors, so I defend the look as somewhat derivative yet, at the same time, original.

    Soft tailoring is harder. More difficult for the tailor to do well. It requires more time and more attention to details (when done well). Which is why it makes sense what started out as a custom style has now (fill circle) returned to just that. The Soft Tailoring afficianados who (these days) go to Chipp or elsewhere for high quality cutting and sewing and good English cloth–they stand on common ground with the Yalies who bought custom at Rosenberg many decades ago.

  4. A.E.W. Mason | February 9, 2013 at 12:47 pm |


    All of it is very well taken and well-written. I think I read that Frederick Scholte was in fact influenced by the demands of some of his American clients, thereby contributing to development of the Drape. If I may be a stuck record, I like the high, old style role of the three-button on the left. The gorge and silhouette are more formal than what we think of today as the standard 3/2 roll. But when done with a shirt shoulder and just a bit of suppression at the waist it achieves, for me at least, the best combination of restraint and elegance.

    Your comments hit on an issue raised, if only by implication, by Leitmotif in comments to another post: Brooks took its cue from England and adapted it for Americans. This was long before the look and cut had any real association with the Ivy League. In the late 19th Century stores such as Brooks, Rogers Peet, and even Chas. Young (at 67 Wall Street, founded 1878) catered to businessmen, lawyers and the affluent generally. In fact, if you look at the ranks of the executives and management of the old-line industrial companies which accounted for so much of the nation’s early wealth, they are not predominantly Ivy Leaguers. I have some old printed J. Press catalogues which “market” (sorry to use that word) the look as simply “American.”

  5. “Restraint and elegance.” Well stated.

    A seasoned tailor in Manhattan (who specializes in custom natural shoulder clothing) has said the sack, when done well, is much, much harder to get right than all the other coats that harken back to the Victorian period–including the morning coat, the tailcoat, and the frock coat. Again, soft is harder. The more padding, the more mistakes a tailor can get away with.

    The sack’s inherent informality–the roomy, relaxed look and fit–made it suitable (excuse pun) for only the most informal of occasions and even vocations. Way back when, that is. Certainly appropriate for tennis, cycling, hunting, golf, and other outdoor activities. Daywear. Straight lines, boxy, short lapels.

    As a student and fan of Soft Tailoring, I am much more drawn to the real (as opposed to imagined) origins of the look. That young men who inhabited secondary school and college campuses were drawn to it makes sense. But that moment in the story is many, many chapters in. Before it was one option among campus styles, it was Brooks Brothers style. It was worn and appreciated by men throughout the country long before New England boarding school and college students discovered it.

    And thanks for the mention of Peet. Those old ads that feature the 4 button sack. Which brings to mind that “3 button sack” is a misnomer. The 3-to-2 roll is actually a 4-to-2 roll. That lapel notch–it deserves a button.

  6. The buttonhole, that is.

  7. Without meaning to tease – This is marketing input (a clothing catalogue) being used again.
    I would love an essay from you Christian on “The Selling Of The Ivy Style”. It is an unromantic part of the story but it is a part of the story. I think you would do it very well.
    The imagery of the campus certainly sold Ivy style to the wider population and is worthy of exploration.

  8. The recent fixation with “marketing” as a rhetorical device among you and 10 Englishmen on the Talk Ivy forum is utterly baffling, as it so obviously serves but one purpose: to keep Englishmen’s consciences clean that these clothes that they like are cool.

    When they were introduced to the “secret code” of Weejuns and buttodowns by their “guru,” they were fed a bunch of subjective associations such as jazz and movies and Beat poets. And nothing to them could be less cool than rich students from the ’20s and ’30s, who had already edited the Ivy wardrobe a generation before the broader public briefly took it up.

    Nobody in Japan or the United States thinks the way this small group of Englishmen does. Watching them defend their “marketing” position with Charlie Davidson would be amusing, as they’ve decided he’s cool (he dressed Miles Davis, after all), and yet no one is more against the idea of promoting or marketing his wares than Charlie, and nobody believes more deeply in the inextricable relationship between the clothes and “a way of life” among the socially prominent of the Northeast.

    The tireless arrogance and flat denial of basic facts of America’s cultural history, which these English guys say anonymously from their computers thousands of miles away in another country, is truly bizarre.

    I suspect that most didn’t go to college (whereas the Japanese Ivy fans did, which is why they venerate the role of the campus in Ivy’s history, while the English aren’t just merely uninterested in that side of the story, they have to prove that it’s some sort of hoax), which is why those connections are so threatening to their fantasy Ivy construct in which modern architecture and Weejuns are more closely aligned in the annals of history than Weejuns and Yale.

    By denying an entire aspect of our culture (the Eastern Establishment, style-setting on Ivy League campuses) and the tastes and values that are reflected in the clothing those young men codified for all of us, and reducing it all to an empty exchange of money for goods existing in a cultural vacuum just so English guys can feel cool when they put on penny loafers and buttondowns is insulting.

    Here isn’t the place for it; keep it in the UK.

  9. Oh,oh,Cris,I’m sorry,here is a my error.
    Is Kuppenheimer,not Hart, Schaffner & Marx.
    Here the link to the whole catalog.
    Note how many styles were availables in those days!

  10. Thank you. Corrected.

  11. My late mother used to say that my grandfather wore Kuppenheimer suits. He was over 6 foot tall, and Kupp clothes fit him well. As I remember my grandfather before he died in 1969, he was not a fashion plate like the above styles indicate.

    In the late 1980’s, I bought a Kuppenheimer DB suit. I recall the store having some problems with the alterations. The store manager ended up giving me a nice dress shirt and tie in order to alleviate my displeasure. I really didn’t like the suit from day one, and gave it to charity a few years later. The coat never really draped right, due to the botched alterations. I should have never taken it out of the store.

  12. @Christian But… but… “Sorry, But black guys just look great in Ivy”. Mr. Mellor ( the first guy to yell “raaacist”) actually wrote this today. Bet he likes the way they dance too.

  13. Speaking of undarted, center vented, natural shouldered soft jackets: anybody seen the new Ralph Lauren (Polo) Wellsley model? Looks pretty good.

  14. Ivyier Than Thou | February 11, 2013 at 7:31 am |

    Comment by Christian — February 10, 2013 @ 7:15 am

    ‘The recent fixation with “marketing” as a rhetorical device among you and 10 Englishmen on the Talk Ivy forum is utterly baffling, as it so obviously serves but one purpose: to keep Englishmen’s consciences clean that these clothes that they like are cool.

    When they were introduced to the “secret code” of Weejuns and buttodowns by their “guru,” they were fed a bunch of subjective associations such as jazz and movies and Beat poets. And nothing to them could be less cool than rich students from the ’20s and ’30s, who had already edited the Ivy wardrobe a generation before the broader public briefly took it up.’

    What’s also baffling is how rapidly this nonsense has become an orthodoxy verging on a mantra. It’s even used by that silly young one (who admits to being in his early 20s yet writes like a fourteen–old) to chastise the more intelligent ones, so apparently confident that he has the blessing of the master.

    Thank God that this place exists to waft a cooling breeze of rationality over such cultural illiteracy.

  15. @Ivyier Than Though

    I suppose if you fantasize about being a menswear ‘consultant’ yet have only ever been employed as a Saturday boy in a clothing store, and have never had a proper education, it makes one feel better to throw around buzz words like ‘marketing’.

  16. Anglophile Trad | February 11, 2013 at 11:02 am |

    Considering the fact that many of us have admittedly chosen tweeds, cords, regimental ties, etc., because they make us feel like our idea of English country gentlemen, I really don’t understand Brits who have adopted Ivy style when they can get the real thing in their own country.

  17. I think the main distinction between the British “Ivy” enthusiasts and the American Ivy crowd is that the term “Ivy” in Britain (and perhaps on the Continent of Europe as well) is a fashion term that corresponds to what people in the furniture trade would call “mid-century modern”. “Ivy” style was all the rage in the US in the 50s and most of the 60s – and the fact that it had incubated in the college culture of the pre-war period is immaterial to the fact that it was the fashionable style associated with the American jazz, art, and to a limited degree rock & roll, that people associate with all that was cool in that period.

    The British Ivy-fans are really just like the teddy boys, and rockabillies, who also fetishize vintage clothes and accessories, although the Ivy fans aim for a look associated with upper middle class tastes of the period, and the rockabillies favor an exaggerated redneck biker look.

    So, when a British person says “Ivy” just mentally translate it to “collegiate beatnik”, or “American mod”.

    To them the fact that marketers used the historic origins of the style in the liberal arts colleges of the American Northeast (although to be fair the style was also evolving in the liberal arts colleges of the South and Midwest – I’m sure if you looked at pictures of students at Oberlin or Vanderbilt in the 20s and 30s, they’d look not too different from the kids at Princeton or Yale, or Bucknell, Bowdoin, or Colgate, for that matter) as a selling point is irrelevant – that’s just the source of the label “Ivy”. To them what interesting about the style is its association with the jazz and arts culture of the 50s and early 60s, a period when it was a universal style that had long burst out of its collegiate incubation chamber.

  18. @Anglophile Trad… I actually grappled with this question myself for sometime. Why would the English latch on to American Ivy, when they already have their own version (Fogey or Toft or whatever you want to call it)…Well I did come up with a theory…and I should say I’m not an expert at all. My theory is that in England “fogey”is mostly associated with Eton, Oxford or Cambridge…On the other hand American Ivy, because it is different form the dress of an English country gentleman, and because American Ivy is sometimes seen on jazz album covers and had a influence on the Mod subculture, it becomes more acceptable to an Englishman from a working class or lower middle class backround, particularly one who dabbled in Mod or Northern Soul.

  19. @Cameron

    That “Leitmotif” guy actually attempted to leave a comment that ran “the campus sold the look,” when clearly he meant that 30 years before that “the look was sold on campus.” It should be obvious based on J. Press’ locations (New Haven, Cambridge, Princeton). Fortunately I saved him from such a gross betise.

  20. James Redhouse | February 11, 2013 at 9:29 pm |

    @Anglophile Trad

    So, we’re trying to look like them and they’re trying to look like us? Interesting point.

  21. Whoa, whoa, whoa—hold the phone! Are you guys saying that Ivy Style is about clothes?!

  22. @James

    Sort of. I’d say it’s actually more important that we’re trying NOT to look like them.

    America’s heritage is English. We were their colony, we speak their language, etc. But we also kicked them out to build a radically new democratic nation. Eastern Establishment taste has always been Anglophile. Until fairly recently, most of America’s ruling elite was Episcopalian (Anglican). The building blocks for the Ivy League Look are almost entirely English in origin.

    However, according to the Brooks book “Generations of Style,” sometime in the 1920s (when Ivy was beginning to flower), Brooks began to think of itself as more American rather than just importers of English goods.

    Moreover, as Fussell neatly points out in “Class,” upper-middle East Coast taste is characterized by archaism, Angophilia and understatement. This is what I’m talking about when I say the Ivy League Look is the sartorial expression of the values of its original and primary consumers. Taste and values deemed some components correct and others not, and the items that didn’t reflect values (which were largely shaped by the values of pre-war college students, who liked things that were sporty and casual), were selected for extinction.

    It’s the importance of understatement that accounts for the reason the undarted sack suit remained the default jacket style all throughout the 20th century, despite unprecedented social and technological change since the sack’s introduction in 1895. It was neither flashy via tapering nor “false” through shoulder padding.

    Here’s a passage from Geoffrey Wolff’s “The Final Club,” set at Princeton in the late ’50s:

    “Booth’s houndstooth, cut for his father on Savile Row by Huntsman during the Battle of Britain, was pinched at the waist; the boy rescued his presentation from foppery with a black knit tie and faded blue canvas Top-Sider sneakers, spattered by specks of bronze boat-bottom paint.”

    This tapered jacket was out of place, and could only be pulled off by being countered by “correct” Ivy items and correct attitude.

    Just as Brooks took regimental ties and flipped them the other way, the whole point of the Ivy League Look was that it was AMERICANIZED English country clothes.

  23. In that quote from “The Final Club” the fact that the jacket is a hand-me-down also adds to its non-foppishness.

  24. Breaking news from one of those Third World countries: Crazy Jim has meltdown over Carmelo’s use of the word “university” on Talk Ivy.

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