Legacy And Tradition And Not An Ounce Of Fun

A couple of years ago I posed the question “Is trad clothing politically incorrect?” The general consensus was that the answer is “no,” and the reason is because Democrats and Republicans have historically and currently worn traditional American natural shoulder clothing in equal measures, so the look doesn’t belong to the Kennedy dynasty anymore than it does the Bush clan.

But that’s not quite what I was getting at. What I was coyly suggesting was whether traditional clothing is something that hovers above party lines — like a poisonous fog. In other words, bad all around. Ripe for social ostracizing in educated coastal environments, or “spaces,” as the kids say these days. After all, who wants to wear the clothing associated with a) aristocratic, style-setting Princeton rich kids of the 1930s, while regular folk were starving through the Depression b) heyday-era college men and office professionals aping a top-down style c) preppy jerks from the ’80s d) stuffy older trad-wearing guys across the spectrum, from George Will to Bernie Sanders, and e) upper middle-class people from suburban New England?

Who, I mean, besides us. And the Japanese. So are we about to enter a period of chaos fueled by the perfect storm of ever-lowering casualization with a collective ethos that views any sartorial reminders of the past as out of touch with our current malaise-reality? Well last week The Washington Post’s fashion critic Robin Ghivan suggested this very thing. It was in the context of her review of Ralph Lauren‘s latest runway show, and came with the no-holds-barred headline is “It’s 2018, Ralph Lauren, why do you think this look is still cool?”

Yes the leading American designer, the great Gatsbyesque American success story, the genius fashion recycler of all the uppity looks from history — Ivy League, English country gentleman, Savile Row, Old Hollywood — has finally become obsolete. Looks like “timeless” has an expiration date after all.

Now the men in the runway show weren’t wearing any of RL’s tradlier items, as the inspiration for the collection was an Art Deco-era resort look. The men virtually all wore espadrilles, even with suits. But if they’d been all prepped-out, Ghivan would have likely been even more censorious. As it was, the evocation of vintage glamor was not a welcome escape, but a stale prison:

… too many of the men looked as though they were headed to Wall Street or an old-guard country club that’s all legacy and tradition and not an ounce of fun, rather than to the beach or a lazy supper by the water.

Wall Street, country clubs, legacy and tradition are no good. Ditto for prep schools:

He looked like a prep-school punk rather than someone with whom you’d want to have a couple of daiquiris.

And while all runway models strut, one inspired fantasies of violence:

And the guy in the blue vest and yellow sweater with his chin jutting out and his strutting gait — well, he just looked like a fella who was asking for it.

Finally comes the crux of the matter, the heart of the critique: Lauren is channelling a world that is not only neither cool nor fun, but is in fact corrupt:

Lauren has never been focused on turning out cool clothes, avant-garde or overtly sexy ones. His goal has always been to exploit a particularly American notion of exceptionalism, aspiration and success — the kind of success that begets wealth.

Lauren sold customers on this glossy American promise. But so many things that once seemed so right and perfect and true have been revealed to be imperfect, rotten or fundamentally broken. Below the surface, the beautiful things are just not quite right: The once mesmerizing sweep of Hollywood, the shattered fantasy of fashion photography, the impugned standard bearers of media, beleaguered democracy.


Glossy doesn’t just seem ill-timed; it raises suspicions. It leaves one feeling unsettled. It leaves one asking: What fresh lie is this?

Under these new circumstances, the Ralph Lauren collection looked less like something to aspire to and more like something to flee. Get out of that exclusive country club that has revealed itself to be selective in unconscionable ways. Get out of those fine dining establishments where the staff is systematically harassed. Get out of your bubble. “Get Out.”

Get out of your bubble, indeed. After arguing that classic elegance is something repulsive — associated with crass restaurant diners (as if the customers at Applebee’s are any kinder) — Ghivan shifts gears to argue practical banalities. It’s not just that the clothes offend our sensibilities and aren’t cool (as the headline declares), they’re just bad business:

But the brand does not seem to be grappling with how the story of America is changing. Our ideas about the aesthetics of success have shifted. Luxury for many people is being able to roll through the day without ever having to wear anything more formal than leggings, limited-edition sneakers and a T-shirt that can only be purchased in Japan. That’s an extreme look. But it underscores the fact that today, informality is a luxury.

Perhaps that’s the greatest offense that comes from Ralph Lauren’s “aesthetic”: it inspires you to dress up. And we certainly can’t have any of that. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

48 Comments on "Legacy And Tradition And Not An Ounce Of Fun"

  1. G. Bruce Boyer | February 18, 2018 at 1:03 pm |

    What I want to say might be as welcome as unrenumerated legal advice, but the reality is that Mr. Lauren has always the Great Editor of (1) the faded English grandeur, (2) Old Hollywood, (3) the fictionalized West, and (4) the Princeton-Oxford Look of 1938. He didn’t invent any of these aesthetics, he was the great commodifier and commercializer of them, and among the first to understand History as a nostalgic commodity. One might call it POSH MORTEM: deathstyles of the rich and famous.Relentlessly sentimental, painstakingly refined, quaintly redone, it was a vision in which the past was his only style manual. A Hallmark card of privilege and Brie. Ms. Givhan gives much honest food for thought in her critical review. We may take her caution to be — although she doesn’t put it this way — do not love nostalgia more than you love today, the past may catch up with you.

  2. Grey Flannels | February 18, 2018 at 1:22 pm |

    1) I have never once come across a Ralph Lauren item that was done better than those from J. Press, Brooks Brothers, The Andover Shop, or O’Connells on which it was modelled. 2) Why buy RL/Polo when one can buy the real thing?

  3. I would say that her article must be satire but I’ve just read about her. She has a history of making stupid, ire-provoking remarks.

  4. Ho-hum, heard it back in the sixties, and ever since: leave the boring old country club for the newest latest club, tee shirts are cool, you’re old, etc.

    I like that line about “the models were perfect, but….no life”. Since when do ANY runway models show a lot of “life”. And the guy “asking for it”? Is she…gasp, sob…”victim blaming”??? Little fashion reportage, lot of virtue signaling, typical and tiresome

  5. CanadianTrad | February 18, 2018 at 2:09 pm |

    I always appreciate your comments, Mr. Boyer. Well said.

    I purchase RL clothing from time to time. He’s not the only game in town for Tradish OTR Big and Tall clothing, but he doesn’t have much competition. That being said, I wouldn’t touch anything in that runway show with a Hudson Bay branded oar, but that’s not made for us.

  6. Richard E. Press | February 18, 2018 at 2:23 pm |

    God forbid mid-21st century nostalgics romanticized wife-beaters and sweatpants.

  7. She misses the point of RL. He can be exemplified as the one who took Trad from the Country Club/Prep School/ Ivy League to the mall. He made the look of Wasp respectability mainstream by turning it into just another look that can be adapted or cast off at will. He expanded ones fashion choices. In her egalitarian nirvana shouldn’t expanded freedom of choice be celebrated ? The problem is that Trad/Preppy/RL attire is still associated with malevolent WASPs striking down the great unwashed for getting “uppity”. Recall that GHWB and former NJ Governor Keene were advised to loose the embroidered belts etc to appear more mainstream and less Patrician.

  8. I see Traditional Anglo-American menswear as an “Escape into Timelessness” and out of the Fashion Rat Race!
    True Timeless stuff was found more in Savile Row, BB, J,Press et al.. Maestro Ralph’s specialty was Timely Versions of Timeless Classics aspirationally marketed to the masses at an often higher pricepoint!
    It sounds like WASPs are now being regarded as the Decadent Aristocracy was after the French Revolution! Beau Brummel was the answer back then but if there’s one on the horizon, I haven’t seen him!
    There’s some irony in the fact that it was my Uncle Ned Brower, of Beau Brummel Ties, who was the first to hire Ralph as a tie designer back in ’67!

  9. Who really cares what she has to say about anything.
    So why bother to acknowledge her at all?
    I don’t care what anyone says about the way I dress, because I dress the way I want and regularly get complimented for it.

  10. Wearing Ralph Lauren to own the libs.

  11. So, Ms. Ghivan declares RL “uncool.” No news there. RL has always been about the country club ethos: exclusivity, elitism, political incorrectness and snobbery towards the masses. It has never been about democracy, egalitarianism, and individualism. Polo’s DNA has always said “you can’t afford this” to the huddled masses with their noses pressed up against the glass.

  12. Mitchell, I’d disagree with that point. I think that inclusivity has always played a role in the brand; African American models have featured prominently in RL advertising for decades. Like all the great WASP icons (Fitzgerald, JFK, etc), Ralph Lauren the man was no WASP himself. I’ve always felt that he took the trappings of an aesthetic that was beautiful yet exclusive and brought it beyond the members-only clubs, campuses, and institutions.

  13. David Sullivan | February 18, 2018 at 8:10 pm |

    Why does everything have to have a political statement attached to it, perhaps I just don’t feel as though I want to wear clothing that would be appropriate at a Monster Truck competition. This is making politic way too important in society. Isn’t the current wave of society individualism? Or Perhaps this only includes individualism if it does not portray a past that some people do not like?

  14. fred johnson | February 18, 2018 at 8:25 pm |

    I noticed that Uncle Ralph has brought back forward pleated trousers in a baggier fit; perhaps a promising sign?

  15. For an alternative view of Robin Givhan’s sympathies, I recommend you read her coverage of Carolina Herrera’s runway showing. Herrera, you might say, actually is what Ralph Lauren pretends to be: the designer to the old-moneyed class. Givhan is more understanding of the disjunction between fantasy and reality in Herrera’s corner of the fashion universe.
    The review is headlined, “Carolina Herrera, Patron Saint of Manhattan Elegance, Says Farewell in Classic Style” and concludes, “Herrera’s design sensibility evoked a New York of long lunches full of witticisms, cocktails with bon vivants and formal dinners that were raucous rather than prim. To some degree, that version of the city may always have been a bit of fantasy or, at best, a rare truth. But Herrera made a convincing argument that not only was it real, it could be yours.”

  16. I don’t know where Ms. Givhan resides, but she knows little of the men’s apparel trade.
    I have just returned from MAGIC. RL is still the bright light in the men’s wear trade. Even BB is making clothes for Pee Wee Herman. Traditional clothing is still the business standard. Interesting there were several English manufacturers showing some suits and jackets that still had drape and style.

  17. LOL! Glad to know that all it takes to trigger Christian’s fragile ego is to call him boring.

  18. Grey Flannels | February 19, 2018 at 1:26 am |

    Except for the occasional navy blazer,I always wear a selection of tweed jackets and neckties that look more-or-less like each other, always grey trousers, and a solid white or solid blue OCBD shirt: The epitome of “boring”.

    And yet, I am always complimented on how I dress, and always look much better than most men I see around.

  19. Mr. Boyer presents a very fair summation of RL.

  20. Mr. Boyer’s criticism can be said about any of the clothiers we here at Ivy Style wear. Mr. Boyer is old enough to know that everything gets recycled. RL is a master at it, although I miss the 1970s RL when his stuff was a cut above the rest. Those of you that only know RL from the mid 1980s on don’t know what you missed in quality and detail.

    Ms. Ghivan has done well for a gal from Detroit to Princeton to Vogue to the Washington Post, but she always seems to have a political bend in her fashion critique. She is still fun to read.

  21. No gets this kind of clothing unless they’re really into it. The same can be said for lots of other great stuff. Why would anybody expect the author of this (not superbly written) piece to ‘get it’?–appreciate it?

    “Traditional clothing is still the business standard.” Yes, it is. This won’t change anytime soon.

    Hardwick is experiencing something of a resurrection. New models, including one called “Ivy.” The description reads as follows:

    “Ivy: A throwback body from our archives aimed to capture the growing retro ‘trad’ aesthetic, we dipped into our history to offer an American-made option for the most American look of all: Ivy Prep. Straight from the pages of Take Ivy and LIFE magazine of the 60s: a longer cut, undarted, center-vented jacket, with a flat-front fuller cut pant tapered down to the leg opening. Clean, simple, retro American heritage in classic fabrications – what’s old is new again.”

  22. God forbid anyone aspire to success. Why not just be lazy? And, hence, have your apparel reflect your ethos?

    If we have to, as Ms. Ghivan appears to intimate, politicize everything, then let’s look at what message is being sent. There is no doubt that people who are successful in modern society work hard. Successful entrepreneurs, those in the business and professional fields, successful athletes, educators, all work extremely hard for their achievements. But many dress “down.” And the example then followed by the masses, the rest of us, is that we think the successful can achieve by being lazy, because we see that in the most obvious and first impression they bring to us, their clothing.. That is the message that is sent, intended or not. My problem with sloppy, lazy clothing is that it reflects a sloppy, lazy persona, and, taken on the grand scale, a sloppy, lazy society. It reflects decadence, carelessness and complacency. I want no part of that. I want to aspire to something better. But that’s just me.

    The Concord Diaspora

  23. Social justice warrior meets trad style: the inevitable collision occurs? (Although I see people of all types wearing RL, just that they’re vastly outnumbered by the legions of wearers of normcore and althleisure styles.)

  24. It’s hilarious to see devotees of this blog complain about someone politicizing fashion.

  25. Joel
    I’m not aware of anyone ever politicizing a man’s fashion sense, just his character or his politics.

  26. Yeah we all want to dress like a bunch of Antifa activists.

  27. @Grey Flannels |
    I agree with ‘the real thing’ and I always thought RL was way over the top… but there have been times when only he made whatever I was looking for ‘perfectly’ . Also the quality is always outstanding and that’s not always been the case for other companies named in your post, despite their reputation.

    @David Sullivan
    I think we are seeing the politicization of everything because the country is beginning to finally crack up (literally) along ethno-political lines, but really fostered by a new elite which not too ironically came into power in the 60s.. they want to accelerate the end of old America and old Europe and that means that anything that represents that to them must go, statues, history, and yes, even your repp tie.

  28. I think that trad clothing does not look good in a runway show.

    When trying to show off the trad clothes in an abstract way or to evoke higher fashion, it embodies all of the negatives people associate with preppy clothing as listed in the article. It might work for Italian designers and European fashion trends, but not for classic American works. The clothing is just too simple to be shown off in a high fashion show.

    If people were to wear the pieces in a more subdued way and in an everday place like at the office or at a restaurant, I’m sure that the feelings evoked to the viewer would be less negative.

  29. Joel,

    Though this is a question I last remember asking a girl back in the ’80s, what are you wearing today?


  30. @ S.E.
    Unless you shortened the Hardwick statement, they’ve failed to mention the single most important part of an Ivy jacket: a natural shoulder. If Hardwick or one of the other contenders were to tailor a jacket with what I recognise as a proper natural shoulder, I shall buy. And I’ll buy if the price is only just this side of highway robbery!

  31. Vern Trotter | February 19, 2018 at 1:06 pm |

    For some reason Ghivan’s review, a woman’s viewpoint, I assume, reminds me of our moribund US Winter Olympic team which I am told was put together to achieve diversity, not excellence. The result is an embarrassment.

  32. Hey Vern, just a quick comment, but do you think that the US Winter Olympic team is excessively diverse to the point of hurting our competitiveness, considering how 91% of the US Winter Olympic team is white?


    Additionally, the 2016 US Summer Olympic team was more diverse (see article above), and placed first in medals won. How odd!

  33. Anyone watch the NBA All-Star game last night?

  34. “She misses the point of RL. He can be exemplified as the one who took Trad from the Country Club/Prep School/ Ivy League to the mall”

    The chronology is off. The Ivy League look swept the country in the early /mid fifties.
    It, and its’derivatives became the default style of non-Eastern Elite colleges, management
    and the professions for more than a decade. Ralph Lauren came along in 1967 peddling
    wide ties to trad dressers during the Age of Aquarius. I actually saw him at Bloomingdales
    checking the displays.

  35. I have a hard time believing Will gave up 1-900 numbers in the 80’s.

    Will, word of advice: traps are gay.

  36. Richard Meyer | February 19, 2018 at 3:24 pm |

    Last time I read a column by Givhan, she was trashing Justice Roberts and his wife for having their little son and daughter wearing, respectively, a little jacket and tie and dress slacks and a little dress at Justice Roberts’ swearing in as Chief Justice; presumably Ms. Givhan would have preferred something “hip”. Since then, I do not read Ms. Givhan. BTW, in the pictures I’ve seen of her, she dresses very unattractively.

  37. Vern Trotter | February 19, 2018 at 3:29 pm |

    Diverse simply means “widely varied.” “More” or “less” doesn’t calculate. The opposite would be if the team were all white, all black, like most NBA teams, or all gay, I suppose.

  38. I have found the Ralph Lauren collection messy and slovenly.
    A beautiful piece as the pin strip navy double breasted suit is worn with a uglt tie and rust espadrillas.
    This is nor “timeless”,classic or “patrician” is only silly.
    So Mrs Ghivan have right: Ralph Lauren, why do you think this look is still cool?”

  39. In the Western mountain whitopean backwater where I reside a large percentage of the men – many far more affluent than me – dress (IMO) like slobs with ungroomed beards or perpetual stubble and in need of a haircut.

    In contrast I endeavor to be reasonably well dressed in a Trad/CC Filson/Pendleton manner and clean shaven whenever I egress my bunker.

    The result is not infrequent questions as to why am I “so dressed up” to which I reply, “Because the psycho-hillbilly look doesn’t work for me.”

  40. Folks, let’s tell the truth,
    Be “young” is so damned boring !

  41. Joel

    If I were planning to change teams, I think I could do better than you. Too whiny.



  42. RL’s show wasn’t traditional enough for me. Rather hammy, in my opinion. I miss the old Ralph Lauren. As for Ms. Ghivan, if she wants to be taken seriously, she should have simply ignored what she thinks is no longer valid instead of shining a light on it. But therein is the problem. It IS still valid, and it really gets under some people’s skin. Tough shit, babe.

  43. Wayne M. Dzwonchyk | February 20, 2018 at 5:35 pm |

    Aren’t democracy and egalitarianism, on the one hand, and individualism, on the other, antithetical? Ralph has lived his dream. He aspired to the life style of the Eastern WASP elite, even as it had begun to fad when he got his start, and he has recreated a version of it for himself and his family. America is a great country, is it not?

  44. It’s always those on the outside looking in who complain the loudest, Ms. Ghivan.

  45. Straight Arrow | February 24, 2018 at 8:08 am |

    @Grey Flannels,
    50 years ago, I dressed like you.
    I still do.
    I used to look like everyone else.
    Now people compliment me on being an individualist.

  46. Don’t let newspaper writer tell you what to wear. Wear what you like and not what some “expert” says is “cool”.

    If you like RL wear it. Personally I find some of the RL outfits too cosplay. But each to his own…

  47. Dan Ashlin | March 31, 2018 at 3:19 pm |

    PATRICAN WANNABE. RL WAS GENIUS. He saw demand for the style and gave us what we wanted. It was an excellent marketing and business decision to go in that direction. He didn’t come from exclusive country clubs or Wall St. He had a gift for Knowing it would work and work it did. If it had been pet turtles he would have been the pet turtle guy!

  48. Duke Devere | July 11, 2019 at 9:23 pm |

    I very much dislike, the bad taste, of the inside, sole sucking, horrible person, who goes by the name Robin Ghivan. who is in my personal opinion, without, and very much, lacks refinement needed to, dress herself tastefully.

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