Main Street Ivy: The Sears Catalog, 1964

Sears called its Christmas catalog the “Wish Book.” It, along with other oversized glossy catalogs, came to American households every year heralding the Christmas buying season and giving children plenty of images to fantasize over.

Studying them is a remembered rite of passage. In the days before gender neutrality, girls’ thoughts turned to Mrs. Beasley Dolls and Easy Bake Ovens, while boys dreamed of Red Ryder BB guns and Lionel trains. The clothing pages were annoyance you had to flip through to get to toy nirvana. If the clothes were thought of at all, it was with certain trepidation that some well meaning relative might linger on one of those pages and buy something practical, like a snow suit.

What was unknown to us was that mysterious mechanism called puberty that would somehow transform neckties, briar pipes and pheasant-phestooned highball glasses into desirable Christmas gifts. With that in mind, I was a little surprised that the Sears catalogs were not as toy-centric as I remember. And on that note we present the Sears “Wish Book” of 1964.

These images are a few of what it offered in men’s clothes, in which you can certainly see the Ivy influence. Ten years after LIFE Magazine proclaimed that Ivy was spreading across America, it had now arrived in mailboxes everywhere. No longer solely on Madison Avenue, York and Nassau Streets, the look — or at least some reasonable approximation of it — could now be had on Main Street.

Marked by a slimmer silhouette and the diminutive lapels of the time, it is fair to say the clothes are a tad derivative of better-executed contemporary clothing offered at campus shops such as Irv Lewis in Ithaca or Hillhouse in Providence. Many items featured in the catalog were offered in family-friendly and mother-approved blended fabrics. The odd waistcoat is a nice touch. What is not known is whether this was just an odd bit of fashion recycling or a knowing homage to the Ivy look that began to rise to popularity in the ’50s.

The clothes were likely well made union offerings, better then what is sold today by its namesake, but still downmarket at the time. It is doubtful any of the buyers of these clothes had any loyalty to the Ivy League Look.  Sears, like most of America, was fickle and would change with the trends, and a few years after this catalog Main Street started to look like Carnaby Street and Haight–Ashbury, and this would be reflected in the pages of the Sears catalog. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP

Christopher Sharp lives in upstate New York. He is a former community-newspaper reporter and a veteran of the Global War on Terror. He has served in Navy Reserve for over 20 years. He was recently appointed assistant editor of Ivy-Style.com.

48 Comments on "Main Street Ivy: The Sears Catalog, 1964"

  1. Charming images, thanks for the post. I’m surprised by the range in sizes being offered, as well as that “cardigan” style blazer. Quite an odd bird, gives me a bit of the same vibe as a venetian loafer.

  2. Nice comparison, Dan!

  3. Main Street in the Heyday as B-list Ivy.

  4. Tragic that the jacket pattern is better than so much of what’s available today.

  5. Maybe wistful, Proustian: les temps perdu?

  6. Nice post Christopher!I really enjoy the pics. I will say that those jackets have nice lapel rolls although they are small lapels.

  7. If these gents hit the streets today, as dressed, they would outshine a huge portion of our male population! Nice post and reminder of when men were far better dressed. Love the show of shirt sleeve by all too!

  8. Dan
    Don’t get me going on f-ing Belgium loafers. 😉

  9. Other readers will have noticed that the words “traditional” and “classic” appear several times. This underlines the argument that this was considered the proper way for a gentleman to dress, whether or not he had even heard the term “Ivy”. They will also have noticed that it was assumed by copywriters that terms like “natural shoulders” and “hook vent” would be comprehensible to the average American reader of the Sears catalog.

  10. I am constantly surprised when trolling the local Salvation Army stores for vintage wear that Sears clothes, outerwear in particular, has such style. If the Ralph Lauren’s of today aren’t knocking these coats and jackets off directly it’s awefully close.

  11. Would that Sears stocked this clothng today, it might (still) be a profitable enterprise…

  12. report from the heartland | February 13, 2013 at 7:18 am |

    I have a Robert Hall men’s blazer which fits perfectly (I am a medium-sized woman) and is so well made, it will never be given back to the Good Will (from whence it came). It probably cost a nice hunk of someone’s weekly wage (and provided the same to the woen who sewed it) which is also quite different from today.

  13. I believe that many people that were ordering these items from the Sears catalog were doing so because Main Street stores in many parts of the country did not, in fact, have them available. Sears was, therefore, not only rendering a service to these customers, but to the propagation of traditional, classic style.

  14. Would be interesting to line up all the catalogs from the early ’50s to late ’60s and see when they introduced the jacket cut and when they dropped it, and for how many years they used terms like “traditional” and “classic.”

  15. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a men’s sportcoat with no lapels before (it’s a common enough style in jackets for women). Is there even a name for that style? The wool and acrylic blends were probably not so great, but I imagine the wool/alpaca blends were really nice. And, after adjusting for inflation, were probably a serious bargain.

  16. Soft, high roll to the third button. No Brooksian 3-to-2 here.

    I like the Mediterranean Blue (flannel) shade. Not easy to find these days.

    “Tailored shoulder.”

  17. There was a reason Sears was once known as the store where America shopped. And yes, we in Middle America were aware of “Ivy”. Hell! Mom used to dress my brother and I in Ivy-esque clothing in the ’50’s.

  18. I recall being quite horrified with the lapel less coats. In 1964, at age 12, I thought all jackets and suits were ultimately destined for no lapels. The Beatles debuted in no lapels. Science fiction depicting the future depicted no lapels. I felt like all was lost.

    Fortunately, lapels were here to stay. Unfortunately, dress codes were not.

  19. P.S. In the 1970’s, most of Sears clothes, suits, pants, shirts, socks, everything became either 100 per cent polyester or mostly polyester. Awful clothes. The cut was anorexic for everything. I haven’t bought any clothes there since about 1974.

    Stick to paint and tools.

  20. A.E.W. Mason | February 13, 2013 at 2:26 pm |

    Very nice garments. I too love the high roll.

    In re Robert Hall:

    Dear Ms. Heartland,

    I have a beautiful Robert Hall tweed suit, probably from the late 1950’s. A high roll 3 button, it may be my favorite suit. The quality is remarkable. But I seem to recall from my teenage years that Robert Hall was a discounter. I can still see the ugly store on Long Island and I don’t ever recall going into it. What’s your recollection of the Robert Hall profile.

    Finally, I think I read somewhere that at one time Sears would actually custom tailor mens’ clothing. Is that true? Anyone know the answer?

  21. Growing up in this era, I can testify that a high point of every year was indeed the arrival in the mail of the Sears Wish Book. Sears in the 1960s was America’s largest retailer, and as such wielded enormous influence throughout the smaller towns and cities of the country where exposure to style and fashion was generally only accessible through TV and magazines.

    The Carnaby Street look did work its way into the Wish Book in ’66 or ’67 if I recall correctly, offered alongside the more classic products. The first salvo was not too bad; more turtlenecks were shown in lieu of shirts and ties, a number of double-breasted blazers were added (usually with a slightly higher gorge,) and of course, pants with an ever-so-slight flare, usually in a Glenurquhart pattern.

    Notice that the jackets shown here display just two cuff buttons. This two-button cuff seems all but ubiquitous in the mid-1960s films that I watch, with a 3-button version showing only occasionally. This seems to be the norm whether the film was shot in the U.S. or in Europe.

    Nevertheless, every suit and jacket I see today has 4-button cuffs, which I find excessive (though easily remedied.) If the subject jacket is a blazer with metallic buttons; the 4-button cuffs appear particularly overdone.

    I can’t recall when the 4-button look became the norm; does anyone remember?

  22. 4+ buttons cuff are the norm in Europe for bespoke double breasted and three buttons since 30s.
    Anyway never less of 3+ buttons.
    For USA i think that this thing of 2 buttons is Ivy League.
    In 30s and 40s in American movies, buttons on the cuff of the suit were 4 or 3.

  23. For A.E.W. Mason:
    Yes, Sears had MTM service,until early 50s i think.

  24. And remember that MTM ,until 40s at the least,was for the most hand made.

  25. Robert Hall was known for it’s “Pipe rack ” Displays. Like a garment center work room. I remember shopping at Lever and Greenberg. I think it was on 16th and 6th Ave. Pipe racks loaded with suits. They put them in boxes? and attached a handle at the checkout. They used to advertise on News Radio 88. Probably what drew me to what was then a decidedly unhip section of Manhattan!

  26. Carmelo; I believe you are correct; the sub-4-button cuffs must be a mid-20th Century U.S. phenomena. Here are are few photos illustrating the 2-button look:

    Miles Davis: http://www.nepr.net/sites/default/files/miles-davis.jpg

    Dick Van Dyke from 1967: http://www.movieposter.com/posters/archive/main/108/MPW-54107

    Finally, George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany’s:
    http://images1.fanpop.com/images/image_uploads/screencap-breakfast-at-tiffanys-895217_852_480.jpg

    I think I am going to stick with three, with an occasional two to spice things up

  27. Never thought of a navy blazer as an adventurous clothing item.

  28. We mostly talk style, fashion and branding, but I’ve always wondered who and where these items of clothing were manufactured prior to America’s textile decline in the 1970s. Very few , if any, brands or designers or retailers ever own factories. Most brand manufacturing was jobbed out to factories. One can only imagine Sears or military clothing being made in the same factories as some of our favorite brands in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s.

  29. Although it’s rare, I do noticed two-button cuffs every now and then when watching old movies. For a random example, I believe Jeremy Irons wears a two-button cuff in “Brideshead Revisited.”

  30. Brooks Brothers had two buttons on the cuffs, at least into the 1980s. Back then, the partners where I worked (an accounting firm) all bought their clothes at BB, and the jackets had two-button cuffs. (Head over to HTJ to see the old BB catalogs.) I bought three BB suits in 1989, and they had two-button cuffs. So definitlely not just a 1950s or 1960s look.

    Ditto on Robert Hall: We had a number of those stores in Michigan back in the 1970s. They had a reputation for inexpensive duds. Sort of the Men’s Wearhouse of their era.

  31. I think that two buttons in the cuffs were on Ivy sack coat until the beginning.
    Is a feature from 1890s sack.

  32. @ Old Trad:

    Re: “Classic” & “Traditional.”

    Spot on! My grandfather and father were, respectively, a senior railroad executive (the Roads owned by E.H. Harriman) and a partner in a large Wall Street law firm. Their world was saturated with Ivy Leaguers yet they never referred to their clothing as “Ivy.” It was simply taken for granted as classic American style.

  33. I remember there was a Robert Hall on Hillside Avenue in Herricks, on Long Island. I never went in there, but I always thought it was a “Big & Tall” type of store.

  34. Re: sleeve buttons

    Growing up on the West Coast, I saw only three or four buttons on the sleeve, never two. I wasn’t even aware of it as an option until I started reading about men’s style on the Internet.

    All of my Ralph Lauren jackets (suit or odd) have four buttons, and darts, too.

    Perhaps it’s another instantiation of the West Coast/East Coast divide.

  35. Henry, I’m positive it has to do with time and not geography. Once much more common, a two-button cuff just isn’t seen today in RTW.

  36. The first sport jacket I bought had 2 buttons on the sleeve, in 1966. I’m thinking back, my Dad’s sharkskin (a Cary “North by Northwest” identical) had 3 buttons.

    The suits I bought in the 70’s – 90’s all had 3 or 4, the majority 4.

  37. OK, this just hit me: Look at Brooks Brothers.

    Press did a three-button cuff. However, Norman Hilton, other heyday manufacturers, and many Main Street clothiers followed the Brooks model of two.

    Post 1967 the Main Street clothiers moved on, and many of the campus shops gradually went out of business or changed their wares.

    The latest Brooks catalog I have is from ’84, and it has two buttons still. They were the last one standing (Press having always done three), and the new kid on the block (RL) followed other models and did three or four.

    So the key to when the two-button cuff disappeared was when Brooks stopped doing it. You’d want to look at catalogs from the transition period of when M&S bought them. Perhaps production when offshore and the new factories started doing it that way, overruling Brooks orders, or the new guys at Brooks giving the orders didn’t know or didn’t care.

    So I’m guessing between ’87 and ’90 the last of the two-button RTW cuffs disappears.

    In addition to consulting BB catalogs Zach of Newton Street would have great insight as he’s seen hundreds of jackets from they heyday through the ’90s by many different makers, and might have a conjecture for when it stopped appearing on jackets.

    Sounds like an assignment for Mr. Sharp?

  38. It is not correct that J. Press “always” did a three button cuff. Not even close to being correct.

    I’ve seen Press jackets with two button cuffs. JacketS. Plural.

    Take a look at the myriad of J. Press catalog and brochure photos (available online) and you’ll see lots of circa-60s jackets with 2 button cuffs.

  39. Lesson: Always remember to never use words like always and never, and don’t trust Squeeze’s memory.

    I still think my theory may hold about BB and when they ended, though.

  40. Hmm. That’s a good hypothesis, CC. It probably is more temporal than geographical, as well as Brooks Brothers-centric (there having been no Brooks Brothers stores around my home town until recently).

    I’ll have to ask my 84-year-old father if he remembers how many buttons his sleeves had in the 50s and 60s.

  41. Christopher Redgate | February 15, 2013 at 9:53 pm |

    I wear a lot of vintage odd jackets that I’ve acquired through thrifting, and most have 2 button cuffs. I have a few British 3 button tweeds with single button cuffs, and I seem to notice that the 2 button cuffs are more common on blazers and sports jackets than on suits. I had always thought that more cuff buttons indicated a garment that fell closer to the city/formal end of the spectrum and fewer buttons meant more country/casual… Anyone have any insight on whether or not that is a factor?

    Also a semi-related anecdote: I was recently in a well-known vintage menswear shop in the South end of Boston, and in the course of chatting with a woman who was working there, I pulled out a thrifting find from earlier in the day to show off. It was a sack-cut 3/2 roll camel hair sports jacket, made for some campus shop or other iirc, probably of early to mid 1960s vintage. In looking it over she said something along the lines of, “nice find, it’s in great shape, but isn’t it missing some buttons?” It wasn’t, but I’m certain the reason she thought so was the fact that it had 2 button cuffs. The jacket in question eventually found its way into Zach DeLuca’s collection as part of a trade. I second the suggestion that he might be able to shed some further light on the timing of the 2b cuff’s disappearance…

  42. My tailor likes 2 working buttons. A nice look. I think this is what Chipp did on occasion for Cy Vance.

  43. S.E. – You have a good tailor; a few years ago I asked a tailor at BB to finish my cuffs with two buttons and he looked at me like I was from another planet.

    I attended a reception in Beverly Hills yesterday afternoon, after which I walked up and down Rodeo Drive investigating jacket cuffs. All suit and sport coat cuffs in the shop windows including BB and RL displayed the hegemonic four-button look with the exception of those at Tom Ford; his suits featured three functional buttons with two fastened.

  44. Christopher Sharp | February 16, 2013 at 11:21 am |

    Brooks Brothers was sold in 1988. The suit line up changed in 1989. In my mind the no1 became the authentic. I looked at the Spring 1991 catalog and did not see any two button sleeves on any of the jackets however in July of 1991, I have the bill of sale, I bought three summer suits with two pairs of pants each in what would have been the Authentic line, blue pincord, gray seersucker and blue seersucker all of them are three button fronts with two button cuffs. My Blackwatch madras sports coat from around that period is a three button front and has three buttons on the cuff. So things were changing. I would say you loose the two button sleeve at least on suits when they stopped doing the model 1 in any real form but that date is not one I have discovered.

  45. Thank God for the 3-button cuff. The 2-button cuff looked like it was an afterthought or that, in fact, one button was missing. The 3-button cuff presents a sense of completness as well as creating a balance to all of those buttons, buttonholes, flaps, patch pockets on the face of the jacket.

  46. This post reminds me that, for one season, Ralph offered the Russell model–easily one of the better (more authentic) replication/resurrection of the classic Ivy Heyday jacket I’ve seen among off the rack options in decades. I bought a seersucker jacket on sale. I wish I had bought more.

    Where are the really good off the rack sack coat options. The runner-up to the PoloRL Russell was, IMHO, the Rugby “sack coat.”

    Leave it to Ralph to nail it. The theme that year was “Ivy Row.” Hand framed, seamless Shetland crewnecks made in Scotland. I can’t believe I passed.

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