Must-Have Summer Vacation Item: The Dacron Suit, 1961


Every so often while working the Ivy beat, I come across an historical document so utterly anathema to the world of today that it feels like it’s from another universe.

Case in point, this advertisement just dug up by assistant editor Chris Sharp. It ran in a May, 1961 edition of the Brown University school newspaper, and is interesting for a number of reasons.

First, the otherworldliness. The ad (which, once again, ran in a college newspaper), argues that before students head home for summer vacation, they should get themselves not Bermuda shorts and madras shirts — and certainly not flip-flops — but a “frothy” new Dacron-blend suit! The selling point seems to be that they’ll be greeted by their home town as a young man whose future success is already assured, even if he’s still not old enough to drink.

The next interesting point is who the advertiser is: Clipper Craft, subject of a recent image gallery. Brown is rarely mentioned in the history of the Ivy League Look, and as there were no legendary clothiers serving the campus community — such as The Andover Shop at Harvard, J. Press at Yale and Langrock at Princeton — Brown students perhaps had to rely on Main Street manufacturers assuring them of “authentic Ivy” wares, in between visits, of course, from the road men of Brooks, Press and Chipp.

On the same page of the paper is another interesting ad illustrating the popularity of jazz on campus during the Ivy heyday, of which the 1960 movie “Where The Boys Are” remains my favorite dramatization. Because of problems the previous year, the Newport Jazz Festival was not held in 1961. Another producer team stepped in to fill the void with Music At Newport, whose lineup was an all-star cast of jazz greats:


Summer suits and American music of the highest refinement — for college students. Now I don’t want to sound reactionary or curmudgeonly, but my how things have fallen into this flip-flop, hip-hop age. — c C m

28 Comments on "Must-Have Summer Vacation Item: The Dacron Suit, 1961"

  1. Perhaps Mr. Sharp can follow up with a little piece on the campus clothiers that served Brown back in the heyday. Alumni please chime in if you can help.

  2. Brent in Virginia | July 12, 2013 at 11:44 am |

    I well remember that Brooks also made poly/wool blend sack suits several decades back and that, in theory at least, they were machine washable, although I would have been afraid to try. They were marketed as summer travel suits. I had one in slate blue glen plaid, and one in grey when I was just out of school, and not able to afford Golden Fleece. I think the summer poplin suits at Brooks and Press are still cotton/poly blends, although I haven’t see any poly/wool at Press that I can recall.

  3. Hillhouse Ltd., was the Ivy shop at Brown even though as its name suggests, the owners were from New Haven.

  4. Very good points. But, what about Briggs Ltd? Sold very traditional stuff in Providence during the heyday.

  5. I’m sure there were campus shops and am curious to find out more. But are any still around, like the Andover Shop, or did they have wider influence, like Langrock?

  6. From the mid fifties J. Press featured Dacron/Worsted suits, Dacron/Cotton linens, Dacron/Cotton Poplins and Dacron/Cotton “Cool Cloth” denims.

  7. Yes, the 60’s were synthetic in more areas than clothing! Space age everything. Have we come full circle?!

  8. A.E.W. Mason | July 12, 2013 at 12:50 pm |

    O tempora o mores! Does anyone know where I can get a time machine at a good price?

  9. Its also an age where jazz musicians wear flip-flops…

  10. The Brown story is sort of in the works, as mentioned Hilhouse and Briggs were big. But also there was Harvey. who billed themselves as providing the right Ivy league clothes because they were ivy, Brown graduates.

  11. Polyester is what it is, and I’m not a huge fan.

    Still, Holland & Sherry offers a suiting cloth called Capitana. It’s 60-40 worsted-polyester blend. A wee bit of cashmere for softer hand. Woven in England. An open panama weave that rivals Fresco.

    Weighing in at a mere 6.5 oz.

  12. I was at Brown in the early 80’s and remember two campus shops: Harvey Ltd. and a place on College Hill called Hillhouse. Nothing to rival Charlie Davidson’s place, to be sure, but you could get decent quality, traditionally clothing.

  13. I like how the text of the ad has “exam” in quotes. I imagine the editor must have considered that shortening examination in that way was student slang. If so I imagine the editor in question must have been born well back in the 19th century and was elderly indeed (perhaps cumudgeonly too) by 1960.

  14. Cameron,

    That’s one way to look at it. I have seen abbreviations and other casual words put in quotation marks in older writings; it seems to have been a way to include not-yet-widely accepted words. However, I’m not sure that’s what’s going on here. I see a play on words. The ad copy reads,

    One final “exam” before summer starts: examine MR. COOL by Clipper Craft.

    I think the copy writer was playing with exam-ine.


    Finally you have joined the rest of us and become a reactionary curmudgeon!

  15. A. E. W. Mason | July 12, 2013 at 4:47 pm |


    Polyester indeed: viz.

    “Polyethylene terephthalate (sometimes written poly(ethylene terephthalate)), commonly abbreviated PET, PETE, or the obsolete PETP or PET-P, is a thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family and is used in synthetic fibers; beverage, food and other liquid containers”

    If one of your old polyester suits ends up in a nasty landfill which is placed on the National Priority List, you might get a Special Notice Letter from EPA citing you as a Potentially Responsible Party (“PRP”).

    Okay, to my knowledge it never actually happened. Just making a point for fun.

  16. Brent – I had owned several of the Brooks Brothers summer suits from the mid 80’s and you are correct about them being washable. While I tried to rely on the dry cleaners, it was not always convenient. I would wash the suits, let them hang dry and iron them out the following night. I don’t believe these suits were attributable to one of their standard lines (Brooksgate, 346, or Golden Fleece)

  17. Roy R. Platt | July 13, 2013 at 1:44 am |

    I also had a suit similar to Brent In Virginia’s that I bought at Brooks Brothers in the early ’60’s for $50.00. Mine was also a blue-grey Glen plaid, and I used to wash it by hand in the laundry room sink, and then hang it up to dry on a plastic coat hanger that was shaped like a person’s shoulders. These hangers were sold as hangers to dry wash-and-wear suits on.

    I used to wear it with a Brooks Brothers straw porkpie hat with a navy blue hat band.

    The suit was very practical, as some days I got very dirty at work. I was working for the Santa Fe railway then, and much of the time I was outside rather than in an office, and it was always dirty outside and also sometimes very hot outside.

    In those days, Brooks Brothers suits also always had a watch pocket in the trousers, which was very useful for those who wore a pocket watch (A Hamilton 992B Railway Special) at work.

    I would probably still have the suit if it had survived a derailment in the late ’60’s. I still have the hat and the watch.

  18. The guy in the picture looks more like a fifty year-old than a college student to me. “It feels like it’s from another universe” indeed! 😉

  19. Roy R. Platt
    I have to ask, ever live in Topeka?

  20. Consider also that the world of today would be like an even more alien universe when viewed from the perspective 1961.

  21. @ Roy R. Platt

    I recall pants with the watch pockets. Even casual pants had them. I have several vintage pocket watches that I don’t use due to no suitable clothing. Vests were nice for pocket watch wear, but I haven’t owned a vested suit since the 80’s. I’ve thought about wearing a watch ala Gomez Addams, in the breast pocket of the suit coat or blazer with the chain attached to the lapel button hole. I’ve never anyone but Gomez wear one like that.

    I lost a nice pocket watch last year while golfing. The front trouser pockets provide no protection against loss. I saw my chain dangling outside my pocket one day with no watch on the end. The wife gave me that watch 30 years ago and it had sentimental value.

    I’ve looked repeatedly for that watch to no avail. Unfortunately, most possessions are like golf balls. Nobody ever owns a golf ball.

  22. Pale Male | July 13, 2013 at 8:17 pm |

    Didn’t Langrock still have a branch in Providence at the time?

  23. Roy R. Platt | July 13, 2013 at 11:51 pm |

    @ MAC

    No, I never lived in Topeka.


    When I’m not wearing a vest or trousers with a watch pocket I put my watch in the change holder in the right front pocket of my jacket. Sometimes I put my watch in the front trouser pocket, but I’ve never had the misfortune that you did. There are some (misinformed) people who think that I have very deep pockets. I don’t have very deep pockets. I just don’t move very fast anymore, so my watch stays way down in the bottom of my (quite ordinary) pocket.

  24. A.E.W. Mason | July 14, 2013 at 5:32 pm |

    I recall the small front pocket used almost exclusively for cigarette lighters. My father and virtually everyone he knew smoked. My parents and their friends could put up a Pittsburgh fog within ten minutes of gathering. The watch in the breast pocket hanging from the lapel button hole is a British custom if I’m not mistaken. C.S. Lewis is an example. See also Hugh Laurie in several episodes of J & W. Several barristers I’ve known also subscribe to the style.

  25. @Brent

    I, too, had the “wash and wear” suits from Brooks. I bought two summer-weight suit, one glen plaid, the other medium grey with chalkstripes. Purchased in 1987. I never dared wash them, though! I just couldn’t believe it. Wish I still had them.

  26. Yes, as others have mentioned, there was Hillhouse Limited in Providence. It closed for the last time on Dec. 24, 1996. The February 1997 issue of the Brown Alumni Magazine included an article, from which I’ll excerpt:

    “an establishment known to generations of male Brown students as the place to go for the proper blue-blazered Ivy League look… The store’s identity was inseparable from the university it served… ‘Returning alumni thought we were the one constant at Brown,’ says owner Bob Singer, who had unlocked Hillhouse’s doors most mornings since 1950. The clothier opened for the first time in 1939 as Langrocks… Seven years later, Langrocks gave way to Hillhouse and moved a few blocks to 135 Thayer Street…. bestsellers have included blue blazers, khaki pants, gray slacks, and Shetland sweaters. The 1950s and 1960s in particular were golden years. Hillhouse was among a number of fine Thayer Street men’s shops at the time…”

  27. I am under the impression from my research that the Brown Alumni magazine, may be a little off in the fact department. That said it is a good place to start.

  28. Robert Solomon | July 14, 2014 at 4:44 pm |

    There were 4 men’s stores on College Hill in Providence near Brown in the 1960’s:

    1. Hillhouse Ltd. was originally Langrock, and lasted until 1997. The store was located at 135 Thayer, opposite Brown’s Rrefectory, aka “The Ratty.” In the 60’s they had a branch in Springfield run by Herb Singer, Bob Singer’s brother. Bob died in 2005 at 85. I think Bob Singer was a Southwick salesmen who acquired the store from Langrock. Pilgrim Cleansers, a dry cleaner, was in the basement. In the late 70’s-early 80’s, Bob dabbled also in selling women’s clothing.The last time I looked, Brown Student Agencies was storing refrigerators in the building mostly empty Tudor building.
    2. Harvey Ltd. was located on Waterman Street, between Brook and Thayer. It was owned by Phil and Harvey Lapides, both of whom were Brown alumni. Their ads always read : “Phil and Harvey are Brown men.” They started selling Ralph Lauren in the 70’s. They had a branch in Clayton (suburban St. Louis) run by a third, not Brown, brother. It is now a Subway,
    3. Mark David was much smaller in size, on Thayer Street, and opposite University Drug. it was owned and operated by Leonard Goldstein, who I believe was from the Deep South. His son opened a second store nearby in the late 70’s, called something like Mark II. Not natural shoulder clothing at all. Both are long gone.
    4. Arthur Palmer was on Thayer Street, next to the bus tunnel. He sold Levis, Sperry Top Siders and a limited range of sporting goods such as squash and tennis racquets.It is now a Starbucks.

    Briggs Lts, was downtown, and served; although they sold mostly natural shoulder clothing, they served a very different market.

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