My Baby Did Not Go To Columbia.

I remember getting lit up one time by a reader in the Facebook Group about wearing a Harvard sweatshirt when I didn’t go to Harvard.  And in his profile pic,the guy was wearing a Yankee cap.

I used to think it was a measure of intelligence to be able to hold both sides of an argument in one’s head.  Having spent some time managing my own head, I now see it as a matter of emotional evolution in equal parts to intelligence.  It takes some consistent positioning to not over attach one’s self to one’s own thoughts and positions.   Not saying that I am good at it, in fact, I will say it – I am not good at it – but as a matter of exercise I do try to hold both sides of any position in my head.  Then I pick which one I think lines up best with my own particular guardrails, and try to present that position in the clear context that there are other schools of thought about it.

Except this.

My daughter is 14 years old and has an Ivy Hoodie collection in her closet.  She’s bright but she is not Alia Sabur.  (That’s a seriously in-the-weeds reference, so there’s a link). She has not attended any of those universities and for all I know she won’t.   But they are aspirational, so she wears them.  That’s not inauthentic, it is respectful.

Which is not to say that you would call out a 14 year old girl in a Brown sweatshirt.  I don’t think you would.  But then, why would you call out a 50 year old man?  Is there a Sell Buy date on aspirations?  Does respect get stale?

Holding both sides of the argument becomes a mental bull ride when it is the same people who say that clothes don’t make any value statement who then say yeah-but-you-can’t-wear-that.   If clothes aren’t value oriented, why can’t I?  Why can’t you?  And I get tossed off the bull when it is people who say they don’t respond to or care about packaging who then write that if you didn’t go to Columbia you can’t wear Lion’s boxers.  Ok.  You CAN’T wear Lion’s boxers, but not because you didn’t go.   If packaging doesn’t impact you, why do you respond to what I have on?

If I WERE going to hold the other side of the argument in my head, I would say, “Look, the problem is that wearing a Harvard sweatshirt implies that you went to Harvard.”   I dunno, Yankee cap, I can tell you I NEVER thought you played pro ball.   Interpreting the message of anything is in its largest part based on what headspace you are bringing to the interpretation.   So it is well worth a think to consider why you would draw that conclusion about Harvard but not about the Yankees.   Is it because YOU didn’t go to Harvard, and you are bringing that whole I-underachieved stigma with you to the party?  Further, why do you care that someone is implying that they went to Harvard by wearing a sweatshirt?  Let them.

Maybe they think the most aggressive pursuit of intellectual development is something that should be billboarded.  I mean, if you think that, wear a Columbia sweatshirt.  But you take my point.

I have a buddy who used to work for the highway department and he had no children.   He was a good guy though, and a really good racquetball player (racquetball is the large print of racquet sports but he was very good at it so I thought I should throw that in).  Because he had no children, and those of you with children can attest to this, his level of discretionary income was at a higher mark than some of his peers.   We used to drink at the same pub, and one of the servers there had a horrible story, she was a very very bright girl but she had a horrible story, and wanted to go to college (SUNY – State University of New York, which is an incredibly affordable path to higher education, much recommended).  But she could not afford SUNY.  So a bunch of us committed to putting tuition together for her for four years.  My friend agreed to match whatever we were all throwing in.  And he did.  She (the former server) is now an attorney.   To celebrate her college graduation, she bought my friend a sweatshirt from the SUNY she attended.   He wore that shirt every day he could.

Is he a tool for implying that he went to college?  Or should you perhaps revisit why you get that bothered by it?

One of the values that attracts me to the Ivy aesthetic is the dogged pursuit of excellence in everything, and the humility employed when that excellence is recognized.   It is not Ivy to resent someone who is wearing something they didn’t earn.  It is Ivy to live within your own accomplishments.

I know what you are gonna say.  Ok, but regimental ties.   That’s out of line.   How do I know you are gonna say that?  Because you have.  Some of you, anyway.  And yes, it is true that I did not serve.   And it is in all likelihood true that you did not either.  But go up three paragraphs.  Perhaps I am communicating respect for the value system the props up that regiment.   And appreciation of it.    Read that bit about resenting implication again, see if it resonates.

So why can’t I wear a Purple Heart even though I was never injured in combat?  Because a medal has no other message other than a symbol of personal accomplishment or sacrifice.  It means nothing else.  That’s why.

I for one think it would be great if everybody wore a Dartmouth hoodie on weekends, and a repp tie during the week.  Rather than worry about being insulted or what the kids are doing to my traditions, perhaps it is more productive to cheer the message and get myself out of the way.

 

 

 

73 Comments on "My Baby Did Not Go To Columbia."

  1. Ouch. Clearly an emotional nerve was struck here.

    • It was over four years ago, but I have heard it said about a lot of other people. And it just doesn’t make any sense. 🙂

  2. “It is not Ivy to resent someone who is wearing something they didn’t earn. It is Ivy to live within your own accomplishments.”

    I’ll call this into question– the first part (sentence.”

    If you didn’t attend an Ivy League school, don’t wear the hat, t-shirt, or sweatshirt. Or sweatpants. Or blazer patch.

    It’s really, really, mind-bogglinggly difficult to get into these schools. It’s a good idea, I think, to honor this fact– the effort. ‘Wearing something you didn’t earn’ is, in this instance (and many others), absolutely, totally, 100% not Ivy.

    “I noticed your sweatshirt. Did you graduate from Yale?”
    “Uh, no.”
    “Oh, uh, I see. So, are you fan of the athletic teams?”
    “Uh, not so much.”
    “Oh, uh, okay. So… why are you wearing a Yale sweatshirt?”

    This isn’t resentment. This is legitimate confusion.

    • It is difficult to get into the NBA too. Yet they sell jerseys.

      • It’s a long standing tradition to wear the emblems of the sports teams you’re a fan of. It’s not a tradition to wear the emblem of an institution you do not belong to, unless there is some interesting, personal story that somehow connects you to that institution (as in the case with the SUNY sweatshirt). But to each his own, obviously.

  3. If Harvard were concerned about this, wouldn’t they make these things available only at the college bookstore, and require an ID for purchase?

    I have mixed feelings about regimental and school ties. Some of them just look so great! However, I respect those who have “been there, done that, got the tee shirt”. Sam Hober has one American Military Tie which I am “authorized” to wear. I guess it comes down to a matter of conscience and good taste.

    When I was a kid, a popular item was a tee shirt which said, “PROPERTY OF such and such STATE PENITENTIARY”.

    • That’s an interesting point. Instead, I bet you are right, that Harvard probably doesn’t mind seeing its logo… around.

    • Excellent point about “requiring an ID”. Many organizations that bestow awards and recognition require proof of award before you can replace, add, or expand your collection of “been there, did it”. BSA Eagle Scout is one. No card, no adult square knot.

      Anyone can support and should be able to show support for the important and valuable in their life. I went to a class at Harvard and bought a sweatshirt because it was cold. I owned one from Alabama when my son was there, the “money and kid” thing. My Alma Mater values the ring, it is a 4 year controlled earn. You have to put in the time. I look for rings not T-shirts, which are sold openly at all home games. But they look you up when you have to replace the Ring.

  4. Cannot agree with the Harvard sweatshirt / Yankees cap comparison: when you wear something with a school logo, there’s a (not unfair) implication that you or someone in your family is affiliated with the place in one way or the other; rarely does anybody see your hat and ask, “When did you play for the Yankees?”

    This blurs somewhat in the South and the Midwest, where it becomes about “fandom”: wearing an Auburn t-shirt, or a Tennessee Volunteers hat, is the same thing as wearing a Yankees cap back East.

    Nobody wearing a Harvard sweatshirt ever says, “I didn’t go there, but I’m a hardcore fan of the fencing team.”

    • Charlottesville | July 25, 2022 at 10:32 am | Reply

      I tend to agree, Paul. I didn’t see your comment until I had already hit send on mine.

    • Hi Paul. I think that was kinda my point, maybe I didn’t word it correctly. The implication IS unfair. What if you aspire to go there? Or what if you just really like the values? And yes, it does blur as schools become more accessible, which maybe reinforces what I am saying. Wearing something you aspire to is motivation.

  5. Charlottesville | July 25, 2022 at 10:29 am | Reply

    I tend to think that one should have some connection to a school, club, etc. if one is wearing the institution’s clothing, but for a sweatshirt, for example, it may be as tenuous as being a fan of the sports team. Many (most?) of the people I see locally wearing UVA sweatshirts are not alumni, any more the the guy ragging on JB was Aaron Judge. The same goes for kids collecting ball caps, etc.

    I don’t wear logo sweatshirts, but I have a tie in the colors of the Brigade of Guards. I don’t believe most people worry about the colors in a repp stripe tie, or would even be aware of the connection. But I think it would be presumptuous to wear it in England, and I would not wear a J. Press Skull and Bones tie here for the same reason.

  6. “…when you wear something with a school logo, there’s a (not unfair) implication that you or someone in your family is affiliated with the place in one way or the other; rarely does anybody see your hat and ask, “When did you play for the Yankees?”

    I agree with Paul.

    Ivy alums run/rule the world. They have for a long, long time– going back to the early days (pre- American Revolution) of this country. This can inspire all sorts/types/kinds of resentment among people who are not Ivy (or liberal arts equivalent, like Wiliams or Middlebury or Swarthmore…) alums. They are, for better or worse (I’d argue definitely for MUCH better), The Establishment. Have been, are, and will be. “It’s their world; the rest of us — well, we just live in it.”

    • That sounds a little disenfranchised, not sure I agree with it. I think Moms probably rule the world. But say you are right. What is wrong with wearing that says I want to be like them, or even better, I AM THEM.

      • I don’t know about that JB. Single moms maybe, 30 years ago. Those who refuse to be moms, today. But they don’t rule the world. They’re just getting played…by Harvard grads mostly. Moms rule the household by usurping Dad’s authority. I’m all for aspiration, but I don’t want to be them. They need to want to be me, and they need to want it hard.

  7. I was with you until the Purple Heart. That suddenly and sharply struck a nerve. Sure, you CAN wear one if you didn’t earn it. But SHOULD you? More particularly, should you continue to wear one if you encounter a vet in a wheelchair?

    There is something in this can vs should thing.

  8. the passenger | July 25, 2022 at 11:00 am | Reply

    I won’t even wear gear from the school I DID attend. That said, someone who is that touchy about whether or not one went to a school one is wearing clothing from is the sort of person I try to avoid associating with as much as possible.

  9. If I went to Columbia and happen to meet someone at a party who is wearing a Columbia polo shirt or tie, it’s only natural for me to say something like: I was at Columbia in the 1990s; when were you there? If the guy admits he has no connection at all with Columbia, I’m not going to make a federal case about it but I might think he’s a bit of phony. And that’s not my problem, JB. It’s his.

  10. My wife and I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. If I got mad or judgmental about everyone I saw wearing UT gear that didn’t attend, we would have no fans. We almost have no fans as it is. I have a good friend and his son went to Yale but my friend went to UT also. How could anyone have an issue with him wearing Bulldog gear?

  11. The Amazing Tom | July 25, 2022 at 1:43 pm | Reply

    Schools make good licensing fees from their name and logo. Press pays to sell Ivy school logos. People who pay to purchase the clothes are supporting that school(and probably Nike too).
    From 538 are the percentages of the US population who have served by branch: Breakdown by branch of service: 3.1 percent of all living Americans have served in the Army, 1.7 percent in the Navy, 1.4 percent in the Air Force and 0.8 percent in the Marines, while the remaining 0.5 percent served in either non-defense or reserve roles.

  12. This is an issue that pertains only to highly prestigious institutions. If I meet a guy wearing a Mississippi State sweatshirt, I’m more than likely to feel sorry for him, whether he went there or not.

  13. Interesting discussion. I’m on the side of “the passenger” in terms of not wearing clothing from the schools I DID attend (save a ribbon belt from my prep school). That said, if I came upon a conversation between someone wearing a sweatshirt, etc. from a school they didn’t attend and a person belittling the wearer, fairly easy to decide who I DON’T want to spend time with.

    That said, would approach the situation “Em” describes above the same as they do. Have seen this situation play out up here in Maine once this summer at cocktails. No malice from the person asking, rather just exploring a common connection. No pushback either, not that kind of crowd, but definitely one to ask about your Fly or Porcellian tie if you happen to have one on.

  14. Charlottesville | July 25, 2022 at 2:26 pm | Reply

    Just slightly off-topic, I recall that when I was there in the 80s, the W&L bookstore used to sell a baseball cap that said “Washington & Lee Country Club.” Back then it was pretty close to the truth and showed a certain amount of good-humored self-awareness by the management. The closest thing to W&L clothing that I wear these days is a bar stripe tie from J. Press that happens to be in the school colors (blue and white).

  15. This matter is irrelevant to me. I don’t know anyone in my social circle who didn’t go to an Ivy.

    • 1. I guarantee that isn’t true but 2. if it is you should expand your circle and 3. if it is irrelevant, why write about it? xoxo – JB

  16. Fifty dollars says you got kicked out of the Facebook group this morning, J. My email is JohnBurton@Ivy-StyleMediaGroup.com, why don’t you use a real email address and write me there. So I can show it to you and collect.

  17. Your message wasn’t delivered to psimmons434@msn.com because the address couldn’t be found, or is unable to receive mail.

    Imagine my surprise.

  18. I see this audience knows very little about the billion dollar collegiate licensing market. Lol!
    And I only say this because I spent 20 odd years representing the Ivy markets.
    My New Haven store would sell 60% to non Ivy clients. And Yale would gladly accept 10% royalty on those sales.

  19. Craig – what’s a “non Ivy client” and how on earth did you determine the academic backgrounds of those buying licensed items from you?

    • Non Ivy. No affliation with the school. Tourist, visitors, Conference attendees.i know because we had Yale student discounts and the students knew. Show the ID get a 10% discount. The POS keeps track.

  20. Not-so-hypothetical situation: A person goes to Executive Education at an Ivy school. Can he/she say they “went” to said school?

    [Exec Education of course does not require any form of admissions process per se, just that the person be employed by a company who ponied up the $$$ for said employee to attend. It’s still a great education, but focused on certain subjects, with no degree of course.]

  21. Geoffrey Kabaservice argues that alums of Princeton, Yale, and Harvard run/rule the universe as we know it– and have since the Puritans founded Harvard sometime in the 1630s. They are the so-called “Liberal Establishment,” and, to repeat, they reign. (Apparently). Digby Baltzell convinced me (and others) that we desperately need a strong, high-minded, God-fearing aristocratic (in the best sense of this word) Establishment to “keep the republic” (Ben Franklin)… so I’m now mostly convinced that the Establishment has been failing us for a long while. Not only do a lot of them lack manners, (genuine) humility, and real intellectual curiosity, Ivy League administrators (ah, the Cult of the Dean) have fostered the ‘Organization Man’ mindset (Whyte).

    See David Brooks’ piece on Princeton as a sort-of factory that turns out robotic, bland, quant math-obsessed “Organization Kids”:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/04/the-organization-kid/302164/

    One of my favorite people in the whole world turned down an admission offer Harvard (it happens) to attend UVM, where he studied forestry. I’m certain that, had he graduated from Harvard, he would not own anything with HARVARD on it. And I can’t imagine how hard he’d laugh if I suggest he wear one now. (“Uh…why?).

  22. If not being a graduate from a “place” prevented a person from wearing “Spirit Wear” then Vanderbilt would be as well represented as Tennessee in Tennessee.

    • A conditional statement containing a double negative. Excellent. I’m no Harvard grad, but I figured it out. Thanks.

  23. I own Yale and Harvard caps, both from JPress, and I’ve never even been near new haven. Conn. or Cambridge mass. I just happen to like the way they look. Sue me. Do a citizen’s arrest, challenge me to a duel (which I will politely decline).
    You see one of the most beautiful things about America is this thing called freedom.
    I’ve been asked if I attended either of those two storied schools, and I reply I saved a ton of money and bought the cap instead!
    For those who go into paroxysms of horror with imposters such as myself, there’s this other called life. Please go live yours, and let me live mine.

  24. David Knatcal | July 25, 2022 at 11:17 pm | Reply

    The SUNY sweatshirt story is relatable. A former student of mine went to Cornell and graduated as a Merrill Presidential Scholar. As part of the award he picked a K-12 educator that influenced him the most. He picked me and Cornell paid for me to go back and participated in the ceremonies. While there he gifted me a Cornell tie. I did not attend Cornell – I attended a not prestigious state university – but I wear that tie often and with a lot of pride. More pride than if I attended myself.

    • That’s awesome and I bet any Cornell alum that asked you about the tie would love to hear the story and of your pride in a former student.

    • David,
      I went to Cornell-
      Please wear your tie, you earned it.
      Best,
      Foghorn

  25. The best advice I ever heard is that you only wear a school logo of where you went to school; where your spouse went to school; or where your kid went to school.

    • Or you are employed at the school. I work at a major University and wear the school tie quite often. But to be honest it is very difficult to get a hold of one as they don’t sell it tin the campus shop.

  26. When I was in middle school, I got my dad to buy me a Duke hoodie. I’m from and live in California. I didn’t know about the basketball team or that it was in Georgia. I got it because I was seriously into Duke Ellington at the time. My dad was slightly perturbed but got it for me anyway, but only after telling me all the pertinent info “because you’ll need to know this if someone asks you”. I didn’t realize it then, but that was a life lesson.

  27. “Exec Education” – for whatever reason I find the notion of someone who attended an exec education class at an Ivy presenting themselves as having “went” to that school infinitely more odious than someone simply wearing a sweater from a school they didn’t attend. That said, I doubt many attendees of these programs present themselves as an alumnus/ alumna, regardless of how they depict the experience on LinkedIn. Always get a chuckle out of those courses listed on LI profiles.

    • Gosh, you’re so much better than them.

      • Gosh no. And gosh, you missed the point of this comment and much of the discussion, which basically boils down to “do you”, but “don’t claim to be something you’re not”.

        • You missed the point. It’s also about whether one should give a damn about whether someone is claiming to be something they’re not. It boils down to “who gives a **** about your Harvard MBA?”

          • Missed your attempted point perhaps, but hardly the point of the discussion.

            You may not give a damn about whether someone is claiming to be something they’re not – up to you. I’m certain most would prefer their airline pilots to be commercially licensed, their medical professionals board-certified, etc. etc. and not claiming otherwise.

            • Perhaps you should read JB’s piece instead of just the comments. In the very first paragraph, he talks about a twit who chastised him for wearing a Harvard sweatshirt despite having not gone there. JB replied that the twit’s Facebook page showed him wearing a Yankee hat even though he hadn’t played for them.

              Now you come along splitting hairs over a regular MBA versus an executive one. Again, who gives a damn?

              PS Regarding the pilot, I want one who has proven he or she is a good pilot, not just a good student. I don’t give a damn what flight school he attended.

              • Read the piece, and believe we have a misunderstanding. Far from splitting hairs over an executive MBA over a traditional one, I view executive MBA and “traditional MBA” as equivalents. Distinction without a difference. All hold an MBA.

                Re: Expat Yank and “Executive Education” in his words: [Exec Education of course does not require any form of admissions process per se, just that the person be employed by a company who ponied up the $$$ for said employee to attend. It’s still a great education, but focused on certain subjects, with no degree of course.]

                My comments referred to executive education. Taking a weekend course in management at Harvard, Yale, etc. requires no admission, confers no degree, etc. THAT was the basis of my comment.

              • Read the piece, and believe that we have a misunderstanding. Far from splitting hairs between an executive or traditional MBA, I view them as equivalents.

                You missed the distinction Expat Yank drew regarding “Executive Education” programs – in his words “Exec Education of course does not require any form of admission process per se, just that the person be employed by a company who ponied up the $$ for said employee to attend. It’s still a great education, but focused on certain topics, with no degree of course”.

                My comments referred to executive education courses, hence my confusion with your comments. Taking a weekend course in management at a school requiring no admission, conferring no degree, etc. was the basis of my comment.

  28. The Amazing Tom | July 26, 2022 at 9:06 am | Reply

    The Army licenses mass market workout gear.
    The Marines also license clothing. I would assume the other branches do likewise. It’s another form of promotion.
    I have heard flag covered caskets where the deceased did not serve in the Armed Forces or public safety. Anything goes these days.

  29. John, your point is well-taken: if we see a high school student wearing a Harvard sweatshirt, we might pat them on the back for aspiring to go to a good school; just like we might admire an 8 year old who wears a Yankees cap because he wants to play for them some day.

    I’m not sure what the 40yo wearing a Harvard tie at a cocktail party is “aspiring” to, though.

  30. This discussion reminds me of a joke and, in my experience, a truism all in one:
    -How do you know if somebody went to Harvard?
    -Because they tell you.

    • Usually beginning with, “At my school…” 😄
      And you know what? Good for them.

      • Whether or not they’re wearing the sweatshirt, they’ll most assuredly find a way to let you know. In my experience, this phenomenon unique to Harvard grads. And yes, indeed, good for them! 🙂

  31. My wife and I both went to ivy or ivy-adjacent graduate schools. We often discuss whether or not attending graduate school at an ivy league makes you an “ivy-leaguer.” For those who wish to keep the barrier to entry as high as possible – as not to not water down the purity of the gene pool – certain questions must be answered.

    Am I “in the club” if:
    -I transferred to an ivy in undergrad?
    -I transferred from an ivy to a non ivy in undergrad?
    -I only attended an ivy for graduate school?
    -my degree program was only a year long?
    -my degree program was primarily remote/I never stepped foot on campus?
    -I received a certificate, but not a degree?

    This line of questioning hopefully illustrates how pedantic/banal/vapid this mindset is. Once again, I appreciate JB’s helpful critique of the exclusivity that has come to define the ivy-league.

  32. If, say, a person buys a Yale and/or Harvard cap and wears them because he/she is “free” to do (and because they look swell)–well, uh, okay. Let’s further hypothesize the person is asked about the caps (at a social gathering, for instance–“Hey, did you graduate from Harvard? Which year? I’m class of ’98…) and replies flippantly, “No, I saved a ton of money and bought the cap instead.” Imagine the look on the face of the person who inquired –especially that person actually was able to attend because of scholarships (and maybe loans and grants), studying and working hard to earn the (wearing of) the cap in question.

    Better yet: imagine what that inquirer is thinking about the gratuitously-and-unnecessarily irate, churlish reply he/she has just received.

    Yeah, a person free to do it.
    Doesn’t make it right, wise, or sensible.

  33. The modern-day context is important. These days a large and growing % of Ivy League students and recent alums are/were able to attend because of scholarships, loans, and grants– and, quite obviously, because they’ve worked INCREDIBLY hard. The days of “the privileged-but-dimwitted sons of the very rich” comprising much/most of an Ivy League U. freshman class are long gone. So, the owning-and-wearing of the cap, sweatshirt, and/or t-shirt is earned (by way of merit)– deserved. If Yale was once safe haven for boneheaded, hail-fellow-well-met legacies who socialized their way through four years,
    it’s not anymore.

  34. Mac Mcconnell | July 26, 2022 at 4:58 pm | Reply

    Are you saying Harvard grads don’t uderstand humor?

  35. Am I “in the club” if:
    – I pay off another’s student loan?

    And, will I get the discount rate on the necktie?

    Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.

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