As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on Cable Car Clothiers, here’s another San Francisco treat, a little piece on prep I did a few years ago for the Nob Hill Gazette, for which I’m still scribing. — CC
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Back in the year 2000, I finally got myself to the big city: San Francisco. It wasn’t very far, just 60 miles from where I grew up, but a big change.
Full of an earnest interest in elegance and an ironic fascination with social hierarchy, I reached out to the society paper The Nob Hill Gazette, which gladly threw some assignments at me. As I recall, one was about buying a European noble title (such as a baronetcy), which in France and Scotland are passed down via land instead of primogeniture. I interviewed some upper-class British fellow living in SF who said “It’s all so very middle class,” in the most contemptuous drawl you can imagine, so in other words I was having a good time.
The magazine even did a segment on the local TV morning show and had me on as an eligible bachelor (I think I modeled pajamas), yet another example of why you shouldn’t trust the media.
Recently I reconnected with the publication, and, despite now living in New York, they’ve been keeping me busy. My first story just came out and is a little ode to San Francisco as a West Coast bastion of trad style. An Ivy Style reader provided some quotes, along with the illustrious Richard Press, and the delightful Scot Meacham Wood.
Here’s a tease:
In the years before the Summer of Love, San Francisco (along with its alter ego, Pasadena, to the south) was California’s prime WASP outpost, a pocket of Eastern genteelism and discrete good taste in the Brooks Brothers mold. You can glimpse this vanished world both in the 1961 Nob Hill-set comedy The Pleasure of His Company, starring Fred Astaire, and in the ’70s TV show The Streets Of San Francisco, where Karl Malden plays an old-school detective clad in button-down shirts, rep ties and gray suits that would have been right at home on Madison Avenue.
The style was originally known as the Ivy League Look, but when that went the way of pipes and supper clubs, the sporty remains were christened “preppy.” By 1980, that sacred document of American social history — Lisa Birnbach’s The Official Preppy Handbook — became a bestseller, punctuated with references to such San Francisco institutions as Perry’s, the Bohemian Club, the Stanford Court hotel, Balboa Cafe and the St. Francis Yacht Club. They were ideal spots for drinking bloody marys and being rich and dull.
Head over here for the full story. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD