This is part one of a two-part piece on collegiate style in the South during the heyday. It is recounted to us by contributor James H. Grant.
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The distinction between the mode of dress known as Ivy League and the Southern Collegiate Style – if one actually exists – is somewhat murky. When I was in college in the mid-1960ss, we referred to our style as Southern Collegiate, but we sometimes called it Ivy League, or simply collegiate, or just plain traditional, but never “trad” and certainly never “preppy.”
The seminal event which prompted my own metamorphosis from what I wore before to what developed into my personal style took place in 1961. That was the year I purchased my first pair of Bass Weejuns; I have worn them ever since. Not the same pair, mind you, but I estimate that I have owned 35-40 pairs. Other manufacturers made similar penny loafers, notably Bostonian, but they were not Weejuns. And yes, you could tell the difference.
My friend George and I had been making mental notes on the clothes worn by various college guys who had previously attended our high school. Two of them went to the University of Virginia, one to Hampden-Sydney College, and another to Davidson in North Carolina. When they came home for the summer, we noticed that they dressed differently than when they were in high school. George, being more attuned to matters such as these, said he knew where they bought their clothes.
So, one summer afternoon, George took me to a curious men’s shop in Bristol, Virginia. The sign out front read simply: Bill King Clothiers. Although I recognized most of the clothing, it was the first time I had seen a store completely merchandised in the collegiate style, the style I would embrace as my own.
Bill King Clothiers had tables stacked with trousers: khakis, white ducks, seersuckers, and more dressy, tropical-worsted pants in gray and navy. Open shelves displayed Gant shirts arranged by size. There was a large selection of silk regimental stripe and club ties, English madder and foulard ties – even bow ties. The walls were lined with an impressive array of dark suits, navy blazers, plaid sport coats, and suits in tan poplin and seersucker. The shoe department had tassel loafers, basic black, brown and cordovan oxfords, wingtips, and of course, Weejuns. It did not take long to realize that this was the place I wanted to shop, so I decided to purchase a pair of Weejuns. After all, they were only $11.95. Weejuns were developed in 1936 by the GH Bass Shoe Company of Wilton, Maine. By 1940, the shoe known as style #734 was firmly entrenched on college campuses in the Northeast, and eventually became the shoe of choice at fraternity houses throughout the South. In the ongoing struggle between style and quality, style reigned supreme. Weejuns were not particularly well-made and had to be replaced at least once a year Fortunately they were not expensive. During that era, Weejuns came in three colors: black, dark cordovan, and a shade of reddish-brown, which was by far the best seller and pretty standard on campus.
When I went into the Air Force in 1967, I was surprised to see Weejuns prominently displayed in the small shoe department of our BX (base exchange) at RAF Chicksands in England. The sales lady told me they were probably her best-selling shoe, other than standard black military low-quarters and brogues.
Other popular styles of footwear included tassel loafers in brown or black – by Alden or Allen Edmonds. Some of us also had a pair of black wingtips to wear with a dark suit.
As it turned out, I was fortunate to have been stationed overseas at the end of the 1960s. I never experienced the decline of the style I had adhered to so faithfully. When I returned to campus in 1971, it was difficult to find proper collegiate clothing. Even still, I can honestly say that I never wore a garment made of polyester double-knit, bell-bottom trousers, or a tie-dyed t-shirt.
There was a resurgence of the collegiate style in the 1980s, at least that was the case in my new home, Atlanta. I gave most of my patronage to H. Stockton–Lenox Square, and sometimes bought Brooks Brothers-style seersucker and poplin suits from Jos. A. Bank.
Other essential elements of the Southern Collegiate Style were khaki pants with 1¾” cuffs, a sack-style navy blazer with three brass buttons, oxford-cloth button-down collar shirts, and regimental stripe ties. The khakis were all cotton and looked like you slept in them the night before. You could wear them for five minutes or five days and they would look pretty much the same.
It has been said that khaki pants became part of the collegiate wardrobe when young men returned to college after World War II. They just continued to wear their khaki uniform pants in civvy street. Not a bad idea, but military uniforms have no cuffs. Perhaps, those ex-GIs just turned their khakis up at the bottom and had cuffs sewn it, which would certainly account for the term “high-water” pants.
Belts were generally 1¼” black or brown leather with a standard heel and bar buckle. More dressy belts featured a plaque-style buckle in brass or silver – sometimes engraved with the wearer’s initials. The most popular casual belt was the tan leather surcingle belt with a cotton webbing of navy and burgundy, although other color combinations were available.
It has been said that collegians in the Northeast wore argyle socks with Weejuns. Perhaps this was so in the 1950s, but I cannot recall ever seeing a pair of argyles on campus. (And I never saw anyone hold their dilapidated Weejuns together with duct tape, although I have seen old Weejuns converted into sandals with a utility knife.)
Our hosiery was pretty standard: over-the-calf or mid-calf ribbed knit socks in navy, charcoal gray, black or sable. Actually, Weejuns were generally worn without socks except during the winter months.
The basic buttondown oxford-cloth shirts were in Carolina blue or a blue and white stripe, sometimes in maize, and, of course, the ubiquitous white. Gant was the preferred brand, although Sero and several other manufacturers, including upscale Hathaway, made good-quality buttondown shirts with placates and 3¼” collars. (It has been said that pink shirts were popular in the Northeast, but I do not recall ever seeing a pink shirt on campus. In fact, if anyone had worn a pink shirt, they would probably have been hounded out of the fraternity house. I can hear it now, “Hey sport, where did you get that Villager blouse?”) Starched shirts were strictly taboo. In fact, instructions on the collar of Gant shirts clearly stated “Do not starch.” Starching the shirt took away that relaxed, comfortable look, an important aspect of the collegiate style.
Our striped ties were silk and always in good traditional colors: navy on burgundy, burgundy on navy, maize on navy, green on navy, and if you went to the University of Tennessee, orange on navy (if you could find one). I had two – one of which was purchased during the fall semester of 1966. Admittedly, those old ties are threadbare today, but I still wear them anyway. Club ties, English madder, foulards, and paisley ties were popular, particularly with plaid sportcoats.
During the fall and winter, v-neck lambswool sweaters were de rigueur. The preferred brand was Cox-Moore, but other British manufacturers made nice sweaters – Pringle and Lyle & Scott come to mind. Navy was the preferred color, but gray, burgundy, camel, and sable were also popular. Some collegians had their sweaters monogrammed with their initials. One goofball actually had his sweaters embroidered with numbers, 1, 2, 3, etc., as if owning eight sweaters was supposed to impress someone. Like I said, he was a goofball.
Although the navy blazer was essential, we also wore tweed sportcoats in traditional Scottish patterns – houndstooth, herringbone and Glenurquhart – in shades of gray or earth tones. Like the blazer, these were always three-button, sack coats with center vent and flap side pockets. Three-button natural shoulder suits were generally in charcoal gray or navy, and very frequently purchased with a matching vest.
In retrospect, it still amazes me how dedicated we were – perhaps enslaved is a better term – to the Southern Collegiate Style. After all, what kind of idiot would wear a tweed sport coat and tie to a football game on a sunny September afternoon when the temperature was 90º and the humidity almost as high! Perhaps it was something we drank.
In the summertime, we wore white duck pants with Madras shirts or with a tropical-worsted navy blazer, and Weejuns sans chaussettes. After dancing for several hours on a hot, humid evening on the banks of the Tennessee River, the dyes from the Madras fabric would invariably bleed onto your white duck pants.
The Southern Collegiate Style was traditional, but not necessarily formal. Ties were generally worn “random” which meant notiepen, frequently askew, and never tucked into the trousers! A gentleman’s tie just covers the belt buckle – never above, and certainly not below. Sometimes you would have to tie your tie three or four times to get the length just right. The four-in-hand knot was standard, since it caused the tie to hang slightly askew and the knot was not precisely symmetric, both aspects which were thoroughly in keeping with the general sartorial philosophy of the collegiate style. Suits and sport coats were never buttoned except when you had to meet your date’s parents, interview for a job, or have your picture taken.
We were required to wear a tie to dinner at the fraternity house, with no excuses. In the fall and winter, ties were worn with sportcoats, but more frequently with v-neck sweaters.
Occasionally, we wore straw skimmers to football games and to dances at Alumni Gym on Friday nights. I can remember dancing to the music of The Tams, The Swinging Medallions, and Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs in the old gym with my skimmer. They looked right at home with white duck pants and navy blazers, but frankly, they were strictly ornamental. We all succumb to fits of exhibitionism from time to time.
The preferred outerwear for inclement weather was the old London Fog in khaki or navy. These could be purchased with an inner lining for cold weather. A few guys owned Balmacaan-style overcoats, but not many. We didn’t need them in the South. Umbrellas were called into service on rainy days, always black. An umbrella was also a great way to meet girls who were stranded in a downpour. I suspect that almost all umbrellas were either lost, stolen or turned inside-out by the wind at one time or another. Baracuta-style windbreakers were also popular, mostly in khaki, with a Scottish tartan cotton lining.
The Southern Collegiate Style carried over into personal accessories as well. Tortoise-shell glasses with round frames were standard. Wristwatches were generally round with roman numerals or knockoffs of the famous Cartier tank watch. The watches had dark brown or black leather straps or sometimes striped grosgrain nylon straps in traditional colors. Some guys sported pocket watches attached to a chain and fob worn across the front of their suit vests.
Bill King Clothiers in Bristol, Virginia, was the place where I became aware of the Southern Collegiate Style. Of course, there were other stores merchandised in the same manner. In fact, it would be my guess that most college or university towns had similar stores. Eljo’s in Charlottesville, the Georgetown University Shop, H. Stockton in Atlanta, Milton’s in Chapel Hill, the Collegiate Shop at Hall’s in downtown Knoxville, and M.S. McClellan’s Hansom House at the University of Tennessee were exponents of the style.
Finally, this essay is intended to be an anthropological survey of a particular mode of dress popular on some college campuses in the southeastern United States during the 1960s. It is certainly not intended to be critical of those individuals who chose not to embrace the style. It is merely a description of what some collegians chose to wear. Nothing more, nothing less. — JAMES H. GRANT
Absolutely fabulous. Thanks, Mr. Grant. Fraternity sweatshirts over a button-down or Lacoste Echo it all. [Love the reference to Bristol. Emory & Henry (BLZ) ‘83.]
Regarding elements of collegiate style during the period, I recall that Burlington Gold Cup socks were a staple with Weejuns, in the northern climes where I attended school. These were collectible, as Gold Cups became available in a large range of bright colors in the soft Orlon knit yarn. During warm seasons the sockless look was generally paired with Topsiders. I don’t ever recall ever wearing socks with Sperrys.
“Connoisseurs insist they’re in style” I don’t know why but I found that verbiage funny.
Delightful reminiscence, Mr. Grant. The description of Bill King Clothiers, which I don’t think I had heard of before, is so evocative. It sounds exactly like other Virginia collegiate clothiers of my younger days: The Men’s Shop in Staunton, Eljo’s in Charlottesville, and Alvin-Dennis in Lexington, the last two of which are still in operation. Gant and Sero shirts, Harris tweed sportcoats, Southwick and Haspel suits, Berle pants, Trafalgar belts and of course Bass Weejuns were all well represented. I am very much looking forward to part two of your piece.
Hi, Love the mention of Bill King’s in Bristol. When I went to work at Emory & Henry in 1972, I was directed to King’s shop, and shopped there until they closed in the late 1970s. I think it was there that I purchased my first pair of Duck Heads. They had nice light weight sweaters, good tie selection and as the article mentioned carried Weejuns. I never liked Gant shirts, not sure why; so I kept up my stock of Brooks OCBDs. Anyway, great memories
When I was pledging a southern fraternity, we “chose” to wear boat shoes or loafers everyday and everywhere and NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER socks. The year was 2017.
I recall meeting Bill King in NYC during market week. Did he perhaps go from retail to wholesale men’s clothing Sales?
The web belt mentioned was the Canterbury wool surcingle belt, made in England.
Ah, the “ventilated Weejun”! On it’s last pair of half-soles, scarred like a Prussian fraternity boy, couple of popped stitches, grab the ol’ Scout knife and voila, a really crappy excuse for a sandal! But we thought it was cool.
Thank you for the excellent account of those now long ago times. We wore Weejuns or the Bostonian version with white Wigwam brand white lambs wool socks turned a pleasant “yellow” in the wash. Some of those socks had blue & red stripes at the top.
What memories were brought back by your mention of Canterbury wool surcingle belts:
Wool twill, striped, and made in England!
Excellent post. I am glad to read your observation that “Weejuns were not particularly well-made.” That was also my opinion since first encountering the loafers back in the day. That could explain why I transitioned to long-wings as I considered them a more mature look.
Thank you for this excellent essay, and for highlighting an aspect of this look that gets overlooked in all the emphasis on the northeast. A southerner myself, I’ve always enjoyed the certain elan southerners bring to this style!
Wonderful stuff. Having posted (annoyingly) a dozen or so times about Duck Head khakis and other regional minutiae, I fully admit to being a nerd about the Southern version of trad. So when I read about George and the boys returning from Charlottesville, Farmville, and Davidson, I was gleefully expecting an exposition of the style as it may have differed between those three towns. Now *that* would have been a deep-dive!
We called them “Jesus Weejuns”, no disrespect intended. Not a huge influence in the footwear realm, they gave way to the Birkenstock and long hair
Thank you again, Mr. Grant. Part 2 was as delightful as the first installment. It all sounds just about perfect. The clothing you describe is not all that different from what I, and I suspect you and a number of other devotees of this site, wear today, although the brands may differ from what was available in the college town shops of the 60’s and 70s, and I must confess to a fondness for pink OCBDs. Thanks for the mention of local favorite Eljo’s, still going strong and beginning it’s 70th year next month. Very best wishes to you.
Mr. Grant, thanks for the memories. I, too, was in college in the late 1960’s in Texas. Pledged a fraternity and worked part time at a local men’s trad clothing store. I can also recall early in my college years wearing a sport coat and tie to football games, sometimes in toasty temperatures. The trad clothing that you so accurately describe I discovered while in high school in the mid ’60’s and I’m still wearing today although purchased from the likes of Ben Silver and O’Connell’s. Again, thanks for the memories!
Let me add that the cut-up Weejuns were high school wear, and just for messin’ around near the water. We were a little too staid to do GTH.
Gentlemen: Thank you for your kind comments about my article on the Southern Collegiate Style. Joel, I am familiar with Emory & Henry and ‘the Lambs’. Regarding Lacoste, I was never big on giving free advertising space to manufacturers. Michael Brady, I wore Gold Cups in high school; can’t say I ever had any in bright colors. I went to college pre-Sperry. Sacksuit, one of the first things I learned as a furniture designer was the difference between ‘style’ and ‘fashion.’ Charlottesville, Bill King Clothiers went out of business in the 1970’s and Mr. King went into the computer software business, as I recall. Whatever he did, I am sure he was successful – great salesman. I think his son is a clothier in Bristol now – Wm. King Clothiers. I have several Harris Tweed sports coats – must have had them for 20-30 years. I actually went to the Isle of Harris where they weave the cloth. And yes, I wear Southwick, Berle (great long rise khakis and seersuckers), used to wear Haspel back in the day. Yes, it finally occurred to me that Eljo’s would be a great place to find navy blue ties with orange stripes. Duh. Have purchased several from them over the years. Leroy, another E & H alum, I see. (Sting ‘em Wasps, sting ‘em!) Never wore Duck Heads – guess they were after my time. Brooks Brothers OCBD’s were too expensive for me. NCJack, Yes, the ventilated Weejuns left a lot to be desired. JWK, yes, I remember those old white woolies that turned yellow when bleached. Good look with khakis & Weejuns, but not much else. Anglophile, believe it or not, I recently found a surcingle belt in navy with an orange stripe at O’Connell’s. Great look with khakis or seersuckers. Jerry, regarding long-wings – who wants to look mature? I dress today just like I did when I was a sophomore in high school & that was 58 years ago. Ezra, thanks – my sentiments exactly. Paul (nice mugshot) – Interesting point: a nuanced differentiation between the styles at various schools – I doubt that there was much. Back in the day, UVa was pretty much the starting point – they even filed down their Gants to make them look worn. The first time I saw a fraternity guy carrying an umbrella was at Chapel Hill (1961). I went out and bought one the next week. John Carlos, yes, I purchased my two pairs of tortoise shell glasses from Ben Silver – hope they last the rest of my life because they were really expensive! Yes, it was tough wearing those tweed jackets to football games, but the women wore suits and high heels! Times have changed. Today, you might see 20-30 guys in coats and ties. Thanks again for all your comments. – James H. Grant
“After all, what kind of idiot would wear a tweed sport coat and tie to a football game on a sunny September afternoon when the temperature was 90º and the humidity almost as high!” really resonated. When I went to my first Vanderbilt football game after starting law school in the mid 60’s, I showed up along with a buddy in our usual football game attire – madras shorts and T-shirts – I having come from a small liberal arts college in the Midwest and he from one I the Northeast. We were astounded to see everyone else in the student section in coats and ties. I quickly figured it out and thereafter sucked it up and showed up properly attired after extra doses of antiperspirant.
AtlantaPete: Yes, those were the days. I can remember games when guys were dropping like flies from heat exhaustion. Apparently, someone told them to drink plenty of fluids, so they just increased their intake of Jack Daniels or whatever they were ingesting. – James H. Grant
Alas, I only wear my Weejuns with thick socks, as the high sides undercut my heel bone. I have a pair of Allen Edmonds penny loafers that are made with lower sides and are my preferred wear in hot weather.
Thank you for the history.
Another reader glad to see the reference to the Weejun cut-out sandals. I was recently cleaning the attic and ran into my pair from 1966. I decided to keep them.
Would anyone care to pist a photo of Weejin cut-out sandals? I’d love to see what they look like?
In Louisville in 1972 we wore Adler socks with our Weejuns. They were thick wool crew socks that came in a variety of pastel colors. Light blue and pale yellow were big hits.
Mr Grant. , My current and past wardrobes mirror your article, which I have just now read. Lives seem to had parallels as well as I enter the Air Force in 1967 and spent time in Chapel Hill and surroundings post military. I worked at Appalachian State University then for 35 years and retired in 2011. Today’s closet continues to mirror your article and we old fogeys will likely never change our ways. Thanks for a true trip down memory lane. Tom Fisher, Boone NC
Thanks for the walk back in time;My teenage years were in the 60s, in the South and grew up with the stated fashion of Gant, Sero or Creighton shirts paired with Farah trousers and of course, Bass Weejuns,socks(Gold Cups)optional in the summer months. My small college town had 3 mens clothing stores serving two colleges; one liberal arts college and one military. I noticed the fashion differences from different regions;the schools were a mixed of students from most of the US and several different countries. The most notable were students from South Carolina; they had their own twist of the Southern fashion style,no great differences but small nuances, for example, tucking in their v neck sweaters as you would a shirt and their love of spectator shoes(two tone wingtips). Love your articles, I still have 2 pair of my original Bass Weejuns been lovingly resole several times and worn sparingly;mostly for nostalgia.
Unfortunately…that’s not a Weejun. The collar is too narrow. The vamp is too long. The vamp edge is folded-over and then sewn a la Gucci. The sole is too thin and cut too close to the upper. No back stay, etc. Too refined/elegant, Itai. Apologies for the intrusion. (Hello Tom Fisher)
Craddock-Terry shoes of Lynchburg, VA made private label passable counterfeit “WeeJuns” for Penny, Belk, etc. in the day.
Love this guest post. My father was at Chapel Hill from the mid to late 50s and said he used to work several jobs during the summer so he could stock up on campus staples, at both Julien’s and Milton’s. Both of the competing brothers were consummate salesmen, with excellent customer service skills, usually remembering customers from long ago. On weekends, our family often made the short drive to Chapel Hill, to attend football games, or have Sunday lunch, and a stroll around campus and Franklin St. Anytime we’d walk into one of their respective shops they’d remember my Dad and comment on stuff he’d bought 30 years prior! They were really nice guys and great businessmen. Both stores carried the best of Ivy/Trad, but especially Julien’s. There was just something magical about the bolts of fabrics, waiting to be made into a luxurious sport coat; the grosgrain watch bands; the custom sets of navy blazer buttons with the UNC college seal. Truly beautiful clothes and accessories. Julien’s son, Alexander, carries on the tradition to this day.
Dad still had (and wore) some of the things he got from those haberdasheries back in the day (Shetland sweaters, repp ties, etc.) and honestly, I’m pretty sure I have a few of those handed-down repp ties in my closet now.
I remember Dad saying the whole Weejuns-without-socks thing was strictly a summer look; they usually wore some type of thick white socks (Gold Toe?) during cooler months. He also said it took awhile to come around to the pink OCBDs, but embraced them after Mom said he looked handsome wearing one. 🙂