Ok, we were right. Now what?

Mr. Geoffrey L. Tickner ’52 and Mr. Robert M. Lichenstein ’48 give us a picture of where thing were at Princeton in 1950.

 

The Wall Street Journal has piled on and it is safe to say now that we can stop posting articles about the comeback of “formal style” and just be grateful that the pendulum swung our way.  Here’s their article, if you care to read it.

Articles by yours truly and others to the contrary, it should be noted that we are still in that embryonic stage of rebirth where any collar that buttons down and any tie under it is Preppy.  Having worked on the subject a hot minute I see the difference very plainly, and it irks me that others do not.  Especially those in the biz.  But that’s for another day.

So we’re reborn, congrats folks.  The Facebook Group is getting inundated with membership requests (we vet,  so if it takes us a few to get to you, hang in, it is worth it), the articles are three a day, and any minute now I am going to get an email from Bastian.  All good news.  That said, what’s a real comeback vs. a blip?

In 1950 in Princeton, the scene was thus:

“Princeton Charlie” in 1950. Fur and all.

Mr. Robert M. Lichenstein was at Princeton then, and got interested in what the look was, and why people were adopting it.  His findings, covered in an article in The Prince in 1950 by Mr. Geoffrey L. Tickner,  might give us some relevant history to lean up against as we absorb that we are on a growth track here.

2 out of 5, let me do the math, that’s, wait… that’s 40% of the fellas wearing white bucks.

The odds of 40% of us wearing white bucks again are, what?  I wouldn’t bet my daughter’s tuition on it, but by the same token, if you swap out the word “bucks” for “sneakers” it isn’t incredible anymore.  80% of those surveyed prefer single-breasted suits.   Which makes sense, but then, because Ivy is a fickle mistress, Mr. Tickner goes on to illustrate his next point with Princeton Charlie in, you guessed it, a double-breasted suit.  Here:

Ah, Ivy, you tease.

But it is Lichenstein’s findings about “confirmity” that fascinate the most.  To quote Tickner on same:

Three Reasons For Conformity

Three reasons were given by the men who changed their pattern of clothing. By far the largest percentage of men said that they wanted to be just like you, Charlie. The next greatest group said that they wanted to conform to the style and the third bunch liked the pattern. Some of the men interviewed by Lichenstein said that their conformity was an unconscious process.

And when they noticed the difference in clothing habits, did they jump for you, Charlie! All seven of the private school men reoriented their wardrobes, and eight out of eleven of the private school Frosh changed the style of the clothes. Among the Seniors the percentages were about the same, although higher in the club member group.

Now we get to the specifics. Each man was asked what items he thought constituted the Princeton pattern of dress. The tabulation shows that the Seniors were able to pick out the nuances of the costume while the Frosh were only acquainted with the salient points such as white buckskin shoes and dark grey flannel pants. The Freshmen put the white shoes first while the Seniors,’both club and non-club, placed dark grey flannel trousers at the head of the list.

Other items consistently placed on the list were Oxford button-down shirts and sport coats. Almost half the men polled considered these articles among the clothing a man in the Princeton pattern must have. Also high on the list were khaki pants, sweaters, striped ties, argyles and tweeds.

Conformity (a horrible word) was inspired by, well, inspiration.  How to figure that nowadays?  Core group, is it because we held fast?  I don’t understand the point of the second largest group, maybe you can explain that to me in the comments, but I understand Tickner to be saying that they conformed because… they wanted to?   That would have been assumed.  WHY did you want to is the point.  Sorry Mr. Lichenstein but you have to follow that question up.  The third biggest group said they did it because they “liked the pattern.”  Well yes, sure.  You like what you are wearing.  That doesn’t tell us much either.  So it falls on us to create our own theories about why our look is coming back.   It’s no different than Princeton Charlie, who if you sort through Lichenstein and Tickner say they are dressing Ivy because they see a life, they want to have that life, and they want to look like the person who already has it.   Which makes sense on October 21, 2021.  As the ground beneath us continues going all tectonic, anything that isn’t shaking seems like a good idea to grab on to.  If that is a repp tie, so be it.
JB

21 Comments on "Ok, we were right. Now what?"

  1. I scanned with limited interest the WSJ article. It proves yet again that trends come and go but the classics endure. The older I get the less interesting the style section of papers like the WSJ and NYT become. Case in point, there was an article not too long ago by Jacob Gallagher, the in-house style writer at the WSJ, entitled “Crochet Clothes: Not Just for Grannies Anymore.”

    That’s hilarious. – JB

  2. The part I ffind interesting was the conformity. College was the only time in my life where I set out to dress like everyone else.

  3. In a world sartorially dominated by jeans, “hoodies,” polar tech/fleece, and athleisure, there are only a few reasons to opt for a more “dressed up” look.

    One reason is embarrassment — about all the above. It begins and ends with the thought, “I wouldn’t go out in public wearing…” or even “I wouldn’t be got dead wearing…” Because of the triumph of the therapeutic (great book, btw) in all aspects of life, where self forgiveness and self compassion abide, nearly all forms of embarrassment (and, related, shame) have dissipated. Bye-bye, sin and repentance; hello, self affirmation — at all costs: “You’re okay; I’m okay. We’re all okay.”

    “Whatever you’re doing, it’s okay. You are …okay.”
    — Don Draper (Mad Men) on the therapeutic significance of advertising. Do you remember his friend-and-colleague Roger Sterling’s last words to him?—
    — “You’re okay,” spoken as Roger lifts his hand gently and compassionately to Don’s face, like a father affirming a prodigal son.

    The disappearance of embarrassment, (embarrassment being the most prominent of all WASP virtues) is accompanied by a loss of manners and outright hubris: “I’m doing whatever the hell I want, no matter what you think— Because, frankly, I don’t care what you think. You’re repulsed by my athleisure, polar fleece and ugly running shoes? Who cares? Go to hell.”

    (BTW: Another {more clinical} word for this libertarian-anarchist I’ll-do-as-I-damned well-please mindset is “sociopath.”)

    So: if someone musters enough embarrassment to actually bother with “dressing up,” why would one then opt for Ivy? Why choose the blazer, the tweed jacket, the khakis, the gray flannels, the leather loafers, and, for women, the pearls? Why aspire to this?

    I think it has to do with 3 things:

    The first and maybe most obvious has to do with the desire to look casually elegant. “Dressed up”—but, fuzzy and natural shouldered and wrinkled and creased, nonchalant: “I’m bothering but not really trying.” This is beautiful.

    The second has to do with looking a certain sort of smart— the academic (even professorial) vibe of Shetland, faded oxford cloth, wool challis, and decrepit Weejuns. Elbow patches and horn rims add to the effect. Some of us still want to look like the sort of person who subscribes to The Atlantic and The New Yorker.

    The third, excavated and manipulated perhaps even pillaged by Ralph Lauren, has to do with looking rich— Not “I just bought this very expensive item for a lot of money” rich (nouveau riche), but, rather, “I inherited this as a hand-me-down heirloom from my very Episcopalian grandfather” rich. The irony is delicious, since you have to spend gobs of money to look like old, lost money. (it’s okay, though— we’re ALL okay…)

    Embarrassment, aspiration, modesty, and plenty of the best kind of non-conformity. It’s all in the mix.

  4. * “caught dead”

  5. I’m well enough convinced at this point that classic style, and in particular, Ivy-Style, are making a comeback. The proliferation of articles from mainstream media confirms the nascent trend. What I’m less sure of is how long this will last, and to what extent will the trend take hold amongst the population? We know that hard economic times and moments of social uncertainty lead to more conservative dressing. The 2008 financial crisis is the most recent example of this, but we’ve seen it throughout the 20th century as well. Men in the 1930s were considered to dress, on average, very elegantly, largely in response to the Great Depression. Likewise, the halcyon period of the 1950s, and everything about American style we associate with that period, was a direct result of the people alive then having lived through WWII. The ’70s was certainly a more socially tumultuous period as well – although I would argue less so than the twin crises of the Depression and WWII – but it gave bloom to the preppy ’80s nonetheless. The question I’m more interested in is this: the financial crisis in 2008 certainly led to a “prep-revival,” to borrow language used in the media at the time, but honestly, the trend was mostly confined to urban centers, and almost all of the photographic record that confirms that post-2008 trend seem to come from New York City almost exclusively. It was a trend, but no more so than anything can be a trend in the 21st century American culture, where everything is so much more fractured. To put a fine point on it: at the same time prep-revival was a full-blown trend, and the sequel to The Official Preppy Handbook was being released, “steampunk”, “lumberjack-style”, and “streetwear” we’re already edging it out. By 2011, it felt like the party was over. By the end of 2012, Rugby Ralph Lauren was slated to close, and nearly all the other prep-inspired brands that spring up a paltry four years earlier had already shut down or were quickly declining (Benjamin Bixby, Band of Outsiders, Billy Kirk). By comparison, the preppy trend of the 1980s was widespread, highly adopted, and long-lasting, consuming the entire decade, and bleeding over into the early 1990s before being replaced by “grunge” and the “wearing-a-double-breasted sport-coat-over-a-white-t-shirt-with-baggy-jeans-white-socks-and-New-Balance-sneakers” look.

    So, my question to this august group is as follows: How long do we think this trend will last, and how widespread do we think Ivy will become? Will this look more like the 1980s, or will it more closely resemble the flash-bang of the 2008 prep-revival?

  6. Interesting and perceptive observations S.E. and RWK. I enjoyed reading your comments as much as the article itself. Re: RWK’s question, I wish I knew. The Internet has led to this accelerated profusion (and diffusion) of subcultures over the past 20 years or so. Unless these little cultural bubbles start to coalesce in some way or other, I don’t know how likely it is that we’ll see another ’80s-esque sustained period of more widespread preppy-ish style. We’re all siloed in our subcultures. Hopefully more and more people will learn how to dress better no matter what little world they occupy.

  7. Heavens! Another cycle begins. I’ve got six decades on this rock and I still can’t figure out where culture is coming from and going to. Part of me is still well grounded in the Trad/Prep rebirth of the 80’s and my closet reflects that. If anything has changed its because I have jumped into the Orvis, Filson, Bean/Bauer, North Face and yes Patagonia fleece upon wool upon GoreTex outdoorsy look. Works ok for the northern climes and fact that nobody wears ties, dress shirts or slacks where I work anymore. Well I’m up for another round of heavy twill khakis, oxfords BDs and Weejuns just as soon as I can dig them out of the closet! Hopefully it all still fits.

  8. Regarding the to and fro of fashion changes, there is an indelible core of the fashion faithful of traditional American style. Let the susceptible bend and be blown about from one fad to another, the people who are serious and self-assured will see them for what they are, temporary, non-committed, and uncertain by their ever-changing lack of stylistic permanence. Stay true to what has been proven.

  9. I am in Silicon Valley. These ebbs and flows of style, eg the 2008 “prep revival”
    might as well be occurring on the Sea of Azov. Since the 90s there has been a
    secular trend of more informal clothing. Jackets and ties for the marketing and
    C- level executives. Everyone else dressed in what became Casual Friday. Now,
    only the lawyers on court days wear suits. This has never been a demographic that is
    strong on taste. When coats and ties prevailed two decades ago most looked like
    they shopped at Nordstroms, which they did. Now :”casuaization” has spawned
    “slobification” As for “Ivy”, the Palo Alto BB is still open and fully stocked because it
    occupies space already owned by the real estate firm which in partnership with a
    retailing or branding organization took over the bankrupt BB.

  10. George T. Snoothound | October 22, 2021 at 7:46 am |

    The odds are 2/5 that the fellow in the photo will choose the white bucks because there are five pairs of shoes in front of him. This means he will wear white bucks 40% of the time, not that 40% of the men at Princeton were wearing white bucks at a given moment.

  11. Now what? Easy. Stay the course attire-wise (as I’ve basically done for 40+ years). After some Zoom meetings from home this morning, I plan to drop off a couple of heavier navy blazers and two new pairs of wool flannel pants (one charcoal, one a lighter Cambridge or mid-gray)at the tailor’s later today for minor alterations now that cooler weather has come to Mid-Michigan. My wife an I will open a bottle of wine by the fireside this evening following the Young Master’s bedtime. It’s Friday!

    H-U

  12. H-U

    Funny, I’m taking a BB “364” black labeled blue blazer to my tailor today for repairs. 3/2 roll of course. I’m not sure of the vintage but I figure I have a good twenty more years in it if I stay fit.

    RWK

    I’m afraid I have not seen any new ivy/preppy/trad trend taking hold in my little corner of the Old Dominion. I would welcome it. Aside from thrift stores and our struggling BB location, I’m not exactly sure where a fellow would go to in our manner. Thrift store prices have sky rocketed as well.

    Will

  13. dress in our manner.

  14. @Will, I hope that may change in the coming months or year ahead. It would be refreshing to see a wider adoption of the style we hold dear.

    Thrift store prices here in Delaware have been creeping up as well, along with secondhand on eBay and other similar sites. On one hand, it’s nice to know it’s because more people want the good stuff; on the other, it’s frustrating as someone who sources a lot from thrift to build out my wardrobe!

  15. whiskeydent | October 22, 2021 at 4:58 pm |

    The three groups make no sense to me. The descriptions are so broad they are meaningless. At least to me they are.

    More importantly, I think using them would be enforcing a piece of history that does not apply. History repeats itself, but it’s not always the history we assume. I think it’s important to look at this from a higher altitude.

    One, we are emerging from a pandemic during which a huge percentage of us was deeply concerned about the health of ourselves and our loved ones. Safety became a huge priority.

    Two, we were stuck in our homes with no reason to dress up and, being Americans, we got bored with joggers. We longed for something like we used to dress — when we were outside with other people.

    Three, we live in a time of political and social upheaval, with currents of change and chaos colliding all over the place. We wanted calm water for safety.

    Four, note that safety emerged twice.

    Is there a safer style harbor than Ivy? What style best shows that, dammit, I need things to sit still for a bit? What’s more reliable and secure than a Harris tweed jacket, bulletproof khakis and an impenetrable OCBD?

    I’m not even sure what I’m saying but I think there is something in there.

  16. “Which makes sense on October 21, 2021. As the ground beneath us continues going all tectonic, anything that isn’t shaking seems like a good idea to grab on to. If that is a repp tie, so be it.” -That is quality analysis, well expressed.

    Recall when The Preppy Handbook and the “Are You a Preppy?” poster were released. It was during the brutal stagflation era circa 1980 with double-digit interest rates and a labor market in severe disequilibrium.

    Thanks man. – JB

  17. @whiskeydent

    Re: “What’s more reliable and secure than a Harris tweed jacket, bulletproof khakis and an impenetrable OCBD?”

    That says it all for me,and I can think of no better reason to stick with Ivy, as I have done for the past 60 years.
    Call it my safety net or my security blanket, if you will.
    It works.

  18. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”.
    Fitzgerald’s last words in Gatsby are open to interpretation, but when the current has drawn people to sweatsuits and flip-flops, beating on against that current and being borne back into the past look mighty attractive to me.

  19. Hello People,
    I Recently found this site. After looking around I found it to be quite appealing. Much of it reminded me of my youth. I have been wearing ivy style clothing since I was a little boy when my parents would take me to a great shop in L.A.called Carroll & Co.  They are no longer what you would call Ivy, but I am.I have always liked this style of clothing and I still do. 
     
    Since then it’s been Brooks Bros. J.Press, O’Connell’s, Mercer and sometimes even Polo where I consistently find what I wear these days.
    I believe style not fashion seems best and this classic, understated type of clothing never really goes out of style. And they last a long time. 
    Anyhow. I just like them . And I like your website.  I especially enjoyed some of your articles featuring Jazz greats like Miles. In fact, I’m listening to some Miles right now:Kind of Blue. 
    I do not dress to attract a lot of attention to myself but earlier this year, while grocery shopping, an attractive woman came up to me and actually complimented me on my mode of dress. I wasn’t what you would call dressed up. I live in a warm place and was simply wearing seersucker shorts and a white short sleeve OCBD shirt. I’m happily married, so that was that.
    And it does speak well of Ivy Style, no matter the latest fashion.

    .. 

  20. Sorry,I forgot to answer the question: “What Now?”
    More Ivy, I should think.

  21. “Rebirth” is hyperbolic at best, and, more likely, misguided. Wrong.

    Movements that strengthen core values/ideas do not result in (render) popularity (and, related, numerical growth). Quite the opposite. They purge and cull. They prune. They distill.

    If what the author means by “rebirth” is “more people seem to appreciate and wear something resembling this style—a sort-of approximation—than before,” then there are reasons to conclude that, for all the evangelizing (advertising), Classic Ivy remains a mighty yet numerically small (minority) voice. Especially the better (higher quality) versions of it.

    Can we please stop diluting the good whisky?

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