There was a time before JK Rowling. A time we spoke of other initialed authors JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, AA Milne and JM Barrie. An age of Young Fogeys, Sloane Rangers and “Brideshead Revisited.”
We called that time the 1980s.
Photographer Mark Draisey now shows us what we were not allowed to see. His book “Thirty Years On! A Private View Of Public Schools,” published earlier this month, takes us into the everyday life and rituals of 25 British public schools during the Thatcher years. Over a five-year period, Draisy had full access to schools such as Eton, Harrow and Sherbourne. The result is this belated photographic swan song to the decade. Draisey’s book captures public school life at the apex of its threadbare glory. Soon after the photos were taken these institution would feel the pressure to spruce up, and some would have to, shall we say, allow the ladies into the library for cigars.
It is too early to tell whether Draisey will be celebrated, pilloried for class crimes, or go wholly unnoticed. Whatever the reaction in his homeland, this book will delight American anglophiles and armchair social historians. Visit this Daily Mail link for a slideshow. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP
Don’t be fooled by the full-page color photos by FE Castleberry, the write-ups in the likes of Vanity Fair ,and the big launch party at the new Polo flagship. “Rowing Blazers” is a serious book and a thoughtful appreciation of a trad staple, such as the “Henley” blazer by Ben Silver at left.
Author Jack Carlson begins, in a ten-page introduction, by debunking the story that the blazer “has its origins in the jackets worn by the crew of the HMS Blazer in the mid-nineteenth century.” Instead, he traces the origin of both the word and the article of clothing to the mid-19th-century world of English rowing.
Boating jackets “served a practical purpose, keeping oarsmen warm during chilly training sessions,” while loud colors helped “distant spectators tell which boat was which during races.” Indeed, in the first-known use of “blazer” in reference to clothing, in 1852, “the vivid scarlet boating coats of Lady Margaret Boat Club at St. John’s College, Cambridge, were nicknamed ‘blazers’ on account of their ‘blazing red’ hue.”
True sartorial scholars can consult a two-page bibliography (which suggests that it’s not even an exhaustive list of source materials). It lists everything from Bruce Boyer’s 2010 Rake article on “The Perfect Blazer,” to, of course, “The Official Preppy Handbook,” to “Notes on the Word Blazer” (Cambridge Review, 1950), to Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog).”
But the bulk of the book are 200-plus pages of photos and descriptions of the rowing blazers of schools and clubs in the US, the UK, the Netherlands and beyond. Some are blazing red, others dark blue. Some have loud stripes, others elegant crests.
But it’s not just a menagerie of preening preppies, and if you consign “Rowing Blazers” to the fate of most coffee-table books – to sit prettily on a pile of others and be perused absent-mindedly during the cocktail hour – you’ll miss some good anecdotes.
For example, the colors of Georgetown University were actually first selected by its Boat Club in 1876. As the Georgetown College Journal reported at the time, “These gentlemen have decided on Blue and Gray as appropriate colors for the Club and expressive of the feeling of unity that exists between the Northern and Southern boys of the College.”
Carlson even goes beyond blazers to other accessories. It turns out that that the traditional knit varsity tie with horizontal stripes – once common “at many New England universities and boarding schools” – was revived at Groton School in 2012, thanks to a student from Milan “who just happened to know a little workshop in Italy that could make them.”
Such colorful photos and histories got me thinking about the regular old blue blazer hanging in my closet. The rowing jacket that comes closest is that of the Oxford University Boat Club (OUBC): dark blue, with a dark blue grosgrain trim and Roman galleys on the gold buttons. These blazers are known simply as “Blues.”
In such simplicity lies the versatility of the blue blazer. “Wear it with Oxford shoes, deck shoes, or no shoes; with gray flannels, white ducks, blue jeans, or Nantucket reds; at Christmastime or on halcyon summer days,” Carlson writes. “A blazer is almost always the ‘right’ thing to wear; it is no wonder that the famous ‘Official Preppy Handbook’ referred to the blazer simply as ‘the exoskeleton.’”
Versatility and longevity: I’m 37 years old, and I’m on only my second blue blazer since middle school. I was a little sad four years ago when I realized that my old one, with crossed golf clubs on the gold buttons, had gotten too shiny at the elbows. I’m not a rower, but I too have a sense of (personal) history: I had worn this blazer to high-school dances in the early 90s, to my first real job interview in New York in 1999 and the night in DC in 2008 when I first met my wife. “It is astonishing what the sight of a Blues blazer can do to many a sensible, well-adjusted girl,” reads the quotation at the start of the section on the Oxford University Boat Club. Quite. — MATTHEW BENZ
Yesterday I popped into Paul Winston‘s place and immediately noticed something different. Paul was wearing a jacket. In all the times I’ve visited him, it’s either been balmy weather or the heater’s been cranked up. But yesterday was cool and crisp outside with no climate-controlling inside, and Paul confessed to feeling a bit chilly.
I immediately took out my iPhone and snapped a few shots, only to discover when I got home that they were all a blurry, disappointing mess. I’ll never again count on a telephone to do the job of a camera. I’ve tinkered with the files in iPhoto in the vain effort of amelioration, but the shot above doesn’t do justice to the great full-body I took that unfortunately l00ks like Paul is sitting across from you at a three-martini lunch.
The addition of the tweed jacket made Paul the epitome of the Old Money Look, and all you young fogeys should immediately copy this outfit for an air of degagé sophistication. The sportcoat is 35 years old and made by his family brand Chipp. It’s three-button and undarted, but with shaping at the waist — one of the things that distinguished Chipp from Brooks and Press, Paul pointed out. His emblematic tie depicts vintage fire trucks.
But my favorite part of the outfit is the contrast between the frayed shirt cuffs and the collar pin, a masterpiece of Advanced Style.
Below the waist the tour-de-force of nonchalance is complete: grey trousers, white athletic socks, and half-destroyed camp moccasins. I want to be old enough to be this cool. — CC (Continue)
Every so often I get these little obsessions. The athletic ones drag out for years, and things like the taste for late 19th-century French chamber music are lifelong.
But every so often something cultural piques my interest, and I’ll spend a month or so furiously reading books and watching movies. I think last year’s was on the concept of cool and hip, for which I read half a dozen critical studies. The latest was triggered by Chris Sharp’s wonderful work this summer during Batik Week. I found myself inspired to revisit America’s pop fascination with Polynesia in the 1950s. Being a native Californian who took a couple of family vacations to island destinations as an impressionable teenager, this wasn’t my first time in these waters.
I stocked up on rum and ordered a big tiki coffee-table book. Then I ordered John Michener’s “Tales Of The South Pacific.” Then I started watching nearly every movie set on an island I could find, from “Mutiny On The Bounty” to “Blue Lagoon.” Once I reached “Return To Blue Lagoon,” things were clearly winding down.
This was all supposed to stop with the end of summer, but there were plenty of warm days in September and the rum and movies lasted until the third week of the month. The finale was Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” which I hadn’t seen in many years. Halfway through it I started to get the feeling I knew one of the main actors from something else. It was his voice more than his face. The little grey cells kept quietly cranking until suddenly I got a vision of the actor sprinting not across a sandy beach, but a campus quad.
Sure enough it was John Kerr, star of 1956′s “Tea & Sympathy,” which we wrote about in the first year of Ivy Style.
I did some quick googling and it turns out Kerr was destined to play Ivy prepsters. In “Tea & Sympathy” he’s a prep school kid, and in “South Pacific” he’s a fresh-faced Princeton grad. Kerr just had that look. Then again, the casting was a form of destiny: Kerr had attended Harvard as an undergraduate. But even after roles in films as big as “South Pacific,” he looked on to other things. He enrolled in UCLA law school and passed the California bar in 1970. He died last year at the age of 81.
It’s cool and windy now and the rum is gone. I have no idea what the next mini-obsession will be, but as always I’ll keep you posted of my findings. — CC