In my junior year of college my dorm room was decorated in a retro manner. One day a salesman hocking fake Polo and other fragrances popped his head through my open doorway. He took a look at two pictures on the wall and said, trying to break the ice, “Are those your folks?”
Slightly annoyed by the intrusion, I glanced over to see that the salesman was referring to a pair of Chesterfield cigarette ads depicting Perry Como and Joe Stafford.
Thirty-five years before I even set foot on campus, brands such as Chesterfield, Lucky Strike, Philip Morris and Camel were already locked in struggle to win the hearts, minds and lung tissue of the college crowd. Recent discussion of smoking on the site got me looking at the advertising directed at the college and university students. Most of the images presented here are from 1950-54. They break down into celebrity endorsements, with college and university class affiliation noted, student taste-test endorsements, popularity via sales volume at the co-op or college tobacconist, and student survey and humor.
The Lucky Strike jingle-writing contest ran during this period also. College students got to be junior “Mad Men” with a $25 prize for winners. Princeton winner Richard Boeth, class of 1954, when asked by the Daily Princtonian how he planned to spend his prize money, said, “I’ve drunk it up already,” indicating cigarettes weren’t his only vice. The ads became a combination of cornball jingles and exploitive sweater girl drawings, which is probably why I like them.
Every time we visit this theme we get our fair share of abuse. Seems there is little empathy anymore for what fashion writer Paul Keers called “a generation who believed that a drink before and a cigarette afterwards, were the three best things in life.” — CHRISTOPHER SHARP
Yesterday on our Facebook group a young lad wondered where he could read the famous essay by George Frazier mentioned in our previous post. While it’s certainly googleable, we figured why not present it here. There is a section on New Haven and the natural-shoulder look, plus plenty of fine general observations on dressing. Also, you may consider this version a director’s cut; for a “theatrical” version, you may wish to view Maxminimus’ epic post illustrating each of the men mentioned. — CC
* * *
The Art of Wearing Clothes: The history of this rare masculine art and of the men who practice it supremely well
By George Frazier
Esquire, September 1960
Many a vagrant vogue has prevailed and perished in the hundred-and-fifty-odd years since George Bryan (Beau) Brummell resigned from the tony Tenth Hussars upon being denied permission to wear a uniform of his own design, but the criterion by which men are adjudged either beautifully or badly dressed is still what it was in that dandified day when people cherished the belief that the Beau achieved the flawless fit of his gloves by having the fingers made by one man and the thumbs by another. Now, as then, an impeccably turned-out male is characterized by the same “certain exquisite propriety” of dress that Lord Byron admired so abundantly in Brummell. “If John Bull turns to look after you,” the Beau once observed, “you are not well-dressed, but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable.”
This was Brummell’s bequest — his irreproachably tasteful simplicity. What’s more, it is the one constant in the fickleness of fashion, nor has any mode, no matter how maniac, ever proved it spinach — neither the cult of pipe-stemmed perfection that caused any true Edwardian dandy to shudder at the thought of having, as Max Beerbohm put it, “the incomparable set of his trousers spoilt by the perching of any dear little child upon his knee;” nor the autograph-slickered, bell-bottomed callowness of the “cake-eaters” and “sheiks” who found their laureate in John Held, Jr.; nor the casual coolness of all the beer jackets of Princeton springtimes; nor the abortive and itinerant “Italian style;” nor, for that matter, even the natural-shouldered, pleatless-trousered look that is known as “Ivy League,” but that by any name at all would still be the Brooks Brothers No. 1 sack suit.
Prior to Brummell, men had dressed to almost freakish excess. Thus, according to Hayden’s Dictionary of Dates, Sir Walter Raleigh wore:
“. . . a white-satin-pinked vest close-sleeved to the wrist, and over the body a doublet finely flowered, and embroidered with pearls, and in the feather of his hat a large ruby and pearl drop at the bottom of the sprig in place of a button. His breeches, with his stockings and ribbon garters, fringed at the end, all white; and buff shoes, which, on great court days, were so gorgeously covered with precious stones as to have exceeded the value of 6,600 pounds; and he had a suit of armor of solid silver, with sword and hilt blazing with diamonds, rubies and pearls.”
Nor was Lord Buckingham, James I’s favorite, any shrinking violet either, for, as Hayden has it, he “had his diamonds tacked so loosely on [his robe] that when he chose to shake a few off on the ground, he obtained all the fame he desired from the pickers-up.” And then, too, there was Prince von Kaunitz, who achieved the desired shade of his wig by strolling back and forth while four lackeys sprayed it with different tints of scented powder. Indeed, in those pre-Brummell years, men were such peacocks that The Times of London used to describe their clothes in as minute and fascinated detail as it did women’s.
With the Beau’s arrival in London, however, restraint in male attire became the order of the day and, for that matter, of every debonair day thereafter. It is, in fact, almost impossible to exaggerate Brummell’s influence, for as Virginia Woolf has said, “Without a single noble, important, or valuable action to his credit, he cuts a figure; he stands for a symbol; his ghost walks among us still.” Indeed, because of him alone simplicity became the hallmark of the well-dressed man, whether he be a Victorian Prime Minister named Lord Melbourne, an American general named A. J. Drexel Biddle, a former Secretary of State named Dean Acheson, or a song-and-dance man out of Omaha named Fred Astaire.
But Brummell, far from being a prophet without honor, was a legend even in his own lifetime — a circumstance, incidentally, that he helped propagate by circulating rumors to the effect that, among other primping practices, he mixed champagne in his boot polish, employed three different coiffeurs to do his hair (one for the temples, another for the crown, and a third for the front), and had once jilted a rich and beautiful noblewoman because he couldn’t abide the way she ate cabbage. Nevertheless, his fussiness was genuine and it was a matter of record that he refused to take off his hat to ladies for fear that he might not be able to get it back on his head at the precisely rakish angle. Furthermore, his concern for himself was so rapt that he was able to identify his troop only because one of its members had “a very large blue nose.” Yet for all his affectations, he was possessed of a sense of beauty that bordered on genius. So flawless was the fit of Brummell’s coat that, according to Byron, “It seemed as if the body thought.”
Indeed, next to the Beau himself, Byron must have been Brummell’s most ardent admirer — a circumstance, by the way, that must seem a little incredible, for, as famous as he was, as handsome, as talented, as nobly-born, and as much a lion among the ladies, Byron, who achieved his own wind-blown “Byronic” look by putting his hair up in curlers at bedtime, spent sleepless nights tossing over his inability to tie a neckcloth with any of Brummell’s surpassing skill. (Continue)
We bring our series on elegance to a close with these thoughts from the founder.
* * *
Take a look at this photo of former Esquire columnist George Frazier, author of “The Art Of Wearing Clothes.” There’s the Russell Plaid suit jacket, Churchill dot tie, and buttondown shirt — all pretty standard fare. But then there are the personal touches: the longish hair of the artiste, the boutonniere, and of course the cigarette with finger articulation straight out of Leyendecker’s sketchbook. If the sum total of the photo isn’t elegance, it’s at least sophistication, which is its first cousin.
Historic documents on the Ivy League Look reveal the breadth, quality and formality of the college student’s wardrobe in the aristocratic ’30s. But while neatness, correctness, quality and even panache within the boundaries of good taste were always virtues of the Ivy look, elegance is rarely mentioned. Indeed it was likely considered a vice in the deepest recesses of the preppy/Ivy tribe, smacking of outsiders and arrivistes. “Try For Elegance,” the 1959 novel based on author David Loovis’ experience at Brooks Brothers, sounds like a title his publisher chose.
In our lively comments section, some of the less broad-minded seem to insist that Ivy is a specific look. It’s easy to get that impression for the younger among us, those who’ve never seen first-hand the breadth of variety during the heyday at a legendary clothier such as Langrock. But I prefer to think of Ivy as a genre from which one can choose from a wider-than-you-think array of items to find one’s personal style. I can see the cool in the Ivy genre, and I can also see the elegance. But I suppose that’s because I can appreciate those qualities in other things as well, from the cool of Monk’s “In Walked Bud” to the elegance exhibited in the classicism and restraint of my favorite composer, Gabriel Fauré.
According to his biographer, George Frazier had practically an obsession with pink oxfords from Brooks Brothers. On a preppy kid with a green sweater draped over his shoulders, the shirt would create one kind of effect. On Frazier, with cigarette, martini and quick wit (not to mention, for a time, a home address at The Plaza Hotel), the effect would have been quite another. Elegance may not be an intrinsic quality of the Ivy League Look, but in the end what counts is always what you bring to your clothes, not what they give to you. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
Elegance Week and Halloween collide in this last-minute costume idea courtesy of this ad from a 1936 edition of The Daily Princetonian.
Just dust off your old tux, head off to that Halloween party, and say you’re dressed as an elite college kid from the thirties. Since no student dresses this way today, it qualifies as costume.
Don’t fall asleep without brushing your sugar-soaked teeth tonight. We’ll conclude our series on elegance tomorrow with a little show and tell from me. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
In the 1984 prepsloitation movie “Making The Grade,” protagonist Eddie gets invited to a black-tie event. To learn how to properly deport himself, he and two of his prep-school buddies study Cary Grant, the master of looking cool and elegant in a dinner jacket.
The entire movie is up on YouTube, so you can sneak glimpses of your favorite scene while at your workstation, or watch it on your mobile device while waiting at the dentist’s office. If you haven’t seeen it, it’s worth a few chuckles, and, like “The Official Preppy Handbook,” is an important social document of the ’80s preppy trend. The Cary Grant scene starts at 42:42. — CC
As Ivy Style’s Elegance Week continues, assistant editor Christopher Sharp presents this homage to the man who wrote the book on the subject.
* * *
I can still see myself sheepishly sliding a black paperback, face down, across the college bookstore counter like a schoolboy buying a nudie magazine. The book was Bruce Boyer’s “Elegance.”
I am not sure if my discomfort purchasing the book was because at that time people did not obsessively talk about clothing, or if I thought in my youthful preciousness I should have already been a grandmaster. I certainly wasn’t, but I wanted to remedy that.
I had been surreptitiously studying fashion. There were old Hollywood movies and lesser-known charming British films that that had interchangeable characters who all wore tweed and effortlessly smoked pipes. They all knew something I did not, but what? For clues I mined the New York Time fashion supplements, GQ and Esquire. I read Molloy’s “Dress for Success,” which was like an auto mechanics manual for business dress of the ’70s. I scrupulously took stock of those around me. But something was amiss: there had to be good clothes somewhere in this world, a way to recognize them and a way to wear them with aplomb.
Then came the black book. For years I would tell anyone who would listen that Boyer’s book was the key. Some have described it like having someone introduce you their tailor. In Boyer’s book I found a narrator’s voice like a great uncle, knowledgeable about all things sartorial. The essays were mini masterpieces of storytelling. It wasn’t “wear this, don’t wear that,” but “here are some staples that have stood the test of time, here is the backstory, and these are some of the establishments you can trust.”
I should add that I also have a personal fondness for Mr. Boyer, because he was very kind to me when I was starting off. In the age before the Internet, he actually answered my letters. In the time before eBay, he recommended sources and even talked me off the ledge when heavyweight Viyella disappeared from the market.
I have read “Elegance” so many times there is an indelible yellow thumb print were I have turned the pages thousands of times. Today I no longer read the book as a novice, but as a seasoned fellow traveler. The nostalgic me wishes I better knew the world he wrote about then. I would have loved to have looked at the shirting samples with Fred Calcagno, master cutter at Pec & Co., or to see the glorious tweed bolts at Langrock. But because of Boyer’s initial influence, I have been fortunate to meet Richard Press, Paul Winston and George Graham.
I think I sometimes channel Boyer when I write a piece for Ivy Style. I find myself using a word or two he would use, like “ersatz” or “deus ex machina.” But in truth, like another one of my mentors, Richard Merkin, Boyer helped me find my voice, whether it’s written on the page or expressed in something more subliminally sublime, like a perfectly chosen pocket square.
In the foreword of “Elegance,” Boyer writes, “Those whose appearances we admire wear their clothes with a certain sense of comfort and propriety of style we often call elegance.” Mr. Boyer is elegant, but am I elegant? There is the rub. My epiphany is this: elegant is a word like hero, and no man should elect himself. It is for others to bestow the honor, and those chosen must humbly accept it. Shall we say with elegance? — CHRISTOPHER SHARP
I’ve seen every masculine change in fashion from the “drape shape with the reet pleat” zoot suit of the WW II years to the latest “New Bohemian” look from Dries Van Noten, and the way I dress is still imprisoned by the years of my youth. But my appreciation of style is not, so I have indeed come to appreciate a great variety of looks that I wouldn’t myself attempt. Thom Browne and Junya Watanabe are creative and important, but not for me personally.
I’m stuck in the Anglo-American years of the 1950s and early 60s. I’m not the only one who can tell this story, but I’m the only one who can say what it meant to me. When the Ivy League style grabbed me in the early 50s, I sold my prole gear and bought a Harris Tweed sports jacket. And you never forget your first one. But I soon discovered what has remained for me the epitome of elegance: the gray flannel suit.
I’d saved the money I made from a part-time job when I was a junior in high school, and commissioned a made-to-measure medium- gray flannel suit from a local shop: single-breasted, three-button rolled to two, side vents, narrow trousers. I can see it as though it were yesterday, and I’ve never been without a gray flannel suit ever since. At the moment I’ve got three: a single-breasted, three-piece Cambridge gray solid flannel, a medium gray, chalk-striped single-breasted three-piece, and a medium gray double-breasted gray flannel.
In the 50s, the medium- and charcoal-gray flannel suit were the classic uniform of the EE (Eastern Establishment), “the man in the gray flannel suit” became the American national symbol of corporate conformity and conventionality, as the Great democracy assumed a sartorial stance of exaggerated understatement. The suit – with no padding, no darts, no pleats, and a single vent and narrow lapels – represented a balance between comfort and sobriety, and was accompanied by small-brimmed fedoras, purposefully casual buttondown shirts, narrow neckwear, and slip-ons. For the British, who watched their empire disappear in the wake of the war, it was a difficult pill to swallow, as English fashion historian John Taylor makes clear:
But Americans came to power parallel with the universal acknowledgement of the tenets of democracy, and their relative riches were a perennial source of embarrassment to them. Perforce, they tried to avoid any too vulgar indication of it in front of a penurious world or, alternatively, to convince themselves and the world that the trappings of success did not really matter.
Taylor hated what he thought was the “simulated negligence” of the buttondown and the rest of the Ivy League look, but that was what believed – and still do believe – was the great strength of it. The gray flannel suit is the epitome of this approach for me precisely because it has a dehabille, a slightly rumpled nonchalance denied to crisp worsteds. It’s got an easy elegance that can’t be beaten in a tailored garment. And of course I can always wear the trousers with my Harris Tweed sports jacket. — G. BRUCE BOYER