This morning Ivy Style awoke to a tweet from Warren Bingham giving us a head’s up about a great article in the latest issue of Charlotte Magazine. Entitled “Penny Loafers And Alligator Belts” and written by Cole Waddell, it recounts his time in the early ’60s working in the university department at men’s store Tate-Brown.
Here’s a snippet:
The University department sold suits, blazers, sport coats, neckties, and the essentials for campus wear: Gold Cup socks, sweaters, London Fog outerwear, khaki pants, Gant button-down shirts, madras shirts, alligator belts, and, of course, Bass Weejuns penny loafers. This was many years before college males adopted blue jeans, T-shirts, baseball caps, and running shoes. Looking back at old issues of The Yackety Yack, the UNC yearbook, the men look neat and well-dressed, with their short hair and campus wear.
The style of dress was initially called Ivy League fashion, supposedly the preferred style at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. It would eventually be labeled “preppy.” Years later, ads for Polo Ralph Lauren evoke memories of those clothes.
At college, I wore penny loafers, until one day I saw a classmate from New York wearing a different type of loafer. His had a metal piece across the top. I didn’t know him well enough to ask about them, and it being the 1960s, I didn’t have a camera on a cell phone to sneak a picture of them. Without a photograph, I tried to describe the shoes as I asked around Charlotte. My inquiries were futile: People gave me strange looks and a few snarky suggestions. A few years later, I would learn that my school chum had good taste in shoes; he had been wearing the basic, classic Gucci horsebit loafer. Made in Italy. Sold in the Gucci store on Fifth Avenue in New York. I remember my delight when I obtained my first pair years later.
It’s a great read, so head over here to check it out. — CC
Launched Sunday, Lilly Pulitzer for Target has already come and gone —quite quickly, as a matter of fact. It was a masterful act of marketing for Lilly’s parent company, Oxford Industries, whose stock leapt 7 percent. Target itself comes away with slightly less to brag about, with thousands of irate customers walking away with empty hands and thwarted aspirational dreams. Whether the disappointed budget-preps shell out for Lilly directly from the source is yet to be seen, but no matter how you slice it this is a huge win for the brand.
Some of you are probably shaking your heads in dismay. Lilly Pulitzer is no doubt a divisive brand among the buttondown set. Some have never been fans, some were fans of the old stuff, some love the old and new alike. I was interested in the overlap of clientele during and after the heyday, and recently asked Richard Press to expand a bit on the connection between J. Press and Lilly Pulitzer, which he’s alluded to in the past. “In 1970 Don Leas visited me,” he said. “He was the Lilly men’s rep as well as a Palm Beach and Philadelphia socialite. We agreed to carry a Lilly line of Ivy League caricatures (Princeton tigers, Yale bulldogs), and a group of Lilly pants, sport jackets, and half-sleeved men’s sport shirts, as long as he confined the items to J. Press in areas contiguous to our stores. Donald was a handsome bon vivant, and after receiving our orders we would head over to the Yale Club, where we closed the bar. We enjoyed great success with the line which lasted perhaps four or five years before it died a natural death.”
It may give some a coronary, but to me a J. Press sack jacket in a Lilly print sounds fantastic. It turns out that I actually quite like Lilly Pulitzer, despite what others have called my otherwise conservative sensibility. I have several vintage Lilly Pulitzer ties that were gifts to my father from James Bradbeer, one of the Philadelphia investors who revived the brand (with Ms. Pulitzer’s guidance and design expertise) in the 1990s.
While in Florida this winter, I wore one for dinner at Joe’s Stone Crab (with a Press blazer) and was seated immediately, while the slovenly tourists in front of us were told there was an hour wait.
During that same trip to the Sunshine State I spent some time in Palm Beach looking for Lilly “men’s stuff,” as it was once called, but to my great disappointment there was precious little to be found in vintage stores, and none whatsoever in the retail location at the Breakers. Worse still, many of the ladies on Worth Avenue were wearing pricy yoga pants instead of printed shifts, and seemed not to be heading to Ta-Boo for lunch, but rather Starbucks between training sessions. I saw one or two gents in traditional Palm Beach wear — bright pants, blazer, straw hat — but, outside of a few drinking establishments, the people I met in Palm Beach dressed basically the same as any other prosperous leisure community.
That Lilly for Target was a highly profitable maneuver can’t be argued. As for Lilly’s cachet, that remains to be seen. I’m not convinced it will hurt the prestige of the brand among dedicated followers. After all, if Ralph Lauren can appeal to both aspirational and luxury customers, Lilly Pulitzer should be able to as well. It’s my hope that perhaps in the near future Lilly Pulitzer will expand the higher end of its offerings, manufacture more in America, and maybe even partner again with a company such as J. Press or Brooks Brothers to recreate some of the more stylish offerings from the late ’60s and early ’70s.
In the meantime, I’ll wear the ties I have. I may even put one on for brunch with my lady next weekend to cheer her up. She slept until 9 AM last Sunday, when most Target stores had already been sold out of the Lilly Pulitzer collection for an hour. Then again, perhaps wearing one of the ties would just be rubbing it in. — DANIEL C. GREENWOOD
Apologies for being in the dark yesterday as we got bit by another bug. We’re now in the process of migrating to a new hosting company with better protection against these tedious maladies.
In the meantime, we welcome everyone back with a special treat from Toronto-based style writer and broadcaster Pedro Mendes, who recently interviewed G. Bruce Boyer for his blog The Hogtown Rake on the 30th anniversary of Boyer’s classic book “Elegance”
Knowing Bruce has friends and fans here, Mendes reached out this morning offering to share his interview directly on Ivy Style. Et voila, as they say in Canada (or should that be “eh voila?”)
Oh, and speaking of anniversaries, just last week Boyer grew another year wiser. — CC
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It has been 30 years since G. Bruce Boyer wrote Elegance, his now classic book on men’s style. I recently read it for the first time and while I found it inspiring, I was also constantly fluctuating between two sensations. First, almost shocking familiarity because so much of what Mr. Boyer wrote about is happening now: a return to elegance in men’s dress and a nostalgia for the 1920s and 30s, for example. Second, and much more pronounced, was a sense of sadness by how much has changed in the last three decades. Just as a new generation is rediscovering what it means to dress well, many of the makers, sellers and suppliers Mr. Boyer wrote about are either long gone or inexorably changed. As I read the book, I came up with question after question in my mind I wanted to ask Mr. Boyer. So when I finished, I contacted him. I am very, very thankful that he agreed to answer a number of my questions, providing insights both to those who have and haven’t read the book. We also touched on his soon to be released True Style. — PEDRO MENDES
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PM: When I read the book, I was quite taken by how much we’ve lost and how much has changed for the worse. How does the book make you feel, 30 years later?
GBB: Funnily enough, I’m still happy with Elegance, except for the “service” elements of it, i.e. those list of shops which, as you note, are sadly out of date. It’s very sad for me that some of the great New York stores — I’m thinking of the old Abercrombie & Fitch, M. J. Knoud Saddlery, H. Kauffman & Sons, Fulton Supply, and other places where you could find authentic sports clothing — are no longer with us. But life moves on, manners and mores change, and there are new venues to seek out and patronize.
PM: What changes have there been to your personal approach to style and your wardrobe in the last 30 years?
GBB: I’m afraid I’m a prisoner of my youth. When I was a young man — 12 to 20 — I experimented with all sorts of dress, but more and more drifted to American Ivy style clothes with a British influence. As early as 1958 or so I was also already aware of the Italian approach — we called it “Continental” style at the time — and was affected by that too. By that time I had stopped experimenting with styles and was more interested in simply finding shops and craftsmen who could give me what I wanted. In other words, by the time I was 20 or so, I was honing my style and taste, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I admit to looking a bit old-fashioned, but then I’m not a young man anymore so it doesn’t really matter.
PM: You wrote about a return to elegance in the ’80s, similar to what is happening now. But is it happening for the same reasons?
GBB: I think there are always a number of young men who will be interested in elegance, and the times will determine what that concept means and how it is envisioned. Thirty years ago of course there was no widespread internet of shopping and blogging advice. Today many more men are aware of the golden names of craftsmanship and quality in clothing than there were in the 80s. Also today we have witnessed the great rise of the Tokyo-Singapore-Hong Kong triangle. Asia has become a major player in men’s fashion, we are aware of stores like The Armoury and Kamakura, the great Japanese fashion magazines, and The Rake (from Singapore). The influence is more pervasive and international today than it was in the 80s.
PM: When you spoke of “bespoke” and “hand-lasted”, I get the impression that far more men knew terms like those 30 years ago than today. Is that true?
GBB: The problem is that these terms — bespoke, custom, made-to-measure, benchmade, hand-lasted, and others — used to have definite and distinct meanings. But because of commercial greed and lax legislation, they are now used indiscriminately to sell product. From what I gather, even the British courts will not take a stand on the use of these words. So now everyone uses the word “bespoke” to the detriment of the unwary consumer. When anything can mean anything, the consumer must educate himself to a high degree or get robbed. That’s how capitalism works: Let the buyer beware.
PM: It seemed at the time that the 80s were the end of the “let’s-dress-any-old-way-we-want” era, yet that seems more true today than ever. Do you feel hope for the future of tailored clothes or is this current trend a last gasp?
GBB: This is the real question, and if I could answer it I would probably be phoning in this interview from a rather capacious mansion in the South of France. On a philosophical-sociological level, clothing has always been a way of showing one’s place in the social sphere, and I think that this will always be so. Even with saints and communists, some will want to look a bit better than others. But the slice of the pie of tailored clothing is very small today, every retailer is fighting desperately for a crumb of it. Further, the tailored wardrobe, as we know it — suit, shirt & tie, leather shoes — has had a long go of it, hasn’t changed much at all in 150 years, which is an incredibly long time when you consider what’s happened in science — think of transportation, medicine, technology — in those years. We can have a nice cup of coffee 50,000 feet in the air, and all the while be dressed the way we were a hundred years ago.
PM: You called Savile Row “the greatest tailoring street in the world. Period.” Do you still feel this way?
GBB: Yes, simply because it still has the largest group of tailors in the smallest space. My feeling is that this is a very good thing, because they can all help and feed off each other, trade ideas while still be in competition. Craftsmen and artists must talk to each other. Other cities would do well to institute “Craft Zones”. Savile Row is always under assault by developers, until it’s pointed out to the London City Council that a great deal of money accrues to the city by tourists coming to the Row to buy clothes and leaving a lot of money behind.
PM: Of all the major retailers featured in the book, it seems LL Bean has changed the least. Would you agree?
GBB: No, I’m afraid that LL Bean has changed along with the rest. What we see in every great retailer is that quality continues to go down as quantity increases. To be fair, it’s a vicious cycle: if people want more instead of better, that’s what retailers will sell them. Many people today would rather have six pair of cheap shoes rather than one pair of good shoes.
After that epic winter, I hope I never see tweed again. If you haven’t brushed your old jackets and put them away yet, this weekend might be the time.
Just don’t forget to get outside. — CC
This spring Sebago will unveil a new premium collection called Crest. Here’s what the company has to say in a press release:
This collection for men reinvents Sebago’s iconic styles with new polished details and rich materials. The handmade collection features beautiful leather hide selections and supple sheepskin underfoot for incredible comfort. Crest represents the finest Sebago has to offer. Styles include the Crest Cayman, an Italian calf penny loafer featuring genuine welt construction, and the Crest Docksides. Handsewn styles include gorgeous Nubuck and luxurious Horween leathers including Bison, which is stronger than traditional cowhide and unparalleled in its softness.
Other key features as described in a Crest brochure include sheepskin lining, memory foam, rust-resistant brass eyelets, leather logo flag, and, on select styles, a leather welt that “deliverys a distinctive design aesthetic.”
Handmade in the Dominican Republic, the shoes will be available next month and priced from $150-$165. — CC (Continue)
In Charlottesville, VA, resides the legendary menswear shop Eljo’s, whose wares are succintly described on the store’s front sign: “traditional clothes.” (Continue)