Penthouse Serenade: Hef on Ivy, 1960

If you’re a sucker for the “Mad Men” vibe of cool dudes, sexy chicks and midcentury style, you should really check out “Playboy’s Penthouse,” Hugh Hefner’s variety show from the early days of his budding Playboy empire. Episodes are available on DVD, including through Netflix.

The episodes were taped in a party atmosphere that brought together a cross section of fashionable society (the kind of crowd seen in our post “A Swellegant, Elegant Party“), and adult music (jazz, vocalists) that’s a far cry from the musical acts featured on today’s late-night shows.

And then there’s everybody smoking, including the singers while they perform. Is smoking glamorous? Don’t be daft: Of course it is.

In a February 1960 episode, a young beauty from Hef’s harem asks him about the turnback cuffs on his dinner jacket. Hefner, who had previously donned the Ivy League Look, proceeds to bore the girl to death with a dissertation on men’s tailoring, pointing with his Dunhill shell briar for effect.

Here’s what he says:

Well, this suit is Continental, Elsa. It’s a new style in America. Look, Tom’s formal is Ivy, which has been very popular. The difference is in the cuff. This has a little more cut to the jacket; it’s a shorter jacket. You’ll notice Tom has flaps on his pockets. These pockets are slanted.

After the war, when everybody was wearing full shoulders and full suits, Ivy came in. Ivy had been with us in the East for a long time, but it became very popular on a national level. Ivy has enjoyed a strong popularity, but just this last season something new has come over from Italy, and it’s Continental. It’s like Ivy in that it’s slim, but it’s a little more trimmed at the waist, a little more padding in the shoulder, the pockets are often slashed, and in addition the jacket is a little shorter, and you get accessories sometimes like the cuff and no belt.

Then Tom (the Ivy-clad fellow pictured above at left), perhaps concerned that the fashionableness of his attire may be nearing its expiration date, asks “Do you think Continental will replace the Ivy League style?”

Hef replies:

Playboy doesn’t think so. We did an article on it a couple of months ago. Ivy is so fundamental that I think it’s going to be with us. It’s basic, good conservative dress, and we think it’ll stay with us always. But Continental has a little more flair, it’s a little more elegant, and we think it fits those occasions when a man wants to dress up. We think there’s a place for both.

Ditching Ivy for Continental may be an error in judgment for us natural shoulder fans, but it’s not as bad as ditching clothing altogether in favor of pajamas.

After Hef’s style speech, he introduces Cal Tjader, who goes on to play the vibes in a gray sack suit and black knit tie (and with his specs and receding hairline, kinda looks like Newton Street Vintage circa 2009).

Here’s Tjader doing the lovely “Shina no yoru,” originally a Japanese propaganda song from the ’30s.

I like to sing it Nihon-go de in the shower. — CC

4 Comments on "Penthouse Serenade: Hef on Ivy, 1960"

  1. Playboy’s Penthouse is a great show and wonderful sociological time-warp. Besides offering a good glimpse of late 50’s-early ’60’s fashion, there are some great performances to be seen. I bought the first DVD Set when it came out; it was packaged with some episodes of the later Playboy After Dark from the late 1960’s.

    The two shows reveal quite a contrast. All the guests were well-dressed in the Penthouse shows and the music was for the most part top notch. In the After Dark shows, the guest’s attire was mostly dreadful and the sophisticated jazz gave way to “popular” music.

    Sammy Davis, Jr. stands out in particular: in the Penthouse episodes he wore stylish well-tailored lounge suits; in his After Dark appearance, he showed up in an unbuttoned shirt, huge rings and gold chains around his neck, bragging to Hef that he stopped wearing “this stuff,” as he gestured at Hef’s tuxedo.

    The 1960’s were a unique decade, The early years were very elegant and chic. Then around 1967, everything started progressing downhill with amazing speed. In 1968, Hef himself began wearing rather some rather strange clothing.

    Unfortunately, when most people envision The ’60’s, they are visualizing the the sartorially unfortunate final years of that epoch. It is good that people are being reminded of (or in some cases introduced to) the uniquely stylish early and mid 1960’s via Mad Men and the more recent Pan Am and Playboy Club.

  2. @ J Kraus

    Yes, in the early 60s, even Midwest universities still had Ivy shops.

  3. karl anglin | January 24, 2013 at 4:27 pm |

    Hef began wearing Ivy League clothing after
    being influenced by longtime friend Victor
    Lownes, who had worn brooks Brothers clothing
    from the age of 16,

  4. The added bonus is Playboy’s Penthouse was syndicated by Official Films, which also handled the off-network syndication of another figure of the Ivy aesthetic, Peter Gunn.

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