Penthouse Serenade: Hef on Ivy, 1960

“Playboy’s Penthouse” was Hugh Hefner’s variety show from the early days of his budding Playboy empire. 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.

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 the natural shouldered, but it’s not as bad as ditching clothing altogether in favor of pajamas.— CC

8 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.

  5. “It’s basic, good conservative dress, and we think it’ll stay with us always.”
    – Hef

    This is so prescient. Spot on. There’s something so absolutely and thoroughly American about the look–whether one goes with the roots (19th and early 20th century Brooks) or the many campus shops, the paradigm being J. Press. Nobody affiliates the button-downed oxford, khakis and penny loafers with England nowadays. It’s all so quintessentially American, almost in spite of original sources.

    Example: Today I am wearing a tweed jacket, blue u-stripe oxford, khakis and penny (Alden) loafers. I walked downtown and passed by lots of people wearing shiny, spotless athleisure outfits (a lot of synthetic fibers). I didn’t feel even a little bit underdressed. Because of the inherent casualness of Ivy, it travels oh-so well in a variety of settings and circles. It’s sufficiently dressed-up without being formal or pretentious. This, to repeat what’s already been said, is the genius of the look. You can’t pull off this nonchalance with high shoulders, point collars and lace-up shoes. (you just can’t). Add wrinkles, creases, patches and maybe even a few loose seams for effect.

    The striped accessories, a direct reference to sport and schools, add to the easy-going sportiness of the look. “Club” (repeated motif) patterns are also sporty.

    One feels almost sad (not really) for the looks and styles that won’t survive over the long term–all of which are over-the-top formal or stiff. I think J. Press has a fighting chance in a post-pandemic world. I wouldn’t say the same for Paul Stuart or any other peddlers of the “Continental” In fact, I think Ivy stylists and retailers could easily seize upon this moment–to remind their potential audiences of the real charm of the look, going all the way back to the early days of Brooks: the natural, soft, sporty vibe.

  6. edit:
    didn’t feel overdressed,
    In fact, some of the athleisure outfits were a good bit more unwrinkled and shiny than my decrepit, threadbare, rumpled, neglected Ivy combo. too funny.

  7. Carmelo Pugliatti | May 20, 2020 at 3:35 pm |

    “something new has come over from Italy, and it’s Continental”.

    I have buy on ebay a beautiful magazine “Vestire” issue 1,fall-winter 1959-1960 (with this my collection of “Vestire”is complete until 1966).
    Was a sophisticate Italian magazine and is focus was on man’s fashion and bespoke.
    Well, NONE of suits in pictures and fashion plates have a “continental” cut.None in Italy dressed “continental”. You want see the REAL Italian style of 1960?

  8. If you’d ask “Ivy” where he got his, e.g., sportcoat, he’d give you the name of the store. Ask “Playboy” and he’d cite the brand, store, great neighborhood the store was in, how it was the fashion at someplace exotic/cool, and use “sophisticated” at least once.

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