Picture Show: Hollywood And The Ivy Look

As the editor of Tradsville’s news gazette for the past three years, I’ve been obliged to work my beat with at least some attempt at assiduity. That includes keeping an unjaundiced eye on the discourse at Talk Ivy, a discussion forum hosted at filmnoirbuff.com whose members are mostly from the UK and Continental Europe.

From their discourse I’ve received the general impression that English Ivy fans are a kind of retro style-tribe subculture with a fanaticism for the music and clothing from 1955-1965. This fuels them with a tireless drive to dig up forgotten historical documents such as photos, films, record albums and advertisements. When it comes to putting these things into historical and social context, however, the English are severely hampered by two things: the need to see history in a way that fits their subculture’s sensibility, and the fact that they don’t live in America.

Their “talk,” then, is primarily fandom threads about favorite clothing items, records and movies, while their analysis of the Ivy heyday is speculative and interpreted rather than fact-based and reported.

I’ve previously written about the English following the publication of “The Ivy Look” by Graham Marsh and JP Gaul, a book almost baffling in its inability to articulate — a couple of sentences would have sufficed — where the Ivy League Look comes from, how it got its name, and other such basic information in what was intended as an introductory guide. And yet it’s not hard to see why this is squeamish territory: for London style-tribe scenesters, nothing could be more unhip than the thought of dressing in the clothing style whose original arbiters were the East Coast establishment.

Combined with an avoidance of the origins of the Ivy League Look and its chief merchants (who, outside of New York, were nearly all located in the communities serving Yale, Harvard and Princeton), was the curious inclusion of all sorts of randomalia, such as Zippo lighters, Porsche speedsters and French New Wave cinema, which may share the historical timeline as the Ivy League Look’s heyday but bear no direct relation except in the imagination of tribal members.

Perhaps opting to play it safe this time, the authors’ new follow-up tome, “Hollywood And The Ivy Look,” has minimal text. And in Marsh’s one-page introduction, England’s resident Ivy expert now sounds so confused he’s resorted to a wishy-washy cop-out when it comes to addressing his readers with the topic at hand:

There is a strong case to be made that the “Ivy League Look” was, in essence, pure Brooks Brothers and did not emanate from the eight East Coast universities. The jury is out as to the final decision and probably always will be. But now, back to Hollywood and the Ivy Look…

As Marsh returns to his comfort zone with an ellipsis, the book’s real content — rare photos — are fantastic and gathering them is something to be lauded. Though the second half, as in “The Ivy Look,” falls into the same trap of including many photos, films and TV shows that feel merely contemporary to the years 1955-1965 rather than expressions of the Ivy League Look, the book is a tremendous photographic documentation of the brief time when Ivy was popular and entertainers dressed with restrained good taste.

The text’s peccadilloes are largely confined to instances of scenester-geek chumminess (“kings of the buttondown,” “our man Perkins”) and calls to style-icon mimicry and tribal initiation (“wear this outfit and you’re guaranteed a passport to the Ivy Look”). There’s also a reference to Ivy as an “aesthetic,” but perhaps I’m the only one who finds that word pompous.

But as a counter to the many fusty dullards who have kept Ivy clothiers in business over the decades, the English provide a useful reminder that American natural-shouldered clothing can, in additional to being traditional and correct, also be cool. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

66 Comments on "Picture Show: Hollywood And The Ivy Look"

  1. Many dusty foulards? Sure, I’ll take some.

  2. Mr. Marsh’s work is all about enjoying the photos and ignoring what little commentary there is. I’ve never understood the British/European misunderstandings about Ivy.

    The Japanese I’ve met that are Ivy/Prep/Trad aficionados know ridiculous amounts of information and history. I think Free & Easy, from what I saw of it in Japanese bookstores, appears to be significantly better researched than either of Marsh’s offerings.

    But, yeah, cool photos.

  3. @Kionon

    “Mr. Marsh’s work is all about enjoying the photos and ignoring what little commentary there is.”

    True dat.

    He seems to be a great visual researcher and compiler of other people’s photos. However his pretentious, silly text tends to produce eyerolls, headshakes and guffaws from time to time. I’d like to check out this book, but I’m unwilling to pay $75 for period photos of Woody Allen, Robert Culp, etc. when I can see them on TV re-runs literally any night of the week. Cut the price in half and maybe I’ll splurge. Doubtful that Amazon will give any discount though.

  4. Interesting post Christian. I am interested in how the mod and ivy look intersect in the UK.

  5. Christian, I very much enjoy reading Ivy Style.
    I’m intrigued by your view of ‘Ivy’ enthusiasts from the UK. I suppose I am a generation below them, so I have none of the nostalgia from the 60s/70s. I can see where it comes from though – the glimpse into a different world, grasping at whatever nuggets of information was available that had floated over across the Atlantic. I don’t associate myself with that view of things, or necessarily their love of some of the finer points or details.

    I am however a fan of Ivy League style, or more generally the preppy, WASP style that you also write about.
    It seems to me that given the advent of the internet there is now a large amount of information and history available about Ivy League style. The fog that obscured so much of the information from the UK has now been lifted (for some time). Where once only a small amount of information was available to an ardent few who sought it out, now it is freely available to anyone with an internet connection, to everyone’s benefit. I think this is the major difference between then and now.

    I’m very interested in some of the similarities in style between the East Coast US and the UK. So much of East Coast culture – from architecture to dress has been influence by the UK, then slowly evolved over many years. I’m also interested in the continuation of this evolution, how an American style was then marketed to the rest of the world, and continues to develop.
    This is what I write about at my site Preposity.com, still very much in its infancy.

    Thanks for all the great articles, happy 2012. I look forward to reading more from you and the other writers here.

  6. Dickey Greenleaf | January 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm |

    Happy New Year!

  7. “…fusty dullards…”? Pejorative, right?

    “Pure Brooks Brothers”? Well, I never thought of myself as eager to endorse a “wishy-washy cop-out” of any sort. But still. There’s merit in them-thar hypotheses. How so?

    Well. Best I recall, Mr. Press relayed that way back when, Arthur Rosenberg adapted the Brooks #1 sack to the “original boxy Rosenberg pattern.” One is left to conclude that this is the pattern for which the Ivy League look, including Press’ offerings, would become known. Yes?

    Add to this Boyer’s spot-on claim that Brooks is “perhaps the greatest influence on American menswear,” and, well, it seems a consensus view is emerging (or has already): The Look is derived from Brooks’ interpretation of one version of the soft English tailoring tradition. Again, referencing Mr. Press: “It’s an American version of English clothing that had a certain snob appeal.”

    I appreciate Mr. Press’ counsel that the look is not restrictive, that the character traits that mark the authentic Ivy style include English woolen cloth, cottons, and top drawer tailoring. He references brands such as Burberry, Barbour, and Locke. And to read his memories of tweeds redesigned–Wow. Ah, the good ole days.

    The good news is that there are plenty of custom (bespoke and MTM and shades in between) options these days, and all that great English cloth, including tweeds by W. Bill and sturdy worsteds by Lesser and Minnis and Smith, are being offered. There’s even a Scottish weaver (of lightweight Shetland) who will make custom designed tweed in relatively low quantities. Not as many cut-and-sew outposts as there once were, but most can do replicate the natural shoulder sack.

    All of this–now available well beyond the boundaries of New Haven and Cambridge. So, as I reflect, maybe these days are the good ole days.

  8. East coast Americans tried to dress like their mental image of English urban and English Country gentlemen.

    They didn’t get it quite right and the Ivy look was born.

  9. Choosey Mothers choose Jif | January 2, 2012 at 10:21 pm |

    @Oxford Ivy

    ahh…that tired old trope.

    It’s amazing how you have the ability to mind-read millions of Americans from decades ago. I can assure you that most adult Americans didn’t / don’t want to be British.

    If they “didn’t get it right” then perhaps it was because they weren’t even trying to fit your hypothesis in the first place?

    Well-to-do Americans back then could certainly afford to wear 100% British clothes if they chose to do so. Apparently, they didn’t.

    So, do you stick with your failed hypothesis, or do you alter your perception to accept reality?

  10. @Choosey Mothers choose Jif

    I stand by my hypothesis.

    Mr. Brooks didn’t just have some God-sent inspiration: he modelled it on something.

    As far as Americans not wanting to be British: Apparently you’ve never met any American professors of English Lit. (or any old New Englanders).

  11. Choosey Mothers choose Jif | January 2, 2012 at 10:47 pm |

    @Oxford Ivy

    “American professors of English Lit.”? Talk about a microscopically small percentage of the population. Not exactly indicative of Americans in general.

    By that logic, any Englishman who “studies” (obsesses) about American clothes/music/cultural ephemera just wants to be an American. He just “gets it wrong”.

  12. Oxford Ivy and Choosey Mothers, both from two great countries divided by a common wardrobe, er, language! The biggest difference between English and American tailoring is a single vent and the double vent jacket! :-)

  13. Vittorio Affanculo | January 3, 2012 at 1:15 am |

    Holy shit. Here we go again….. Couldn’t resist could you Christian? I actually thought you’d let this one go, you’d turn the other cheek, ignore it, or just offer one of your typically bland advertorial pieces. Is there such a thing as a journalistic expression of Munchausen’s Syndrome? I believe you manifest symptoms. Get back on your meds.

  14. Bob's Not Yer Uncle | January 3, 2012 at 1:46 am |

    @Vittorio

    I would say CC has shown remarkable restraint, considering the near daily slander he has encountered since starting this blog. If you consider this lukewarm book review to be some harsh attack, then you must be one hyper-sensitive insecure fellow.

  15. Richard Meyer | January 3, 2012 at 4:37 am |

    Speaking as a fusty dullard, I think only Chad Everett is well dressed in those pictures. I wouldn’t consider some of those outfits “Ivy”.

  16. I think Tom Wolfe actually has a pretty good understanding of this phenomenon.

    I’ve found that his essay “The Mid-Atlantic Man” does a good job of explaining part of the attraction Brits have for American clothes.

    On the other hand, “The Secret Vice” does a good job of putting English clothes and Brooks in context for those who grew up wearing Brooks.

    As a bonus, “Funky Chic” is helpful for understanding the curated workwear/outdoorsman thing that seems to be the other face of Ivy League style.

    -JC

  17. @Choosy Mothers…

    American in general, like Brits in general, are absolutely lacking in good taste with regard to their manner of dressing.

    Followers of Ivy/Trad style constitute a very small percentage of the American population, I daresay.

    I would argue that the percentage of Anglophiles is far higher among followers of Ivy/Trad style that it is among the American populace as a whole.

    Trad/Ivy style stripped of British tweeds, regimental stripes, khakis, and the oxford cloth button-down collar shirt (which Brooks Brothers correctly calls a “polo shirt”) would leave what? Weejuns?

  18. Quote: “Followers of Ivy/Trad style constitute a very small percentage of the American population, I daresay.”

    I agree, and am curious who you suppose they are.

    Incidentally, I have no idea why you’re trying to argue the British origins of Brooks Brothers style. Nowhere on this blog, in posts or in comments, has anyone ever denied that the cultural heritage of America (including the building blocks of the Ivy League Look) is chiefly English.

    But the notion that we got the clothes wrong is absurd. We’ve proven to our English cousins for the past 200 years that we have different ideas about how to do things.

  19. Anglophile Trad | January 3, 2012 at 10:28 am |

    While certainly not agreeing that we’re nothing but a bunch of bad copies of Brits, I must admit that there are parts of the country where people ask me if I’m EngIish because of my Trad/Ivy style of dressing.

  20. @Anglophile Trad

    There are parts of the U.S. where people ask me if I’m British because I speak grammatically-correct English.

  21. … though evidently don’t write it.

  22. Choosy Mothers choose Jif | January 3, 2012 at 12:09 pm |

    @Oxford Ivy

    Try constructing your “Ivy” wardrobe without any items labelled “made in USA”, or manufactured by American companies.
    If you truly believe it’s all British then you should have no problems doing so. While you’re at it, do us all a huge favor and drop your American “Ivy” moniker obsession altogether and call it something else entirely. Some of you might have a complete identity crisis without the use of that “Ivy” word.

  23. Choosy Mothers choose Jif | January 3, 2012 at 12:12 pm |

    @Anglophile Trad

    There are huge parts of Britain with people wearing American baseball hats and sports jerseys while simultaneously slagging Americans. It’s a strange love/hate thing they’ve got going on.

  24. “I would say CC has shown remarkable restraint, considering the near daily slander he has encountered since starting this blog. If you consider this lukewarm book review to be some harsh attack, then you must be one hyper-sensitive insecure fellow.”

    I would agree with this.

    While anything associated with WASP has, at its root, British influence (as does, you know being a white ANGLO-SAXON protestant) we would no more say that the Americans of British descent are somehow not Americans or are in some way still actively British. American Trad and Ivy (and Prep!) have British DNA, but they have long, LONG stopped being the same species, having adapted to a different style environment. Call it Style Darwinism.

  25. The reason I trawl the thrift shops and took up Ivy League/Trad fashion is because of my odd shape. The sack suit fits me well, I hark back to the fashions from the 1920s – 50s and I am a clothes snob. My local tailor won’t make me a sack suit and suggested I travel to the United States to get one off the rack. In order of favourites are J Press, Brooks Brothers and Andover Shop. :) Oh well off to eBay I go.

  26. Michael Mattis | January 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm |

    “Favorites.” Spell it right, limey. 😉

  27. @Christian

    What was ungrammatical about my sentence, pray tell?

  28. That fusty dullards have kept Ivy clothiers in business for decades–so true, so true.

  29. On this blog I’m denying the American origins of “ivy”. It was clearly developed from British clothing until a certain style with garish colour combinations developed. At which point it was sent in reverse and picked up by British youth in the ’50s, though with much more muted colours.

    The OCBD is not a Brooks Brothers invention (I don’t care what anyone says, not even that false guru G. Bruce Boyer and his acolytes), it was only introduced from somewhere else. All the faux club ties, tattersall waistcoats etc., had been done before in English country wear…which is the origin of “ivy”. Country wear with a few colours thrown in and worn outside the country.

  30. @Roger

    Where is “somewhere else”? A small unchartered island in the North Sea? If you’re going to make a claim against Brooks originating the “polo shirt”, I might suggest backing it up with something, perhaps, less vague and actually rooted in history than opinion.

    Maybe there is a cabal supporting Brooks and others. Smoky dark room types plotting to erode the glory that is
    England’s textile and fashion contributions to “ivy”. Seriously, developing a mythology around clothes. That’s pretty funny. Just as funny as some over here lapping up RL’s invitation to join the English aristocracy by simply dressing head to toe in his clothes (just trying to be fair).

  31. “A small unchartered island in the North Sea?”

    The Principality of Sealand?

  32. @Michael

    Sovereignty of “I have no clue” , I believe. Same place where lost socks end up.

  33. @OCBD

    Just giving you a hard time. Though for the record adverbs don’t take hyphens.

  34. Michael Mattis | January 4, 2012 at 10:28 am |

    “Sovereignty of “I have no clue”, I believe. Same place where lost socks end up.”

    Like.

  35. To argue about invention is to miss the point. Who cares where something was created? Brooks, in its “Timeless Classics” marketing material, clearly states the English origins of the button down among polo players. Their “polo” collar is trademarked. Brooks brought the collar to the States and popularized it. Popularizing something is a fairly important step in the development of a style, as it is the process by which obscure items become an established part of a look.

    Seersucker and madras originated in India. Both were brought to the western market by Brooks. Shell cordovan originated in Spain during the time of the Moors. Brogues were developed by Irish peat and potato farmers for quick drying. Maybe sometime, somewhere, the Indian and Moorish heritage of the Ivy look will be a hotly debated topic.

    The early Brooks advertising contains plenty of references to their British influences. They made American suits from English cloth. They made their knitwear in England.

    Advertising in England for the American clothes shops The Squire Shop and Austins from the same time simply use the word “American” to describe the clothing.

  36. Dickey Greenleaf | January 4, 2012 at 9:32 pm |

    What do you get when you blend, American, English, and Trad? = Ivy Style. What do you get when you blend, Brooksbrothers, J. Press, and Ralph Lauren?= 3 Legends. What do you get when you blend, Scotch, Whiskey, and Bourbon?= A hangover. What do get when you blend, a pin, an onion, and a thought?=a thought and an opinion.

  37. @Christian

    Re: “adverbs don’t take hyphens”

    ‘Gramatically-correct’ is not an adverb;
    it’s a compound adjective (modifying the word ‘English’ in my sentence).

  38. @OCBD

    In the Stone Age, we were, indeed, taught to hyphenate compound adjectives preceding nouns, thus making it clear that the two preceding words were to be construed as a single unit. In today’s age of light punctuation, If part of the compound is an adverb that ends in -ly, the hyphen is not used:

    They are a happily married couple.
    She is a truly talented poet.
    He speaks gramatically correct English.

    However, research in linguistics shows that the brain processes hyphenated compound adjectives more quickly than it does un-hyphenated ones, thus making hyphenated adjectives more “reader-friendly”.

  39. How does who-gives-a-fuck read?

  40. @Newman

    Civilization is in the details:

    Details of clothing
    Details of grammar
    Details of courtesy, to name but a few.

    By the way “who gives a fuck” shouldn’t be hyphenated in your sentence, only in a sentence like:

    “Newman has a distinctly who-gives-a-fuck attitude in matters of grammar”, in which “who-gives-a-fuck” functions as a compound adjective modifying the direct object “attitude”.

  41. @OldSchool

    I was only being cute.
    I too value details, especially those of clothing, grammar and courtesy.

    Since we all love details so much, does it really matter who originated them, who appropriated them, who got them wrong or who stole them from which side of the Atlantic? We all love natural shouldered jackets, patch pockets, Brooks Brothers, J.Press, Steve McQueen etc. – does it really matter how they got here?

  42. Sterry Jeinfeld | January 5, 2012 at 4:18 pm |

    @Newman

    Apparently if you’re an insecure British Yankophile it matters quite a bit to your ego, identity, self-esteem, or….something.

  43. I am an English teacher. This entire thread just got AWESOME.

    Posting in a legendary thread, etc.

  44. FWIW, Strunk & White aren’t so fond of hyphenated adverbs (e.g., hotly-contested issue), but still find them acceptable.

    I’ve always liked ’em myself.

  45. @Henry:

    “hotly-contested” is a hyphenated adjective, not a hyphenated adverb.

    Here’s an example of a hyphenated adverb:

    He ran for his grammar book lickety-split.

  46. @Sterry Jeinfeld

    Lose that part-of-the-problem-not-part-of-the-solution attitude!

  47. Christopher Landauer | January 9, 2012 at 9:31 am |

    “the book’s real content — rare photos — are fantastic and gathering them is something to be lauded.”

    I like when you talk about content, in a book review, Christian!

    Could you expand?

    Which images did you like especially?

    I believe this topic must be highly interesting for you.

    I just like to know a little bit more.

    I’ve not yet decided if I can afford the book and I’d like to see a few snaps and glimpses…

  48. Christopher Landauer | January 9, 2012 at 10:40 am |

    Some very good ones!

    Not much about Ivy colleges and preppy schools and East Coast WASPs again, I believe…

    Did they also include Animal House or Making the Grade, or is it just about “Boom Years” films?

    And there’s no academic research on the roots of the Ivy Look again?

  49. Sterry Jeinfeld | January 11, 2012 at 1:38 am |

    @Newman

    Ya lost me there sparky.
    I’m describing someone else’s problem.

    Go deliver the mail.

  50. Harry Palmer | January 17, 2012 at 7:21 am |

    Quote form Richard Press “it’s an American version of English clothing” even the Brooks Bros ad for it’s iconic ocbd mentions that it was inspired by English polo players. Accept it and get over it!

  51. As stated above:

    Incidentally, I have no idea why you’re trying to argue the British origins of Brooks Brothers style. Nowhere on this blog, in posts or in comments, has anyone ever denied that the cultural heritage of America (including the building blocks of the Ivy League Look) is chiefly English.

  52. @Harry Palmer

    One could argue that Americans themselves are an “American version” of the English. Would you say they are the exact same thing, or would you agree that they have become very different? The word “version” itself, implies CHANGE.

    Perhaps you should “accept and get over” your Yankophile obsessions, instead of angrily living in denial. It might help you with those harry palmers.

  53. Harry Palmer | January 18, 2012 at 10:39 am |

    Angry? Obsessive? Living in denial of what exactly?? I think you’ve got the wrong person. Just stating facts that seem to be lost to some on here.Oh and do take that chip off your shoulder old boy .

  54. @Hairy Palms

    backtrack much?

  55. Harry Palmer | January 21, 2012 at 12:32 am |

    @Earl Duke

    Yankophile? I don’t think, although I do enjoy visiting your country( have you ever left America, or your state even or are you one of the millions of Americans who don’t even own a passport?), Angry? Not with you, Living in denial?of what? Backtracking? on what exactly? Do you know me that well from one post that you feel qualified to pass such a personal comment? I suspect you’re talking bollocks.

    I’m pointing out that there is an under current on here that thinks we British are clueless when it comes to what is is now known as the “Ivy League Look”. Well as we all seem to agree a large amount of the components that make up the look are British on origin (I include Madras and Chukkas etc,not originating in Britain but made popular by us, in this) and we were wearing them long before you were, the look just didn’t have a name.

    Therefore I think it’s fair to say that we, unlike say Japan, have some ownership of the look.

    Ivy league clothes, like many sports (your football and baseball originate in England) law,democracy,railways and the flu, is just one of the many things we have loved giving to the world!

    The word “version” does imply change, have you considered that ours is a “version” and not a reproduction of the look?

    p.s. I doubt the natives of what is called America would appreciate being called a version of the English.

  56. Woofboxer | March 9, 2012 at 6:14 am |

    ‘Hollywood and the Ivy Look’ forms the centre of display in the window of J Press, NYC, March 2012
    http://gibsonssyllabus.tumblr.com/post/18996776109/hollywood-and-the-ivy-look-by-graham-marsh-and

  57. Anonymous | March 9, 2012 at 3:11 pm |

    @Woofboxer

    Not like present-day J.Press is above looking for any sales hook. Witness recent “collaborations” with Urban Outfitters, etc.

  58. Anonymous | March 9, 2012 at 3:13 pm |

    @Hairy Palmer

    Then please make sure none of your clothes say “made in usa” on them.

  59. Christian | March 9, 2012 at 7:12 pm |

    Good lord, Anonymous, you almost sound as chronically negative as Tony Ventresca.

  60. Anonymous | March 9, 2012 at 7:47 pm |

    @Christian

    Sarcasm and “dryness” don’t translate well to the written word.

  61. Harry Palmer | March 20, 2012 at 6:59 am |

    At Anonymous, why would I want to do that?

  62. Annani Muus | March 20, 2012 at 12:51 pm |

    @Hairy Palms

    Why would you want to do that?

    So that you can fully claim “ownership of the look” that you claim you “were wearing them long before” Americans were, and that is “just one of the many things we (the UK) have loved giving to the world!”

    So, to claim this full, rightful ownership of “Ivy” you wouldn’t want to muddy the waters of clarity by wearing anything that said “made in USA” on the label. I think for you to keep this purity of lineage it behooves you (nay, it nearly demands) to remove all of this bastardized “USA” nonsense from your wardrobe entirely.

    In fact, i would dare say that you not even apply the word “Ivy” to any of the remaining (non-USA) items. After all, a reference to American universities would just be absurd when referring to an all-UK wardrobe.

    I’m so glad to have been able to help you with your obviously very distressing clothing dilemmas.

  63. Harry Palmer | April 2, 2012 at 12:00 am |

    @Annani Muss, do you have problems reading and comprehending or are you just stupid?? I said we have SOME, read it again slowly this time, SOME, ownership of the look not FULL as you have stated.Also I don’t recall saying I wanted to claim full ownership of the look either. Why would anyone who visits this website not want to wear American clothes?

  64. Ananni Muus | April 2, 2012 at 1:28 pm |

    @Hairy Palms

    Your hysterical, nonsensical, backtracking reaction tells me that I was exactly right. Thanks for playing, sweetie.

  65. Harry Palmer | June 22, 2012 at 4:46 am |

    censorship is an act of weakness.

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