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 This fuels them with a tireless drive to dig up forgotten historical documents such as photos, films, record albums and advertisements.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