Reel To Real: Take Ivy 1984


Deep Google searches on the phrase “Take Ivy” often return an image of a mysterious green VHS cassette with art from illustrator Kazuo Hozumi — evoking fantasties that the mythic 1965 film was once available as a commercial release. Six months ago, a former VAN Jacket employee handed me this very videotape after cleaning out his closet and told me to figure out what it was. This was exciting — a lost relic of Japanese Ivy history!

The text on the cover revealed that the video was actually from 1984, made for the 30th anniversary of Men’s Club magazine. I pulled my VCR out of storage to do a proper screening.

After watching the entire video, I can report back that Take Ivy 1984 is the trad equivalent of Al Capone’s vault — 59 minutes of nothing.


Publisher Fujingaho hired a film crew in the summer of 1983 to tour all eight campuses, shoot the dozen or so students still around, and then edit together the footage of them walking, talking, eating, reading, and studying over bad AOR muzak. For a mere ¥12,800 — $120 in today’s dollars adjusting for inflation — Japanese teens would finally get the opportunity to watch long static shots of real-life college juniors read The Dartmouth. Take Ivy 1984 manages to be boring even in fast-forward.


The problem with Take Ivy 1984, however, goes beyond the production values: No one actually wants to watch a “Take Ivy”-type project made after the year 1965. The idea of documenting Ivy League campus fashion is predicated on there being a unique fashion on those campuses worth veneration. Take Ivy 1984 is further proof that the hippie style-apocalypse set back the Ivies to a year-zero from which they never truly recovered.


At least the hippies had a style — by 1984, there does not seem to be a distinct system of campus dress at all. In the video, students wear short-shorts and ringer tees no different than the average frisbee-thrower at UCLA. For every Harvard student in a tuxedo, there’s a guy in a gag tuxedo-print T-shirt. Even the frat guys in madras and khakis manage to make the classic Ivy uniform look schlumpy.


The video does celebrate a few regional quirks of East Coast style — displays of tassel loafers at a men’s shop and many worn-down Sperry’s Top-Siders boat shoes in dorm rooms. And if the crew had shot in autumn rather than summer, they would have likely captured a strong Birnachian Preppie moment. From a larger perspective, however, 1984 looks very close in the spirit to the dressed-down 1994, 2004, or 2014. The decades since 1965 have made for bland years to photograph students in front of Sever or Nassau Hall.


But for all of its faults, Take Ivy 1984 does reveal a side of the Ivy League completely lost in the original Take Ivy book’s over-romanticization. The campuses were never just lush green quads, Georgian brick classrooms, and marble columnated libraries where dapper men roamed in pursuit of lost gentlemanly arts. There has always been a crushing ennui in the American college experience, present in every bland dormitory common area, industrialized cafeteria food, and library corner where stressed young adults read through endless stacks of materials for section. If 1965’s Take Ivy was a document of the Ivy League in its most idealized glory, 1984 Take Ivy strips away the style to peer deep into the sober reality of the American university. “The boredom! … The boredom!” — W. DAVID MARX

David Marx is a writer living in Tokyo. His first book, Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style, will arrive from Basic Books in Fall 2015. His writing has appeared in GQ, Brutus, Nylon, the Harvard Lampoon, and Best Music Writing 2009, among other publications.

5 Comments on "Reel To Real: Take Ivy 1984"

  1. Well done, but I had to wait until after graduation for the “crushing ennui” your writer described. My college experience was a blast from start to finish – in other words, many things were crushed, but certainly not our spirits. I guess that’s at least one thing Midwestern mid-majors on the Ivies.

  2. I agree with @AJC 100 percent; of all the words that might be used (accurately) to describe my undergraduate days, “boring” is definitely not one of them. And I’m fairly sure a significant part of my motivation to go to grad school was to have the chance to essentially stay in college a few more years.

  3. “Take Ivy 1984 is further proof that the hippie style-apocalypse set back the Ivies to a year-zero from which they never truly recovered”.

    The world never truly recovered.

  4. Very interesting article. The picture of the jacketed chaps with their beers (or whatever it is) takes me back to my Chi Phi days– 1984 was the middle of my college career and I loved every minute of it. Leaves me feeling a bit nostalgic.

    The Napoleon Dynamite looking fellow with the novelty shirt, we had those in college too: we called them GDIs.

    Thinking back on those days, I was one of those freaks who would occasionally wear a blazer and tie to class, and buy every preppy item I could afford. Part of it was the uniform of belonging, part wanting a more tasteful style of dress (after the Godawful 70s). “[B]y 1984, there does not seem to be a distinct system of campus dress at all” was true– we were trying to reinvent the wheel with little guidance– I think that’s why so many of us latched onto the Preppy Handbook like holy writ!

  5. A Curriculum Trad | May 3, 2015 at 11:28 pm |

    That’s the beginning of Trad.

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