Remembering The ’80s: Valley Guy

As a child in the suburbs of Los Angeles, I was about as far from the Ivy League schools of the Northeast as one could get. The San Fernando Valley, where I spent my childhood in the 1970s, was very blue collar at its core. Most of my friends’ parents and neighbors worked in the aerospace industry. It was a mix of surf culture and the hip styles of the ’60s and ’70s with parents of Southern and Midwestern roots. But definitely not Ivy Style. But then came the ’80s.

The 1980s saw the rise of Preppy, with its Ivy League roots, and that squarely hit me in the face in junior high school. Here I took notice of a fellow student wearing the coolest jacket. It was tan, had a straight collar, it fit snugly around the waist, and it had elastic cuffs. But most of all: it was super cool. My young adolescent mind knew it was cool but couldn’t quite coalesce around why it was cool. But of course, it was cool because it evoked a coolness I had seen in films. The Harrington Coat was my gateway garment.

The polo shirt was seemingly on everyone in the early ’80s. I fell in love with this shirt then and that love has never faded. In the ’80s my preferred brand was Polo, although that changed long ago. I eschewed flipped up collars, often done with multiple polos, personified in the preppy culture of the time. These shirts were not cheap. On occasion my aunt would indulge me in this extravagance and take me to the defunct Bullock’s department store in the more affluent section of the San Fernando Valley to purchase one. What colors to choose? Even then without knowing why, I was drawn to  pink and green.

Soon afterwards I noticed oxford-cloth buttondown shirts and knit ties. Which led to the discovery of the blue blazer. This was perfect, because for high school I attended a business high school and also participated in a political/debate organization that often required more business-appropriate wear than is usual in most public high school. All the students wearing their knit ties, blue blazers, and khaki pants were a haven for me.

And Sperry Top-Siders. Even though it might be a faux pas to wear these to more professional occasions, I did and so did many of my fellow travelers. In my Southern California teenage mind these were fancy, so I wore them with a blue oxford-cloth buttondown, a knit tie (red or black), my blue blazer, and chinos. In fact, one of my saddest days was when I was dressed thusly while waiting for the bus to take me and my fellow travelers to a debate/political convention, I decided to play football. I blew out the top of these shoes. Not easily replaced with the money of a 15-year-old from a blue-collar family.

It wasn’t all work and no play. When the time came to go on my first date, along came the dilemma of what to wear. Solution: the perfect pair of primarily red madras shorts and an oxford-cloth buttondown. The shorts are not to dissimilar to ones I am wearing right now.

For college I attended the nearby state university which was a commuter school. So I drifted from the style for a time. But home is home. And as I aged, I realized I felt most comfortable returning to those roots. The wonderful thing being that I felt and looked just as at home in the same clothes in 2019 as I did in the 1980s. My wife is a teacher, and recently her school hosted a fundraising dinner. The theme was the ’80s. Her colleagues asked her what I was going to wear to the event. Her reply was “The same thing he wears every day.” — DAVID KNATCAL

40 Comments on "Remembering The ’80s: Valley Guy"

  1. Two decades before your encounter with the preppy style
    I was actually attending an Ivy League college and my rain
    jacket of choice, the equivalent of the one in the illustration,
    was the London Fog golf jacket, or the “drizzler” It differed
    from the Barracuta in not having knit cuffs or bottom:

  2. I love that ending! Well done.

  3. David- like you I grew far away from the northeast and any Ivy League school. I discovered trad clothing in high school in Texas in the 1960’s. I didn’t even realize at the time that it was Ivy. I just knew that I liked the understated look. I would work all summer in the Texas heat to save money for a back to school shopping trip to Brent’s, a long gone trad store in Amarillo. (Think Gant shirts, Corbin trousers, shell cordovan shoes that sold for $35 in 1965). I’m about to turn 70. Still wearing trad clothing although mostly from O’Connell’s and Ben Silver. I grew up in a very blue collar family. Fortunately trad doesn’t discriminate.

  4. David- add JPress to my list.

  5. A charming, honest and enjoyable essay. More like these would be wonderful!

  6. Great post. As a fellow west coaster from a blue collar background, I could relate. Cheers.

  7. Love my Baracuta Jackets.

  8. Add a few tweed jackets and grey flannel trousers to the navy blazer and chinos, and you’ve got what I’ve been wearing since the early ‘60s.

  9. We dressed Trad/Ivy in high school, SE NC, mid- to late-60s, without really giving it a name. I, too, wore the London Fog “windbreaker” Roger Sack shows above, with polos (“golf shirts”), Weejuns, OCBDs, flat front slacks.

    Went very slightly hippy at college, actually more bum with a backup blazer. Couldn’t figure out disco or the later boxy “power suit” looks, so went back to the old style, or what I called “regular clothes” and just stayed there.

  10. Old School Tie | September 11, 2019 at 5:16 am |

    I have an old RL version of the drizzler, dark blue, must give it an airing..

  11. DAVID KNATCAL & john carlos

    I have often pondered the difference between those who were raised in Ivy vs those of us who weren’t. The former are obviously steeped in authenticity, but we deserve some credit for being adventurous enough to leave the world in which we were raised and to discover a new one on our own.

  12. Thanks, David.

    Candid copy such as this is what in large part retains my interest in Ivy Style. Christian provides an opportunity for readers to also share their own histories with “the style.”

    Most of us didn’t attend an Ivy League university. We even possibly forget to wear socks with our shorts in Bermuda. Our blazers might have might two buttons. And, perhaps we also owned – and wore – a Ban Lon short long ago.

    But, we appreciate this forum and the advice, photos, and stories posted here. Many of which are unvarnished and earnest. And, the comments are mostly polite and constructive.

  13. That’s shirt. Darn auto spell check. 😉

  14. I attended an NE prep school and liberal arts college in the 80’s.
    In Boston the Barracuta was the provenance of the “townies” and Southie/Charlestown toughs. They paired the jacket, in tan or navy, with black or white Spot Bilt referee shoes.

  15. Good piece.
    This is apropos the merging/synthesis of East Coast (preppy) culture and Western/West Coast culture– The Ivy-surfing thing has been covered. How about the East Coast WASP/Western outdoorsman thing? (Think James Baker). J. Press suits and accessories by (work) day; roper boots, field jacket, and Cavalry hat. A cabin in the Rockies (or higher) helps.

  16. The ending handful of lines in this essay are worth the price of admission. Bravo.

  17. I grew up in the South on military bases. While my father usually wore uniforms on his off hours he dressed the style. But, the biggest influence on me were my three older sisters, especially the one ten years older. My sisters dressed as Ivy as they come in the 50s and 60s. They insisted on Weejuns and button downs, I really didn’t get it at six or seven. It’s all I know.

    Speaking of Barracutas, I owned four in high school back in the late 60s, kelly, red, yellow and navy. Of course they were the Van Huesen licensed ones. Last spring I purchased a O’Connell’s version, it’s very well made.

  18. SE
    I own a pair of ropers, a Calvary hat and a Filson field jacket.
    I wear the ropers with black leather jeans or 501s when riding motorcycles.
    I wear the Cavalry hat when attending BBQs and hay rack rides out in Kansas, along with a pair of Naconas.
    The field jacket I upland game hunt in it.
    But then I’m Irish Catholic. 😉

  19. Whiskeydent- Well said. I wholeheartedly agree.

  20. Charlottesville | September 11, 2019 at 11:21 am |

    Thanks, David. As others have said above, what a touching and well-written post. I too am a non-Ivy-university Ivy wearer (southern version). What a great site this is for those of us drawn to terrific looking traditional clothes. Keep these articles coming!

  21. As high was over 50 years now, I still recall my time there as the dress code years. I grew up in WLA and the high school I attended was Uni (University High School). In the mid to late 60’s when I was there, one would have thought it was a prep school by the nature of the dress code (no denim, no pants for girls, sneakers at gym class, no t-shirts as outerwear, no shorts, Venetian and Penny loafers with a healthy mix of desert boots and wallabes. It was just the way we dressed. My high school graduation photo had me in a blazer, button down shirt and, what appears to be a knit tie.

    After a bit of flirting with the early 70’s hippie wardrobe at college, I settled back into what was comfortable. Then, thanks to Magnum PI, there was that period (aloha shirts, short shorts, Top-Siders, and the military khaki shirts with epaulets on the shoulders. But mostly, I’ve stayed true to my roots going back to high school in the 60’s.

    And, I still wear deck shoes with a coat and tie at all but the most serious occasions.

    Oh, and the high school? The year after I graduated, they dropped the dress code, implemented busing, and now, 50 years later, the school is overrun with a very different demographic, it’s academic standing is in the toilet, and barbed wire tops the fencing on the perimeter. They should have stuck with that dress code…

  22. I for years preferred the London Fog golf jacket to the others. It was not as heavy and living in the South perfect for the golf course and wearing inside the auto. Made in Baltimore, it was a favorite among Ivy types in the Washington-Baltimore area. Eddy Jacobs was the Ivy shop and major seller.

  23. Henry Contestwinner | September 11, 2019 at 4:00 pm |

    I, too, enjoyed Harrington jackets, but my go-to brand was the now-defunct Sir-Jac. The last ones I had were in light gray and black (1980s, doncha know) and were new when I was in college. I gave them away ages ago, and have regretted that decision for several years now.

    A few years ago, someone bought the rights to the name and tried to resurrect the brand. The new company went under before they produced a product I wanted to buy (elastic cuffs!).

    Through a stroke of luck, I recently acquired a NOS Sir-Jac in light tan. My only problem is that I can’t wear it with chinos—I really don’t want to wear the Ivy equivalent of a Canadian tuxedo. I guess I’ll pair it with cords.

  24. How did the Baracuta jackets get to $390?? I won’t pay that but I did pay around $100 each for a couple of the Orvis Weatherbreaker copies on various sales over the last couple years.
    Don’t know how they stack up to the original but I like them and they are holding up well.

  25. I, too, have BC roots, and came of age in the 80s. I like the Ivy style because my dad liked the style, and because there are no viable alternatives.

  26. @MacMcConnell


  27. I still have a London Fog golf jacket I bought in 1977. That was 6 sizes ago. All foreign made now, but Eddie Jacobs is still going. He left downtown, and moved to Roland Park some years ago. Anyone who can should visit his shop.

  28. Henry Contestwinner
    “I really don’t want to wear the Ivy equivalent of a Canadian tuxedo.”
    Good one, that’s why I never owned a tan Harrington. I didn’t want to look like a gas station attendant. 😉

    RL made some cool cord and tweed Harringtons around 1980. Does anyone remember the Inverness reversible Harringtons, navy wool to tan poplin?

  29. Jesse Hepworth | September 12, 2019 at 1:28 am |

    “Ben Braddock”:
    I’m old enough to remember when Uni High was one of the best in L.A., and also old enough to remember when honesty was not equated with prejudice/racism.
    Everything that Chris said was accurate.

  30. I’ve worn the London Fog golf jacket, or some variant, since 1966. Current one is made in Vietnam, though. Still cost around $40 today, on sale.

    I’m sorry I didn’t buy a Cavalry hat back when I was stationed in Fort Knox in 1972. It would have been nice to wear one authentically. I’d feel like a phony wearing a recently purchased one.
    As Lt. Col. Kilgore would say, “Charlie don’t surf.”
    (I did have the yellow “armor” scarf, though. Wore it for parades, when I was in the reserves.)

  31. Old School Tie | September 12, 2019 at 7:23 am |

    Whilst it is indubitably more authentic to have a contemporaneous item from your past, I don’t think anyone would judge you for having a current example if that’s what you can get hold of. Order that cavalry hat and wear with pride.

  32. @Wriggles
    My cavalry hat is not an actual US Cavalry hat, it’s a Stetson with a larger brim and the gold cord braid was replaced within a week of purchase with leather braid. No actual US Army personnel would mistake it for the real thing.

    I also agree with Old School Tie, you should treat yourself to one. Leave it to your grandchildren along with any ribbons.

  33. ““Ben Braddock”:
    I’m old enough to remember when Uni High was one of the best in L.A., and also old enough to remember when honesty was not equated with prejudice/racism.
    Everything that Chris said was accurate.”

    Thanks Jesse. The person who wrote that silly comment insulting me tells us far more about him. Too bad there’s not an ignore function. ;o)

  34. It’s my alma matar and I’ve been visiting the campus every few years for decades. I know what is was and what it’s become and so does everyone else alive today who attended the school back in the day. Also, I was taught for a few years in the 80’s for the LAUSD and my mother is a retired LAUSD teacher. Additionally, my wife works for an education organization in California that deals with every school district in the state. Everyone who was there then knows what a school like Uni was once upon a time (one of the top high schools in the district) and what it became over the last 40 years.

    Your insulting and juvenile SJW warrior attack on me personally is far more telling about who you really are and how little you know about the issues there.

    You got your response but I won’t respond again unless it’s to an apology from you.

  35. Henry Contestwinner | September 16, 2019 at 9:46 pm |

    As the kids (used to?) say, Ben Braddock got pwned.

    Ben Braddock’s SJW response would be laughable were it not so predictable—and harmful. The non-thinking on display in that screed was the same boilerplate nonsense we’ve been hearing from others for far too long.

    His only reply was to correct a typo.


  36. I was also at highschool age in the 80’s. I grew up in a small Ohio town with a small university populated by mostly east coast kids. Preppy style was the only thing to be seen in and is somewhat the same today in 2019. anyway, We locals all adopted the style of the college kids. A couple of years ago some friend’s hosted an 80’s party and being younger than me they all were wearing “Miami Vice” and Madonna styles. I wore an ocbd crewneck sweater jeans nd loafers. Everyone asked me why I didn’t “dress up” for the party. “You dressed like you always dress. I said that this is what I wore in the 80″s! I even made a copy of a page from my senior yearbook to prove it. I was wearing the exact same clothes. some things never change!

  37. I grew up in Southern California in the 70s and 80s and remember wearing Vans a lot. I don’t think I ever heard of the Sperry brand until I started reading GQ in 1990. I think most LA and OC people would have thought you were just wearing Vans knockoffs. Oh the shame I endured when Mom would return from the Gemco or Fedco (local chains kind off like Wall-Mart or Target except you needed a membership) with knockoffs sneakers that were $10-20 cheaper than Vans.

    I also remember getting 2 short-sleeve button-down collar shirts in 5th or 6th grade, around 1982. Not sure if they were oxford cloth, but one was a blue university stripe and the other a red university stripe. First day I wore one to school (the red one, I think), a girl sitting in front of me turned, and said with disgust, “Preppy.”

  38. elder prep | June 25, 2020 at 1:03 pm |

    The last para in David’s article resonated with me. I thought where did I hear this before? The reply of David’s wife was right out of the prep bible: TOPH. “The basic style for the man never changes because the man never changes. Elderly as a child, youthful as an adult, he is always a mixture of schoolboy and corporate president”.

  39. RaleighPrep | August 15, 2022 at 3:36 am |

    Great post, very well-written! Love the ending too.

    I also have a soft spot for the square-bottom knit ties. We wore them a lot in the 80s, and called em’ “Rooster” ties, which was I believe a brand name specializing in that style at the time.) I still have a few knit ties, bought over the last decade, in navy, red and maroon. The red or maroon ones are great with khakis, an OBD and blue blazer (and Sperrys!), and the navy is literally perfect with a madras or similar plaid blazer. (Showy blazer; muted tie.)

    Sperry Top Siders are as common in N.C. as RL polos and khaki shorts, and have been for over 50 years. And I agree with you: they’re just fine to wear with flat-front khakis, OBDs and knit (or other) ties. A great Summer dressy look. I have a few pairs of Sperrys and wear them throughout Spring & Summer, and sometimes into Fall.

    As for the Baracuta G9, it’s a total classic…that’s gone totally off the rails…and seems to get more derailed with each passing year (no doubt capitalizing—-uh, price GOUGING—on the much ballyhooed Steve McQueen connection). Just a few years ago, a basic G9 was selling in the $350 range (yuck) and now it’s up to a whopping $460 (before shipping…double yuck). And that’s just, plain…RIDICULOUS! I’d love to have one in navy or red (a’ la McQueen or James Dean), But, no way would I even think about paying almost $500 for a windbreaker—that’s really only suitable for Spring or Fall. I’m still hoping to run across a used XL G9 in a thrift store somewhere, but that’s unlikely. I’d even consider a London Fog or similar windbreaker, brand new, for a more down-to-earth price point in the $100 or less range. (Come to think of it, I’d probably prefer non-hemmed cuffs and waist.)

    Finally, I think “Ivy Style” is a more than a little bit of a misnomer; the Northeastern Trad/Prep look was (and still is) prevalent up and down the East Coast, (and beyond). (I’ve looked at my father’s old UNC yearbooks from the 1950s—it’s an ocean of dudes in khaki chinos, Irish Arran Sweaters, Shetland wools crewnecks, cashmere V-necks or cardigans, Bass Weejuns, rep or club ties, madras blazers, bucks in tan, white or saddle, Oxford cloth button downs, tweed blazers, tan cords, Lettermen sweaters; and women in pastel dresses, cropped chinos, saddle shoes, cashmere cardigans, pearls, etc. All of it every bit as Trad as any Ivy school.

    Although younger generations might eschew, downplay or downright reject the style—with college campuses everywhere nowadays embracing the unfortunate “Ath-leisure” trend, and Crocs *Ugh* or flip-flops—the Trad look still has its following and surviving pockets. (But they have almost completely abandoned other traditions…like varsity jackets and Bass Weejuns…pretty rare to see either on anyone younger than 40.)

    Trad style was (and remains) big at my old high school, probably because most of our Silent Generation parents dressed that way, regardless of income level, but also no doubt due to “The Preppy Handbook,” a blockbuster “satire” book at the time. (I’ve still got a dog-eared copy on a bookshelf…but the sequel “True Prep”” was a MAJOR disappointment in my opinion…complete letdown.)

    Sorry to ramble. Just my two cents. Again, this post was a great, heartfelt piece of writing; a true ode to a timeless style.

Comments are closed.