Smiling Through The ’80s

You’ve no doubt noticed in our recent coverage of the brewing Ivy trend that the mood of the photo shoots is rather glum. You can hardly blame them. It’s 2020, after all. I mean, I don’t smile very much either, and when I do, well let’s just say it’s not from joy but rather absurdity.

Over the years Ralph Lauren has created as man super-serious marketing images as any other brand. But back in the ’80s there was a lot more smiling. As an old song goes, “‘Twas so good to be young then.” And as another tune puts it, when you’re smiling the whole world smiles with you.

So here are a dozen images showing the breadth of Ralph Lauren’s styles and brands, all with one thing in common: echoes of the beaming smile that is a signature of the man himself. Don’t forget to floss. — CC

27 Comments on "Smiling Through The ’80s"

  1. Roger Sack | March 1, 2020 at 4:55 pm |

    During the 80s I wore Chipp, Chipp MTM, Norman Hilton, Paul Stuart, Andre Oliver slacks
    and shirts , T &A. I had one Polo 3 piece suit. It never fit quite well. True of Polo in general.

  2. I miss the 1980’s


  3. elder prep | March 1, 2020 at 8:13 pm |

    Has the khaki pants, OCBD, rep tie, sack suit and odd jacket aged out? Agreed, we’re not young anymore, however, there are still men, young men in their teens needing prep direction and guidance. That’s what we are here for. Yes, they will dress shabby and in bazaar combinations unless they, like we were, shown the proper path of and to American style.

  4. elder prep,
    Showing the proper path is what we’re here for, as you pointed out; so, I’m sure you won’t mind my correcting your “bazaar” to “bizarre”.

  5. I remember the 1980s as a time of earnest optimism, a return to classic aesthetics, etc.

  6. Langston Humphries | March 2, 2020 at 6:23 am |

    JJ Katz,
    How happy for us that most readers of this blog have never lost their sense of classic aesthetics.

  7. I graduated with an accounting degree, at age 31 in 1984. Unbelievable, but true, many prospective employers told me I was unemployable due to being “old.” ( One firm offered me a job as a janitor.) Men over 30 were furloughed in droves from professional and management positions. Major carnage for the “tradional” man. I survived by self employment, or as I called it, self employment/unemployment. Those men in the ads would not be smiling if they looked for a real job, especially the older ones.
    Strange times, indeed.

    Now, we have a president in his 70’s, candidates pushing 80.
    Talk about absurdity.

  8. “Traditional” man. Sorry for the typo.

  9. Michael Stratford | March 2, 2020 at 6:45 am |

    The guys in the previous post didn’t look glum, they looked offensively aggressive.

  10. Old School Tie | March 2, 2020 at 10:31 am |

    I have asked this before but will ask it again in hope of an erudite opinion – the light in many 1980s images was very special, very particular, like no other images before or after. It really generates huge feelings of nostalgia for me and I often wonder it that unusually golden light (at sunrise and sunset, during the day the light had this very cold quality) was caused by atmospheric particulates originating from the Mount St Helens eruption…

  11. MacMcConnell | March 2, 2020 at 11:00 am |

    Polo was tasty in the 70s and 80s when RL was still actually involved.

  12. Smiles/Frowns in fashion photos are cyclical by era. Smiles, of course, are warm, but often times art directors/marketing management come to believe smiles cause readers/potential buyers to look at the face of the model (true) rather than the clothing. Reality is smiles are emotional and give greater long term effect to the buyers’ minds. “Buy my clothing and you too will feel great about life.” Psychologists call it “Emotional Contagion”, meaning when any particular emotion fills the air, that emotion is “contagious.” When the model is happy, people seeing the ad become happy too. When the model is owly and grumpy, ad viewers become owly and grumpy too.

  13. MacMcConnell | March 2, 2020 at 11:45 am |

    I smile at everyone in the halls of my office building, in the street, everywhere. Yes it’s contagious. I’m not selling anything.
    There are plenty of RL ads where the model looks stoic, almost like an Ingmar Bergman movie. What I like about RL women models is that their faces are clean and look great in women’s versions of men’s clothing. Let’s face it women’s Ivy clothing is basically female versions of male clothing.
    But, your overall comments are correct.

  14. It all looks Greek to me. Ralph made it possible for every country club member or aspirant in America to wear a version of the togs of their Ivy League and Northeasternestablishment Brethren.

  15. This topic reminds me of a Ralph Lauren video from the fall of 2010. It’s not moody or aggressive as much as it is funeral; a mourning ceremony of loss dressed in black with wilted bouquets. Its tone is unusual but totally appropriate considering RL’s customer base that was being impacted by banking crisis driven layoffs at the time.

  16. @TrailerTrad There’s a word that might be helpful here and that is opulence. The world is divided between those who aspire to or live in opulence and those who don’t or don’t have a desire to do so, and the World of Ralph Lauren, like the more legit World it tries to imitate, is perhaps its most crystalline American symbol, fully dressed up in the chimera of the American dream. More than a few people born into that world see it for what much of it is and don’t want it or seek solace in its better linings, most of which have to do with service rather than self-aggrandizement.

  17. Charlottesville | March 2, 2020 at 2:22 pm |

    Trailer Trad – Funereal indeed! I much prefer the 80s ads to the 2012 version. A dance tune vs. a dirge. As others have mentioned, there was a sunny optimism in the earlier ads, and I think that was reflective of the general outlook at the time.

    In looking at the clothes above, I think one could still comfortably wear most of them today. Over all, I would gladly trade in the popular aesthetics of today for those of the 80s, whether defined by RL, BB, pop music, home decor, hotel and restaurant design, or whatever. Part of that, no doubt, is nostalgia for the time when I was starting out as a grown-up (marriage, law school, first “real” job, etc.), but I think there is more to it than that. At any rate, the Polo ads were beautiful, whether the models were smiling or not, as some of the shots here attest: Look at Clotilde in that camel hair polo coat. Still looks great 30+ years later.

  18. @Bob So the alternative to be encouraged is just unconscious, plenteous, throwaway, neoliberal-normal?

  19. MacMcConnell | March 2, 2020 at 3:00 pm |

    What’s all this “service” you NE guys keep talking about?

    “America to wear a version of the togs of their Ivy League and Northeasternestablishment Brethren” ship sailed very soon after WWII ended when it slowly became middle class.

  20. Mort, perhaps heightened consciousness and empathy are a good place to start. It used to be that nearly everybody met up or down at a kind of middle-class or upper-middle class standard, but now everything is Amazon, with no protections or standards or consciousness or responsibility or transparency. In food as in countless other aspects of life, the downside is that taking a higher line costs money and contradicts surface indications of equality, but without a societal shift in consciousness nothing will change proportionally.

  21. @Mac The ship was never there, or not in the sense you mean.

  22. The suit in the second photo looks quite nice. Does anyone know who would’ve made it for Ralph during this era?

  23. I’m listening to ’80s songs I haven’t heard in years. The most mysterious are the ’70s classic rock and early ’80s soft rock hits that I would hear on the radio and in pizza parlors and such during the nascent hormone years of say age 9-12. After that the songs become teenager-y and have a different appeal.

    Example: “Sara Smile” by Hall & Oates

  24. MacMcConnell | March 3, 2020 at 10:49 am |

    Tell us about your shopping experiences in Kansas city or any major city or college town throughout the USA during the 50s and 60s. Besides the “natural” shoulder men’s shops most NE venerable men’s shops had salesmen on the road. Even in Ivy hey day the vast majority bought off the rack.

    I enjoy the commentary on this site, but sometimes I think we do a disservice to the younger folks we wish would carry on the traditional Ivy look by being too critical and parochial. Not every high school or college kid on a small budget can shop at Press or BB or Polo or O’Connell’s.

  25. Charlottesville | March 4, 2020 at 9:47 am |

    MacMcConnell – Well said. I think we should try to encourage younger men who are at least making an attempt to dress well, complementing a Shetland crew neck here, a coat and tie there, even if they are likely made-in-China knockoffs that we might not buy ourselves. I also encourage them to check out bargains on eBay. Thrift-shop finds and end-of-season sales can yield some real bargains as well. Any college kid who is wearing a blazer and tie deserves at least a nod when 99% of his fellows dress like gym rats or worse.

  26. Jody Shealy | March 25, 2020 at 12:25 pm |

    I still own a big library of late 80s GQ. I miss these days terribly. I have no idea where to go to get back to Ivy/traditional men’s style. I will keep coming over here though.

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