Recently I again found myself swimming in a sea of sneakers and t-shirts that cost unholy sums. You may be thinking I was pillaging a Neiman Marcus Last Call in the wake of its financial woes, but you would incorrect. In fact I was reacquainting myself with the college campus I call my own as I entered my junior year.
My university is a liberal arts institution in the South whose students once enjoyed attending polo games on Saturdays and where the old joke was that players took a pay cut when they went to the NFL. Now the school has been overrun with business majors and engineers replete with all the trappings of the meritocratic elite. I am writing this dispatch to give you an idea about the state of the sartorial union, which I’m certain the readership of this site has been keenly aware of since 1968.
The institution I call home was once a bastion of Southern charm, where Trad style ruled the day and conservatism characterized life in all its facets. The 1980s defined this institution, and I’m convinced that many aspects of this place have never really left that decade. The school is synonymous with preppy WASPs driving BMWs around the campus for four years only to get shuffled off to some investment bank or consultancy firm to slave away in order to afford all the same luxuries their parents provided. As one of the last people on this campus who still actually appears mildly preppy in some regards, this place makes for an excellent case study in fashion and class.
As you can probably infer, conspicuous consumption rules the day here, and there is nowhere that is more apparent than in fashion. The demographics of this place are those that would have embraced Ivy and Trad styles during their midcentury zenith, and then subsequently adopted Preppy styles as a further evolution of the general disposition. The common title of the style that carries forth the same general silhouette of the great midcentury styles — without the refinement and class that accompanied them — is “frat.” Make no mistake, the individuals I go to school with occupy a very rarified rung in the social ladder, yet that has no bearing on taste or comportment. Frat as a general style here is an odd mix of athletic implements, such as sweatpants, combined with English staples, such as Barbour jackets. Furthermore, what counts for the better dressed cohort here is typically synthetic polo shirts by Peter Millar, paired with chinos or Wranglers. Shirts are usually untucked, to affect the regular disposition of leisurely dishabille.
Athleisure has thoroughly infected all things throughout the culture, and it is especially apparent here. The female student population is almost invariably clad in LuluLemon leggings and sorority shirts. Formality rears its head on campus when interviewers descend promising six-figure salaries and kombucha on tap. Subsequently, the men don the standard regalia of the meritocratic strivers: a navy blue suit (two-button and notch-lapeled of course), white spread collar shirt (button-downs are not considered formal enough), some sort of mundane tie, and either black or brown captoes. The self-styled rakes of campus model themselves after Gordon Gekko and up the ante with Gucci loafers and pinstripes, but very few have the panache, sophistication, and humor to not come off as pompous morons.
Hairstyles are another realm that seemed to have gotten lost in the Reaganite era, with most guys looking like the preppy villains from a John Hughes film. I grew out my hair into a style reminiscent of Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho,” but eventually it left me looking like an East German terrorist. Ivy’s trademark short hairstyles have definitely been discarded by most of the men here.
Many of the upperclassmen involved in specialized programs within the business school have adopted the new high finance/Silicon Valley venture capitalist uniform of Patagonia vests paired with golf shirts and Gucci loafers to denote preeminence among their peers. The Gucci loafer is the ultimate shoe of the current regime because it fits perfectly into the realm of conspicuous consumption whilst still appearing refined. There is no shoe to my knowledge that the mere sound it produces from walking (the bit loafer jingle) conveys money. Of course, there are various others running around in thousand-dollar sweatshirts and sneakers that cost more than a Rolex, but nothing screams taste more than a Gildan shirt that costs as much as the average COVID stimulus check.
As for me, I happen to have to privilege of being fraternal brothers with some of the best dressed men on campus, and it almost seems like we all just naturally ended up in the same place together. While I certainly am not a doctrinaire member of Ivy Style’s readership, I have grown to appreciate the aspects of the style more and more. Ultimately few here are even still aware of the importance of the Midcentury American styles, and what few things they do recognize they merely call “preppy” or “frat” in a feeble attempt to articulate thoughts on schools of style we know to be deeply nuanced and intricate.
The greatest thing missing for me is not merely the clothes, but rather the disposition of refinement I observed in my readings that seemed to characterize the places that the styles inhabited. In a way, things such as style allow us to carry forth the ideas that produced the essence that tied it all together. — CANON HILL