The following is part two of Ivy Style’s interview with Ken C. Pollock (pictured ca. 1985).
IS: What’s it been like to watch the steady decline in quality and availability of traditional clothing since your college days?
KP: It’s been sad and distressing. In the early ’70s, it became very hard to get any of it. Even Ivy League manufacturers started widening their lapels and tie widths. I did get some of it, then threw it away seven years later. It was the grimmest period, as far as trying to get clothing. Today may even be grimmer, as far as fewer people wearing the kind of clothes I wear, but there are a few suppliers like Southwick and Polo.
I wear a little Ralph Lauren Purple Label, but right now most of my suits are either Brooks Brothers’ Golden Fleece or Samuelsohn. I do go to Savile Row sometimes and have things custom made. I go to Anderson & Shepherd and Henry Poole, and have them make the stuff more Americanized, with more of a natural shoulder.
IS: You often lament the decline in variety since Ivy’s heyday.
KP: It’s a lot harder for me to find the traditional clothing that I really like. There’s such a limited amount, and nobody is really inventive anymore. It’s not a dynamic clothing now. Brooks and Press just turn out the same thing year after year, so I’ve moved into more English clothing for variety. I’d gotten used to much, much more variety because manufacturers had been selling to such a large market. I still don’t understand why Brooks Brothers has to turn out the same gray herringbone sportcoat for the last 50 years, when they could put a blue windowpane in it to vary it a little bit.
IS: When you say it’s not inventive, what would you like to get that you can’t?
KP: The most inventive person was Sidney Winston at Chipp. He was the one who invented, or at least took to the logical extreme, patching, such as with madras and tweed. I’m sure O’Connells and Cable Car Clothiers have been doing the same thing for 50 years, but there’s no reason why you can’t be more inventive.
IS: The last five years have been interesting with the growth of the menswear forums and blogs. You’ve been a fan of good clothes for a long time, so what have you made of this Internet phenomenon?
KP: I’ve learned an enormous amount. It’s also been extremely reassuring: I feel much better about myself because I’ve learned there are scattered around the world a couple thousand people like me. Before I felt like such an oddball.
IS: For your style, or for your obsessive collecting?
KP: The obsessive collecting probably — or the extraordinarily great interest in it. In fact, on the fanatical scale, I’ve found I’m pretty much only middle-of-the-road. There are a lot of young guys like Marc Grayson and manton that are more fanatical, just extreme nit-pickers and so obsessive and anal-retentive. I’m stunned by the detail they know, which is much more than I do. There are shoe experts and shirt experts, and you wind up learning a little bit from each one. It’s been extremely interesting.
IS: What’s your take on the ’80s preppy trend, and the trads centered around Andy’s forum today? Are these things at odds with the original Ivy League Look, or do they simply mark an evolution, albeit one that some may see as inferior?
KP: When the Ivy League Look had mass popular appeal, a strong foundation was laid. “The Official Preppy Handbook” in the ’80s, and what’s remained current today, have their foundation there, but only maybe one-third of the broadness, and far less popular appeal. It’s more like a rather narrow uniform, and the color range is so narrow now compared to what it used to be. Even with the rebirth of “trad,” they haven’t gone far enough to where they’re wearing olive herringbone suits. Ralph Lauren is probably at least 50 percent responsible for saving the look at all. But I wonder if it will exist forever.
IS: Tell us about the size of your wardrobe.
KP: I’m only burdened with 260 suits. I usually pick out about 30 for fall and 30 for spring. But this way I’m only wearing a suit once every four years! I also have 1,700 neckties, 200 pairs of shoes, and 500 shirts, half of which are too small for me.
IS: What shirt manufacturers do you like?
KP: Mercer is the only one with a soft collar, not lined and not fused, with the proper roll. Also Brooks Brothers, and I have a lot of English shirts from Turnbull & Asser and Harvie & Hudson.
IS: What’s the pleasure you get out of having that much clothing?
KP: Gosh, I don’t really know. I guess it’s just another hobby, like everybody has. I enjoy looking at it and taking care of it, and can’t really say too much more. It wasn’t all that intentional; it just sort of happened.
IS: What do your friends and colleagues think? They must notice that you never look exactly the same from day to day.
KP: You’d be surprised. Nobody notices or cares.
IS: Because your clothes are so similar? Because you have 85 identical blue suits?
KP: No, the suits are different from each other, and I gather more criticism than praise. A couple months ago I went to a party right from work, wearing my suit, and all the other men were wearing jeans. The owner’s wife came over and asked “Ken, why are you dressed in such a conformist manner?” I said, “You think I ought to wear jeans and a plaid flannel shirt?” And she said, “Yeah, that’d be a good idea.” Be a non-conformist — just like everybody else.
IS: So even for a man of your age and success, there’s an expectation of just being sort of mediocre.
KP: Right. It’s astonishing the changes. The necktie has really disappeared. At Atlanta’s largest, 600-lawyer firm, they only wear ties in court. I never thought that would happen.
IS: How do others react to your dress, not in terms of formality, but in terms of style?
KP: I hear, “You dress so old,” a lot. I’m noticed more positively when I wear my Savile Row stuff. I’ve noticed for 30 years, for example, that no network news anchor wears a button down collar shirt. The second-rank people like George Will can wear them. I think they believe that ordinary people recognize the button down as being somehow connected with old-fashioned Harvard/Yale people, and they’re trying to dress more for a mass audience.
IS: Do you think that’s the issue of contention when people react negatively to your style? In other words, is it that you look old fashioned, or that you look elitist?
KP: It’s a little of both. For someone 40 and younger, it’s that I’m fuddy-duddy. For someone older, it’s that I’m elitist. They’re old enough to remember the kind of people who wore this stuff, and it does have the Ivy League connotations.
IS: What does your wife think of all this?
KP: I guess she thinks there could be worse pursuits. I’m not into drinking, gambling or other women. I don’t even have a Porsche. — CC