Ken C. Pollock wears fine shoes today, but there was a time when he held his Bass Weejuns together with duct tape.
Of course, that was for style, not because he was impecunious.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama and raised primarily in Roanoke, Virginia, the son of an immigrant from Belarus and a small-town Alabama girl of Austrian descent, the 67-year-old, Atlanta-based attorney has worn the Ivy League Look since he was a student at New Orleans’ Tulane University from 1959-1965.
In the above photo, taken with his fraternity brothers in 1962, Pollock is top row, second from left. (Talk-show ringleader Jerry Springer is top row, second from right.)
Pollock is known in Tradsville for his perspicacious observations shared on various forums, as well as for an essay in 2004 in which he says he took terms commonly used in the past — Traditional Natural Shoulder Ivy League — and coined the acronym TNSIL. “I may have been the first to coin the acronym,” he says. “I had never seen it used by anyone else.”
Ivy Style spoke with Mr. Pollock about traditional style through the decades, from his college days during Ivy’s heyday, to the decline of the look in the ’70s (“the grimmest period”) and the 21st-century era of menswear blogs and forums.
Ivy Style’s conversation with Mr. Pollock will be posted in two installments. Readers will especially want to stay tuned for the rousing finale, in which Pollock reveals the staggering size of his wardrobe.
IS: In your essay, you write that you don’t like the term “preppy,” which has become virtually meaningless today. Why did you coin the term TNSIL?
KP: When I was young, we called it Ivy League clothing. Preppy was never very commonly used. People on the forums use “trad” a lot, which has its origins in Japan. TNSIL seemed to me the most complete definition, both historically and style-wise, because the most prominent thing about the clothing is the jacket’s natural shoulder, and it was first commonly worn at Ivy League colleges. The pants-maker Corbin used to use the term “Natural Shoulder Trousers,” which I thought was amusing. They had no pleats, and of course were designed to go with natural-shouldered jackets.
IS: What motivated you to write your essay in 2004?
KP: Before the creation of the Ask Andy Trad Forum, a couple guys who were younger than me tried posting a lot about the history of that type of clothing in the main forum, and I thought I had more experience with it than they did. They had all heard of stores like Chipp, but had very little experience with them, and didn’t seem to know J. Press before it was taken over by the Japanese.
The term I use, TNSIL, refers to something that goes back to the end of World War II. It had very broad appeal, starting with a certain American blue-blood elite, and was picked up by first the Ivy League college kids, and then pretty much the entire college community. When it started to die out, it was probably best preserved in the South, and has remained stronger there than anywhere else.
IS: What was your everyday dress like in college?
KP: We had pretty much a uniform, just like college students have today with their t-shirts, cargo pants and flip-flops. Then it was Weejun penny loafers, which had to be as decrepit as possible, often held together with duct tape. We wore thick white woolen socks by Adler. On the label it said “Do not bleach,” so of course we all bleached them. It turned them a sickly yellow color, and that was standard.
Then we wore khakis or chinos, but the kind we tried to find were not the better brands like Corbin. There were a couple of companies that used to make them for the Army in World War II. They were only $5.95 and had a rough quality to them, and developed a lived-in quality quicker than a better brand of khakis.
Then most of us wore university-striped Gant shirts and Baracuta jackets. For dressing up, we wore a gray herringbone jacket and a thick, heavy-silk club tie.
IS: What was the idea behind the decrepit shoes?
KP: It was like the phrase Boston Cracked Shoe, referring to shoes that are beyond repair. We were looking for a lived-in, Old Money look. The worst thing you could do was look like you’d rushed out and bought new clothes. We tended to wear our shirts pretty rumpled, too. The whole goal was to look like you weren’t trying too hard, but were naturally brilliant, and it went over into clothing.
Weejuns were a very unconstructed shoe, with no steel shank, and I especially had the problem that they stretched so badly. When I bought a pair that fit, after six months they shimmied around so much they wore holes in the heels of my socks. Eventually I had to buy them a half-size too small, but that way you limped for the first six months. It was real agony. So you had the choice of suffering at the beginning or suffering at the end.
IS: What are the Southern differences when it comes to this style of dress?
KP: Southerners have always been much more into seersucker. I would imagine that college boys from elite Southern families, who might have gone to Harvard or Princeton, brought back the desire for the Ivy League cut with them, but adapted it to Southern cloths like poplin, seersucker and madras.
Another thing we always loved when I was young was chinos and especially corduroy embroidered with things like frogs and golf balls. We really liked them because they were bright colors.
IS: Tell us about your alma mater.
KP: Tulane, along with Vanderbilt and Duke, were and still are very different from other Southern schools. They were private, expensive, and two-thirds of the student body was from out of state. There was always friction between them and the cities and states they were in. They were thought of as rich Yankee snob schools by the locals.
For example, my classmates included Jerry Springer, Bruce Paltrow, Paul Michael Glazer and Anita Connick (Harry Jr.’s mother). All were from New York and all happened to be Jewish, attending school in a state with a 1.4 percent Jewish population.
IS: In ’65 you got out of law school and had to start wearing a suit and tie to work. What did you wear?
KP: A lot of Norman Hilton and Southwick. But the problem was that right after I started working, the clothing went into decline. The hippy era and the Peacock Revolution pretty much destroyed Ivy for the majority. It was the beginning of the end for the Ivy League Look. — CC