When powerHouse Books releases the first English-language edition of “Take Ivy” on August 31, eager readers will finally get a chance to see its enchantingly atmospheric photos as they were meant to be seen: within the hardbound covers of a picture book. Though widely disseminated on the Internet, scanned photos seen on a computer screen just can’t evoke the sense of time and place the same as ones printed on paper and held in the hand.
Gazing at these idyllic scenes of campus quads, where groups of stylish young men live out the best years of their lives in tranquil isolation, cut off from the pressures of work and family that await them, it’s easy to feel drawn into some kind of halcyon golden age far removed from contemporary college life.
And this is what makes “Take Ivy,” created by photographer Teruyoshi Hayashida and three writers, such a special book. For in fact what it depicts is not a golden age at all, but the last rays of twilight on a declining silver age.
Although Hayashida and his team could not have known it, they were preparing the obituary for a moribund celebrity whose demise is imminent. “Take Ivy” chronicles the beginning of the end of the Ivy League Look, the final group of classmen for whom oxford shirts and penny loafers were a uniform, and the last gasp of a sartorial tradition that had slowly germinated, codified, and risen to popularity over the course of 40 years.
Midway through “Take Ivy” is a photo of a freshman wearing a sweater emblazoned with the expected year of his graduation: 1968. He could serve as a single representative of his generation at this time of unprecedented change. Clean cut and “collegiate” (how archaic that word sounds!), when he receives his diploma, he will probably look very different. And a decade later, the staples of his wardrobe — natural-shouldered sack jackets, oxford-cloth button-downs, Weejuns, discreet rep ties — would become symbols of stodginess and elitism in a new age of free-thinking egalitarianism.
Released in September of 1965 and apparently shot in spring of the same year, “Take Ivy” is a chronicle of the penultimate year of the heyday of the Ivy League Look. Only one year remained in which this style would still be considered smart by the majority of students. When the fall semester of 1967 began, following the torrid Summer of Love, America would begin to change with head-spinning rapidity, and the Ivy League Look would tumble into sudden free fall like a sartorial albatross hurled from the top of Nassau Hall.
In his novel “The Final Club,” Princeton alum Geoffrey Wolff tersely summarizes the rapid fall of the Ivy League Look. Referring to the Ivy Club, Princeton’s most exclusive eating club, he writes:
Lining the second-floor hall were group portraits of Ivy members, and Nathaniel paused to examine them. Till 1967 the club sections were photographed indoors, in the billiard room; dress was uniform — dark suits, white shirts, Ivy ties. In 1967 a white suit was added here, an open collar there. In 1968 the insolent, smirking group moved outside, and was tricked out in zippered paramilitary kit, paratroop boots, tie-dye shirts, shoulder-length locks, and not a necktie in view.
The photos in “Take Ivy” show the Ivy League Look as a house of cards trembling in the winds of change. The students pictured are more stylish than those of today, but they are also less formal than those who had come before. “Take Ivy” shows more tees than ties, more sweatshirts than Shetlands. While the clothing items themselves are purebred Ivy, the students’ lack of formality, elucidated in the text, is the first step in the gradual casualization of the college wardrobe, a process that has reached its logical conclusion in the flip-flops and pajama bottoms on today’s campuses.
If “Take Ivy” were a glass whose contents were the Ivy League Look, it would be both half empty and half full. Much is gone, but much remains (though what remains won’t be there for long). With their seemingly effortless nonchalance, the students teeter on the edge of a fence, with the past on one side and the future on the other, simultaneously upholding tradition and dismantling it. And it’s for this reason that “Take Ivy” is bittersweet on the eyes.
A few years later, in jeans and sideburns, after Vietnam War protests, public-figure assassinations, and a zeitgeist demanding a complete revaluation of all values, these students would have looked back on their college years the same way we look at “Take Ivy” nearly half a century later: as a simpler time forever gone. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD