Take Ivy: Last Gasp of the Ivy League Look

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

31 Comments on "Take Ivy: Last Gasp of the Ivy League Look"

  1. Oh, I had no idea this was going to be reprinted in English. I remember posting about it a year ago and wishing I could get my greedy hands on a copy. This just made my day. Definitely going to preorder it.

    Lulu Letty

  2. Though the whole of the Ivy League look is certainly in decline, elements of it persist. I am an undergraduate at NYU and I usually sport a pair of Clark’s Desert Boots, APC New Standards, and a J.Crew button-down; in the fall and winter I add a wool sweater, or a tweed or navy sports-coat. This outfit does not meet the standards of 1950’s Princeton: there is no neck-tie in sight; jeans are not khakis. Nevertheless, the general lines of the look remain.

    The reasons for dressing this way are not for ostentation or elitism. I am trying to represent myself as someone who is smart, perhaps as someone who in the future will be successful. In trying to attain this image, there is a difficult balance between too much prep and too much hip. If the former is too strong, one will be a yuppie or a rich-kid; if the latter is too much, one loses the look of a student — which is, to me, most important — and will simply be called a hipster. And that word hipster can have a bad meaning: unemployed, living irresponsibly on one’s parent’s means, or simply unintelligent (though the prefix ‘dirty’ may be required for that last conclusion). What I mean to say is that there is a fine line to walk about dress in contemporary american collegiate culture. One does not want to seem spoiled or rich, which was exactly what ivy league culture stood for; of course, one does not want to seem the reverse either. I will buy the book Take Ivy, pending on which graduate school shall admit me.

  3. Old School | July 12, 2010 at 11:05 am |

    Unfortunately, “clean-cut” sounds just as archaic as “collegiate”.

  4. Very well written. Great piece.

  5. Not all is lost. The man in the ’68 sweater attended Dartmouth, where the sweaters with the year of your graduation are still available at the co-op. It is, however, safe to say that more tshirts with the graduation year are seen on campus than the sweaters. Mine, emblazened with a far less romantic 2011 is dutifully sitting in my closet waiting for the day when I am a stodgy alum returning to campus predictably aghast at how much the college has changed, much like ’68 would be if he came back today.


  6. HRH The Duke of Windsor | July 12, 2010 at 12:53 pm |

    A very mournful piece Chenners.

  7. We are all now again reminded of how important it is to hold on the the values that made that generation.

    Thank you

    Always Bumby

  8. To be honest, I think people are waking up more and more as to how the hippies made the country worse off than it was. That’s why you have these books coming out like Take Ivy again. People want the old, traditional, wholesome Americana nostalgia – not the druggie psychedelic hysteria that the hippie generation created. Brooks Brothers is releasing different clothing lines, Rugby is a newer brand with traditional items. Heck even LL Bean came out with a designer line. Gant Rugger….Harvard Yard….And now the sequel to The Preppy Handbook is coming out. I’d say that things are looking up so stop feeling so glum people!

  9. Bermuda,

    Were the people who orchestrated the Vietnam war more wholesome than the dirty hippies?

    I would caution against confusing a style of dress with wholesomeness or any other character attribute beyond the superficial.

    We both like the same styles, but I suspect our politics are quite different. I like the fact that we are able to enjoy a common interest here. :)

  10. Andrew So | July 13, 2010 at 4:13 am |

    It sounds a bit silly but my eyes welled up after reading this piece. I’m a 21-year-old college student who has always respected the bygone formality of collegiate dress and I have recently pre-ordered Take Ivy in English.

    I have somehow managed to embrace the “everyman” quality of oxfords and penny loafers as well their current inference of aristocracy. Yet more than each individual personality, I revel in the duality of the Ivy uniform in order to pay homage to the students of the past who studied and dressed a hell of a lot better than I do.

  11. I am referring to more of the clothes and appearance. Yes I do agree that many politicians are dirty crooks, and those in power create idiotic wars

  12. My apologies, Bermuda, I misunderstood your comment.

  13. ” Were the people who orchestrated the Vietnam war more wholesome than the dirty hippies? ” – for the record, McNamara was a west coast striver that earned his degree at UC Berkeley, and Kennedy, although trained at the institutions of the Eastern Establishment, was never truly ‘one’ of them. LBJ was never even invited to the table. The Vietnam war was the first American war truly run by ‘meritocrats,’ and well, history is the judge of how that turned out. See David Halberstam’s ‘Best and the Brightest’ for a more complete criticism of this rising ‘elite.’

  14. My point exactly, Henry, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Why, even Republicans have been known to dress in a wholesome manner. 😉

  15. Not that I want to turn this into a history debate, but I couldn’t disagree more with your characterization of Kennedy. He was absolutely a part of the eastern establishment. He may not have been a “WASP,” but he prepped at Choate, graduated from Harvard, and was the son of a very wealthy and politically connected man who served as head of the SEC and Ambassador to the Court of Saint James. To say that JFK attained his political and economic status through merit is, in my opinion, wholly inaccurate.

  16. Oh yes you CAN judge a book by its cover.
    Interesting how those who carried the “counter culture”
    spirit can’t/could not relay there message through speech
    alone. No, these walking garbage cans had to take it
    upon themselves to say fu to society with their appearance
    on top of their never ending mouths day after day of
    “equality” so-called “civil” rights. Why? Why could they not
    simply state their case? What is this sacrifice your personal
    appearance and grooming for the sake of the message?
    Because it’s nothing but pure hatred for the establishment.
    Complete hatred of family values and authority.
    Thanks hippies for opening the gateway for haircuts that
    look like a blind barber attended to it,for piercings that
    used to only be found in the freaks dept of a traveling
    circus,as well as other abominable self alterations.
    Its pathetic what this”were all equal ,don’t judge” crap
    has done. A nation of PC cowards. Yes indeed you can
    find evil behind the best set of dress, HOWEVER,that
    doesn’t mean to conclude, well ,since evil can hide
    within the confines of a civil society,there’s no real
    point then in holding to the tradition OF civility, which
    includes civility in your personal appearance.
    SO, you want the right to alter your appearance for
    NO OTHER REASON then to start trouble.
    You are not fighting for your “right” for personal
    expression,you are throwing a temper tantrum.
    Nice try at spinning the issue and trying once
    again to fit it into this “can’t judge” rationale,
    to misdirect the real point. Nice try.

  17. Ralph Kinney Bennett | July 13, 2010 at 7:00 pm |

    Interesting thoughts, Christian, on “Take Ivy’s” return. And even more interesting are the comments elicited.

    As I have said before, “The Look” (and Ivy as its most pure — not to say stylized — expression) is timeless and will survive whether worn by rogues and mountebanks or not. The power of its simplicity and its appealing utility overwhelms novelty and outlasts mere fashion. It has its own authority, its own flair, and it always imparts to the wearer that peculiar feeling of well-being. Imagine, you are staying in a strange house. You are to meet someone that afternoon for coffee. It’s a bit chilly. You look in the closet. There are two choices: An old, well-worn Harris Tweed sport coat with a small moth-hole in one sleeve, or, encased in dry cleaner’s protective plastic, a lime-green waffle-knit leisure suit in immaculate condition. Hm-m-m-. Which will you wear?

    In this boringly “non-judgmental” PC, pseudo-egalitarian world “the Look” is BETTER. Make not mistake, my beloved tweed jacket or my BB penny loafers don’t make me better. But they certainly seem to make me feel better — about myself and about the world and about certain things in Western culture that are refined and good and that endure.

  18. JFK can be viewed either way, depending on perspective. To some, the Kennedy fortune and political connections, the Choate and Harvard schooling, might look very east coast establishment. But what if you were a member of the Choate class of 1935, sitting across from JFK in class? Might you see nothing more than an Irish Catholic boy from a nouveau riche family and deem him “not quite one of us”?

  19. I absolutely agree that the Kennedy family was nouveau riche. All I took issue with was the implication that JFK somehow reached his position in society based on merit. I’m a fan of the Kennedy family, but even I can acknowledge that JFK was helped immensely by his family’s fortune and stature. Being nouveau riche doesn’t mean that your family doesn’t have political connections.

    On a side note, isn’t it interesting how in today’s culture the Kennedy family is viewed as being old money? They say that it generally takes three generations for new money to turn into old money. I guess their modern perception proves that.

  20. I am so tired of the pimping of the Kennedy myth – especially by people like Chris Matthews who feeds on the family’s carcass with a near succubistic glee

    The Kennedy’s were the biggest lot of scoundrels to ever enter American public life.

    The family’s fortune was built on organized crime and it’s ranks are / were filled with adulterers, drunks, murderers and rapists

    The myth endures because of a few images of boys in oxford cloth shirts and khakis


  21. Love them or hate them, when people discuss preppy fashion the Kennedys will invariably be brought up as examples, perhaps even THE example. The fact that they were Irish Catholic and nouveau riche is irrelevant; I think it’s safe to say that in the public mind, that’s who most epitomizes the WASP look and the lifestyle.

    I don’t think they were any bigger scoundrels than, say, the Bushes — but then again, I’m of the belief that such families, whatever their politics, don’t become that powerful without having a few skeletons in the closet, regardless of how well-dressed those skeletons might be.

  22. Well said Astrild, well said.

  23. Valid points, all, but it’s hard not to view the Kennedy family against the backdrop of the Boston Brahmins. We are, after all, talking about the home of the bean and the cod, where the Lowells speak only to Cabots, and the Cabots speak only to God. I’m thinking of names that go back to Colonial New England, like Adams, Emerson, Winthrop, Peabody, Putnam, Quincy, Thorndike, and Gardner. JFK was the great-grandson of an Irish potato farmer.

  24. While I was taken by how eloquently and elegantly this post was written, I too disagree that the end is near for conservative, classically dressed men and woman.

    While college students may consider “dressed up” a collared shirt and khaki’s there are still pockets of traditionally/well dressed individuals, usually centered around private schools and clubs that have dress codes. Those dress codes permeate a sense of what is proper and appropriate. As such this style will live on.

  25. Christian | July 15, 2010 at 2:22 pm |

    I plugged this essay into the I Write Like website and it says I write like HP Lovecraft.

    Was hoping for Evelyn Waugh or Walter Pater.


  26. Christian, I entered an excerpt from The Great Gatsby into that website and was told I write like HP Lovecraft too. I’ve learned not to trust it.

  27. I entered my comments re the Kennedy’s and it told my I write like Kurt Vonnegut

    If it had said Charles Bukowski on a an extremely bad day I might have believed it

  28. There has never been a family of men who treated women worse than the Kennedys. Except for JFK they were all terrible dressers.

  29. SixtiesPrinceton | July 25, 2010 at 5:15 pm |

    Wow, I was eleven years old when the pictures for that book were taken. I grew up in Princeton, my father went there, and I regarded the campus as my own personal back yard on weekends, much to the annoyance, probably, of the young men there (I do remember my friends and I being pelted with water bombs from upper story dorm windows).

    But I remember watching it change… as I entered my early teens… suddenly the campus started getting more interesting, hippies started showing up on Nassau Street, Joan Collins, Ravi Shankar and Donovan all came to play at Richardson Hall (although not at the same time), and suddenly, in the blink of an eye, 1965 was such a distant memory… it could have been 100 years earlier.

  30. H.K. Rahman | August 31, 2010 at 1:06 pm |

    Received two copies of the new printing today, and I am just FLOORED. I could not have imagined that this sublime book would have lived up to all the hype of the recent months, but it is an absolute wonder. The book’s allure is beguiling in that it feels at once dated and relevant.

  31. Warren Williams | January 22, 2014 at 5:09 pm |

    David and rojo are both correct. The Kennedy’s are neither an example of the New England aristocracy whose education, style and manner they tried so hard to copy, nor are they an example of law abiding people rising on the basis of “merit”.

    They illustrate the phonyness of the claims to superior merit of the new foreign-derived ruling class which had mostly displaced the traditional ruling class by 1965 – 1970.

    Kennedy money came from working for the Bronfman/ Lansky crime syndicate (same source ultimately as the money that launched John McCain’s political career) which Joseph Kennedy spun into a real fortune by shorting his bank’s own stock (legal then, illegal today).

    When Joseph Kennedy pathetically opined “How does someone meet people like the Saltonstalls?” he should have known that nice people generally have no wish to consort with mafia criminals, no matter how wealthy or politically successful.

    It was not “snobbery” that prompted the the most elite final club at Harvard to reject JFK. Porcellian was upholding basic standards that he failed to meet. Standards that have now been trampled into the ground by the phony foreign-derived middle class strivers that would sell their grandmothers to serve the wishes of a certain international banking cartel.

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