This is the latest installment in our occasional series on the fall of the Ivy League Look in the late ’60s. If you’d like to share your memories, use the contact button above.
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I was born in 1952, so I was 15 in 1967. A friend of mine says the height of Western Civilization was 1965 and we have been going downhill since.
Although I didn’t attend a New England prep school, the one I did attend was as close to one as anything Kentucky had to offer. Set in the middle of a college campus, it was originally designed to train teachers. It was private, tuition based, and exclusive for the region. We copied the dress of the college students who surrounded us. They, like most Southern college students in the ’60s, copied the Ivy League style. We didn’t have Brooks Brothers or J. Press, but we had some excellent local men’s stores who catered to the college crowd.
Gant oxford-cloth buttondowns, Shetland sweaters, khaki slacks — not chinos in the South — and Bass Weejuns were de rigueur. In the springtime, bright yellow or green “go to hell” pants were worn by the brave and the bold, usually with a bleeding madras shirt. Denim was not allowed and neither were shirts without collars. The locker loops on the Gant shirts were in constant peril of being pulled off by a young lady who fancied the wearer. Polo coats or stadium coats, London Fog raincoats, and Baracuta jackets were the accepted outerwear. Blazers, tweed, camel hair or linen jackets and three-piece suits were required attire for the regular dances. Formal occasions called for a tuxedo or dinner jacket.
The Beatles cracked the facade with that hair. I was the first rebel to have long hair. It was fall of 1968 and it just came over the top of my ears. Scandalous. Next came our spring senior trip to New York. We stayed in the Edison Hotel, which was a rat trap at the time. It did have the benefit of overlooking the theater where the original cast was performing “Hair.” I stayed up all night watching the ticket booth and made sure that I was the second in line for the standing-room-only tickets. After seeing the show, there was no avoiding the desperate urge to go down to Greenwich Village and buy the biggest elephant bellbottoms that I could find. I did have the good taste to get them in a wide-wale corduroy and have them cuffed. Back home they caused quite a sensation when I wore them to school, and the dress code just went to hell after that. Mea Culpa.
I went to Colorado College that fall, a school that was once known as a prep school with ashtrays, where Ivy style was adhered to more stringently than back east where it came from. But the times they were a-changin’. While I still dressed the part for rush parties, and on the debate team, and whenever going out to eat at the Broadmoor or the Antlers, daily wear had shifted to wrinkled chambray shirts, bellbottom jeans, sneakers (Keds), and a down parka.
After college I went to work as a TV reporter in Nashville, Tennessee. Back to suits and ties, but we all wore polyester because it took a licking and kept on ticking. Besides, you really couldn’t tell the difference on TV. Leisure suits and winged collars made a thankfully brief appearance. Gradually my wardrobe began moving back to its roots. Tropical wool suits, rep ties, and collar-pinned shirts reclaimed my closet. Top-Siders magically reappeared on my feet whenever I had on a Lacoste polo.
Next stop was medical school. My buttondowns, khakis and rep ties became a little shopworn during these long years when I couldn’t afford to replace them, but they always did look a little better that way. We were expected to look professional. Thankfully, I had been brought up in the way.
Now, nearing the end of my career, I have come full circle. I wear Mercer shirts, O’Connell’s Shetlands, Bills Khakis and a Hardwick Navy blazer, two-button because it’s too damned hard to get a 3/2 roll in the South. My charcoal grey suit comes out mostly for funerals and weddings these days. I still love a tweed jacket when it cools off. This Sunday is Easter, and it will be warm enough down here that I plan to wear a brand new seersucker suit (outgrew the old one), a navy grenadine tie, red surcingle suspenders, and my 43-year-old pair of slightly dirty white bucks.
I will feel like a million dollars, but I will be one of only a few who still understand. I’m OK with that. They may come around yet. — MR
PS: I have been reading Ivy Style for some time now, but have never participated in your comments section. I was encouraged by your invitation, and hope I have provided you with something useful. It has been pleasant to reminisce. Thank you for all the pleasure you have given me by helping me recall and understand better the style of which I am so fond.