We bring our series on elegance to a close with these thoughts from the founder.
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Take a look at this photo of former Esquire columnist George Frazier, author of “The Art Of Wearing Clothes.” There’s the Russell Plaid suit jacket, Churchill dot tie, and buttondown shirt — all pretty standard fare. But then there are the personal touches: the longish hair of the artiste, the boutonniere, and of course the cigarette with finger articulation straight out of Leyendecker’s sketchbook. If the sum total of the photo isn’t elegance, it’s at least sophistication, which is its first cousin.
Historic documents on the Ivy League Look reveal the breadth, quality and formality of the college student’s wardrobe in the aristocratic ’30s. But while neatness, correctness, quality and even panache within the boundaries of good taste were always virtues of the Ivy look, elegance is rarely mentioned. Indeed it was likely considered a vice in the deepest recesses of the preppy/Ivy tribe, smacking of outsiders and arrivistes. “Try For Elegance,” the 1959 novel based on author David Loovis’ experience at Brooks Brothers, sounds like a title his publisher chose.
In our lively comments section, some of the less broad-minded seem to insist that Ivy is a specific look. It’s easy to get that impression for the younger among us, those who’ve never seen first-hand the breadth of variety during the heyday at a legendary clothier such as Langrock. But I prefer to think of Ivy as a genre from which one can choose from a wider-than-you-think array of items to find one’s personal style. I can see the cool in the Ivy genre, and I can also see the elegance. But I suppose that’s because I can appreciate those qualities in other things as well, from the cool of Monk’s “In Walked Bud” to the elegance exhibited in the classicism and restraint of my favorite composer, Gabriel Fauré.
According to his biographer, George Frazier had practically an obsession with pink oxfords from Brooks Brothers. On a preppy kid with a green sweater draped over his shoulders, the shirt would create one kind of effect. On Frazier, with cigarette, martini and quick wit (not to mention, for a time, a home address at The Plaza Hotel), the effect would have been quite another. Elegance may not be an intrinsic quality of the Ivy League Look, but in the end what counts is always what you bring to your clothes, not what they give to you. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
George Frazier was, and still is, my mentor about things sartorial. His seminal article, “The Art Of Wearing Clothes”, in the September 1960 Esquire Magazine ( and oh, how that magazine has changed!), is still in my opinion the best thing ever written on the subject. His Sense Of Style columns in the same magazine were also must reading.
Frazier also wrote, of course, about music- specifically jazz and the Great American Songbook- for many years. It would be fabulous if someone would publish all his columns and articles in one volume (preferebly illustrated). One might call it the Duende Papers.
I wholeheartedly agree. I worry many of us who enjoy the virtue of traditional American menswear are too prescriptive and dogmatic regarding what qualifies as “Ivy.” One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Ralph Lauren is his refusal to rest entirely on perceived tradition. His integration of American style with elements both English and Italian make his clothing some of the most elegant off-the-rack items available.
I love American style, I enjoy the classic, simple, and sometimes rugged nature of it. But, I also love James Bond and Gianni Angelli. I don’t think ivy and trad must lack elegance to be authentic.
Regarding the photo of the elegant Frazier: let’s not forget the button-holes on his suit jacket sleeve, They are the real thing, As I write this, I’m wearing a pink BB oxford shirt under a wool crew neck. It may not be the height of elegance, but it sure beats the V-neck sweaters worn over T-shirts that I see younger “gentlemen” wearing in public these days.
Cigarettes are neither elegant nor sophisticated.
Yes… and no. Yes, cigarette smoke is foul, and yes, smoking does horrible things to one’s health, but smoking can be done elegantly and with sophistication.
Look at Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Sean Connery, Clark Gable….
The clothes are indeed elegant.
The hairstyle and the cigarette most certainly are not.
I never knew George Frazier but I have known several that did. He was one of those you either loved or hated! If you knew him personally, I mean. He was born and raised in South Boston, the son of a fireman and an Irish mother. Yet, the mature Frazier led all to believe he was all Nantucket, Harvard, Locke-Ober, the Atheneaum, the Somerset Club and wooden sail boats. He would go to great lengths to avoid anyone knowing about his Southie background.
Most do not realize that from about 1880 to the great depression, anyone who could pay the tuition could get into Harvard if they graduated from high school. Frazier graduated from the Boston Latin School, America’s oldest public school. That was his avenue into Harvard as a townie.
“Duende’ was George Frazier’s favorite word. It is, of course, the precise word to describe his life and his writings: roughly translated—grace, wit and class”—Studs Terkel
“Another Man’s Poison” by Charles Fountain is his biography I urge all to read!
@ Vern: Actually, I found Mr. Fountain’s book very mundane. True, GF was rather upper class manque, but his writings had real class, as did his attire, and he knew of what he spoke.
The underlying principle of the venerable Mr.Frazier’s selection could with a few exceptions (including Brummell and of course himself) be summoned by the following comment: ” To have the distiction of somebody like Tancredi, one needs to come from a family that has wasted several fortunes (Principe de Salina in ” Il Gattopardo” Guiseppe Tomaso de Lampedusa).”
My sense is that the very concept of “elegance” is a difficult one in the context of soft American style. To be elegant and remain within that style means it has to be a very restrained execution. As soon as it begins to move in the direction of glamour or suggest self-congratulation, then I think you’ve taken it too far.
Cross the line, and one runs the risk of Dandyism. It’s very subtle, isn’t it?
Some of the men on Frazier’s list were precisely that. Probably happily so. Some walk the line; Acheson comes to mind.
What about compiling a list of people alive today that fit the category of IVY/Trad dressing? That would be an interesting post!
EMJ, there’s a very lengthy thread at Andy’s Trad Forum called “American Trad Men” or somesuch. Some of them are likely dead, however.
You should have a weekly thread of commentators’ photos. The very brave on here could submit photos in “IVY” attire and we could comment on their style. You could call it the “Ivy Bloodbath” thread. 😉