The Cyclical Nature Of “Dressing Up.” (and don’t freak, no one thinks Gere is Ivy)

Editor’s Note: The following is reprinted with permission. Mr. Paul Carsola is a member of the FB Group who has thought through how an “influencer” in Armani made it okay to pop a collar again.

Before you comment that the 1980 film “American Gigolo”, and the fashions of Giorgio Armani have nothing to do with Ivy style, I will clarify that this post will not assert that. My intent is to share my own personal recollections of how the film influenced the fashion sensibilities of the subculture I grew up in, specifically how it and trends like the burgeoning Preppy fashion wave rekindled interest and acceptance of traditional men’s clothing.

In 1980 I was a nerdy 15-year-old kid who knew little of the world outside my sheltered SoCal backwater. I had settled into High School life, my sophomore year being far more relaxed than the three years of early teen tension and confusion that was Junior High School. I had by this time developed a fashion sense, one that came as a result of my love of early British Invasion music and style. I had begun thrift shopping when I was 13, scouring the racks for clothing that would make me look like one of the Beatles in 1963. I wouldn’t dare wear this wardrobe to my Junior High, knowing that it would incur the wrath of my peer’s draconian fashion regulations. If you weren’t wearing a surf shirt and flared corduroy pants, you had a target on your back the size of a battleship. I did get away with occasionally wearing the pair of pseudo Beatle boots that I had bought in Tijuana.

The culture had changed quite a bit by high school, with most of my schoolmates following the Surfer/Stoner attitude of the time “Be mellow dude”. Boys campus fashion of my school in 1980 fell into distinct categories: Jock/athletic attire, Surfer style (Ocean Pacific brand comes to mind), Stoner style (disciples of the Jeff Spicoli look), the diehard holdouts of the Disco Era (mostly Portuguese American kids who refused to give up their Angels Flight pants, open chested polyester shirts, and jewelry), Heavy Metal Rock fans with their long hair and Led Zeppelin shirts, and those few individuals influenced by the then countercultural forces of New Wave music and Punk Rock.

During this time I was unaware that the men’s fashion industry had already been inching away from the polyester, loud patterns, and tacky cuts of 1970s fashion. Leisure suits were still everywhere to be seen in 1980, even on my dad! Then seemingly overnight things began to change. Designer jeans started appearing on campus, part of a growing appetite for fashionable name brand clothes. “Preppy” entered the vernacular of my school, but as a style had not yet made a significant showing.

Then in February of 1980 word was out about a daring new film. The stylish lifestyle portrayed in the film appealed to many of my peers, and helped them grow an appreciation for tailored clothing. I am not saying that the film in itself was responsible for this new fashion awareness, only that it was part of several factors all occurring at the same time. These factors include: a growing market for designer label clothes, the Preppy look, New Wave music fashion (the return of suits and ties for performers), a general return to tradition in the fashion industry, and other movements occurring at the time. Traditional clothing had made a comeback, and guys like me could wear nice polo shirts and loafers to school and only have to endure the occasional hallway comment of GQ!

  • Paul Carsola

10 Comments on "The Cyclical Nature Of “Dressing Up.” (and don’t freak, no one thinks Gere is Ivy)"

  1. Love this movie. Not a huge fan of the styles but Gere always looked great.

  2. elder prep | June 14, 2023 at 8:25 pm |

    Paul, you mention significant influences of the era, but no mention of TOPH?

  3. TOPH was for sale at the college bookstore in 1980. The style hadn’t yet trickled down to the high school. I’m not sure it ever did.

  4. Charlottesville | June 15, 2023 at 3:44 pm |

    Thanks for this post and the reminder of that era. The early 80s did indeed seem to be a time of renewed interest in men’s clothing although, as with the film, much of it was European-designer-inspired rather than classic American style.

    On the east coast, where I live, there was still a remnant of the Ivy heyday style, which never entirely went away, and TOPH undoubtedly renewed interest in the look, especially among younger men. Ralph Lauren, M Magazine and others all contributed to making the 80s a sort of post-disco renaissance for classic menswear that had fallen out of favor in the late 60s and 70s. Even high school kids here were very much into the polo shirt and khaki look. And I recall the mid-to-late 80s as very “Brooksy,” at least in Washington and New York where I spent my early working life.

  5. My spouse made me laugh with this thought about the time: “Welcome to the ’80s. Haircuts for everyone!”
    This is a great breakdown of the high school style experience for those in the Gen-X or Generation Jones cohort and it was a delight to read. I fall into the “X-ennial” generational margin, which really doesn’t have a lot to recommend it in terms of style. The ’90s and early aughts were a barren (tragic, frankly) wasteland in this regard. Like Mr, Carsola, I became aware of men’s fashions and my own sense of style by watching movies. Some choices were regrettable, but hey — all in service of finding oneself, right?
    Thanks for the great read.

  6. At the college in 80-84, the look was all preppy, not so Ivy. Popped collars in multiple layers with a sweater worn as a scarf in combination with shorts, Sperry Topsiders, and sunglasses hung on the placket of the top layer.

    • Oh, and then Guess and Calvin Klein jeans arrived on the scene. During the winter it was ski sweaters and jackets with lift tickets attached to the zip. Amongst the faculty, there were 70sish holdovers and Italian (Armani) suit coats (no vent) warn as blazers/sport-coats.

  7. This film absolutely changed things. Don’t apologize. Other than my St. Paul’s uniform, this movie made me “think/care” about clothing and style, I also became aware of how girl’s reacted to a well dressed man. My Ivy sense came from school, The Style Council, life in Manhattan and my Dad (God Bless’Em) Thanks for this~Cheers.

  8. MacMcConnell | June 19, 2023 at 1:41 pm |

    I agree with Charlottesville. In 1980 at 30, when I visited my frat house I no longer got asked by pledges why I dressed like an “old man”.

    • Charlottesville | June 20, 2023 at 12:36 pm |

      Indeed, Mac. Unfortunately, the brief shining moment of the 80s Ivy revival seems to have receded into the mists, and once again a 30-year-old in a coat and tie would likely elicit that question again. Even in Charlottesville, Washington and Charleston, where Ivy reigned longer than in most places, the few of us of any age who continue to sport the look form a distinct minority.

      All that being said, I am frequently complimented by a stranger when dressed in my usual Ivy rig, and often by young ladies. Women notice, and younger men might be well advised to up their sartorial game.

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