Ivy Style asked readers who were around during the heyday of the Ivy League Look to share their reminiscences. Here are some of the responses about clothes and college life back in the day.
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I’m a Westerner, now 58 years old. My first dealings with Brooks Brothers were when I was in college in the early ’70s. I was a scholarship student at the University of Denver. Although I was local, it was a popular place (skiing!) for college for kids from back East and Illinois, and my roommate and many of my classmates were prep school kids from New England and New York.
I suppose I was something of a wannabe, but I mostly just admired their sense of style and the cool clothes they had that were hard to get out here, especially then. I tried to emulate their nonchalant attitude as well as the clothing style. I got the importance of that right off, I think. I’m sure I pulled my first Top-Siders, not a popular retail item then in landlocked Denver, as salvage out of somebody’s dorm garbage.
In those days there were no Brooks stores anywhere between Chicago and San Francisco, so Brooks had trunk shows in a room (not suite) at the Brown Palace Hotel (Denver’s grand hotel, where the Beatles stayed), with the beds removed and tables covered with long white table cloths — a whole Brooks Brother store in 300 square feet. You couldn’t buy anything, but you could look at and paw the samples, try things on (in the bathroom), and order everything. My first credit card was from Brooks Brothers. In those days the OCBDs were $13.50 or so and prices were advertised in the catalog as being “slightly higher in the West.” The first couple of times I visited there was a guy nearing retirement age who ran the operation. He had an apprentice with him and shortly thereafter it was just the younger guy. He wasn’t at all stuffy and wasn’t all that much older than me. We got along great, both sons of blue collar guys. We wasted lots of time just chatting, me learning things about clothes and culture that could really only be learned in the East, or from my schoolmates, or right there, talking with Ted, or eavesdropping on the expatriates from the East who would come in to do their shopping.
I’ve been wearing Brooks Brothers OCBDs most days of the week ever since, now about 40 years. Even out here in cowtown, Brooks now has a couple of stores and outlets, though its first store here (something I really looked forward to at the time) is now a Cheesecake Factory. I was hooked and I’ve stayed on the line.
I deplore the loss of some of the quality and some of the identity (the website models look all wrong, like Macy’s models; hasn’t Brooks ever looked at their customers?), but I’m still wearing those shirts and ties and buying those suits. I understand the need for retailers to keep moving, and things change, not usually for the best, but I’d love to see them open the trunks in The Brown Palace once again for old time’s sake. — JAMES F. DONALDSON
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I went to Cornell, class of ’66. Ithaca had one store, John Lewton, that sold better Ivy stuff. Richard Farina, who graduated from Cornell in the early ’60s and married Joan Baez’s sister Mimi, wrote one novel, “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me,” before he died in a motorcycle accident. It was obviously about Cornell, but he had changed the names of every person and place whatever in the book, except one: John Lewton. Must have really been a sore point for an early hipster. And, yes, I sported a Princeton haircut and had it trimmed every two weeks.
If you look closely at the guy on the right in the front row of the “Were You There?” post, I believe he’s wearing a tab-collared shirt, an acceptable substitute for a button-down, but you had to wear a tie with it or it looked stupid with the tab waving about. I still wear button-downs, although I ceased wearing Bass Weejuns long ago. Don’t quite remember why; maybe they’re harder to find in LA now. Our friends occasionally kid me about my aging-preppy look, but I’m kinda stuck with it.
The whole thing with dressing in that style at school was to look as if you’d always dressed that way. It was a form of reverse snobbism, a way of showing you were so cool and secure you didn’t need to wear new clothes to impress anyone. Of course, the clothes themselves had to be the right ones: basically chinos and broadcloth shirts from Brooks Brothers. And if your clothes were actually new, then you wanted them to look lived-in immediately. Hence the duct-taping of Weejuns and the sandpapering of shirt collars. (My parents never could understand the inherent beauty of clothing that was almost falling apart. After all, I could afford new things.) Also, crewneck Shetland sweaters were better when the neck was stretched and misshapen and the elbows were worn through.
The first person I ever saw wearing Weejuns without socks was my cousin who was at Lawrenceville. It just looked so right with Bermudas. I still wear loafers without socks, although I think the menswear magazines that show sockless models in black laceups totally miss the point.
Back to Cornell: The thing about it was the drinking. The legal age was 18 in New York when I arrived in 1962, and the school was awash in alcohol. Beer was for basement frat thrashes where you danced and drank and by the end of the evening everyone was sweaty and ankle deep in suds. There were three big weekends a year — Fall, IFC, and Spring — and they started with a cocktail party on Friday, then dinner, then another party. Saturday began with drinks at lunch, then a game, then another cocktail party, dinner, a concert, then a party, and then a late party. Sunday morning was for milkpunch.
I was social co-chairman of my frat, and we had to come up with a different cocktail for each occasion. (They needed to be mixed drinks to mask the taste of the cheap liquor.) Do you have any idea how many bananas have to be mashed to make a couple hundred banana daiquiris? Unfortunately, one time we miscalculated on the ingredients for whiskey sours and before too long people were passed out all over the place. When we made the milkpunch on Sunday mornings, we threw in all the liquor that was left over from the weekend. The milkpunch party was always with two other houses, and Spring Weekend it was always at Sigma Chi as they had a swimming pool. Before too long, people were jumping in the pool, fully clothed, and even the band members would get into it.
I can’t believe we actually came out of it alive. At least most of us. — WILL GUBIN
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I was in junior high school during the heyday of Ivy League style, and what I remember most of the all is the connection between the style and its practicality, something that’s often missed when people take a nostalgic glance over their shoulders.
In those years, teenage boys had two sets of clothes: play clothes and school clothes, with play clothes being last year’s school clothes that had been outgrown, or blue jeans, which you were not permitted to wear to school. Public schools still had dress codes back then: shirts had to have collars, belts had to be worn with pants, and no sneakers allowed.
So at the end of August, mothers would drive their sons to Bellin’s in South Orange Village, NJ. There you could buy the required gym uniform, and everything mom thought was needed for the upcoming year. Underwear and socks, of course, the socks being black for dress and Adler whites for casual, which you could turn a nice creamy yellow in the wash, and a blue blazer, gray flannels, a couple of ties, some polo shirts, but always OCBDs in white and blue, and maybe madras shirts, flannel shirts, and turtlenecks, and Robert Bruce sweaters, some crewnecks but also V-necks for wearing under the blazer.
Bellin’s carried khakis, but these were not as practical as Levi’s with their heartier cotton. Now remember, jeans were forbidden, so by the end of the 1940s some marketing genius at Levi & Strauss, who was well acquainted with public-school dress codes, must have convinced the company to start producing dungarees that did not look like dungarees — your basic Levi’s but in the same color spectrum as khakis. The most popular colors were tan and black.
The blazer usually had to be tailored, leaving the arms a little long in anticipation of the upcoming growth spurt, and the rest of the stuff was put in bags and stowed in the trunk. And then it was up three blocks to Robert’s, a shoe store, that seemed to specialize in Weejuns, which doubled as an everyday and dress shoe.
So there you have it, nice and practical. The only other items were a London Fog trench coat, bought on sale at a department store; a ski jacket perhaps, from the same department-store sale; CPOs and peacoats, which could be bought at an army-navy store; and sneakers from the local sporting goods store: Converse for gym, and Jack Purcells if you played tennis.
What I find striking about all this is its simplicity, much of which has been lost over the years as Ivy League evolved into high fashion. — PETER GOLDEN
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That picture reminds me of my youth in Oxford, MS. I was 12 years old in 1965 and we tried to emulate the dress of the Ole Miss students. Howard Duvall opened Duvall’s Men Shop on the Oxford Square in 1957 and introduced the sack suit, plaid sports coat, Corbin slacks, khakis, Gant shirts and Weejuns. The ties were predominantly rep and jackets had a 3/2 roll. His business began to decline in the ’70s as polyester came into popularity. He eventually changed over to women’s clothing.
A small group of us from the Oxford of the ’60s still dress in the Howard Duvall fashion. He set a standard for us that won’t be repeated.
His store in the early days was small and intimate, with the wood on the windows painted brown to give it an English look. My first camelhair blazer bought there was from Deansgate; though a bit snug, it simply can’t be worn out.
Howard was a scholar and gentleman, a local historian who loved Oxford, Ole Miss, Robert E. Lee, and the SAE’s. He influenced an entire generation on the proper dress of a Southern gentleman. — KEITH MANSEL
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Much of the dress was a reflection of returning WW II vets. Khakis as an integral part of everything. Not much variation; few had a lot of money to put into clothing. A few jackets, sweaters, OCBDs, Weejuns and bucks. White socks worn for athletics, also worn with Weejuns.
We were taught how to dress by the upperclassmen. They had a fixed understanding of what they thought was good taste and imposed it on the freshmen.
There was almost no change of “fashion.” True, Esquire had a back-to-campus issue each year, but most were variations of old standards. As students became more affluent, suits, top coats, hats, and good shoes became a part of the scene. However, not much change from year to year.
The retailers were the clothing stores directly across the street from the campus. Virtually the same in Berkeley, Columbus or Hanover. Campus wear was pretty standard throughout the US. The local campus store was much like a trip to the PX in the service. Wherever you went, you could count on the standard uniform.
Finally, many of us figured out what worked and have not changed much in the ensuing years. What worked was “who you were.” We became immune to changing fashions. I missed the double knit, wide tie, wildly colored shirts, leisure suits, etc.
Ivy was appropriate at age 19, and to many of us, looks just as appropriate today. Striving not to make a statement, but striving to achieve understated elegance, so as to be able to concentrate on more significant things.
Once we left the campus, many of us ended up in the financial district in NYC. Brooks Brothers or J. Press served exactly the same purpose as the friendly clothing store across the street from the campus. Virtually everything there worked. The employees understood us, and those two stalwart stores served us well in our postgraduate days. And there were no charge accounts: We bought what we needed, and in the fullness of time a bill showed up. — BILL STEPHENSON