The Graduates: Ivy Style Readers Remember Their College Days

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.

* * *

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

20 Comments on "The Graduates: Ivy Style Readers Remember Their College Days"

  1. I’ll have to go back and re-read these… but this is great stuff… Thanks for fueling the fire of good memories.

  2. Great post. Love hearing these old stories….you should gather them all, add some photos and publish it as a book…

  3. This is excellent. If anything, it shows how similar the college experience was around the country in the 1960s.

    I grew up in Oxford in the 1980s, and there was a men’s shop called Alexander’s that carried Polo shirts and Alden shoes and became the local preppy outfitter for men. Ivy style basically lived on in the South a lot longer than anywhere else, with a few tweaks (pants had to be pleated, big butterfly bowties, lots of pastels.)

  4. May have said this before, but I started UNC in 1968, the start of the “hippie” years, and in that one year 68-69 almost all of the campus went from khakis to bell bottom jeans, polos to…well, almost anything, Weejuns to boots. It was RAPID. I think the sororities were the last holdouts to the old style, with isolated other pockets here and there.

  5. What is most striking to me about all of these wonderful stories is how much they describe clothes, such as chinos with broadcloth shirts, and madras and flannel shirts, that would not look dated today, unlike the core clothes worn from the late 60’s through the 70’s. I believe the best clothes are flattering, sturdy and not fussy, appropriate when new as well as old, and, as so well highlighted here, timeless. It is a shame how much time it takes these days to find good clothes, but I like the classic style because I actually don’t want to think much about clothes once I have them.

  6. I wonder why there is nothing about the recent black ivy shooting with the brooklyn circus http://thebkcircus.com/bkc/ andstreet etiquette
    you should check the video is powerfull and you ll love the styles!
    video available here
    http://thebkcircus.com/bkc/the-bkc-streetetiquette-black-ivy/

  7. Dwayne, there’s a link in the Ephemera column.

  8. So very strange to see that picture. Psi Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity in Madison, Wisconsin where I lived for three years. Did we really look like that?

  9. Great stories.

    I went to college on the West Coast during the New Wave 80s, yet there were those people on campus, often in a Greek-letter organization, who dressed “preppily” (i.e., Ivy, but no one called it that at the time). Now that I think about it, the kids at the most affluent high school in my home town (also on the West Coast) tended to dress straight out of The Official Preppy Handbook. I still remember my first girlfriend’s Shetland sweaters, Oxford shirts, Weejuns, and deck shoes (she went to that high school, not mine). Then again, she was the daughter of Cornell grads….

  10. really enjoyed these stories. that picture is too much.

  11. KEITH,HOWARD LIKED SIGMA CHI TOO. HAWG

  12. The first posting, about the salvaged Top Siders really struck a chord with me. I grew up impoverished in the ghettos of the Long Beach/Compton areas. I was fortunate to attend college at UC, San Diego. Many of my classmates had come from wealthier cities; and I remember that when I would go down to the laundry room to wash my clothes, I would invariably find a pair of pants or shoes or a jacket in perfect shape that had been cast-off. With a mix of glee at my good fortune at finding them, and shame at my poor fortune of having to become a scavenger, I took those discarded pieces. Those cast-off clothes became the basis for my burgeoning style.

    I managed to graduate college, finish law school and now I am doing well enough for myself. But every now and then I take a peak in my closet and remember how my style first evolved.

  13. Will Gubin captured the essence of Cornell at the time. I am class of ’62.
    I fondly remember John Lewton’s shop and John himself, a heavyset
    good-looking guy with a florid complexion probably in his fifties with a
    patrician air. And the drinking…Beer was actually sold in the student
    union. As a NewYorker, who had legal access to alcohol at 18, “getting
    served” was a big deal at 16. By the time I got to college it was routine.
    Not so for my classmates from other states where the legal age was 21.
    They often went wild which often led to unplanned departures because
    of grades. I do not know whether this is unique to Cornell or Ithaca but
    bars such as “Johnnie’s Big Red” sold cocktails by the pitcher. I also think
    that the “ratio”: three males for every female at the time and the long
    hard winters contributed to the excessive drinking.

  14. What I find most striking and perhaps most “self-fulfilling,” is Mr. Golden’s statement…”What I find striking about all this is its simplicity, much of which has been lost over the years…”

    For a second, set aside Ivy, trad, preppy, etc., and I think you get a real feel for how times have evolved…and not necessarily for the better. Don’t get me wrong, we all benefit– clearly as I read and post here serves as testament– but more and more I’ve felt there may have been some benefit to a society that “got by with” versus one that can merely head to “Amazon to satisfy.” Seems like every need today can be met, like the specialized kitchen gadget this serves a single purpose….which may only be needed once or twice a year.

    The tradeoff seems to be that unique sense of style, mostly derived from making do, and creativity in meeting a specific need that one has at a specific moment.

  15. Houghton M | March 23, 2017 at 1:28 am |

    Two mentions of broadcloth shirts above. There goes the myth that all we wore were Oxford cloth shirts.
    Some of us still prefer broadcloth.

  16. Starched and cuffed Duck Heads. Oxford shirts- mostly university stripes. Canvas Sperrys-blue. Aquascutum raincoat-babe magnet-handy for liberating two liter bottles of wine coolers for the parties(it was the ’80’s so the statute of limitation is up) Kent Kings, Craven A and Dunhill Superior Mild cigarettes-there were overflowing ashtrays all over the library. Wayfarers with Bausch and Lomb lenses with no logo. Take me to the River by the Talking Heads on the radio. Bonfires and great looking girls on the north end of Virginia Beach. The Quality Shop, Frank Thomas, Alexander Beegle, Beecroft and Bull was where the well heeled fellows shopped for clothes. Thrift shops near the oceanfront offered me Gitman Brothers, Brooks Brothers, et al. I seem to recall attending a few classes as well.

    Will

  17. Charlottesville | March 23, 2017 at 1:49 pm |

    Very nice reflections. Sacksuit — You and I seem to have some overlap in remembering our own Ivy-ish heydays, if not “The” Ivy heyday. Probably a Virginia thing, but starched and cuffed Duck Heads were big out here as well. I have always had a problem with logos, and used to razorblade off the yellow label on the back. I still wear Wayfarers, without lens logos, but these days they are prescription. Beecroft & Bull is still around too, but not especially trad today, and a Gitman shirt runs $170.

  18. J. Bartlett | March 23, 2017 at 4:28 pm |

    We called them khakis, not chinos, and they were khaki color, certainly not any other color.

  19. @Charlottesville

    In the last twenty years, the only things I bought at Beecroft and Bull are ribbon watchbands, a Trafalgar belt and about ten years ago, a Birdwell Beach Britches bathing suit. The place is a shell of what it once was. They still have Bay Rhum I think.

    Will

  20. Sacksuit, I inherited an old navy Aquascutum raincoat from my grandfather glad to know that such an item was once a babe magnet.

    Also, I thought that broadcloth was a dress shirt fabric and still acceptable.

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