The Rise And Fall Of The Ivy League Look

On October 1st something began bubbling in my subconscious. Ivy Style had reached its four-year anniversary, the MFIT exhibit had recently opened, and the accompanying book had been published.

I found that after four years of trying to look at this topic as objectively as possible, and talking to the men who were actually there during the heyday — Richard Press, Bruce Boyer, Charlie Davidson and Paul Winston — something unanswered remained.

I started thinking about Brooks Brothers and the college campus, which was chosen as the focal point of the MFIT exhibit, wondering about the connection between these two things. I soon found myself asking the most fundamental question: How do we explain how the Ivy League Look came about?

It’s easy to make generalizations, but hard to precisely articulate.

I next began thinking about the interplay between clothiers and their customers, focusing on the why as much as the what. Buttondown oxfords, plain-front trousers with cuffs, rep and knit ties — these are the whats, but what are the whys behind them? The answer couldn’t be simply “because that’s what Brooks Brothers sold,” when Brooks Brothers sold so much more that never became part of the Ivy League Look.

I telephoned Charlie Davidson and told him I was working on a piece though wasn’t sure where it was going. I started by asking him, “What portion of the Ivy League Look comes from Brooks Brothers, and what comes from the culture of young men on campus?” When Charlie, who’s been selling these clothes since 1948, responded, “That’s a good question,” I knew I was on to something.

The following essay is the result of my investigation. What began as an attempt to articulate Ivy’s origins grew into an overview about the whole broad arc of Ivy, how it codified and how it shattered into the complex “post-Ivy” era we’re in today.

In it I will argue:

• The Ivy League Look was as much about styling as the ingredients. And while the ingredients were relatively fixed and admitted new items slowly, the styling came from the campus and was always in a state of flux.

• It was the casual nature of the college environment and the importance of dressing down that led men in the 1930s to prefer rougher, casual fabrics — oxford cloth shirts, brushed Shetland sweaters, Harris Tweed jackets, flannel trousers — that has been the standard of good, understated taste for men on the East Coast ever since.

• The Ivy League Look included clothes for every occasion, from resort to formalwear, from city to country. However, the country element influenced the city far more than the other way around, and remains the most lasting influence of the genre.

• The Ivy League Look can be said to go through the stages of birth, maturity and decline, corresponding to specific points on a timeline.

• Once the look in its original, purist form ceased to be fashionable on campus, it ceased to be fashionable in society as a whole.

This lengthy piece will be presented throughout the week in five parts. New installments will be added at the bottom to preserve one cohesive post and comment thread.  — CC

• • •

The Rise And Fall Of The Ivy League Look
By Christian Chensvold

Part One: The Rise

In the late 1930s a new shoe became an instant hit on the Yale campus. First seen in Palm Beach in 1936, the “Weejun” penny loafer by GH Bass & Co. was immediately embraced by the students of New Haven. By 1940, the shoe store Barrie Limited was advertising its Horween penny loafers in the Yale Daily News, saying the shoe had “taken the university by storm.”

From the moment it appeared the penny loafer was an “instant classic” for wearers of the Ivy League Look, according to Charlie Davidson, 86-year-old proprietor of The Andover Shop in Harvard Square. Yet how do we explain the shoe’s overnight success, when so many shoes had come before and so many more would come later? For a genre of clothing that was slow to develop, that is characterized by its conservatism and supposed resistance to fads, this love-at-first-sight seems odd. Stranger still, the penny loafer was no temporary trend like the raccoon coat of the ’20s or the buckle-back chino of the mid-‘50s. Its place in the genre of clothing called the Ivy League Look remains to this day. It literally was an instant classic, embraced wholeheartedly and never relinquished.

Those Yalies who first donned the penny loafer in the late ’30s must have seen something special in the shoe, an inherent attractiveness and a harmony with the clothes they got next door at J. Press. “Casual slip-on shoes of the moccasin type are by far the most popular with students,” syndicated fashion columnist Bert Bacharach would later write in his 1955 book “Right Dress,” suggesting it was the penny loafer’s casualness of design — moccasin-style with no brogueing, laces, tassels, wings, nor anything else associated with a business shoe — that accounted for its instant appeal.

One thing’s for certain, however: No manufacturer could have anticipated or dictated the Weejun’s instant success. Something more mysterious and elusive was at work, the process of taste-driven natural selection by the closed culture of Eastern Establishment students of the 1930s. Young men and their peers, not clothing brands or magazine editors, decided what was fashionable.

Though it later achieved and lost mainstream popularity, the penny loafer remains available today at a wide range of prices, supported by both lifelong wearers and a steady supply of new converts. Typically paired with argyle socks in the 1930s, penny loafers were worn with white athletic socks in the ’50s and then sockless in the ’60s, the same item worn differently with each new decade.

The Ivy League Look is not simply a tailoring style accompanied by a specific group of furnishings and accessories. It consists of much more than just sack jackets, buttondown oxfords and penny loafers. It also consists of the taste-driven ethos that led some items to be accepted into the genre while others were rejected, and of a certain way of wearing the items that developed in the various upper-middle-class communities of the East Coast in the first half of the 20th century, chief among them the college campus.

“People made things a classic, not manufacturers,” says Davidson. “It’s people who made some things accepted and not others, otherwise how do we account for all the things that failed?”

Brooks Brothers And Ivy’s Big Bang

The Ivy League Look did not appear suddenly, but developed over time. “It was 30 or 40 years in the making without anyone knowing it would one day be called the Ivy League Look,” says Davidson. Although the clothing genre codified gradually, and while the lines that form the genre’s perimeters are debatable, there was something akin to an Ivy Big Bang, an instigating act that gave birth to this style of dress. And that is the introduction in 1895 of Brooks Brothers’ No. 1 Sack Suit.

Just as the jacket is the foundation of tailored clothing, this single item — natural shoulders, three button (after 1918, according to the Brooks Brothers book “Generations of Style,” by John William Cooke), dartless, with no waist suppression and paired with straight unpleated trousers — formed the blueprint for what would eventually become the Ivy League Look. And throughout the first half of the 20th century Brooks Brothers would continue to introduce a host of English items  — the buttondown oxford, Shetland sweater, polo coat, rep ties, argyle socks — that became staples of the Ivy genre.

But Brooks Brothers also offered countless other items — yachting and hunting regalia, double-breasted tapered suits, and other overtly English items less easily Americanized — that were never embraced into the Ivy League Look. Why? For the simple reason that they would have been out of place in a campus environment, the fertile ground where the style would codify and flourish, and where, as we’ll see, an air of casualness and nonchalance was paramount.

So while Brooks Brothers offered everything within the genre, it also offered much more. The Ivy League Look is narrower than the Brooks Brothers catalog (catalog here referring to what the company offered from roughly 1920-1970), and for this reason one could argue that Brooks Brothers’ smaller rival J. Press was a purer Ivy retailer, in that it offered a broader selection (such as in campus-oriented tweeds) within narrower perimeters. Brooks Brothers was Ivy and much more; J. Press was strictly Ivy.

England provided Brooks Brothers with many overcoats to sell to the gentlemen of America. But starting around 1910, one came to dominate the Ivy League Look above all others: the polo coat, another example of taste-driven natural selection at work.

According to Esquire’s Encyclopedia of Men’s Fashion, which draws heavily on historic articles from Apparel Arts and Men’s Wear, camel hair coats were noted for their dominance at the Yale-Princeton football game of 1929, having usurped the powerful but short-lived raccoon coat trend. Cooke writes, “This sporty camel hair garment… becomes the rage on college campuses during the Roaring Twenties.” Decades later, Bacharach would note, “Camel’s-hair polo coats are still the favorite type of outer wear among college men.”

The collegiate popularity of the raccoon coat in the 1920s, which fashion historian Deirdre Clemente has traced to Princeton, is a perfect example of a huge trend that was nevertheless selected for extinction, while the polo coat survived, indeed still available from retailers such as Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Ralph Lauren and O’Connell’s. The coat’s longevity is surely due to its sporting associations and easy ability to style informally — all things that would resonate with young men. It certainly looks more at home on the sidelines of a football field, as coach Vince Lombardi demonstrated throughout his career, and as dramatized in the movie “School Ties,” where polo coats are worn at a tailgate party for a prep school football game. Somehow a Chesterfield just wouldn’t look the same.

With the pink oxford, which rose to prominence in 1955 (the “year for pink” according to LIFE Magazine), Brooks Brothers once again introduced a new item into the Ivy genre. But it could never have anticipated the pairing a pink oxford with evening dress, as Chipp’s Paul Winston has recounted wearing, and which is, for lack of a better expression, a very Ivy thing to do (Charlie Davidson also recalls wearing a buttondown oxford with black tie, albeit a white one, which illustrates Chipp’s penchant for the “go-to-hell” look). Winston’s gesture serves as a perfect example of the styling side of things: Brooks provided the item, and the people found innovative ways of wearing it.

In summary, we can say that Brooks Brothers was the primary provider of the Ivy League Look’s raw ingredients, while the culture — meaning the world of young men competing and conforming sartorially in their WASPy East Coast environment — provided the styling. With each new decade Brooks Brothers showed what to wear, while young men, who drive fashion, showed how the items could be worn. As a wholly arbitrary fractional breakdown, we could say that 2/3 of the Ivy League Look was raw materials, which were relatively fixed and admitted new items slowly, while 1/3 was styling, which was in a constant state of flux.

Town And Country, Or Wall Street And Campus

As the Ivy League Look developed, references to Brooks Brothers increasingly focused on two specific realms: the college campus and the world of finance. In his essay on Brooks Brothers collected in the book “Elegance,” G. Bruce Boyer succinctly notes, “The Brooks Brothers suit seemed to peg a man somewhere between Wall Street and his country house, by way of the Ivy League.”

In a 1932 article, the New Yorker mentions the same two worlds: “Of course, Brooks still have their tables piled with the good old soft-roll, high-lapel sack coats that have been the accepted college and bond-salesman uniform for so long.” Presumably those bond salesmen, like Yalie Nick Carraway in “The Great Gatsby,” picked up the taste for Ivy while at school. “The novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example,” writes Cooke, “are peopled with earnest heroes who hailed from the Midwest but who came to play in the racy world of New York via Princeton or Yale.”

This 1929 ad for Wallach Brothers also mentions the connection between the world of finance and the style-setting universities of Princeton and Yale:

As young men graduated from school to take their place in the world, including the financial industry, their clothing would change from country to town. Writing on Ivy League students in her 1939 book “Men Can Take It,” Elizabeth Hawes notes:

The conventional costume for all the right people is a pair of flannel or tweed trousers and a coat that does not match. When I asked them whether they were going to dress in their quite comfortable tweed for work when they left college, they responded firmly “no.” They were absolutely clear on that issue. They said they were training themselves — or being trained — to take their places in the world, and the required costume would be a neat business suit.

Although it was based in New York, Brooks Brothers specifically merchandised for the college man and sold to him via an army of traveling salesmen who frequented the prep schools and colleges of the Northeast. An 1898 Princeton football program includes an advertisement from Brooks Brothers, with copy reading, “Our stock for the present season continues, we believe, to show improvement, and will be found complete in all the little particulars that go to make the well-dressed man.”

This Brooks Brothers ad appeared in the University of Pennsylvania’s 1926 yearbook:

Brooks Brothers continuously revamped its youth-targeted line throughout the 20th century, adding its University Shop in 1957 and replacing that with Brooksgate in 1974. It’s current Flatiron shop is merely the latest incarnation of a century-long catering to young men as well as their fathers.

The Ivy League Look was for both town and country, Wall Street and campus, but, as we’ll learn, the campus element proved to be the more lasting influence of the two.

The New Guard

Although Charlie Davidson is the oldest-living, still-working purveyor of the genre, he doesn’t consider himself old guard. The Ivy League Look was in full bloom in the 1930s, he notes, well before his founding of The Andover Shop in 1948. At the time Davidson considered himself to be offering clothing within an already established genre, yet targeted at the local geography. This sentiment is echoed by Richard Press, who says that J. Press’ locations outside of New York were meant to provide Brooks Brothers items in areas with an Ivy League campus (Cambridge, Princeton), but no Brooks; only Columbia had that.

As George Frazier put it in 1960, “Around the turn of the century, Arthur Rosenberg, then the foremost tailor in New Haven, began to exploit this [Brooks Brothers] style among Yale undergraduates, and, not long afterwards, J. Press, also of New Haven, fell into line.”

These smaller retailers outside New York took the Brooks Brothers template and focused more on the country side of the genre rather than town. And yet all these other players who used the ingredients that Brooks Brothers had provided felt that taste and small differences distinguished them. “We all thought our taste was better than our competitors,” says Davidson. “Norman Hilton, for example, had exquisite taste, and when you get to the commercialization of the Ivy League Look, he’s at the forefront.”

The most important and lasting clothier providing Brooks-based style for college towns was J. Press. Press’ difference from Brooks is summed up by Episcopal Archbishop of New York Paul Moore, Jr., who writes that Jacobi Press’ “tweeds were a little softer and flashier than Brooks Brothers tweed, his ties a little brighter.”

Richard Press, former J. Press president and grandson of the founder, has also stressed Press’ emphasis on country rather than town. “I think that one of the major differences between Brooks Brothers and J. Press,” he states in his 2011 Q&A with, “beyond the obvious size, was that we were known as a campus store, whereas Brooks Brothers was much more urban.” Indeed, the merchandise for J. Press’ New York store was less purist than its campus shops. “If you look at our brochures,” says Press, “you’ll see that the two-button darted suit was sold only in the New York store, and it probably represented 40 percent of our suit sales there.”

While Brooks Brothers, originator of the Ivy League Look’s ingredients, was based in New York, New Haven is the top candidate for Ivy’s spiritual home. In a 2004 article entitled “The Yale Man,” the New York Times writes, “‘Natural shoulder’ was what men’s magazines called the Yale look, and for decades the clothing stores near campus at Elm and York Streets in New Haven were the natural-shoulder capital of the universe.”

Style setting also thrived in New Haven. “Students and their professors enunciated a new style,” says Press, “with their dirty white bucks, horn rimmed glasses, Owl Shop pipes, raccoon coats, J. Press snap brim hats, stuff that was too informal and sporty for Brooks. Big difference between city and campus wear and Brooks pushed the former, the rest the latter.”

Finally there was the issue of price: “Perhaps most important issue for the proliferation of Ivy,” says Press, “Brooks was too expensive. J. Press and competitors adapted to the more restricted allowances of the campus population and worked below Brooks price points.”

Although these new-guard clothiers used the template created by Brooks Brothers, they did so in the cultural environment where the Ivy League Look’s styling was at its most fertile: the campus. And because these clothiers and the student body were part of the same community, they had a close, symbiotic relationship. Students needed the clothiers to get what they wanted (and to want things they’d never seen before), and clothiers needed to find out what was popular. As a result, Ivy clothiers never left their eye off college men. In 1962, Sports Illustrated notes, “Representatives of the New Haven tailoring establishments—J. Press, Fenn-Feinstein, Chipp, Arthur Rosenberg, et al.—entrain for Cambridge to render biennial obeisance and to see what the young gentlemen are wearing.”

Earlier, in a 1938 article entitled “Princeton Boys Dress In Uniform,” LIFE Magazine writes, “The fact of the matter is that tailors and haberdashers watch Princeton students closely [and] admit they are style leaders.”

Clothiers also made sure college men knew they cared deeply about student tastes. This ad by Irv Lewis, a clothier serving Cornell, explicitly elucidates the relationship:

“The key element of successful campus shops,” Richard Press summarizes, “was their ability to establish personal relationships with students, faculty, coaches and administration. Brooks Brothers in New York and Boston was too diffused, and while each top customer had his clothing man, it changed from floor to floor, from furnishings to shoe department.”

College Students, “The Best-Dressed Men To Be Found Anywhere”

Bert Bachrach states that before World War II many clothing experts considered college students “the best-dressed men to be found anywhere.” The following passage, from a 1933 Apparel Arts article entitled “Clothes For College,” is a prewar reference to this very thing:

Today the college man is looked upon as a leader of fashion, a man who dresses inconspicuously and correctly for all occasions, thanks to the leadership of smart Eastern Universities, which have a metropolitan feeling, or at least are near enough to metropolitan areas for the students to feel all the influences of sophisticated living. We can thank the present-day “collegiate” element for the return to popularity of the tail coat, for the white buckskin shoes, for the gray flannel slacks with odd jackets, and for various other smart fashions which are typical of university men today.

For on-campus wear there is a general acceptance of country clothes in the typical British manner, such as odd slacks and tweed jackets, country brogues and felt hats. This is the way the undergraduates at smart Universities and prep schools dress today during classes.

Another Apparel Arts article from the same year shows that the Eastern Establishment virtues of being dressed down from a formal perspective and dressed up from a casual one most likely have their origin in the collegiate approach to dress that reached fruition in the ’30s. The article includes the quote “a perfect example of the studied negligence that is taken as the standard of good taste among college men,” and goes on to say:

The American University man is justly famed for representing, as a class, a high standard of excellence in personal appearance. Much of the secret of this distinction lies in the fact that the first thing the freshman learns is the importance of never looking “dressed up,” while always looking well dressed. Recently the tendency toward an effect of “careful carelessness” has been emphasized through the trend toward rough, almost shaggy, fabrics for town and campus wear.

The Ivy League Look’s emphasis on rough, hearty fabrics comes from students’ penchant for rustic, country clothes over more starched and pressed town clothes:

There’s a trend toward rougher suitings on all the eastern campuses. Early last fall fashion observers reported the growing popularity, particularly at Princeton and Yale, of rough tweedy type fabrics for all general knock-about campus wear — in fact for all except strictly town purposes. Worn smartly with either flannel, gabardine or other type of slacks, these rough fabrics of the Shetland or Harris variety showed a considerably increased acceptance on the part of the fashion leaders during the Palm Beach season.

Writing in the Saturday Evening Post in the 1930s, Arthur van Vlissingen states that trends aren’t dictated by manufacturers, who couldn’t afford to gamble on a fad that may fail, and that men only embraced a new item once they saw other men wearing it. These style setters were often found “at the places where the country’s leisured and socially prominent loaf, such places as Palm Beach and Newport” (coincidentally Brooks Brothers’ first two locations outside New York), and the college campus. “The fashions in clothing worn by our male population, between the ages of 14 and perhaps 25,” he writes, “usually get their start at Princeton.”

Vlissingen proceeds with the following sartorial breakdown of the Ivy League’s Big Three:

Harvard is a very large university, in a great city which influences the students’ styles heavily. [But] it holds to a tradition of careless dress—well-made clothes seldom dry-cleaned and never pressed. Yale is more compact and more finicky, but New Haven is also a large city. Princeton is in a smaller town, off by itself where it can incubate a style effectively. Practically every Princeton student is well dressed, whereas only one-third or so of the Yale men can qualify by our standards.

As these passages illustrate, if college men of the 1930s — the fortunate few able to afford school in the midst of the Great Depression — were among the nation’s best dressed, they achieved this status despite an insistence on never looking too dressed up by the standards of their time. Elements of the Ivy League Look, such as the penny loafer and polo coat, were embraced into the genre because compared to other footwear and outerwear options they were relatively casual. This certainly holds true for the buttondown shirt, which Bachrach calls the shirt of choice for college men because “the construction of the shirt, which allows the collar to roll rather than lie flat, provides the casual touch which young men like.”

In regards to tailored clothing, Bachrach suggests that the prized Ivy color of charcoal was embraced for its ability to take a beating without looking dirty:

The most important style set by the colleges in recent years has been suits and slacks in charcoal, a gray so dark in tone that it approaches black. This color has become almost a uniform at Harvard, Yale and Princeton. It is practical for a suit since it rarely shows dirt or signs of wear.

If men at Ivy’s Big Three were style setters for the whole nation, that can hardly be said of Columbia, the most interesting sartorial case among the Ancient Eight. For despite its location in the city of Brooks Brothers, Columbia is seldom if ever mentioned for style reasons. As a commuter school, Columbia’s student body differed from the other schools, but one can also conclude that a certain amount of distance from the metropolis was necessary for the styling side of the Ivy League Look to flourish.

This passage from Tobias Wolff’s novel “Old School,” set at a prep school in 1960, serves as a dramatization of how Columbia was viewed compared to the other Ivies:

I wanted out. That was partly why I’d chosen Columbia. I liked how the city seethed up against the school, mocking its theoretical seclusion with hustle and noise, the din of people going and getting and making. Things that mattered at Princeton or Yale couldn’t possibly withstand this battering of raw, unironic life. You didn’t go to eating clubs at Columbia, you went to jazz clubs. You had a girlfriend — no, a lover — with psychiatric problems, and friends with foreign accents. You read newspapers on the subway and looked at tourists with a cool, anthropological gaze. You said cross town express. You said the Village. You ate weird food. No other boy in my class would be going there.

In contrast, “Princeton was especially isolated and characterized by a particularly fervent and insular culture,” writes Patricia Mears in “Ivy Style: Radical Conformists.” Princeton also had the most affluent student body, with 80 percent coming from private schools during the inter-war years. “Although it lay part way between New York City and Philadelphia, Princeton was more geographically isolated than its rivals Harvard and Yale. Its campus was situated in a rural environment, surrounded by acres of bucolic farmland. As such, Princeton relied more intensely on its internally crafted society. The blend of wealth, manners, and aristocratic social construct proved to be the breeding ground for the creation of the elegant Ivy style.”

The Way You Wear Your Hat

The popular term employed during its heyday, the Ivy League Look, is interesting for its inclusion of the word “look.” While there are references to “an Ivy League suit” from the period, the popular term was “look,” not “tailoring” or “clothes.” This broader term suggests that there is more than just clothing involved, but also a proper haircut, and if not a particular social context, then at least all-American good looks. In the 1964 film “Ride The Wild Surf,” Barbara Eden’s character refers to her love interest as “Mr. Ivy League” for his handsomeness, poise and “scrubbed” appearance as much as his conservative clothing.

“Look” is also broad enough to encapsulate how the items are worn, since that is as much a part of dressing in a certain style as the components themselves. This illustration from a 1926 Vanity Fair article on collegiate dress includes a caption stating that Harvard men had their own way of pushing their hats “into a shape never conceived by hat manufacturers”:

Hawes includes several passages attesting to Harvard men’s predilection for an affected Old Money look:

At Harvard they have something called “white-shoe boys.” I gather it is okay to be one if you feel that way. It appears to be the Harvard idea carried to its furthest extreme. These are the sloppiest and worst-dressed of all the Harvard men, I was told. They wear dirty black and white shoes which turn up at the toes, black or white socks and gray flannels, very unpressed, tweed coats — and collars and ties, of course… The thing that distinguishes a “white-shoe boy” is his shoes — and the fact he has the guts to wear them and still feel okay socially.

In 1869 Harvard challenged Oxford to the first of its boat races, and it’s possible that the English influence on Harvard goes back to these sporting competitions. Hawes continues:

The coat should have leather pads on the elbows. These are often put right onto new coats. This is because the country gentlemen of old England have a habit of preserving their tweed coats for generations, mending them from time to time with leather pads and what not. The Harvard boys, not to be outdone by old English exponents of the finer things in life, are going them one better.

After noting that Yale students are much better dressed, Hawes adds, “I think the superiority complex of Harvard probably led them originally into the oldest clothes as a form of snobbishness.” Nevertheless, “I might add that the [men’s wear] trade does not consider Harvard as any source of style ideas at all.”

Russell Lynes’ 1953 Esquire article on the “shoe hierarchy” at Yale further emphasizes how much of the Ivy League Look came down to the elusive qualities of attitude:

… the social smoothies — butterflies in button-down collars — short haired, unbespectacled and with unextinguishable but slightly bored smiles. They wear the current college uniform, Ivy League version, but they wear it with an air of studied casualness, as though they would be at home and socially acceptable anywhere in whatever they had on. The uniform, of course, is the familiar khaki pants, white bucks, or possibly dirty white sneakers, a slightly frayed blue or white button-down Oxford shirt, no necktie, and a grey sweater which the wearer expects you to assume was knitted for him by a girl. On occasions that demand a gesture of formality, dark grey flannels without pleats supplant the khaki pants, a necktie (either regimental stripes or club tie) is worn, and so is a tweed jacket with vent, pocket flaps, ticket pocket, and three buttons. For bucks substitute well-shined cordovan in season. For city wear the uniform is a dark grey flannel suit; the haberdashery stays much the same.

Charlie Davidson also stresses what he calls the “attitude” long associated with wearers of the Ivy League Look, which he describes as a nonchalant approach to dress combined with poise and an air of self-assurance. Whether this poise is real or feigned is up for debate. “The Ivy League Look was a way of life more than anyone has been able to put a finger on,” he says. “In the beginning it was a very closed kind of thing, and so much of it was the attitude of not caring too much and being very assured of their station — and of having the right clothes.”

From the codifying period of the ’30s to the heyday of the ’50s and ’60s, the styling component of the Ivy League Look was constantly changing with each new group of classmen. For a young man to be considered well dressed by his peers in the ’30s or cool in the ’50s, it wasn’t enough just to choose the right items. They also had to be worn in the way that was then fashionable. And what was fashionable was always shifting, and emanated from campus culture.

For example, on page 59 of the 1965 book “Take Ivy,” a student strolls the Princeton campus wearing olive-colored shorts, penny loafers with no socks, and a buttondown oxford with the sleeves down, all topped by the neat haircut that epitomizes the era. He has used the ingredients the genre but put them together in a way that expresses both his personal whims as well as the style of his era, and nothing in the image suggests that a retailer, manufacturer or fashion editor told him to put together his outfit this way.

For a cinematic dramatization, the 1956 film “Tea And Sympathy” shows students styled uniformly in a combination of buckle-back khakis, white canvas sneakers, blue oxford shirts and gray crewneck sweatshirts. For that group of students in that particular location at that particular time, the juxtaposition of a dress shirt with a piece of athletic wear was evidently a style imperative.

This leads us to yet one more inexplicable preference in the Ivy clothing genre worth mentioning: The crewneck sweater. While V-necks and cardigans were always offered by Ivy clothiers, somehow the crewneck became the standard cut, even when worn with a necktie, as the Yale student below demonstrates:

It was something the youngsters picked up early; this outfit is also notable for how the components are put together as much as the items themselves:

It should come as no surprise that the preference for the crewneck can also be traced to style setting at Princeton, where a freshman orientation guide, for reasons unexplained, admonished the younglings not to wear V-neck sweaters. Much later, in his 1983 book “Class,” Paul Fussell would wryly explain why the crewneck is upper middle and the V-neck merely middle.

The Ivy League Look should not be thought of as merely a collection of ingredients. Equally important are the cultural forces that led certain ingredients to be embraced into the genre over others, even though this importance is difficult to trace, clouded as it is in the mists of fashion. Then there’s the element of how the items were worn, an equally vital element of the Ivy League Look. All the elements are a reflection of the tastes and cultural values of the Eastern Establishment, and the tastes and values, specifically, of college men during the interwar years.

The Legacy Of The Heyday

The 1959 movie “The Young Philadelphians” provides a helpful dramatic illustration of one character’s transition from country to town, or from campus to law firm, while still dressing within the confines of the Ivy League Look.

In campus scenes the protagonist, played by Paul Newman, wears a boxy corduroy sack jacket, slim flood-length khakis, white socks and penny loafers. Once he becomes a practicing lawyer, he dons a conservative gray suit, rep tie, pinned-collar shirt and lace-up shoes. While both jackets are undarted and natural shoulder, and all his clothes could have come from the same place, stylistically — in the simplest terms — he’s gone from the campus side of the genre to the Brooks Brothers side, or more from the styling-driven side to the product-driven side, or from an emphasis on how to wear the items correctly to how to select them correctly.

The book “Generations Of Style” includes a Brooks Brothers timeline, and while the listing for 1961 is oversimplified, it nevertheless makes the point that the campus-oriented side of the genre is the more lasting and influential: “A new style of casual, conservative dress defines the country: khakis, Shetland crewnecks, and button-down shirts set the tone… Campus style predominates, with the corporate ‘Man in the Gray Flannel Suit’ now being replaced by the more casual dress: penny loafers, Argyle socks, and tartan plaid sportcoats and shirts.”

Today, when a man passes you today on Madison Avenue and you notice how “Ivy/preppy/trad/whatever” he looks, he’s probably wearing loafers, flannels, a three-button sportcoat, buttondown oxford, and conservative necktie. You’re far more likely to see a man dressed this way than in the far more anachronistic business ensemble of worsted gray sack suit, white pinned club collar and longwings, and if you did, you’d be more likely to say “how IBM” or “how ‘Mad Men'” than “how Ivy League.”

The association of the Ivy League Look with the campus is so strong that even in the downfall year of 1967 an arch-sybarite like Hugh Hefner would remind his biographer of a dapper undergrad:

Black-haired, intense, slightly under six feet, he looks, in his often-photographed costume of white button-down shirt, orange cardigan sweater, slacks, loafers and pipe, like a college senior on his way to class.

Men who wear this genre of clothing today — by whatever name they call it — owe an equal debt to the illustrious firm of Brooks Brothers for introducing so many of the raw elements, and to the countless anonymous college men from the first half of the 20th century who codified the components of the Ivy League Look for future generations.

Part Two: The Fall

From Young Men’s Clothes To Old Men’s

In “Decline of the West,” Oswald Spengler argues that all cultural expressions go through the organic stages of birth, maturity and decadence. The Ivy League Look is certainly an expression of culture, and for it I’d suggest a birth of 1895, a golden age in the 1930s when the style was limited and aristocratic, a democratic silver age during the ‘50s and ‘60s when it was popular, and an end to the silver age in 1967, followed by a gradual decline into our present postmodern era.

This decline was expressed in a variety of ways, and the legacy of the genre is characterized by a range of conflicting manifestations, from the irrelevance of contemporary J. Press and the sack suit, to the generic “timelessness” of blazers, khakis, buttondowns and striped ties available from retailers as mundane as Lands’ End, and to fashion industry pastiche exemplified by some of the more outré items by Thom Browne, Ralph Lauren Rugby, and various neo-prep brands.

If the Ivy League Look didn’t die, then certainly a kind of descent into decadence occurred, which is attested by the mere fact that Brooks Brothers, instigators of Ivy’s big bang with its No. 1 Sack Suit, no longer offers the very item that gave birth to the entire genre, but instead sells a fashion novelty version called the Cambridge.

Furthermore, Brooks Brothers and J. Press long ago changed owners and merchandising strategies and can no longer be counted on to reliably provide what were once genre-distinguishing traits such as natural shoulder and collar roll.

But the death of Ivy can’t be blamed entirely on manufacturers, who simply cater to the needs of the culture as expressed in the marketplace. The Ivy League Look was once a vibrant, dynamic style that was an expression of the values of the Eastern Establishment. Later it was good, smart, current taste for a larger portion of the population. If Ivy is no longer available today in its original form, it is because fashion, which reflects society, has changed. The inversion of values that took place during the cultural revolution of the late ’60s, a topic that has been explored exhaustively by cultural historians and which is too big to discuss here, created a new cultural engine that drove fashion from the bottom up rather than top down.

While in the ’50s and early ’60s many actors and pop singers wore the Ivy League Look as a smart and current style, this was no longer the case after the upheaval of the late ’60s. When pop singers did take up a version of the look, as Dexys Midnight Runners did in 1985, it was the preppier version of the look then current. It was also the temporary costume of entertainers who had radically different looks before and after. In the 1950s and ’60s, pop icons could wear white bucks, buttondowns, neckties and soft-shouldered jackets and come across as sharp and with it. But with contemporary music groups such as Vampire Weekend, or in the films of Wes Anderson, Ivy staples come across as irony.

A glance through “Take 8 Ivy,” the sequel to “Take Ivy,” shows Ivy League students of the 1970s wearing the same plebeian sneakers, jeans and t-shirts worn by every other young person in America.

In assigning an arbitrary date for the end of Ivy, I suggest the year 1967. The change that occurred that year — the year of the infamous “Summer of Love” — is summed up tersely and dramatically in the following passage from “The Final Club” by Geoffrey Wolff (Princeton, ’59). The year 1967 witnessed a sartorial dismantling that was complete by 1968, when a new era was in full flower-child bloom:

Lining the second-floor hall were group portraits of Ivy members, and Nathaniel paused to examine them. Till 1967 the club sections were photographed indoors, in the billiard room; dress was uniform — dark suits, white shirts, Ivy ties. In 1967 a white suit was added here, an open collar there. In 1968 the insolent, smirking group moved outside, and was tricked out in zippered paramilitary kit, paratroop boots, tie-dye shirts, shoulder-length locks, and not a necktie in view.

Although the broader culture was changing rapidly and the hippie movement was spreading, the new open admissions standards at elite universities were changing the student body. Style-setting schools such as Princeton and Yale were no longer populated predominantly by kids who had gone to prep school, where they were forced to wear a jacket and tie every day and maintain a neat haircut. Schools were also dropping their jacket-and-tie dining hall dress codes. It’s impossible to underestimate the pace of social change in the late ’60s; the Ivy League Look, in its original guise, was slated for extinction, and the name attached to it during its popular silver age would fall into almost immediate archaism.

But what’s most important here is that once the Ivy League Look ceased to be fashionable on campus, it ceased to be fashionable period. More specifically, one could argue that once guys at Princeton stopped wearing it, it was over. The campus had always been the stronghold of the look, the place where it flourished for six decades, and was necessary for the look’s broader cultural relevance. Smart young men from the middle class and above had wanted to dress this way for 50 years. Originally it was a small number; later it was larger. Now suddenly no young people wanted to dress this way.

Other symbolically interesting things also occurred in 1967. Brooks Brothers’ president left the company after serving 21 years, all throughout the Ivy heyday, and Ralph Lauren goes into business. These two events are like two sides of the same coin. The man who helmed Brooks Brothers throughout its glorious postwar heyday retires, while Ralph Lauren launches his career. It’s an eerie foreshadowing of the role reversal that would happen over the ensuing decades, during which so much of Lauren’s merchandise would be closer in spirit, style and quality to classic Brooks Brothers than Brooks Brothers’ contemporary merchandise.

Within a few years of 1967 the UPI was calling the look dead, as in this story from 1971:

The Ivy League look as it used to be called died in the recent fashion revolution and the slope-shouldered, three-button jacket is almost a thing of the past. The suits and sports jackets being worn are strictly for special occasions.

Once it was no longer fashionable, the Ivy League Look, to return to the big bang metaphor, experienced a kind of supernova that shattered it into parts, which varied depending on wearer and context.

J. Press and Brooks Brothers continued, yet their clientele would gradually grow older as the look ossified from being young and current to being old and stodgy. J. Press stayed truer to the look, but as society changed rapidly around it, J. Press experienced a complete inversion in its relation to the broader culture, becoming what most would consider a provider of old men’s clothes, when from its founding in 1902 until 1967 it catered largely to young men.

The Twilight Of Ivy And Dawn Of Preppy

Some young people did continue to shop at the same clothiers and wear much of the genre’s items, but fashion was changing rapidly and the new version of youthful, Eastern Establishment style came to be known as preppy. The new generation had a much more casual approach to dress, reflecting changes in society as a whole. This passage from Alison Lurie’s “The Language Of Clothes” from 1979 shows how many of the Ivy League Look’s sportier items were being worn with a new attitude:

What distinguished the Preppie Look from the country-club styles of the 1950s was the range of its wearers. These casual garments were now being worn not only by adolescents in boarding schools and Ivy League colleges, but by people in their thirties and forties, many of whom would have considered such styles dreary rather than chic a few years earlier. Moreover, the Preppie Look was now visible in places and on occasions that in the 1950s would have demanded more formal clothing. Preppies of both sexes in madras check shirts and chino pants and Shetland sweaters could be seen eating lunch in elegant restaurants, in the offices of large corporations and at evening parties-as well as in class and on the tennis courts.

During the preppy ’70s, just as it had been previously, styling and the items themselves were equally important. Lurie notes that the preppy look was distinguished as much by its items as by their combinations, which included novel layering tricks such as jersey turtlenecks or polo shirts worn under oxford buttondowns, accented by a sweater draped around the neck.

As WASPs were gradually losing their stranglehold on power and influence, becoming shameful reminders of the old boys’ club elitism, their taste and lifestyle was beginning to be fetishized and marketed. In 1980 Lisa Birnbach released her detailed look into the culture of the preppy Northeastern upper-middle class, “The Official Preppy Handbook,” and the book so fascinated the nation it became a best-seller. At the same time the rise continued for Ralph Lauren, the doppelganger figure who can be seen as both saving the Ivy League Look from extinction by keeping alive the taste for it, albeit repackaged as fashion, and as commodifying totems of what were once expressions of culture. In “Taste: The Secret Meaning Of Things,” Stephen Bayley suggests that some kind of cultural line had been crossed following the fall of the Ivy League Look and the advent of postmodern, post-Ivy consumerism:

Ralph Lauren was after what Brooks Brothers once had, but packaged it more effectively so as to anticipate, appeal to and satisfy hitherto unrecognized longings among consumers. Interestingly, his critics (easily outnumbered by his happy customers) invoke arguments against him which echo the sumptuary laws of Renaissance Florence and England: “How does a working-class Jew from Mosholu Parkway dare pass off the tribal costumes of the Ivy League as if he owned them?”

Each fall season Ralph Lauren continues to pay tribute to the Ivy heyday with a few retro replicas. These typically tweed sportcoats come with such distinguishing Ivy details as natural shoulders, 3/2 rolls, patch pockets, swelled edges and lapped seams. However, they differ considerably from the kind of quotidian mufti once available at the Yale Co-op in that they have darted chests and carry a $1,300 price tag.

The other fragments that resulted from Ivy’s supernova are the category of vintage clothing anachronism, in which guys with hip sensibilities seek out heyday specimens prized for their authenticity, and the postmodern parody category, in which fashion designers (not haberdashers or merchandisers, the previous creators of the products) take the classic grey sack suit and turn it into a cartoonish gimmick, as in the case of Thom Browne.’s readership reflects this broad range of motivations for wearing the style, from the J. Press-clad fuddy duddy to the updated traditionalist in Ralph Lauren tweeds and flannels, and from the prep-with-a-twist fashion guy in Gant to the midcentury retro-eccentric dressed head to toe in vintage. It’s a perfectly postmodern incohesive mishmash of taste, temperament and social background all able to find in this genre of clothing something that resonates.

A Rose By Any Other Name

As the Ivy League Look fell into its death throes of cultural relevance, its name became immediately old fashioned. Originally it doesn’t seem to have had a name. “Natural shoulder” seems to have been the closest actually used by clothiers and their customers. The assiduous reporting by the media in the 1930s of what guys at Princeton were wearing is noteworthy for the detailed descriptions of the clothing combined with the complete lack of any attempt to give the style a name. “University fashions” was a typical headline for Apparel Arts, or “campus wear.”

The term “Ivy League Look” came into popularity in the ’50s, perhaps entering the popular lexicon as the result of LIFE Magazine’s 1954 story “The Ivy Look Heads Across US.” After 1967, once the clothes ceased to be fashionable, the term certainly became archaic. Fortunately a new word — for the broader culture — arrived at at just the right time to describe the latest version of the youthful Northeastern upper-middle-class look. “Preppy,” which entered the popular vocabulary in 1970 via the hit film “Love Story,” had a fresh ring to it.

Since its fashion moment in the ’80s, the term “preppy” has become gradually watered down to the point of meaninglessness, with almost no connection to the style and values of the people it described in 1970. Yet despite the efforts of the MFIT’s “Ivy Style” book and exhibit, not to mention, preppy remains closer to the tongue, however bitter it tastes, than “Ivy League” when describing this genre of clothing. If you see someone walking down the street dressed head to toe in J. Press, says Charlie Davidson, “you wouldn’t even say he looks very Ivy, you’d say he looks very preppy, or something like that.”

The struggle for just what to call the post-Ivy remnants of the genre in a way that doesn’t sound girly, as preppy does today, or archaic and elitist, as does the Ivy League Look, accounts for the adoption in certain quarters of the term “trad.” On the surface trad sounds like a snappy and contemporary replacement, but with no historical tradition behind the term, trad quickly became a futile exercise on Internet message boards with endless debates about what qualified as trad and what didn’t, and with each opinion more subjective than the last.

It’s worth noting that in Japan and England, where the clothes were not an expression of their own dynamic and changing cultures, the clothes continued to be called “Ivy,” and much of the styling remained frozen in its heyday form.

With the Ivy League Look reaching full fruition in the 1930s and ending as a current and relevant fashion in 1967, its full flowering spans just three decades. Indeed, there are more years that have passed since the end of the heyday than the years from codification to heyday’s end.

The golden age was the 1930s, when the look was only available from a small number of clothiers and worn by a relatively small number of men. By 1957, in the middle of the silver age of widespread popularity, the look was already considered to be in decline by the old guard. In the April 7, 1957 edition of Town Topics, Princeton’s community newspaper, Princeton-based clothiers lamented a slide in formality among the student body. “You’ve got more of a cross section now,” concluded Joseph Cox of Douglas MacDaid, “not so many rich kids.”

The mass popularity of Ivy during heyday, with all of the department store knock-offs that Richard Press likes to dismiss as “Main Street Ivy,” actually holds within it the seeds of the look’s demise. For fashion is fickle, and Ivy fell from mainstream popularity into irrelevance practically overnight. While it’s true that the establishment was abandoning the look, at least among the younger members, it’s also the case that the middle class no longer had the desire to ape the establishment, at least not overtly. Brooks Brothers and J. Press stuck to their guns as much as possible and for as long as possible, watching their clientele slowly ossify, and Main Street clothiers quickly changed with the winds of fashion.

However, the silver age also cemented Ivy’s legacy in the “classic” and “timeless” sense. It continues — by whatever name and in iterations that conform with contemporary style — to be worn by anyone with the taste for it. And good taste should be available to anyone with the sensibility to appreciate it.
 Natural-shouldered tweed jackets, grey flannel trousers, oxford-cloth buttondowns, rep and knit ties, argyle socks, tassel and penny loafers, polo coats, Shetland sweaters, side-parted haircuts and horn-rimmed glasses still carry all the baggage, good and bad, that this Northeastern, upper-middle-class, “Ivy/preppy/trad/whatever” look will always have.

The farther you go into postmodern parody, of course, the less baggage the look carries, because in this case it’s just fashion, which is another way of saying it doesn’t mean much. But the straight-up wearer of the Ivy League Look, who projects his natural shoulder and rolled collar with utmost earnestness, gets all the prestige and all the squareness that comes from being dressed traditional.

74 Comments on "The Rise And Fall Of The Ivy League Look"

  1. Culture and philosophy of Ivy Style by a master of the genre. “You’re the tops, you’re the lewd museum, you’re the coliseum, a Bendel bonnet, a Shakespeare sonnet, etc.”

  2. If I’m a “lewd” museum I guess that makes me the Museum Of Sex!

  3. Christian: the lewd museum was meant as a compliment. A museum of sex? Get over it!

  4. I’m truly unable to decide whether Mr. Squeeze was engaging in verbal humor, or whether he actually heard “Louvre” as “lewd”.

    In any case, Cole Porter put it this way:

    You’re the top! You’re the coliseum! You’re the top! You’re the Louvre Museum!
    You’re a melody from a symphony by Strauss,
    You’re a Bendel bonnet, a Shakespeare sonnet, you’re Mickey Mouse.
    You’re the Nile, you’re the Tower of Pisa, you’re the smile on the Mona Lisa;

  5. With all due respects, he is halfway between a lewd museum and the Louvre.

  6. “Once the look in its original, purist form ceased to be fashionable on campus, it ceased to be fashionable in society as a whole”.

    This is the key!!

  7. Christian
    Brooks Brothers trunk showings went far beyond the northeastern prep schools and colleges. They my have gone coast to coast in larger cities. Kansas City had them at the Muehlebach Hotel.

  8. Brooks, Press, Chipp, Feinstein, Rosenberg, the whole crew peddled their wares coast to coast.

  9. @Squeeze

    The expression is “with all due respect”,
    not “with all due respects”.

  10. Christian, thanks for taking the time to write this up. I am looking forward to the next installment!

  11. Extremely interesting and well argued. Looking forward to more.

    For myself, I did very often make choices “because that’s what Brooks Brothers sold,” although in my case I’m talking mid-’70s to mid-’80s when Brooks had already become an institution. While I of course would not have purchased something ugly or outside my taste just because it was from Brooks, it is safe to say that I trusted and was loyal enough to Brooks that I did not (for example) obsess about the width of their lapels or the construction of their shoulders. If it was from Brooks — generally speaking — it was in good taste.

  12. “With each new decade Brooks Brothers showed what to wear, while young men, who drive fashion, showed how the items could be worn.”

    this is my favorite observation…
    i don’t know how it could be stated any better.

  13. Orgastic future | January 8, 2013 at 3:12 am |


    Punctuation goes inside of the quote marks.

  14. Reactionary Trad | January 8, 2013 at 5:48 am |

    I’m wearing exactly what I wore in the 60s, with the exception that my lapels are narrower, my ties are wider, and I favor gray flannels over khakis.

  15. Interesting that the early manifestation of the Weejun looks more like an Alden LHS (or, for that matter, Crockett & Jones Harvard) than the modern day incarnation of the Weejun. If the sketch is accurate, that is.

    And shell cordovan, to boot. (slight pun intended).

    Thanks for the piece. It would seem obvious that only the more softly constructed (read: more casual) items from Brooks catalog of kit made the cut among preppies and undergrads. Still, we need reminding. Compared and contrasted with other styles, there’s an abiding nonchalance about it that transcends the eras. Visit a Southern college campus on game day, and you’re sure to witness a sea of gents turned out in blazers, chinos, loafers, button downs, and blazer-friendly ties.

    The college is no place for point collars, high shoulders, and cap toes.

  16. Correction. The sketch features Barrie’s take on the “shoe-slipper”–the “Norwegian Moccasin.” C&J Harvardesque.

  17. Great piece Christian! It would be interesting to see a timeline documenting which items that we now consider classic were adopted into this style. Looking forward to the next installment!

  18. @ Orgastic future

    Re: placement of full stops (periods to you) inside inverted commas (quotation marks to you).

    Not in Britain, sir, not in Britain.

  19. G. Bruce Boyer | January 8, 2013 at 11:11 am |

    Just in addition to the “Squeeze” Cole Porter comment:

    You’re the top, you’re Miss Pinkum’s Tonic,
    You’re the top, you’re a high colonic.
    You’re the fevered beat of a wedding suite in use;
    You’re the arms of Venus, you’re King Kong’s penis,
    You’re self abuse!

    (from memory)

  20. Drew Poling | January 8, 2013 at 1:32 pm |

    Thanks for ruminating on (and for the legwork involved) on a topic that, I’m sure, interests all of us. And for doing so publicly. Knowing your critics, the exposure you take on as you find your way through the weeds of Ivy isn’t without risk. Thanks for taking it on for us.

    Great first installment. Looking forward to the next!


  21. The predilection for charcoal grey could alternately be seen as a reversion to ancient academic traditions. Academic robes were traditionally very dark in colour and students at Oxford still wear “subfusc”, as they call it, on certain occasions to this day.

  22. Richard Meyer | January 8, 2013 at 6:02 pm |

    CC:: By far the best stuff you’ve written. Looking forward to the rest. The look still lives on in parts of New York, Main Line Philly and some of the South, as well as The Andover shop, much of Press and other places.

  23. Does anyone else remember how absurdly large the collars were on BB’s OCBDs in the 1970s?

  24. Vittorio Affanculo | January 9, 2013 at 3:07 am |

    Hey – I love clothes, but my word I find this dull…

  25. @Phililogue

    Thanks for posting that article, purely for the part at the beginning where he says: “when really I should be figuring out whether another presidential bid by Joe Biden is as good as it’s going to get for Democrats in 2008. (Maybe I’m just not ready to admit that the likely answer is “yes.”)” Oh how wrong he would be…

  26. Awesome history lesson here! Thanks again Christian.

  27. great post Christian-
    (and yes old ivy-some of us (of a certain age) remember larger collars on ocbd shirts, i suspect they may have been just over 3 inches…

  28. Well over three inches, many of them. The actual collar, that is.

    Troy Guild, in particular.

    The shirt maker that owns Troy’s old patterns offer one of the old collar designs. Seam to button, it may be around 3″ or less, but the collar (seam to point) itself is 4″.

    The other thing Troy got right was the tie space. Wider than most.

  29. Thank you for taking the time to put this article together, well done

  30. Meet Mr Ivy:

    Click here

  31. As stated somewhere above, it takes balls to write this..

    Your willingness to “put yourself out there” shows a confidence and conviction rarely put forth by the 21st century American male.

    This article, as well as the complicated subject of the difference between Ivy and prep ( that you so masterfully covered earlier are my 2 favorite reads on our beloved Ivy style.

    with this type of fresh insight and detail, you are positioning yourself as a learned master of the subject.

    please keep it up.

  32. Drew Poling | January 9, 2013 at 8:24 pm |

    S.E.: As a student, I worked at the old Georgetown University Shop where our no. 1 shirt maker was Troy Guild. Care to divulge who owns the patterns? I’d love to give them some business.

  33. Drew–

    Individualized Shirts.

    Custom. The pattern I reference is their 4″ button down. 1″ tie space. Unlined collar, buttons set at spread.

    Regatta Oxford, Cambrige Oxford. One of the Oxfords is Pima–offered in steel blue and Ivory They now offer a great 2 ply blue-white Oxford (F08BOS-H) in the Cambridge line.

  34. You have synthesized my deepest thoughts. A devastating and incisive critique.

  35. Kudos on your most recent installment. It’s interesting, because growing up preppy in the mid-’70s/early-’80s I thought I was in some kind of Ivy renaissance. I use the term in its purest sense — a celebration of the old forms but taken to new levels. Now I am confronted with the thought that I was in the middle of a sort of last gasp heralding the eventual end.

    Depressing, that, but probably true.

  36. The collar I referenced isn’t featured on the website. I’ll look in my notes for the wording.

  37. Roy R. Platt | January 10, 2013 at 10:44 am |

    Has anyone ever actually seen anyone wearing any of the more “creative” Thom Browne designs anywhere?

  38. Interestingly, at least couple of old college (both Southern, all male liberal-arts) yearbooks I’ve seen confirm Ivy style persisted stubbornly well beyond the year you pick (arbitrarily, admittedly) for “the end of Ivy.” Southerners are, to indulge in stereotypical generalization, not merely drawn to traditions; they perceive the romance in the preservation of certain traditions. So, not surprising.

    I know of several Southern men’s retail shops that continue to make a profit off Southwick MTM–thanks to the Douglas model.

    Also, Brooks continues to offer the sack. Either MTM (Southwick) or something closer to full bespoke (Greenfield). Adjusted for inflation, it’s likely the cost is identical or less than semi or full custom during the heyday. Some of the house cloth is good–the Huddersfield stuff.

    I do wish they’d use the factory they now own (Southwick) to make a line of sack jackets and suits. They could use the “‘made in our own workrooms here in the USA” tagline. Because it would be their own, the cost would be reasonable. Maybe they have an agreement with other Southwick retailers not to offer OTR clothing. Or maybe, more likely, the owners have no interest in any future affiliations with a look characterized by an obvious shapelessness.

  39. @Sartre

    The basic elements of the look are so few, that I believe we’ll be able to preserve it for years to come.

  40. @S.E.

    With regard to Southern men’s retail shops, I’ve been receiving glossy catalogs in the mail for years from a place in Charleston S.C. called Ben Silver. I’ve never ordered anything. Does anyone know who makes their suits and coats? They have a couple of nice looking overcoats, but I’m very leery of spending >$1K without trying an item on. I hate the hassle of returns . . .

  41. @S.E.

    You can get an OTR Southwick Douglas sack O’Connell’s online and I would guess many other places that do not have online shops, but MTM is probably the way to go.

  42. Dutch Uncle | January 11, 2013 at 6:23 am |

    The decline and fall of the Ivy look simply means that we are better-dressed than the mass of American men. That’s their misfortune, not ours.

  43. Most of the stores I have in mind have moved on to a more “updated” look for their OTR stock. Yet weekly they receive requests–admittedly, from older gents–for the old Southwick sack. Among a certain lot of gentlemen who learned how to look good in the early and mid 60s, Southwick is still, to borrow from Boyer, huge.

    The symbolism of the brand may be as important as the quality. I wonder: for every store that carried Norman Hilton during the Heyday, were there two or more that carried Southwick?

    By the way, it’s worth noting that the Cambridge, which out-shoulders the Douglas (IMO), can be lengthened. For MTM, I mean.

  44. Look out, liberals. Apparently this is conservative dress, in both senses of the word:

  45. This comment section is about to get interesting…

  46. Halberstram | January 11, 2013 at 2:20 pm |

    Aside from the title, I don’t think that writer made any mention in the piece whatever of politics.

    By the way, I’d assert that my school, Washington and Lee, is more truly “Ivy” than any other school in America. It would be interesting to see a piece on the campus style.

  47. For a look at how midwest college students, both male and female, were dressing in the mid 1950s check out the cover story of the Life Magazine edition of October 25th, 1954 titled “The Big Ten Look”. It is an easy search on Google Books.

  48. Terrific article. I don’t know what anyone else could add to your in-depth analysis of this enjoyable facet of our lives.

    As you point out, classic men’s clothing is by definition circumscribed by narrow parameters, and there are only a limited numbers of options available to anyone with taste and sophistication.Things haven’t changed in that regard. For example, with my polo coat (or Burberry Trench), fedora, oxford button down, rep tie, Brooks Brothers Made-to-Measure navy chalk stripe suit, and Alden cordovan lace-ups, I look as if I just walked off the set of a 1930s movie. This has been my choice on how I go through life, and believe that’s what it comes down to for all of us.

    Again, thanks for a very well researched and informative piece of writing.

  49. Christian: Many thanks for the effort. Good content!

  50. Why should anyone be surprised that tradition-minded people, such as conservatives, tend to dress conservatively?

  51. Reactionary Trad | January 11, 2013 at 10:18 pm |

    I delight in being archaic and elitist.

  52. ‘In “Decline of the West,” Oswald Spengler argues that all cultural expressions go through the organic stages of birth, maturity and decadence.”

    then imperialism, caesarism and destruction.

    As always Christian, well done, thanks.

  53. Christian,

    I wish I could be as articulate, even eloquent, as you in expressing my appreciation of this incisive explication of the Ivy look.

  54. The connection between early Ivy–“New Haven Style,” let’s say–and later manifestations of the Look is undeniable.

    Admitted by Norman Hilton–well, the folks who wrote copy for him. An older Norman Hilton ad read:

    “We still exemplify the soft, classic look of the old New Haven tailors, long since gone.”

    One wonders: was he thinking of the custom tailors at Rosenberg? Langrock?

  55. Dickey Greenleaf | January 12, 2013 at 11:03 pm |

    This was a very lengthy and long piece, that I found interesting. I found this piece lacking in some instances, although you covered the main aspects of the generational changes, shapes, and ideas of this phenomenon. What you didn’t convey was that this style is also very timeless, meaning good things never change, like oxford button downs, khakis, and weejuns, are staples of Ivy clothing that remain the standard of eternity. Heterodoxy, nonchalance, heterogeneous as ivy style seems, some people just don’t care, and that’s where you’ll find the areas and the years of decline. Purveyors like BB, RL, J Pres, only job is to make these clothes attractive and admired, in the sixties, seventies, and post silver age, clothes where more of a status symbol, than a statement of style, people with deep pockets had the money to afford such extravagant clothes, so moneys not an object for some, but for many it is, now it’s about how important and closely you pay attention to details, sharp eyed Ivy style watchers know what to look for, what says I have general knowledge of what this particular style of clothing should say about me, when I wear them, people defined what’s ivy, trad, preppy, and what’s not, style is never set in one circle of definitions in time, but in mind, and meaninglessness, and back to a constant diligence of transformations, signatures, and symbols of nonchanlance, well dressed, informal, formal, and suited for business styles.

  56. Joe College | January 13, 2013 at 5:59 am |

    @Dicky Greenleaf


  57. Bravo Christian !

  58. Dickey Greenleaf | January 13, 2013 at 10:47 am |

    @Joe College, What’s confusing about my comments?, please feel free to elaborate, about anything that’s not clear to you, I thought I made myself very clear on how I was trying to express myself. Point out anyting, that I said on this blog that’s confusing, please elaborate, or get a dictionary, if some of the words confuse you, I do use a dictionary during commentary. Did you use a dictionary in College? Mr. Joe?

  59. This here is a masterpiece of menswear journalism. What I especially must praise is the author’s aim to see Ivy style as a cultural phenomenon, without the pangs of overt hype and romanticism so many menswear sites favour. He, who esteems trifles for the conclusions to be drawn from them, or the advantage to which they can be put, is a philosopher.

  60. Halberstram | January 13, 2013 at 1:28 pm |

    Are you high, Dickey Greenleaf?

  61. Dickey Greenleaf | January 13, 2013 at 5:22 pm |

    @Halberstram, no I’m not high, I don’t know why people don’t understand my sentiments, it’s very confusing how so called educated men would get so bent out of shape about how one articulates himself, I happen to love clothes, it’s apparent you men are on the wrong blog. Every word I used in my paragraphs are part of the English language, are you French or something? wee, wee, or just stupid?, How about this, if you can write something better than me using the same amount of words, then do it buddy,” touche”‘.

  62. Great essay, very persuasive. Bound to be the last word on the topic.

    The essay, also I think, opens up another avenue to explore which is the source of the popularity of the Ivy look during what CC calls the Silver Age. During the 1950’s, the was a big increase in the fraction of young people going to university. There are a lot of reasons for that, but primarily, because for the first time the American economy was sophisticated and technical enough to require a vast number of college trained workers to run it. Institutions that had previously been thought of as places for seasoning wealthy sons or training school teachers, became the first step in the ladder up XYZ Corp. College education was the central element of the identity of this first broad class of knowledge workers and the “Natural Shoulder” look was adopted by this original generation of Yuppies. So, this look became broadly popular but never really lost its identification with the Campus or Collegiate look, even in its sack suit/wingtip form.

    Naturally, the collegiate look was also adopted by creators of cultural content for these proto-Yuppies. Method actors, cool jazz players, folk singers, existential comedians, Roth, Updike, etc. This content continues to appeal to some declining number of cultists, even internationally. But even then, the campus-natural shoulder look wasn’t universally adopted and was about signifying a connection to the world of higher education. There was a reason, say the Kingston Trio wore sack blazers and loafers, but Eddie Cochran or Jerry Lee Lewis did not.

  63. With your verbose writing rife with elementary-level grammatical errors, it actually is hard to understand your sentiments. I could rewrite your comment better than you with about half the amount of words.

    I suspect Wasp 101 wants to take part in but is too embarrassed by his reputation, which is why he’s assumed a new nom de guerre, Dickey Greenleaf (a la Mr. Ripley); or else he’s just an East European with poor English.

  64. Dickey Greenleaf | January 14, 2013 at 3:52 pm |

    @Tabor Kid, well you managed not to do so, action speaks louder than words. You can take all the shots at me you want, I know my writting style is sublime, at least I have the balls to take risk, unlike your self, grow up, third grader.

  65. Christian-
    I just want to let you know how much I enjoyed this piece. It was well worth the time it took to read.

  66. bottom line,everyone looked like they respected rules,which is what you learned in the best schools and…….behaved that way.

    The future was a positive thing,built on solid rules

    At present, the world looks like loose change, the future looks lie a big question mark???

    People have surreal taste and the world looks the same

  67. Maybe there was some kind of enlightening, rebirth, renaissance, whatever…around 67/68, probably the mergence of 50,000+ war dead and escapist chemical explorism. You are quite right that it was a bellwether moment. The gravity of those days was intense. It was deemed more honorable,moral and honest to reject the symbols of the parent/past. The necktie was the corporate leash, the bra was the cage(hard to even imagine the social climate then given the commodification of those symbols today..(victoria’s secret et al, and the current tie porn and mad man tv thingy..). The popular thing to do was give the finger to the man(more so if you were the scion of the man), burn the tie, burn the bra, go to California or Woodstock or wherever and don’t look back. You were more American and more free if you did so. I do believe there is still deep lingering Anglophilia lurking herpes like here in the spine of the American East Coast.

    I like your thoughtful essay because I like the look. It was the look of my father so I have a soft spot for it. Very few people can make this look desirable. Most who try fail miserably. The one’s who look best are men who look as if they have somewhere else better to be than where they are, or look as if they’ve just come from somewhere where clothes don’t matter much…somehow a little off. Persons who don’t need to be liked. Too much telegraphed comfort and confidence is not good with this look, which is why RL models often come across like members of the Village People and the brand image seems sullen and not quite dialed in, even after all these couple of decades, whereas diminutive Press comes across to me as the real deal even as they struggle and look for footing.
    Nice work CC.

    What is interesting in a person, to me, is what one rejects rather than what one piles on. For me, its not the clothes that make the magic but the spirit of the woman or man in the clothes.

  68. Bedrock
    I get your point, but, and with due respect to the fallen, prior to 1967 only 8,694 US military deaths had occurred in V. Nam, 1955-66. Not all of those were KIA or MIA. The turning point was 67-68 with 11,363 and 16,899 losses respectively, 11,780 in 1969 and 9,477 between 70 and 75.

    Having lived through those times and been subject to the draft most college students weren’t so much anti-war as anti-draft. From my point of view from those times the the “anti-war movement” had three components, the majority being anti-draft, then the hardcore anti-war and the last being the New Left at war with the Old Left. The first and last won.

    While the “hippy” pop culture thrived in the late 60s and early 70s, the collegiate/ivy/trad shops throughout the Midwest thrived. By Midwest I mean Big8 /Big12 territory. Unfortunately, many of those shops have morphed in to “forward leaning” men’s shops in the last decade.

    I never bought into the ‘hippy’ uniform, loved the music, just never wanted to costume myself like Neil Young.

  69. Having gone to an Ivy school in the late 80’s, I recall many guys dressing in the Ivy style or what remained of it by that time. I definitely remember guys wearing shorts with button down shirts just like in that picture from 1965. My roommate dressed like that. Every day. In the middle of winter. And just like in the picture, he went sockless a lot, too. Sometimes he even went shoeless. I had no idea that was fashionable. Neither did he, I think. At the time I just thought he was careless and sloppy.

    With twenty years of perspective, I’m kinda warming up to the Ivy Look, though at the time I would have shuddered at the thought of dressing like rich gentiles from prep schools. Because now that I know Jews started it (I’m Jewish), I kinda like it. I think I’ll dress this way from now on.

  70. I found this Excellent article thru a Thread on Styleforum called “Mod to Suedehead” This thread features original Mods,Skinheads(not the racist kind)and Suedeheads(these are British subcultures for those who don’t know)All of these subcultures were obsessed with American Ivy League styles.They existed in response to the Hippies so,after 67 the Ivy League was alive and well among these subcultures.Thanks again for this very informative article.

  71. What a beautifully written, comprehensive article. Thanks for it.

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