Trad Eye For The Frat Guy


Recently an email sent by an Emory University student to his fraternity brothers telling them they were badly dressed made national news.

Well it’s about time someone took them to task.

The student, Jonathan Weiss, also included some style suggestions straight from the trad playbook, including admonitions to cuff their pants. Weiss said his parents raised him on an “eccentric rower preppy” wardrobe (we’re having trouble picturing that precisely), but is currently to a kind of fashion update on nostalgic Americana, thanks to his discovery of the Beat generation.

A story by CNN that posted on Friday includes several remarks from friend and colleague Bruce Boyer talking about campus style:

The young man’s fashion takedown might seem like a bold change from the “Animal House” fraternity stereotype (and a bold move for a new brother), but according to G. Bruce Boyer, a contributing editor to Town & Country, the looks Weiss advocates have roots on campus.

Although it might feel like high style on the average college campus these days, fraternity members at Princeton, Yale and Harvard were running counter to the formal fashion of the early 1900s. With colorful scarves and sport coats, the Ivy League elite pioneered casual, stylish men’s fashion, said Boyer, who co-curated a recent exhibition of Ivy League fashion at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

“It only became this new-conservative look of the Eastern establishment in the 1950s,” Boyer said. Post-World War II, it became a status symbol, a look associated with power, Boyer said. It was revived in the early 1980s, when it became known as “preppy.”

The current revival of Ivy League style, and the broader Americana look, is driven by close, fitted Italian tailoring and Japanese fashion sense, Boyer said. The notion that clothes have a deeper, non-verbal communication is something Weiss subscribes to.

Whenever things slide to one extreme (like showing up for class in hoodie, flip-flops and pajama bottoms), the counter reaction is likely to also be extreme. Weiss is certainly doing good in the world, and I’m not being facetious. Some of the cruder behavior long associated with fraternities might be curtailed if the guys were dressed in clothing they felt dignified them.


But I think it may be wiser to first encourage basic modes of dress that are more realistic for college students in the 21st century. Khakis, button-front shirts tucked in, sweaters and boat shoes — the uniform of the preppy ’70s — would still be a huge leap forward. But full-on dress shoes, vests and bow ties (the kind of outfit Weiss is wearing in the photo above) go too far, and are likely to peter-out as a short-term “look at me” gimmick rather than any kind of long-term raising of standards.

Some years ago a fellow named Fonzworth Bentley tried to reform the hip-hop world by getting them out of t-shirts and sweatpants and into ascots and smoking jackets. His so-called “gentlemen’s movement” was short-lived. — CC

22 Comments on "Trad Eye For The Frat Guy"

  1. The only frat brothers able to afford ascots and smoking jackets have daddies who run hedge funds.

  2. Is the above pic the fraternity? Looks small. Is it one of the cooler (better) fraternities at Emory?

    I don’t know a lot about the culture at Emory–Greek or otherwise. But it’s a safe guess that the guys who belong to the better fraternities at Auburn, Georgia, ‘Bama, Sewanee, Davidson, UVA, and Chapel Hill don’t need such a scolding. They going look among Southern “prep necks” is exactly what CC mentions: khakis, OCBDs, and loafers. And Red Wing boots. Complete with decrepit ball cap and emblematic belt. And, on game days, blazer and repp stripes.

  3. This email that became national attention was not the beginning of a movement or even the middle of it. Members of fraternities have been moving back towards that classic American/collegiate/preppy look for a while now and most would tell you (particularly in the South) that that look is called “fratty.” I would argue that it is really just a regional variation of the style. The fraternity I was (am) a member of was more interested in looking “preppy” than “fratty” since we went to school in the Northeast, but I’ll admit that the line is rather blurred. We also have a lot of Southerners as members of our chapter who bring their regional variant to play as well.


  4. No one under 60 should be wearing a bow tie, ever.

  5. Ivy, Trad, Preppy, Neo-Prep, Fratty, got it.

  6. Madaket – I would say that if you can where a bow tie and it does not wear you then you should go for it. After all it is nothing more than a necktie. I think that more men should wear them so they don’t out of place when you do see one.

    Zach – I agree. Here is a post with examples from the College Trad on “Fratty.”

  7. The bow tie can be worn by a variety of men. It tends to favor the young, those who look young, and the diminutive. Fred Astaire always looked good in a bow tie. My four-year-old son refuses to wear long ties anymore, now that he has some bow ties, and they suit him well. I’m about Astaire’s build and still quite a ways from 60, yet manage to pull off the bow tie look (or so I’d like to think). On the other hand, 6’5″ actor Edward Herrmann always wore one in Gilmore Girls and always looked good, so you don’t have to be small to pull it off.

    So, madaket, thanks for sharing, but I hope that no one takes your opinion as gospel on this subject. The bow tie is too good a look to be limited to the elderly!

  8. I always wear a bow tie on days I plan to eat BBQ ribs for lunch. Pork ribs of course.

  9. What’s with those forced smiles, those too-tight shirts and pants, and the need to be touching each other?

  10. NaturalShoulder | November 26, 2013 at 11:02 pm |

    I still see the “fratty” look sported on the SMU and TCU campuses. It is refreshing to see that the hoodie and cargo short wearers have not completely coopted the entire generation.

  11. Doesn’t anybody remember when cargo shorts were trad/preppy?

  12. “His [Fonworth Bentley’s] so-called “gentlemen’s movement” was short-lived?” I beg to differ. Bentley’s guide to men’s style, “Advance Your Swagger: How to Use Manners, Confidence, and Style to Get Ahead,” has garnered well-deserved praise from reviewers, and continues to be relevant. Alan Flusser writes: “Can this be the dawning of a new Fonz? As hip hop’s self-appointed Emily Post-in-embryo points out, manners not only count, they can open doors. For a culture groomed on celebrity, cell phones, and fast food, Master Fonzworth’s words of advice are both timely and thoughtful. While a thoroughly entertaining read, taken seriously, Swagger could turn any sow’s ear into a silk purse, any frog into a prince.”

  13. Orgastic future | November 28, 2013 at 1:33 am |

    I’m in a frat, and when I was still “on the yard” in college many many years ago, we used to always roadtrip down to Greek row at Emory. Man could those kids party! However, the “aestethic” was not enforced whatsoever. Not even in my own house, which is notorious for keeping up the so called “preppy tradition.” it’s just an Emory thing to be honest. Pre-meds aren’t to keen on finding the perfect saddle to underscore the perfect G-T-H cords. But they sure adhere to the Greek party standards! At least when I would visit.

  14. It’s “just” and “Emory thing”? More than a few members of the better houses (not “frats”) at Southern schools would beg to differ.

    Don’t get me wrong: we want–nay, need–hard-working, well educated engineers and research scientists and surgeons. So, power to the (wonkish) people.

  15. Straight Arrow | November 29, 2013 at 12:13 am |

    Every time I see or read anything connected with fratrats, I seriously wonder how I started wearing ivy style clothing. Why would anybody want to be associated with a bunch of college students who behaved like nursery school kids, with the addition of sex and alcohol?

  16. Orgastic future | November 30, 2013 at 1:29 am |

    S.E…..where did you pledge where the word “frat” is not an acceptable designation for a fraternity?

  17. I should amend my comment to say that no one over 10 and under 60 should wear a bow tie. It’s too cutesy and foppish for those lacking the gravitas that age brings–but cutesy and foppish is on kids more adorable than irritating. Obviously excluded are doctors and others belonging to the very limited class of people who have compelling reasons to wear ties to work but whose occupation regularly places their neckwear in mortal danger. (Not excluded are those who simply want to wear ties to work but have no reason to do so.)

    Henry, perhaps you fancy yourself a dandy. If so, I suppose you don’t mind looking silly or drawing attention to yourself and therefore should continue to wear bow ties all you want.

  18. No, makadet, I do not fancy myself a dandy, but I do get frequent compliments on how nice I look. Imagine that—drawing attention to oneself for wearing a jacket and tie!

    I wear bow ties about once a month. If I were to wear them more often than that, I’m afraid I would no longer be known as “the guy who always dresses nicely” but as “the guy who always wears a bow tie.”

    Thank you for reminding me that the bow tie was the traditional tie for physicians (especially pediatricians), architects, and perhaps a few other professions. (Of course, there is no other choice for a tuxedo, but that’s not really what we’re talking about.)

    You are correct that it’s easier for boys and old men to wear a bow tie, but that shouldn’t stop others from trying.

    I believe that Richard Press has long favored the bow tie; as I recall, the various old photos of him that show up on Ivy Style from time to time have him wearing one. In those shots, does he look “cutesy,” “foppish,” or “silly”?

    So I’m happy for you that you have determined that you, personally, should not wear a bow tie, but as we have seen in discussions here, one man’s preferences ought not be taken as gospel for all.

  19. Makadet – Are you now telling me that as AEV says,” that your style should naturally reflect and follow your life, your experiences, your hobbies, your surroundings, cultural tastes, social/family circle, etc.” when it comes to bow ties? I kid, but I am intrigued.

  20. @OCBD: Hah! But, no. My point is really that bow ties are so objectively attention-grabbing and silly looking that one really needs to possess some credibility and seriousness (which age, for better or worse, typically brings), or a practical reason to avoid conventional neckwear, in order to pull one off. AEV, on the other hand, seeks to be a gatekeeper for trad/ivy/preppy style as a whole based upon his own notions of who is and is not worthy on a sociocultural level. (Hint: AEV is worthy; FEC is not.) If my prior comments implied that I believe that there are no objective standards of dress in the world, or that style should not be governed by good taste and appropriateness, I apologize–that was not my intent.

  21. Tucker Carlson stopped wearing bowties when John Stewart asked “How old are you?” 35. “And you wear a bowtie…”

    I think Crossfire was canceled after that interview.

  22. @ JDM: Have you seen Stewart’s personal style? Plus Stewart’s an ass. He tried to play the “moderate” when Trump won the election but before that he was a straight out child who wore a long tie.

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