Editor’s Note: Reader submissions are always welcome. You can email me here. Ask these guys, it is painless. First, a ditty about the Scally Cap by Mitchell.
In “Bonfire of the Vanities,” Tom Wolfe famously alluded to Boston style with his catchy phrase, “the Boston Cracked Shoe look.” Apparently, Tom Wolfe never ventured farther than the rarefied, red brick streets of blue blood Beacon Hill and the cushy confines of the mahogany-paneled Somerset Club. Any native Bostonian will say that quintessential Boston style is less about cracked cordovan wingtips, and all about that marvel of masculine millinery, the ivy cap; or as we say in Boston, the “scally” cap.
As a high school student in a small town in upstate South Carolina in the early 1950s, I knew nothing about Ivy style or “natural shoulder” coats and suits. The closest I came was observing a young man at church who sometimes ushered and was very well dressed, but in a style somewhat distinctive for that time and place. I later learned that he bought his clothes in Charlotte at Jack Wood Ltd., an early outpost of Southern Ivy.
One autumn Saturday my father took me to Chapel Hill for a University of North Carolina football game. Those were the days when college football games were played on Saturday afternoons, as God intended. We parked uptown somewhere along Franklin Street, had lunch, and then walked across that beautiful old campus to Kenan Stadium. After the game we walked back. Since I hoped to attend that university, I was very observant regarding student style. As I noted in A Voice of His Time, writing about the late 1940s, “Khakis and crew cuts had moved comfortably from military bases to college campuses.”. I remember the following Monday telling one of my classmates: “When you go to college, you have to wear khaki pants, a white button-down shirt, a v-neck sweater and loafers.”
By the time I matriculated there in the fall of 1955, two bastions of Ivy style were well established along Franklin Street. Maurice Julian presided over Julian’s College Shop, a small store that at one time was said to have sold more Lacoste polo shirts than any other retailer in America. Across the street, his brother Milton Julian operated Milton’s Clothing Cupboard. The clothes were similar, but Milton’s was a bit less expensive. That was where you could find flat-front worsted trousers with small straps that buckled on the back, a few inches below the belt line. As far as I could tell the straps served no purpose, but a lot of us wanted them. Milton’s was also where I discovered madras. It was great fun to go home for summer break with a short-sleeved madras popover and explain madras to your friends. And it was at Milton’s where I bought a beautiful straw hat with a wide, colorful band, like the ones worn by Sam Snead, as a gift to my father. He had taken up golf a few years earlier and was getting pretty good at it. When his golf buddies saw it, a few of them wanted one like it. I think I bought out Milton’s remaining inventory of those hats for my Dad’s friends.
(Some years later Maurice Julian’s son, Alexander, on the way to becoming a well-known designer, opened his own shop on Franklin Street, called Alexander’s Ambition.)
Ivy style was becoming de rigueur among some students there, particularly those living in fraternity houses just off the campus. During rush week my freshman year a brother at one of the houses spoke disparagingly about my suit, a wide-lapeled two-button with pleated pants. Over the next few months I gradually replaced my limited wardrobe with Ivy style items. For those who could not afford new clothes, Pete the Tailor would trim down lapels and add a third button. He would also make your wide high-school ties respectably narrow. Pete advertised in the student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, and apparently did a booming business.
Here’s a description of student life and style in Chapel Hill at the end of that decade, from my novel Dixie Autumn: “At Chapel Hill and on many other campuses, particularly among members of fraternities and sororities — ‘Greeks’ — we pursued a stylish ideal of college life and young adulthood we had revived from the 1920s, as if the intervening ;years of economic depression and war that defined our parents’ generation had never happened.
“It was an era of undergraduate elegance, to the extent one could afford it: shetland and tweed and camel hair, oyster white raincoats and slim black umbrellas, lap robes for dates at football games, leather-covered flasks to sneak a bit of warming whisky into the stadium on those chilled, crowded Saturday afternoons in November. In high school we had danced the shag to rhythm and blues records, and we still did, and Elvis Presley was making his appearance on the Billboard Magazine best-seller lists; but the sound track of our college years still was the music of Broadway, movie theaters, hotel ballrooms and Harlem jazz clubs, much of written before we were born. We drank a lot of beer, but we also had cocktail parties and other special occasions when we sipped the best liquor we could afford, drinking like gentlemen, at least until we had too much.
“We hadn’t the slightest hint that all that was about to be, in a famous phrase, gone with the wind. But a few years later it was, and in its place were denim and long hair, marijuana, screaming guitars and protest marches…..
“But in my final year of college nobody was anticipating any of those changes. That fall I was dating a campus beauty queen….. She had dark blonde hair, short and thick, and the top of her head was about chin level for me. Her clothes draped beautifully on her slim frame, and she often wore cashmere or Angora sweaters and long, pleated tweed skirts……
“When we went to football games I thought of us as a very handsome, dashing couple, in a Scott and Zelda way. She wore a camel hair coat and a rich plaid muffler. I wore a tweed jacket and, in November, a heavy topcoat that easily concealed the small flask of bourbon I poured into cups of ice and Coca-Cola from the concession stand.
“We had a lovely few months that fall and winter…..”
Mr. Shinn – Thank you so much for your delightful piece. The southern college life in your evocative portrayal of the 50s and early 60 was still visible a couple of decades later, if only just. Even now, one sometimes gets a rare peek walking across the grounds on a Friday evening when a few young men in blazers and ties can be seen escorting their dates to a special dinner or dance.
Mitchell – Thanks to you as well. I too am a fan of the flat tweed cap, and I believe that I acquired my first one as a middle-schooler in the Boston suburbs many years ago. They were quite popular among the local 8th graders for some reason. That one is long gone, but I have several others that I enjoy wearing on chilly days in fall and winter.
I look forward to many more contributions like these.
Mr. Shinn certainly knew what he was talking about when he advised a classmate to wear a white button-down shirt, not any other color.
For those who couldn’t access the article embedded in Mitchell’s contribution:
Against considerable odds, the flat cap has conquered contemporary pop culture. These idiosyncratic, Anglo-ish sloped hats (you might know them as newsboy caps, paddy caps or golf caps) edged into the zeitgeist with the 2013 premiere of “Peaky Blinders,” the BBC drama set in post-World War I England that now streams on Netflix. Since then, the flat cap’s trickle of influence has grown into a deluge. It’s a style signature of the roguish thief Assane Diop (played by Omar Sy) in “Lupin,” a Netflix series that debuted in January, and it topped off Ralph Fiennes in the recent film “The Dig.” Off-screen, too, celebs like Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Idris Elba seem flat-cap fixated. And one such hat even perched on the head of Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians during the NFL playoffs earlier this year. The popularity of these caps has recontextualized them. Will Bailey-Watson, 33, a university lecturer in Reading, England, noted that in years past they were “almost exclusively” worn by the elderly or tweedy countrysiders. Now, he turns on the TV and sees 30-something sports pundits all flat-capped out. Binge-watching “Lupin” convinced Mr. Bailey-Watson to sample the style himself. One recent winter day he threw on his new Ted Baker cap with a navy topcoat and a pair of Adidas sneakers. After months of lockdown slovenliness, he said the dressy cap made him feel “special,” and put a spring in his step. When he posted a photo of the outfit to his Instagram, however, his friends’ reviews were mixed. “It proved very, very divisive,” he said. The debate focused on “whether or not someone like me should be trying to pull off something like that.”When Mr. Bailey-Watson says “someone like me” he means someone so relatively young, or someone whose job isn’t calling the Man U game on TV. The flat cap challenges average folks because it carries a lot of baggage. My female colleagues described the hats as an “immediate red flag” on men—denoting a pretentious pretender—a sentiment that women often share on social media. I’ve also seen this headwear described as hats for aging ska trombonists and caps for craft-beer nerds. Many associate them firmly with the campy 1992 Disney musical “Newsies.” Even those who happily wear flat caps acknowledge their regrettable connotations. Mark Wood, 65, a retiree in Powell, Ohio, was given his first wool newsboy cap by an Irish-born employee about three decades ago and has worn the style since. He currently favors a wool version from San Francisco’s Goorin Bros: “It’s stylish, it’s comfortable and it’s very warm especially at this time of year.” But he has an ulterior motive. “You know, my hairline is not what it used to be,” he said, adding that he’s observed that the flat cap has “become a hat of bald men.”
When describing the caps, the under-40 fans I spoke to all used some variation of “old.” Though Austin White, 31, a digital resources coordinator at a music company in Bloomington, Ind., called the style “an old-timey hat,” he wears the flat cap he bought around a year ago frequently. A bit of a fantastical dresser, he savors its theatrical look. He said it makes him feel like an early 20th-century paperboy hollering “Extre! Extre!” or, when he wears it with a turtleneck, a poet. Flat caps don’t seem to be flying off the shelves near him: He’s the only young person he knows who owns one.
Some consider the maturity that such a hat conveys a positive. Brett White (no relation), 36, a reporter and producer at the entertainment website Decider, bought his first flat cap at Old Navy over 14 years ago, soon after moving to New York. Though it was nothing he’d seen folks wearing back in his Tennessee hometown, it lent him, he felt, a bit of urbane sophistication. Mr. White has since amassed four flat caps and wears them a lot, he said: “It just goes with my whole vibe,” which encompasses emerald green suits, ’60s-ish brown turtlenecks and the occasional ascot.
If you dress less expressively, the panache of a flat cap can conflict with your look. Kyle Brager, 34, an associate service administrator for a medical equipment company in Robbinsdale, Minn., recently purchased a flat cap, inspired in part by “Peaky Blinders.” Mr. Brager’s style is hoodie-casual and he said he hesitates whenever he reaches for his flat cap: “It is a little stepping out of the comfort zone.” Each time, he’s settled for a beanie instead. Perhaps he’ll revisit the newsboy when he’s a retiree like Mr. Wood.
Advertisements for caps named “Ivy League” first appeared in the 1950s. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, so-called Ivy League caps all shared one detail: a leather or fabric “cinch belt” on the cap’s outside back, with a brass-colored metal buckle.
These cinch belts were nonfunctional: solely decorative. They were meant to emulate the cinch belt on the back of chino trousers from that era.
I do not wear hats for now, but if I did wear a hat it would be a wide brim fedora. The flat cap is turn of the century, utilitarian headgear. Good. There are occasions for that. But when it gets cold and windy, it is my ears, not the top of my head which needs covering.
Now from the embedded article, “”…average folks…baggage…female colleagues…”immediate red flag”…social media…””
Average females, with baggage, who see immediate red flags, carry absolutely no authority or credibility. Try telling them how to dress, (and most would benefit from the advice), and see how that goes! A working girl who sees immediate red flags is a red flag.
You have the freedom, gentlemen, to wear a flat cap should you choose.
Is it necessary to use commas as well as parentheses with parentheticals? Help me out here, please.
@Charlottesville: Thanks for the kind words.
@Hardbopper: Too funny! I had the same reaction when reading about the females and their “red flags.” If I remember, the original article quoted women who said that men who wear flat caps are”pretentious” and “pretenders.”
Also, I don’t understand how a humble flat cap can be so “polarizing.” Give me a break, WSJ!
@JB: A special THANK YOU to Mr. John Burton! Writing for Ivy Style was indeed painless, and I wish more readers would submit their writing.
“Ivy style was becoming de rigueur among some students there, particularly those living in fraternity houses just off the campus. During rush week my freshman year a brother at one of the houses spoke disparagingly about my suit, a wide-lapeled two-button with pleated pants. Over the next few months I gradually replaced my limited wardrobe with Ivy style items. For those who could not afford new clothes, Pete the Tailor would trim down lapels and add a third button. He would also make your wide high-school ties respectably narrow. Pete advertised in the student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, and apparently did a booming business.”
What a fall for dress on college campuses. On my large, Southern university I last week saw a fraternity t-shirt that stated, “Party like W, Dress like JFK, Think like Reagan.” I didn’t engage the young man. He probably didn’t even know what shirt he was wearing, but I was curious how he would handle a question about Reagan’s politics. GLH
@Hardbopper Some newsboy caps and and flat caps have attached ear covers for warmth. They stay tucked inside the cap’s crown, unseen until you flip them down.
@GLH I would have proposed another slogan to the frat bro: “Battle Alcoholism Like W, Battle Addison’s Disease Like JFK, Battle Gunshot Wounds Like Reagan”. It would make for less dopey t-shirt.
My black wool Wigens flat cap has a quilted lining and wool ear flaps that fold down as needed. Unlike my other favorite headgear, the fedora with its wider brim is subject to going airborne on windy days, unlike my cap with stays put.
I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Shinn’s recollections of Franklin St. I would add Bob Varley’s store on the same side of Franklin as Julian’s. A strong bastion of fine men’s furnishings for many years.
For Chapel Hill interpretations of Heyday Ivy, turn your attention to the late 60s editions of Yackety Yack. I tried to post a few links yesterday — without success. What you would expect, really. Ivy was a force at UVA, Chapel Hill, and probably a dozen or so Southern liberal-arts colleges— HSC, Sewanee and W&L leading the way, I feel sure.
A few years ago Paul Winston (Chipp) observed that UVA men stood out (sartorially).
Sorry, the filter catches that many links and thinks you are up to … something. I went hunting and found it. – JB
Marc and Elder Prep – I have a gray flannel flat cap with fold-down earflaps that I bought at Paul Stewart one brutally cold and windy day on Madison Avenue 25 years ago or more when the fedora was not up to the task. Just the thing for nasty weather.
These were both very enjoyable reads. I strongly dislike wearing hats but I have a couple of Panamas that I wear on rare occasion. The flat cap looks good and correct on some heads, incongruous on others. Mitchell’s article inspires me to head to John Helmer to find out which kind of head mine is.
The excerpts from Jerry Shin’s novel paint such vivid pictures for me of a particular slice of time and place, like Technicolor vignettes. Every era leaves some things behind, often with good reason, but the expectations and traditions around dressing well back then are some of the few things that I wish could have persisted.
Chapel Hill circa late 60s–a bulwark of Southern Ivy.
Go Cavs (WAHOOWA), but Go Heels when they’re playing everybody else.