Upcycling, From Tie To Vest

Many of the storied New England boarding schools were founded during a particularly tumultuous period after the Civil War, when the established order of older money families was threatened by the growing prominence and wealth of war profiteers and fortunes made during the Industrial Revolution. All the boarding schools embodied New England’s Anglophilia, and it was this orientation which helped shaped what we now know as the Ivy style. 

Phillips Academy in Andover (established in 1778) and Phillips Exeter (1781) are perhaps analogous to the Eton and Harrow of the United States: two of the oldest and most prestigious boarding schools. Eton’s dress code is carefully structured to display coded symbols of status and rank among the students, and perhaps the most iconic piece of clothing are the brightly-colored bespoke vests from Pop, the senior society. In American terms, being at Eton is like being at Harvard: you’re among the elite. But within each school, being chosen for Pop is like being tapped for the Porcellian or the A.D., the elite among the elite. 

The Anglo-American style draws considerable inspiration from these British traditions. In the 1980s, Virgil Marson (1923-2018) – the late co-founder of the Andover Shop, established at the edge of Phillips Academy – had done a run of repp and club neckties for the Academy. Faced with the question of what do with the remainder of the bolts of silk, he transformed them into waistcoats. It was either with the subtle club patterns, or the regimental stripes, ordinarily cut on the bias for ties, but instead cut vertically for a visually-striking waistcoat.

Jim Toomey, the head of the Andover Shop’s original location, recalls, “These were very popular with the students, who wore them with a tuxedo for the spring ball, and under a blazer for graduation. You know, we should probably do this again.” — ANV

Images: Phillips Academy club and regimental neckties, images via Andover Shop; Eton Pop waistcoat via New & Lingwood; Two Eton boys in Pop waistcoats via The Eton Boy.

7 Comments on "Upcycling, From Tie To Vest"

  1. I see pleats and darts, and a horizontal seam I’ve not seen before. Even without the waistcoat that makes the old ‘uniform’ very presentable imo.

  2. Such an interesting historical piece. Thanks!

  3. …and the gorge is just right…

  4. “Anglophilia”–“it was this orientation which helped shaped what we now know as the Ivy style.” This is a superb, if short, piece. I’ve referred to the style in question as “American,” but I’ll stand corrected. “Anglo-American,” rather–with emphasis upon “Anglo.”

    So then, Ivy style is, at the roots of the tree, essentially British–a “British tradition” in and of itself. And a rather purist, archaic one, at that.

    It could be argued that Frank Shattuck knows more about (the history and nuances of) tailoring than anybody in America. Worthy of attention, then, that he has spoken of the undarted/dartless jacket vis a vis traditional British tailoring, referring to it as “very turn of the century; very old school.” Translation: it’s about as (British) Fogey as you can get. He furthers the point by mentioning it in reference to Merchant Ivory films.

    Flannel, tweed, silk repp, Irish Poplin; hard-wearing worsteds, blazers, Shetland jumpers, button-downed oxfords–all British.

    It takes us all the way back to the question CC asked: whence Ivy? CC’s research leads to us to conclude a healthy combination of Brooks and, subsequently, campus-inspired tastes. But what if the style was entirely Brooks, once an unabashedly British outpost, and the enthusiastic embrace by students (and their tailors) was an accident that served only to dilute the look?

    Richard Press reminds us it’s an “American interoperation of British clothing with snob appeal.” But, with the exception of Weejuns (worn with everything), what about the interpretation is distinctively “American”?

    I still wonder about the “tasseled” shoe Paul Lukas saw–that eventually inspired the (Alden) tassel moccasin. A hunch is that the shoe that inspired Lukas was none other than a version of the British (Scottish) fringed Kiltie.

    And wasn’t the Duke of Windsor seen wearing dressy “slip-on’s” (“loafers”) before the appearance at Barrie’s of New Haven?

    What if “Ivy” is, in fact, more old school British than modern-day versions/interpretations of “British style”?

  5. Fred Castleberry will start wearing one this week… lol

  6. These waistcoats seem cut extra-low to cover the waistband of modern low-rise pants. While this is certainly preferable to traditional-length waistcoats paired with low-rise pants, leaving an unsightly gap, I can’t shake the feeling that the long waistcoat throws off the visual balance which the traditional waistcoat was supposed to provide, by lowering the visual waistline even lower than the low-rise pants do.

    Very interesting tradition, though. Actor Laurence Fox once claimed not to be “posh” because he didn’t go to Eton, to which his “Lewis” co-star Kevin Whately responded that to most English, going to Harrow (as Fox did) instead of Eton does not disqualify one from being “posh”.

  7. I like it. These vests (yes, I know: waistcoats) add a sense of color, energy, and fun to what could otherwise be a somber arrangement.

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