Varsity Town’s Madisonaire, 1966

The “Main Street” Ivy brands that flickered briefly during the heyday often touted their wares as “authentic natural shoulder fashions,” as if one were buying an ethos along with a jacket cut. Of course, among the original arbiters of the Ivy League Look, the natural shoulder was an expression of values and culture. But because they got their clothes from Brooks Brothers, J. Press, The Andover Shop and Langrock, their clothes weren’t advertised as “authentic” because they actually were. To wit, check out the ad by Varsity Town’s Madisonaire line from 1966, one year before the fall of the Ivy League Look. What do you bet that by ’68 the street-sign logo was changed to Haight-Ashbury? Either way it’s still Main Street, a wonderful example of commerce at work and the flourishing of the Ivy League Look to men across the nation, who, if they couldn’t get the real deal, could at least get a replica. 

32 Comments on "Varsity Town’s Madisonaire, 1966"

  1. Pure Middle American domesticity. The common man in a three-piece suit tosses salad with his homemaker gal in the kitchen. Madison Avenue does Main Street .

  2. It would be interesting for someone from Ann Arbor to chime in on when the Varsity Town shops went out of business. Many of the “ivy” shops I’m familiar with lasted till early 90s, some even till 2009’s economic melt down. Although many morphed into what Brooks Brothers has become.
    Also, don’t forget that other than “made to order”, most of their off the rack “private” labeled clothing was made by the same manufacturers as the venerable Ivy shops back east. Their American made shoes were their same brands, as were their shirtings and imported accessories.

  3. What caused a chill to travel up my spine while reading the copy of the Madisonaire ad was the promotion of the new “Spice Hues for fall, 1966.”

    The arrival in the late 60s of these sort of colors was the initial salvo foreshadowing the impending invasion of the muddy “Earth Tones” of rust, burnt orange, avocado green, mustard yellow, warm brown and brownish-maroon (in lieu of classic burgundy) that afflicted mainstream menswear as well as architecture, automobiles and home furnishings in the 1970s.

  4. Arround here, there are “Chinese” restaurants run by Koreans that mostly serve Chop Suey and Crab Rangoon to non-Chineese Americans. While I’m sure some of the Korean chefs might think that they are making authentic Chinese food for a Chinese audience, I’m sure that just as many recognize that they are creating a new and wholly American tradition.

    This is what Brooks did when it aped the English, and this is what Main Street Ivy did when it aped Brooks.

    Chasing WASP authenticity is a pointless game. The only reason the pastime exists is because a system based so entirely on unchangeables is so anti-Americans that most people don’t believe it can really be that way. Everything has to have a genealogy under the WASP system, and it has to be your genealogy. That old J. Press suit can’t just have belonged to somebody’s uncle, it has to have belonged to your uncle. The old photos can’t just be of somebody’s grandparents while they were at Yale, they have to have been of your grandparents while they were at Yale. If you haven’t got an uncle who wore J. Press suits or a grandfather that went to Yale, then under a WASP system you can never be authentic, ever. You can go to Yale yourself and buy a new J. Press suit, and if you can convince your grandchildren to follow in your footsteps then maybe they’ll have a shot, but isn’t the entire point of the American Dream to escape the expectations of one’s birth?

    With the Main Street, Chop-Suey Ivy, at least there are some people who recognize that.

  5. Wild’s was still in business when I was in Ann Arbor from 1982 through 1984. I recall it started in the 1920s. I remember buying a tie or two there. Bob Seger worked there as a young man.

  6. I’m a longtime reader, and I live and attend school in Ann Arbor presently. Sadly, as is the case most everywhere else, there are few trad shops left in the area. Wild’s is long gone, and what remains of trad clothing can be found downtown at Van Boven’s…a fine shop it has remained to be. We do have a few stores like Jos A Banks, and a Brooks is within driving distance. We have 2 beautiful college campus’s in town, and one trad shop…it can be depressing.

  7. In the picture, what on earth is that on his head?

    J. Kraus,

    I, too, remember the awful earth tones (etc.) of the early 70s. I hadn’t thought about how the milder versions of those colors in the late 60s were presaging what came later, but you’re absolutely right.

  8. Re: “if they couldn’t get the real deal, could at least get a replica”:
    And those replicas are far better than what’s being offered today by BB.

  9. elder prep | July 26, 2020 at 1:02 pm |

    I’ll reask Henry’s question, “In the picture, what on earth is that on his head?”

  10. Regarding the “earth tones” of the early ’70s, if you were just married, in your early 20s, buying your first home in the suburbs “earth tones” were all the rage. I can recall our first stove in Avocado, the fridge in Sunflower, and the dishwasher in Harvest Gold. Those were the days . . . . Now, I think may have had a case of decorator color blindness.

  11. The way she is holding that bottle is a nice, subtle touch. Pure domesticity indeed.

  12. Charlottesville | January 12, 2021 at 1:35 pm |

    Not all main street shops carried off brands. The traditional men’s shop in Staunton, Virginia when I was growing up was called, appropriately, The Men’s Shop. Southwick suits, Sero and Gant shirts, and other solid brands were, literally, their stock in trade. I longed to buy everything in the shop, but most of it was beyond my price range. I still have my first bow tie (aside from the clip-on I wore for family pictures as a toddler), which I bought there probably around 1979 or 80. It is a bit the worse for wear, but I continue to hold on to it. The store closed at some point not long after that and the space is now a restaurant, which hopefully will survive the virus.

  13. Southwick was probably the leading suit among the partner level in the Richmond financial district in the mid late 80’s. J Banks was popular too. Now the navy blazer rules for more formal business dress.

  14. “Not all main street shops carried off brands. The traditional men’s shop in Staunton, Virginia when I was growing up was called, appropriately, The Men’s Shop. Southwick suits, Sero and Gant shirts, and other solid brands were, literally, their stock in trade. I longed to buy everything in the shop, but most of it was beyond my price range…”

    @ Charlottesville—

    Did you grow up near Staunton? What a great part of the Old Dominion.

    Eljo’s and Grady Ervin in Lexington persevere. Davidsons in Roanoke. Beacroft & Bull arrived on the scene late 80s/early 90s. How is Eljo’s looking these days?

  15. Beacroft & Bull has a nice small store on River Road in Richmond. Not much if any trad for sale.

  16. Charlottesville | January 12, 2021 at 5:19 pm |

    S.E. – I moved to Staunton (where my mother was born) with my parents in the 1970s, and still consider it my home town although I spent 15 years or so working in Washington. We now live halfway between there and Charlottesville, in an area called Afton. Staunton is even nicer today, with decent restaurants, the American Shakespeare Center and a restored and revitalized downtown, and the Shenandoah Valley is certainly a pretty part of the state.

    I think Grady Ervin is in Charleston, S.C., or at least it was the last time I visited a year or so ago. Alvin-Dennis is the Lexington store, and I began shopping there when I went to W&L. Not sure how it is doing these days, but I believe that it is still in business.

    Charlottesville had Eljo’s, Page-Foster, Ed Michtom’s and, as you mentioned, The Young Men’s Shop, where my father once shopped and Harry Marshall reigned until he closed the doors and retired a few years ago. Eljo’s alone remains from that era, and most of its business, at least in tailored clothing, is made-to measure. Miles Thurston who started working there in the 1960s, and his son Trent, formerly with J. Press in New York as I understand, now own the place. Like most traditional clothiers, the plague has no-doubt hurt them, but they are still open. I recently bought a pair of Bill’s Khakis, and Pantherella and Byford socks there, and my wife has bought me beautiful sweaters, ties and pocket squares for birthdays and Christmas.

    Numbers — Beecroft & Bull is, I think, still operating here as well, but as you point out it is not especially traditional, tending toward the Italian designer look. The old Jos. A. Bank store in Richmond was a great source for sack suits, tweeds, repp ties and decent OCBDs in the late 70s and early 80s at prices that I could afford. Another sad loss, especially for young men starting out with not much cash. There was also a great store called Alexander Dean that sold Polo and the like in the Shockoe Slip area of Richmond when I could still shop in the boy’s department and save a few bucks. Across the street was an oyster bar where I later learned to drink martinis and eat raw oysters, two lessons that continue to pay dividends today. Good memories.

  17. Thrifted a great herringbone Harris Tweed 3/2 sack coat a few months ago from Beecroft and Bull made by Southwick. Back in the ’80’s I bought many a ribbon watch band from their Williamsburg location.

    Will

  18. Yes correct and I stand corrected: Grady Ervin is the Charleston store while Alvin-Dennis is holds forth in Lexington.

    Charlottesville —
    Is Miles a daily presence at the store?

  19. Charlottesville | January 13, 2021 at 9:57 am |

    S.E. – Miles has been there 2 out of the 3 times I have been in over the past month or so. His son is also in the shop regularly and one or 2 other employees are around sometimes, which is a good sign that they are hanging on. Miles showed me some 3/2 sacks with hook vents that he was custom making for customers, but 2-button with dual vents is more common today. He had been using Southwick and Empire, but I guess it may be down to Empire now unless the Hickey Freeman factory in Rochester will still make sack suits.

    I wonder who J. Press is using these days. The last suit I bought from Press was made by Southwick.

  20. Mr, C Ville,
    Do you encounter a lot of fog in your area? I have encountered terrible fog on 64 at Afton Mtn. Once we had to use dead reckoning to turn for the exit.
    The area is exceedingly beautiful when there is no fog.

  21. Irving G. Steinberg | January 13, 2021 at 12:26 pm |

    Using Ivy League and Ivy Style was good copy in this era, for better or worse. I have had a number of non “Ivy League” store brand items that had all the ivy details, some better than others. Main Street Ivy occupies an odd place but is how commerce works. Concerning Varsity-Town, the earlier stuff seems good. I have a wonderful pre 1962 Harris tweed blazer and a dark gray herringbone suit from them, with all the halmarks of ivy style and they are well made, even compared to my similar vintage Brooks Brothers. I came across a later 1960s Madisonaire Navy Blazer from them, and this was awful. Poor construction and questionalble quality of material, even for being 55 years old.

    This ad just ages worse every time I look at it, and not in a haha, how old fashion way. I wonder if The Main Street embrace of this style hastened its demise?

  22. I went to the BB outlet in Williamsburg Dec 27 and Jan 9. The inventory was stale, the service lacking, and the prices not as favorable from my last visit on Feb 26. I had been somewhat optimistic about the future of Brooks. Now I disclaim any opinion on the future of Brooks.

  23. Ken Pollock | January 13, 2021 at 1:27 pm |

    S.E.- You mention Davidson’s of Roanoke. My family lived in Roanoke during the time period I was in the 6th-12th grades in school. My father regularly shopped at Davidson’s and I still have a wool challis tie from there. When my wife attended the University of Georgia, she had several sorority sisters who were from Roanoke. Our last visit to Roanoke was in 2009, when we went to attend my 50th high school reunion. One morning during that visit, my wife and I were walking down Jefferson Street, past the store, looking for a place to get a cup of coffee. I guess we looked somewhat lost, because a gentleman approached us and asked if he could help us find anything. He was very well-dressed, and since we were only a few feet away from Davidson’s, I asked him if he worked there. When he replied that he did, I asked him if he knew Bonnie Davidson, who had been the daughter of the store’s owner, and also my wife’s sorority sister. He looked rather startled and replied: “she’s my sister.” It turned out he was Larry Davidson, the third generation of Davidsons’ to run the store. Not only did we get advice as to where to get coffee, but Larry invited us over to his condominium (located in beautifully renovated former commercial space above the store)that evening, where we met his wife and his elderly father, Sig. He remembered my father. Larry even got Bonnie on the phone and she and my wife had their first chat in nearly 50 years. I understand that Sig passed away last March. We thought that he and his family were all lovely people.

  24. Charlottesville | January 13, 2021 at 2:18 pm |

    Numbers – Afton Mountain, where the Blue Ridge parkway meets the Skyline Drive, is indeed often very foggy, especially at the top where I-64 and US 250 intersect. I just made the trip a couple of hours ago, but it is a bright, sunny day here. We live at the bottom of the mountain on the Eastern side about 3 miles from the peak, and don’t travel west when we see fog up there. But the area really is beautiful, as you say. This picture from one of the local wineries shows it off well: https://www.aftonmountainvineyards.com/

    Mr. Pollock – What a delightful story. I have shopped at Davidson’s occasionally over the years and bought a very nice hounds-tooth tweed sport coat from them at one point, but I gave it away a few years ago. I have not been back in a decade, but wish them well.

  25. Mr. Pollock
    Did you go to Mill Mountain and Lakeside? It was a highlight of my summer when young. We would go while staying at My Grandmother’s farm near Smith Mountain.

  26. Charlottesville,

    You have given me a wonderful idea for surprising my wife with a stay at Afton Mountain Vineyards. Thank you.

    Will

  27. Charlottesville | January 15, 2021 at 10:35 am |

    Will — How lovely. Since I live nearby, I have never stayed there, but it is certainly a lovely spot. I hope you and Mrs. Sacksuit enjoy your visit.

  28. Ken Pollock | January 15, 2021 at 1:36 pm |

    Numbers-Yes, I went to both. Of course, Mill Mountain was virtually at the edge of downtown. I think a number of young lovers used to park up there at night to “make out.” I went to the huge swimming pool at Lakeside, in Salem, a number of times.

  29. Vern Trotter | January 15, 2021 at 9:22 pm |

    Charlottesville,

    My executive assistant back in 1964 – 65 in Winchester Va. was from Staunton. I still have her picture with Elvis in Staunton, I believe. Pictures with Elvis are rare. I like the Shenandoah Valley.

  30. Charlottesville | January 16, 2021 at 3:36 pm |

    Mr. Trotter – I am glad to hear that you like what is locally known as “the” valley (although there are plenty of others around) and I did not know that you once spent time in Winchester. I hope that things in the city (in the case of Manhattan, the definite article really is justified) are going as well as can be under the circumstances. Very best wishes to you.

  31. Henry Contestwinner | January 22, 2021 at 11:40 am |

    I finally figured out what that monstrosity on the man’s head is! It’s a patterned chef’s hat.

    A proper toque will not only keep the chef’s hair out of the food, but also draw heat up and away from his head. This is why the traditional ones are cylindrical. The ghastly thing on the model’s head would keep the wearer warm. Maybe OK if you’re barbecuing outside when it’s chilly, but not otherwise a benefit in the kitchen.

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