“Entry E” is something of a pulp novel, telling a tale of Ivy League life in America that was considered startling on its release in 1958. But for all the adolescent angst and raucous action in this story, there is plenty of mid-century Ivy League style and quiet consideration of the “Ivy Man,” described in knowledgeable detail by the book’s author, Richard Frede, a Yale graduate.
Set in the residence hall Entry E at the fictitious Hayden University (an unconvincing alias for the real Entry E in Timothy Dwight College at Yale, where Frede resided during his time in New Haven), the novel follows Ed Bogard, an average student who becomes aware of an unsavory plan: A group of men in his entry are preparing to drug a visiting college girl over the weekend with grain alcohol and Benzedrine, rendering her defenceless to their advances. Will Bogard speak out, or will he be another example of America’s “silent generation”?
As Bogard wrestles with the typical challenge of discovering himself at college and finding his voice to speak out, there is the introduction of the “Slide Rule” and “Third Person,” imaginary entities that appear at times when Bogard feels most challenged, depressed or conflicted. But it is telling that the most interesting manifestation of his conscience, the Third Person, is a perfectly turned-out handsome man whom Bogard sees for the first time at a country club dance while at prep school:
In his mind Bogard stared at a handsome, patently omniscient paragon of a man; a man who had just stepped out of some mists Bogard had never before noticed in his mind a man dressed in a white dinner jacket and Bermuda shorts and a bow tie of the same brilliant yellow, orange, and red plaid; a man who grinned omnisciently back at Bogard and said, “The plaid of my ancestors, a warm and noble group, both emotional and adventurous, a trait which, I am afraid, you and your friends do not understand.” A man with a horrendously straight and cynical grin; a man who grinned omnisciently back at Bogard and patiently said once again, “Why don’t you go over and ask her for a date.”
Bogard doesn’t get the girl, and this love/hate relationship with the Third Person reaches its fever pitch upon enrolment at college, not least because this was Bogard’s chance to become just as well attired as his imaginary nemesis.
Bogard learns quickly that there is a very strict criteria that links clothes to campus cachet. He gets himself khakis and white bucks (which are especially popular in the rain), and quickly learns that shirts are to have a number of specific attributes:
Then he stripped off the shirt he was wearing and went to his chest and took out another — a favorite shirt, fresh from the laundry, a soft and medium-heavy almost lumberman’s shirt, except that it was button-down and even had a button in the back of the collar; probably, as Bogard figured, to attest to the fact that he’s paid twelve bucks for it at one of the custom shops just off campus. Every time he wore it he felt a deep sense of luxury and well-being, its softness warm and well-fitting against his body, like an ever-present caress. He called it his Controlled-Euphoria shirt, and he had bought two others like it since he’d first gotten this one freshman year.
But just as Bogard doggedly observes these Ivy League style tips, he also quickly notices those students who don’t follow the rules. Red River Dawson, Bogard’s neighbour, strolls around Entry E “corduroy-jacketed, bejeaned, and with his thumbs stuck in his western belt,” and is perpetually denied entry to the dinner hall because he refuses to replace his Texan string tie with a proper one. For all his sartorial faults, Bogard admits he likes this “Lone Ranger of the Ivy League,” even “in spite of the fact that somehow you just didn’t make friends with a guy like this at a place like this.”
Nonetheless, it takes the perfect Ivy League ensemble, companionship and activities to enable Bogard to finally defeat the Third Person:
So delighted with himself that, late in the afternoon of the day before the new term began, he and two friends, all three of them just-showered and fresh shaved, and wearing their best tweed jackets, best J. Press button-downs, best-pressed softest charcoals, and best-shined cordovans (all three happy duplicates of one another except for the precise pattern of their tweeds and the precise repp of their ties), followed their faire sunnes into the darkly paneled beersmells of Tim and Art’s, where they drank long bourbons on cracked ice and forgot to eat dinner and got so deeply involved in nothing Bogard was eventually able to say to The Third Person, you are not here, man, I mean, you’re just plain nowhere.
Proper shirts, khakis, flannel trousers and ties for dinner become his mainstay college uniform, and key to his campus identity. But his confidence also allows him to stand up and speak out against the terrible actions of his entry mates, intervening to get the girl sobered up, delivered back to her college, and then report the offending young men to campus security.
In its review of “Entry E,” the Harvard Crimson wrote, “The assets of the book life lie chiefly in its small touches — description of the weather and of Yalie breakfast conversation.” It might be right, especially given the author’s personal connection to Entry E and Yale, but these numerous dress details, too, provide an insightful period look at the style of the Yale Man of the 1950s. — REBECCA C. TUITE
Pictured above is author Richard Frede with his sister at Vassar College, 1959.