Well Groomed Conformity

In 1947, a letter from the Student Tailor Shop gave official notice to Princeton’s incoming class of ’51 that the university required its own wardrobe. “The style of clothing worn around the campus,” it read, “is different from that sold in metropolitan centers and home town stores.”

From four-button suits and detachable-collar shirts in the 1910s to the classic Ivy look of gray flannel trousers, white bucks and rep tie in the ’50s, Princeton shaped the sartorial habits of its students, who went on to influence fashion at large. But what was worn on the Princeton campus was different because, at least for a time, it was cutting-edge.

Soon, however, it was increasingly seen as conformist, and sometime in the late ’60s students — and America at large — began to draw sartorial inspiration less from Nassau Street and more from Mean Street. Cutoff shorts and leather jackets found their way on campus.

A Brief History of P-Town Style,” a 2004 article from The Daily Princetonian, chronicles fashion at Princeton over the years, with an emphasis on the enduring appeal, through good times and bad, of sporty Ivy-influenced clothing. From plaid to Nantucket Reds to popped-collar polo shirts, Princeton students continue a manner of dress that is different from what most Americans wear. While their style is no longer cutting edge, it retains its insider appeal and a consciously anachronistic charm. — TALIESIN

Pictured above is Princeton’s Cannon Club, 1949.

25 Comments on "Well Groomed Conformity"

  1. DCLawyer | May 8, 2009 at 8:15 am |

    Are there any really nice traditional men’s stores left in Princeton. I recall one when I visited the campus for the wedding of a faculty member’s daughter, but haven’t seen anything like that in my visits since.

  2. Did y’all see the photo in the linked-to article?


    I’m left wondering if they intended that photo as a joke.

  3. you should check out This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is all about the main character attending Princeton, about campus life, the clothing and social scene. Fitzgerald actually attended there and this book is almost an autobiography, he just uses different names.

  4. Dig the Duck cords but I always thought the polo went under the oxford.

  5. Went looking for something from the archives today and thought this line interesting:

    “The style of clothing worn around the campus,” it read, “is different from that sold in metropolitan centers and home town stores.”

  6. That is interesting, I thought that by then every store was copying the collegiate look.

  7. Carmelo Pugliatti | April 12, 2017 at 11:25 am |

    “The style of clothing worn around the campus,” it read, “is different from that sold in metropolitan centers and home town stores.”

    And this is true until early 50s circa.
    From 50s “Ivy” spread from campus to the American cities.

  8. GS, not in 1947. That came ten years later.

  9. Charlottesville | April 12, 2017 at 1:03 pm |

    Interesting article. The link above did not work for me, but this one should get you there: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2004/03/a-brief-history-of-p-town-style. I wonder whether anyone at Princeton still keeps the Ivy style alive. On most campuses, including the one where I sit today, the only difference between “[t]he style of clothing worn around the campus,” and “that sold in metropolitan centers and home town stores” is the insignia on the athletic wear. Interesting that wearing school colors was taboo at Princeton a hundred years ago. This morning, virtually every student I saw on the way in, male and female, was wearing some form of gym shorts and t-shirt with a blue and orange logo on at least one item. It’s a rare professor who troubles to wear a coat and tie to class, and while a student might don a blazer and Vineyard Vines tie for a special occasion, that’s about it. I gather that the situation at most schools is even worse, although I am hopeful that Sewanee, Hampden Sydney and Washington & Lee may keep the trad fires burning a bit longer.

  10. Link fixed. Thanks.

  11. I see, thank you for clarifying. So back in ’47 Ivy Style was still niche and had not yet been taken nationwide.

  12. ’54! Haven’t you been paying attention? ; )

  13. Mitchell S. | April 12, 2017 at 4:49 pm |

    Here’s a rule from the Freshman Handbook that makes no sense at all: “Don’t wear the college colors in any form.” So, no orange jackets or Princeton ties, ever? Maybe it was a form Protestant modesty and restraint.

    I remember a video narrated by Dick Press about ivy style and how dapper Princeton undergraduates appeared in their orange jackets with dark piping.

    Alongside Oxford University and Eton college, no school besides Princeton is as well-known for churning out clean-cut, sharp dressed men.

  14. Marc Chevalier | April 12, 2017 at 4:52 pm |

    In ’47, Ivy style was still seen as the clothing you wore until you grew up and graduated … or became a professor or writer.

  15. Mitchell S. | April 12, 2017 at 5:15 pm |

    Just read Deirdre Clemente’s post about how only upperclassmen at Princeton were allowed to wear striped ties and flannel pants. Freshmen and sophomores had to earn the privilege to dress like upperclassmen: http://www.ivy-style.com/leading-men-the-princetonians.html

  16. My apologies, Mr. Editor, I got the dates mixed up. I’ll be sure to re-read the chapter on the trad ’50s for tomorrow.

    P.S. the fall of the Ivy look was in ’76, right?

  17. GS

    No. 1967. Take a look at the Raise and Fall Essay on this site. An essay that is clear and precise in expression and thought.

  18. “The style of clothing worn around the campus is different from that sold in metropolitan centers and home town stores.”

    This easily could have been said about bell-bottomed, tie-dyed, campus wear of the1970s. The better-than-thou arrogance would then be flipped on it pointy little head.

  19. Vern Trotter | April 13, 2017 at 2:37 am |

    Interesting, the 2004 article refers to Princeton as “P-Town.” I immediately thought “Provincetown,” as most in the Northeast now do. I did a quick Google search for P-Town and everything is Provincetown.

  20. If I counted correctly, only 4 of the 64 young fellows are wearing bow ties. A 6% minority, even back then. Seems surprising, but the photo doesn’t lie.

    Bow ties are just not popular. (I do wear them occasionally, more now, since I’m old.)

  21. Question, how did all these guys in the photo aquire 1970s Ralph Lauren suits with wide lapels and stove pipe pants? 😉

  22. Dutch Uncle | April 13, 2017 at 10:55 am |

    Please excuse two naive questions:

    Are there any Princeton students today who wear OCBDs and chinos?
    Are there any Princeton professors today who adhere to Trad/Ivy Style?

  23. No, there are not, at least among the students.

    Back when I was in high school, I went on a college visit to Princeton with thoughts of J. Press and Ivy clothing. What I saw was a beautiful campus marred by trendy mall clothes and a street of shops that consisted of Starbucks, The Gap, et cetera. I was expecting at least one or two shops holding down tradition, as you’d see in Oxford or Cambridge, which I’d passed through recently but there was not even that. I genuinely lost all interest in the university when I saw that. A shallow point of view, perhaps, but even as a 17 year old a Princeton devoid of the culture it forged held no appeal.

  24. Hey there, folks – I’m rebuilding TailoredForward.com at the moment and was debating adding sections to offer tailored outerwear for local sports teams – for example, pea coat or Mack in a black, gray and orange plaid wool flannel for the SF Giants…

    Do you think sections for colleges would work, seeded with best guesses and then updated by the college students and alumni so they could actually shape the style while making it more accessible to other students?

    I want custom, American made clothing to be accessible again, even to college students, so we are price competitive with sites like Indochino or Zara… which is what most cost conscious buyers are getting these days… and it’s diluting style traditions like you’re discussing here.

    20 years from now will this be the cheap, overseas suit era? I hope not.

  25. Mr. Korn, that is what we kids refer to as a joke. I know that the proper date is ’67 but thank you for trying to help.

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