Nine years ago Jeffrey Banks and Doria de La Chapelle presented me with a copy of their book, “Preppy: Cultivating Ivy Style.” It was an honor as a couple of my Q&As for Ivy Style are cited in the credits, as is W. David Marx’s article on the Miyuki-zoku, plus work from early Ivy Style contributor Deirdre Clemente.
While “Preppy: Cultivating Ivy Style” didn’t boast groundbreaking research, it’s a solid overview well timed for a new trend and new generation. Perhaps a quarter to a third of the book may seem extraneous (fashion writers, like literary scholars, feel they must cite sources they feel are related but which often feel tangential). However the bulk of it is devoted to precisely the origins of this style — prep and college students in the Northeast and the WASP establishment — while still taking an inclusive approach apropos for the year 2011. That may not entirely be the case nearly a decade later.
So here the authors with a terse summary of the style:
Preppy has always been acknowledged as an inherently American phenomenon, a fashion — or anti-fashion as some have called it — whose imagery perpetually connects us to idyllic college days, sport, and the spirit and vitality of youth. Preppy’s origins are rooted in the grounds of the elite Ivy League universities of the 1920s, where young, WASPy and wealthy gentlemen invented a relaxed new way for collegians to dress by co-opting athletic clothes form the playing fields, mixing them with genteel classics, and decking themselves out with caps, ties, pins and other regalia to signify membership in a prestigious club or sport. They then embellished the look with the best possible accessory: an air of complete and utter nonchalance.
But you can’t feign nonchalance until you nail the details:
In the elite, insular and often snobbish collegiate world, one’s identity was in the details: what a man wore, how his tie was tied, where his hair was parted and what club he joined were of paramount importance. Among the reasons behind Ivy League style’s resounding popularity with college students was the immense peer pressure to conform and its close relative, the deep need to belong.
And speaking of conformity, here’s Banks and de La Chappelle the Ivy heyday:
It didn’t take [postwar, college-educated men] long to learn that “working in corporate America demanded a knowledge of certain codes, many of which were embedded in the corporate uniform.” America had become more and more politically conservative, and Ivy League clothes — with their inherently understated quality and ability to blend in — were the perfect expression of the new “buttoned-down” philosophy. Ivy college graduates, well schooled in conformity, went to work uncomplainingly in their narrow-lapeled sack suits with skinny ties, while older alums, inspired by the slimmer, more youthful-seeming style, also joined the growing band of sack-suited men.
Some of the photos will be familiar, while others are fresh. Here is a handful of images I liked, which Rizzoli was kind enough to provide. Above is a scene from the film adaptation of Philip Roth’s “Goodbye, Columbus.” Below, Groton students, from the graduating class of ’67, in madras jackets:
More madras, with the classic pairing of white buttondown and solid tie. This is co-author de La Chappelle’s brother, Gary Martinelli:
And finally some more students at Groton. — CC
Images provided by Rizzoli. Photo credits: 1, The Everett Collection; 5, Corbis Images