Words & Images from Preppy: Cultivating Ivy Style

Last week I Jeffrey Banks and Doria de La Chapelle presented me with a copy of their new book, “Preppy: Cultivating Ivy Style.” It was a great 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” doesn’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 2011.

Here the authors offer 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:

More Groton students:

And finally, William F. Buckley. — CC

Images provided by Rizzoli. Photo credits: 1, The Everett Collection; 5, Corbis Images

27 Comments on "Words & Images from Preppy: Cultivating Ivy Style"

  1. Urban Haute Bourgeois | October 18, 2011 at 11:06 am |

    The photo entitled “More Deerfield Students” nails it. It’s like visual evidence of the Hegelian/Marxist dictum that each establishment has within it the seeds of its own destruction. WASP non-chalance is just so damned evident in this picture (I love the kid with the necktie turned around the wrong way and the droopy socks). But it’s the guy on the left with the sandals and socks lets the viewer know: And After Us, the Deluge.

    If this picture was not taken in 1965 or 1966, I will eat your Shaggy Dog sweater.

    It’s the end of WASPdom, but never did WASPdom look better.

  2. Urban Haute Bourgeois | October 18, 2011 at 11:09 am |

    Hold on to your sweater. Now that I look at it, I’ll say 1968. Like the peach at its sweetest. Rotting concurrently.

  3. Good eye, UHB. The authors just indicated that the photo was misidentified in the book. I’ve just corrected it in this post: It’s Groton, 1967.

  4. WFB is a trad god. If you get a chance, check out the pics in his book “Atlantic High,” about one of his sailboat voyages. Legendary. (He has other sailing books too, and I’m sure they all feature outstanding shots, but “Atlantic” is the one I have at hand.)

  5. Simply mahvelous. Absolutely top drawer commentary!

  6. You guys are making me feel bad about my rather harsh (scathing?) review of the book.

  7. I was into this until you dropped the Buckley picture in there. It was like eating a delicious meal and then suddenly having someone come over and pee on your plate.

  8. that sandals and sox guy, bottom picture, far left, i think he turned out to be Lawrence Summers-jw

  9. Ulysses,

    Now you know how I feel when I see pictures of any of the Kennedys.

    Except that I don’t experience it in scatological terms.

  10. The Buckley picture is fantastic, and that is coming from a liberal Democrat!

  11. Does anybody find it odd that WFB was not from the East or from any branch of the Establishment, but he is accepted as an exemplar of preppiness, etc., while Christian can’t even write a blog post without getting called out as an imposter?

  12. Yes, the photos are great!
    Hey, is that Gore Vidal’s yacht behind
    pursuing at ramming speed!?!

  13. Button-Down Mind Strikes Back | October 22, 2011 at 5:13 pm |


    Ironically enough, the people who seem to obsessively attack CC as a “fake” are from LA or the UK. Go figure.

    Methinks some people are a bit insecure.

  14. I guess the Buckley picture gave me bad juju because he represents everything that’s historically awful about the ivy/trad lifestyle w/r/t/ classism, racism, sexism, etc. Those things need to be lived down, not celebrated.

    i like the clothes from an aesthetic perspective, but let’s not forgot that the politics that came with them were (and don’t forget still are) often downright vile.

  15. Ulysses, I think just as many lefties as righties wore and continue to wear tweed jackets, oxford-cloth buttondowns, rep ties, flannels and Weejuns.

  16. What Ulysses is saying is that having a point of view that is different from his own is unacceptable. He’s saying that the American nation as it historically existed was “downright vile.”

    Ulysses, your leftism, and its intolerance of all that is not of the left, is showing.

  17. @Christian: You’re statement above is accurate. But I think Ulysses is saying that Buckley specifically is an icon of the “righties” who wore the style, and Ulysses is accurate, I think, that Buckley stood for ideas that many people on the left, the center and the moderate right would find disturbing or worse. Still, I think that picture is fantastic and wish I wore my clothes with that much nonchalance.

    @Button-Down Mind Strikes Back: You, too, too make a good point that these knee-jerk critics of CC appear to be no more Eastern than he.

    @Henry: I don’t think Ulysses is saying that every view besides his own is unacceptable. I think he’s just saying he doesn’t like WFB’s politics. Lots of people don’t. It’s no big deal. I think Ulysses is merely making a personal statement about his own discomfort with WFB. I don’t think he requires you to agree with him. However, some things about American history are pretty “vile.” As good stewards of our nation, we can be candid and critical about how we think we can continue to improve. People all over the political spectrum want that.

  18. omg *Your. My high school grammar teacher is staring daggers at me right now!

  19. Gabe,

    With respect, I disagree, Ulysses is engaging in the all-too-common modern practice of reviling the actual, historical, existing America. He is identifying the people who are most representative of those who founded and built America with “classism, racism, sexism, etc.”

    This is unacceptable.

    Now, I grant you that America has suffered, to a greater or lesser extent, from those ills. This is as remarkable as saying that the sun rises in the east, because all societies everywhere and throughout history have “suffered” from these maladies. However, the modern leftist (who often calls himself a liberal, or, disingenuously, a “progressive”) believes that Western culture is uniquely guilty of these shortcomings, and that the only way to overcome them is to overthrow the guilty societies and replace them with something “better.”

    To limit myself to clothing alone, the Ivy style in its heyday was not the exclusive domain of the WASPs, but was, as has been well-documented here, worn by a broad swath of Americans, including blacks, and often influenced by Jewish clothiers. “Racist” and “classist” indeed! However, in our modern “enlightened” world, where most people have thrown off the allegedly oppressive yoke of The Man’s suit and tie, people have been released from decorum, and are free to wear sweats and flip-flops in public. They are free to bathe our eyes in the visual pollution of their guts hanging out from underneath their ad-festooned T-shirts, to assault our vision with their body piercings and facial tattoos. Improvement it is not.

    Unlike most, I believe that we can only achieve our highest potential when we suppress, not indulge, our every urge. Modest, tasteful clothing. clothes that demonstrate respect for others and whatever situation we find ourselves in, are far more conducive to this goal than our modern self-indulgent “aesthetic.”

  20. If you disagree with everything else Henry has said, at least praise him for putting that pompous, overused word “aesthetic” in quotation marks.

    I thought that word was cool when I discovered it in college. I’ve hated it ever sense.

  21. @Henry

    what a load of complete and utter bullshit…

  22. Thank you, Christian.


    Your brilliance speaks for itself.

  23. Henry,

    You speak too much,… and remove all doubt.

  24. J.,

    Welcome to the world of adult discourse! That is the first thing you’ve written here that manages to be critical without being gratuitously offensive. I hope you can continue with it.

  25. Lovely book. Fabulous photographs and great to study for style indicators for any one seeking to get the right twist in their wardrobe.

  26. Richard Meyer | January 18, 2012 at 4:20 am |

    I enjoy the old pictures a lot, but the Hilfiger ads and some of the new stuff not at all. “The Hilfigers”- yuck. The old Polo ads by Anthony Edgeworth were the best.

  27. I’ve been here for the last six months, so I’m still reading older articles. But, I must say reading the ill informed opinions of WFB are amusing. One wonders if any of them have met him , talked to him, or read any of his serious writings, I doubt it. WFB a catholic, with a liberal ivy league education, he rejected Rand, went to war with the Birchers, never tolerated racist and defended the rule of law in our constitutional republic. He always treated his adversaries on the left with respect, while usually intellectually skull fucking them.

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