Here is a fascinating photo from Yale in 1928. The young man on the left looks old-fashioned to us today with his three-piece suit with plus-fours (which was actually probably part of a four-piece suit that included trousers as well as knickers). In contrast, the student on the right looks perfectly contemporary in his crewneck sweater, odd jacket and flannel trousers.
He is the man of tomorrow. It’s a look that would have been just beginning to take hold and would remain popular on college campuses for the next 40 years.
“So interesting that the student on the left looks old-fashioned, and the one on the right is The New Man,” said G. Bruce Boyer when shown the photo. “It’s the sort of thing that’s so apparent in photos of the Prince of Wales in the 1920s and ’30s, and in the early films of Fred Astaire.”
It’s also a look that’s perfectly current today, without a hint of retro affectation. The only place you could wear the outfit on the left is one of those historic-reinactment golf tournaments where they play with hickory shafts.
Speaking of which, is the guy on the left captain of the golf team and on his way to practice, or would that have been stylish and sporty everyday wear? According to Boyer, it’s the equivalent of wearing sweatpants today when you have no intention of sweating. “Plus-fours were first worn for sports (and are still worn sometimes for stalking and shooting), but then quickly taken into the casual day wardrobe,” says Boyer. “The outfit would have been worn in the same way that today some students will wear their gym clothes —sweatshirts and pants — to class during the day. James Laver was the first to propose the theory that most modern menswear comes from sports and warfare. It’s a theory that still makes good historical sense today, with some important exceptions of course.”
As for the caption, while odd jackets and flannels were first popuarlized at Oxford and Cambridge, in this country credit had gone to Princeton in 1929. This photo says Yale and a year earlier. — CC