Yesterday And Tomorrow

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

34 Comments on "Yesterday And Tomorrow"

  1. Herr Doktor | March 9, 2017 at 10:58 am |

    I kinda like the plus fours

  2. Sorry to toss a lemon. Armistice Day World War I, November 11, 1918, found Grandpa Jacobi Press bursting with an unbridled inventory of military gabardines used to tailor officer’s uniforms together with remainders of tweeds and flannels under utilized during the war years. What to do? Yep. Translate the uneven stock into separate sport coats and slacks. The Yalies at the tables down at Mory’s soon filled their cups with mixed and unmatched sport coats, slacks and booze. Boola, Boola.

  3. I went to an all-boys private school in Montreal for a couple of years in the 1960s. The uniform was blue blazer with school crest, grey flannels and school tie. The year I got there, they relaxed the rules on shirts and allowed blue and white shirts in addition to the traditional gray.

    There was one guy who always wore knickers (as we called them) instead of regular flannels. It must have been acceptable, because the school never made him stop (and believe me, they would have; I got major grief for wearing Hush Puppies one day).

  4. Vern Trotter | March 9, 2017 at 11:43 am |

    Just this minute I learned that the designation plus fours, and plus twos, stand for the amount of fabric below the knee. Shades of Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan.

  5. Marc Chevalier | March 9, 2017 at 11:50 am |

    Yes, and plus-sixes also existed.

  6. tmjm, did you happen to go to LCC?

  7. Hogan in plus-fours? Maybe when he was 18.

  8. G. Bruce Boyer | March 9, 2017 at 12:08 pm |

    The comment by Mr. Press is important because it gives us a better idea of how early this trend started. I’m going to assume that the same sort of thing happened in Britain: that officers and other soldiers returning home continued to wear and mix various parts of their military wardrobes with their civilian clothes after they were demobbed.

  9. George Fencestack Stravine, IV | March 9, 2017 at 12:22 pm |

    Like those knickers. In addition to golf, stalking and shooting, knickers were also a staple of mountaineering. Functional for keeping the legs warm while allowing freedom of movement in the knee, alpinists from the 1800s through the 1970s wore knickers as a matter of course. I assume they were European in origin, since climbing was first a European sport. Woolrich made them up to about six or seven years ago, and Ibex Clothing also made them until recently, but stopped. A few archival photos of mountaineers wearing knickers (first link). The second link shows a climber taken in 2010 in a pair of what look like Woolrich knickers.

    http://bit.ly/2mnfqPz

    http://bit.ly/2m6PZ3W

  10. MacMcConnell | March 9, 2017 at 12:59 pm |

    Ralph L was making knickers not long ago, I owned a pair of baby blue linen. Wore them to play in golf tournaments, an annual vintage croquet party and of course Halloween.

  11. MacMcConnell | March 9, 2017 at 1:07 pm |

    “Officer Pinks” whether cavalry twill or gab look great with navy blazers.

  12. Vern Trotter | March 9, 2017 at 1:58 pm |

    Christian,

    You are right on. I am looking at a picture of Hogan when he turned pro at 18, in plus fours in 1930. He never wore them when he was older. Especially after his car wreck.

  13. I took up cross country skiing in the early 1980’s and purchased a pair of tweed knickers and knee length socks from LL Bean. Still use them today when out for a ski or a hike.

  14. I would just as soon wear a kilt or spats or, sorry CC, a patchwork cap. They do look natty in old pictures though.

    Will

  15. Mitchell S. | March 9, 2017 at 3:28 pm |

    Like silk collapsible opera (top) hats or swallowtail coats, knickerbockers need duende to wear effortlessly. The Duke of Windsor (Prince Charles) is one one of the best dressed men on the planet and one of the few people that don’t look ridiculous wearing them.

  16. Facinating

  17. I’ve got mixed jacket/trousers and a dude in plus-fours from 1926:
    http://i65.tinypic.com/nb5jet.png

  18. Tweedy Prof | March 10, 2017 at 2:31 am |

    Is it really so that men didn’t wear odd jackets with non-matching trousers prior to Armistice Day?

    Any photos of university students in the early 20th century?

  19. The photo linked above is of Dartmouth students, 1926.

  20. Dartmouth ’26 linked CeeEm above photo are Dartmouth alum & Chi Phi brothers. “Brothers and brothers and men to men comrades ’til the end, raise up you mugs, hold’em high, drink a toast to the name Chi Phi.”🍺

  21. Tweedy Prof | March 10, 2017 at 7:24 am |

    CeeEm:

    Yes, sir, but that’s after Armistice Day.
    I’m looking for a photo of university students in mixed jacket/trousers that antedates Armistice Day.

  22. English Nick | March 10, 2017 at 11:06 am |

    Mitchell:– Prince Charles is not “the Duke of Windsor”, God Bless Him. The most senior of his titles is Prince of Wales. But you’re spot on, he does sport good threads with confidence.

  23. Trad Archivist | March 10, 2017 at 11:37 am |

    Further to what English Nick wrote, these details might be of interest:

    When King Edward VIII abdicated, there was controversy as to how the ex-King should be titled.
    The solution was to create the Dukedom of Windsor.
    The Dukedom became extinct on the death of the Duke in 1972.

  24. Mitchell S. | March 10, 2017 at 12:29 pm |

    @English Nick, @Trad Archivist:

    My apologies to my brethren across the pond. I’m just a humble Boston Yankee, so please forgive my faux pas regarding HRH The Prince of Wales.

    Some fascinating photos of plus fours worn with duende: http://www.gettyimages.ca/photos/tweed-plus-fours?excludenudity=true&sort=mostpopular&mediatype=photography&phrase=tweed%20plus%20fours

  25. GS, yes, it was LCC. Sorry for the late reply.

  26. That’s alright, my cousins went to LCC. I was set to go there but QC passed a law that doesn’t allow children of those who weren’t educated in the province to attend schools that are partially subsidized by the govt. I went to another private school in the West Island. We had a similar uniform to LCC, grey flannels, navy blazer, OCBD and repp tie. I know that these days the uniforms for all the private schools left in Montreal use the same uniform company and LCC still has a similar uniform.

  27. GS, interesting. I remember that provincial law, which I think came in during the PQ’s first term, but maybe I’m wrong about that.

    In my day (late ’60s), you could only buy the LCC uniform at Morgan’s (which later became The Bay) or at a shop in Westmount called Howarth’s, which I assume is long gone. I bought my stuff at Morgan’s because I was a scholarship kid and my mom and I were intimidated by Howarth’s. Unlike Howarth’s, Morgan’s didn’t sew the crest on your blazer; they just gave you the crest and you had to sew it on yourself. My mom sewed the crest on my blazer all wrong for my first year because neither of us knew any better, and I spent my whole first year feeling embarrassed about it. But this is starting to sound like a Tobias Wolff novel, or maybe a Dolly Parton song.

    Do you know where the Montreal private-school kids get their uniforms now?

  28. That sounds about right from what I remember learning in history class. Montreal was very English until about 1976, you’re lucky to have known it when it was still good. I was reading about Morgan’s and I recognized their ribbon “M” logo as The Bay used a variation of it until recently. Haven’t heard of Howarth’s, sounds too English to have survived to modern day MTL, shame. These days, the private school uniforms for most Canadian schools are made by a company called Top Marks. It’s all made in Canada (except for the tie) but all poorly made. The blazers are poly/wool hopsack with 2 buttons and open patch pockets and come with the school crest sewn on. The pants are poly/viscose grey faux-flannels and the OCBD’s have lined collars and are poly/cotton. The ties are Chinese made of polyester but of a good weight so I still wear mine from time to time. Do you still have yours? LCC has a nice crest and nice school colors.

  29. Actually, the uniforms aren’t poorly made they’re made of poor materials.

  30. In some ways it’s not too surprising that the uniforms are not made of top material. When you’ve got growing kids wearing the same uniform day in and day out, longevity for the clothes isn’t likely. I feel like I got through both of my years at LCC with one blazer and two pairs of grey flannels each year, and maybe three shirts and two ties…but I can’t really remember. Anyway, they took a lot of abuse. We didn’t quite play football in our uniforms, but pretty close.

    I really wish I had kept my LCC ties, but we did a lot of moving in those days, including a move away from Mtl. And of course when I became a teenager I also became a tie-avoiding hippie (as did so many of my LCC friends!). Somewhere along the line, the old school ties got lost. Too bad — the wool repp tie in the school colours that we wore in those days was great. It was a really classic design that could even transition to everyday business wear if one were so inclined. I’ve seen the current LCC uniform and I like our old ties much better than the current one. Of course the school itself seems to be a much better and happier place than it was in my time. Back in the ’60s, the Montreal private schools were much more like dreary British schools than American prep schools. Having said that, I really did feel privileged to go there — especially when I ended up in a small town in Eastern Ontario a couple of years later. Everything about Montreal, including LCC, looked better in retrospect.

  31. The clothes last fairly long but did show premature signs of aging. I had exactly that amount, one blazer, two pairs of pants and three shirts and two ties. One was my student government tie which I still wear now and again. We also had a plain v-neck sweater, which most students preferred to wear inlace of the blazer. And our uniforms took a good amount of abuse, as well. However, most mothers opted to repair rather than replace as the school charged a small fortune for the clothes. That’s very interesting to hear that LCC was more like a British boarding school than an American prep school as my private school from MTL was more like a prep school. I have now been to both a Canadian private school and American prep school and found little difference between the two. I still wish I could have gone to LCC as I was supposed to, it always looked so nice and steeped in history.

  32. If it’s any consolation, the food was terrible when I was there! As for sweaters, I don’t recall any v-necks, but there was a really nice crew neck for casual wear and sports, again in the school colours.

  33. Funny, the food at my school was great. Better than my college. I’d be surprised if there were any crewnecls at LCC today…

Leave a Reply