It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that most people’s gut reaction to hearing the phrases “Mr. Rogers” and “style” in the same sentence would be hearty laughter. After all, even within our fringe community of Ivy enthusiasts, tee-totaling children’s show hosts who wear Keds typically don’t hold a lot of credibility. But Fred Rogers is different. Not only did he affect the Ivy Look according to many of the textbook precepts, but he managed to do it with an approachable, home-grown flair that was all his own.
Fred’s story starts with legitimate Ivy school chops: from ’46-’48 he attended Dartmouth before moving on to Rollins, where he received his bachelors in Music in ’51, and finally to the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where he received a Doctor of Divinity in ’63. It was in Pittsburgh (not far from his birthplace of Latrobe, PA), that Rogers finally settled with his family and continued to refine his style.
For a man with an easy, gentle demeanor, Fred’s take on the Ivy Look for his TV show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” was perhaps all too appropriate. For a man who famously replaced the customary desk in his office with a sofa because it was “too much of a barrier,” the deshabille tendencies of the Ivy Look simply made sense. Perhaps Rogers’ cozy full-zip cardigans (knitted by his mother) were his stylistic signature, but more standard Ivy hallmarks were also on regular display, including club and plaid ties as well as collar pins. In one of a few pictures that I could find of Fred wearing a sportcoat, it wasn’t surprising to see that it was a sack with patch-and-flap pockets. And those sneakers for which Rogers was so famous? They were a nod to practicality that he adopted during his early years on TV sets because they were quieter than hard-soled alternatives.
In fact, just about the only images floating about of Rogers in something as formal as a suit are those from his 2002 Presidential Medal of Freedom acceptance ceremony at the White House. For that event, he also wore a club tie adorned with trolley cars, an allusion to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
Run a Google image search and you’ll quickly note that in his later years Rogers favored P3-style eyeglasses and the occasional bow tie, both styles that might be described as charming Ivy peculiarities. I guess that charming peculiarities are really what Mr. Rogers’ take on Ivy style was all about. Perhaps they’re really the only fitting choice for a man who made millions of children love him for his lack of barriers. — ANDY OWEN