I could hardly believe it, but there it was right in front of me: a grainy newspaper photo of a group of happy haberdashers under a sign in Old English script that read “The Trad Shop.”
How could this be? The general consensus in the natural-shoulder enthusiast community is that the word “trad” refers roughly to the Ivy League Look in Japan, and that it was never used in the US to refer to the natural-shoulder genre. To believe otherwise is to embrace an artificial construct of the Internet age.
But the question now is what to do when you find the exception to the rule. I believe that a dispassionate examination of the evidence will show that this anomaly adds to the richness of the Ivy story for those who love both clothes and the business acumen that brought them to the public. So let’s delve in and meet Stuart Lewis and The Trad Shop, which served the Cornell campus during the Ivy heyday.
Stuart Lewis embraced the soft shoulder while a student at Bucknell. He graduated in 1956 and joined his father’s firm, Irv Lewis, which had been serving the Cayuga Lake community of Ithaca, New York, since 1905. “There was no real presence or look that would be considered a trend,” Lewis told me in a recent interview. “Then all of a sudden the natural shoulder trend became popular with Brooks Brothers, Paul Stuart, Fenn-Feinstein, plus some other notables that were looked to for menswear fashion leadership.” Lewis first opened a campus shop called Stuart’s, focusing exclusively on the natural-shoulder look in 1957. After three years on the hill, Ivy was going downtown.
In the summer of 1960 Lewis opened The Trad Shop inside the Irv Lewis store on State Street. The shop was located adjacent to the mens department in the rear on the main floor as a “university specialty department.” It was a completely separate department and sold only “TRAD-ITIONAL” natural-shoulder clothing and accessories. Advertised brands included Cricketeer and Hanover Hall.
The Trad Shop’s advertising in the campus newspaper emphasized tradition: their own, as well as those of Cornell. They embraced the traditional natural shoulder and traditional woolens. Samples of ad copy include:
… Our button down collars must have the proper flared collar, our shetland sweaters must be imported and brushed shaggy, our traditional slacks must have the correct taper… At other colleges they might wear something different, but we think Cornellians are about the best-dressed college men in the country, and thus, we strive for authenticity…
It’s a tradition that more students and faculty come to Irv Lewis… Cornell students favor our special Trad Shop Dept., a special section devoted to the authentic and traditional look.
In one ad photo one sees wrought iron, what looks like exposed wood, crested college shield plaques, and Vanity Fair prints along the wall — kind of college meets Merry Old England. It’s a look all-too-familiar to us now, but what did it mean in 1960? “Back in the sixties décor was the item that everyone wanted to be involved in,” says Lewis. “When you surrounded yourself with the décor that was representative of your merchandise, it helped sell the merchandise as one would immerse themselves into the décor that would then allow them to appreciate the merchandise they were purchasing. Décor is the magic ingredient that is totally acceptable by the majority of consumers.”
The Trad Shop is indicative of Lewis’ retail philosophy. “I have always believed that everything goes through three stages of metamorphosis,” he says. “Stage one is called ‘image’ and is where something emerges and is used by autonomous individuals. Then as the item becomes more accepted and recognized it moves into a second stage called ‘trend.’ Trend recognizes the popularity of the item, including increased popularity and greater sales volume, until it reaches a stage where many are imitating the item and where supply exceeds demand, causing it to move into the third stage, ‘volume.’ At this stage items becomes price orientated with discounts, knock-offs, and a huge price proliferation of the item.
“In my operation,” Lewis continues, “I never allowed an item to reach the volume stage. I eliminated the item from my inventory and invested that capital into a newer image item. I would experiment by bringing several image items into my inventory and watch to see what items would move into the trend stage. If I saw good future growth of the item, I would create a separate shop for that item, and thus our growth and acceptance as an outstanding retail purveyor of clothing stemmed from our concept of the shop-within-a-shop.”
Around 1965, Trad Shop advertising began to disappear from the Cornell Daily Sun. “The Trad Shop was originally image,” says Lewis, “but then the look became a trend, causing no further need for the defined Trad Shop.”
Reflecting on the 14 years that Ivy dominated the market, Lewis says, “The natural-shoulder look mostly referred to as ‘Ivy League’ was a very long trend, because it featured excellent high-quality fabrics, such as silk rep ties, oxford-cloth shirts, and imported English woolens. The look could be worn by most anybody, regardless of his build or height. The fit was comfortable and the look was appealing to the eye. It was a stage of fashion that lasted a very long time, from about 1955 to 1970.”
So if any of you are still confused about what the term “trad” means and what it’s good for, here is the last word from the horse’s mouth: “The term ‘trad’ is short for ‘traditional,’ an abbreviation that would work nice on a sign or as a logo in an advertisement.” — CHRISTOPHER SHARP
The Trad Shop Advertising Gallery