From the loins of the Ivy League…

These fellas look harmless enough.

Recently, JB posted an Ivy Style Playlist on Spotify, and there was a discussion in the Ivy Style community about music tangentially related to the Ivy League. Be it that the artist attended an Ivy, dressed Ivy, or had some sort of connection to Ivy. If we’re judging by those standards, Vampire Weekend is gold-caliber.

The band met at Columbia University in Manhattan as undergraduates. And while their environment was definitely Eastern Establishment, they — like the many garments that contribute to the Ivy League Look — incorporated influences from all around the world into their music.

That’s not strictly Ivy maybe, but it is Degage, which is close enough – JB

Their first two albums, Vampire Weekend and Contra, could be two sides of the same coin. Indie-pop unquestionably made by and for millennials, their music has always been polarizing: some see it as embracing their Ivy roots, while others claim it is clearly making fun of them. But while the band attended an Ivy institution, they have been candid about the fact that the group’s messages (as well as their looks) in the early days fell firmly into the second camp.

Frontman Ezra Koenig has spoken numerous times about the intentionally uber-prep “Vampire Weekend aesthetic”. Like a proto-Rowing Blazers, the idea was to communicate something about the world they came from, and gently (and sometimes, not-so-gently) poking fun at the absurdity of it. “I don’t know if people just thought we were being ourselves. It’s not who we were, but it’s something we were fascinated with,” he said in a 2019 interview with Uncut .

If you squint, hard, I mean, am I the only guy who sees John Lennon? - JB
If you squint, hard, I mean, am I the only guy who sees John Lennon? – JB

This sentiment translated to their style, as well. Motif-emboridered chinos, neon Shetland sweaters, and perfectly quaffed hair — early Vampire Weekend was the picture of neo-Prep. Classic items from the Ivy canon irreverently mixed in a devil-may-care nonchalance fitting of undergrads.

The lead singer best summed up the idea behind their ironic-preppiness in this 2019 comment in The Guardian: “I was like don’t they understand that, for east coast Jews, Ralph Lauren is a really funny figure? He’s this guy from the Bronx who changed his last name. I tried to explain that, and for some people it went in one ear and out the other.”

Vampire Weekend were earlier adopters of the idea that some institutions in our society — be them academia or traditional modes of dressing — should be further scrutinized rather than just taken at face value. Like it or not, it’s fair to say that, based on the social change that’s taken place over the past year, they were ahead of their time.

  • Trevor Jones

8 Comments on "From the loins of the Ivy League…"

  1. Love that playlist! Although as a former member of a “competing” a capella group way back in the day, I say “harrumph” to the inclusion of the Whiffenpoofs. Not because they’re not talented– it’s more because they know it AND are so darned successful.

  2. Saw them (at Terminal 5) many years ago — before they were huge. Definitely a Neo-Prep vibe to the crowd: Columbia undergrads; future hedge fund managers. I guess it passes as lighthearted, fun-loving frat party music, but for some reason I can’t force myself to like them.

  3. * amendment:
    …can’t force myself to like the music and vibe. ( I don’t them personally).

  4. @S.E. I definitely can’t tell you to like them or not, however, I do think their duality is part of what makes them so interesting. Some see them as lighthearted — preppy clothes, upbeat guitar licks, song titles like “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”. Others, however, judge them by their lyrics and see darker, more serious commentary lurking below the fun exoskeleton. A matter of perspective!

  5. Other bands incubated at Columbia are as diverse as Sha Na Na and Alice Donut. Alice Donut was originally called Alice Donut Liver Henry Moore . . .

  6. In the context of their background, and how they dress, and the ‘vibe’ they’re putting out, the most interesting part of this article was the lead singer’s comment about Ralph Lauren. I haven’t deconstructed it yet, but there’s something interesting going on there ….

  7. Nitpick: where you wrote “quaffed”, I think you mean “coiffed”

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