Ivy Trendwatch: The FIT Museum Presents “Ivy Style”

Mark your calendars, guys: You have a four-month window to visit New York and see the Ivy League Look exhibit at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology. The exhibit will run from September 14 to January 5.

Though I met with the organizers again a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t know they’d settled on the title “Ivy Style” for the exhibit. Cool.

I’ll be playing a role in all this (in addition to the exhibit there will be a book and a symposium in November), as will Richard Press, G. Bruce Boyer and many others, including Muffy Aldrich, who recently gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the exhibit in development.

I’m sure there will be some sort of opening night reception, and if it’s not open to the public then I’ll arrange our own little Ivy-Style.com rendez-vous, so readers can meet and stroll through the exhibit together. Sounds fun, non?

Start planning what to wear now: This will be the world’s biggest Ivy convention. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

Update: The MFIT has shared the following description of the exhibit:

Many of the most enduring sartorial images of the twentieth century can be traced to the prestigious college campuses of America. However, what is known today as the “Ivy League look”—or “Ivy Style”—has spread, decades after its creation, far beyond the academic confines of top echelon schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Ivy style has become so popular, in fact, that countless contemporary fashion companies have been built upon this look, and many of today’s leading fashion designers pepper their runway collections with current interpretations of it. One of the most compelling aspects of the Ivy look is that it has endured for so long. A relatively small array of classic items—from tweed jackets, polo coats, and seersucker suits to madras shorts, “Weejun” loafers, and khaki trousers—attests to Ivy’s longevity. This exhibition will examine the genesis of Ivy style in the early years of the twentieth century, as well as its subsequent codification and global influence over the past one hundred years. The exhibition will also investigate what has made and what continues to make Ivy style relevant, and it will also dispel a key misconception: that it has always been a classic and static way of dressing. In fact, at its height in the mid-twentieth century, Ivy style was a cutting-edge look, and it went on to inform the evolution of menswear for decades.

Ivy Style will focus almost exclusively on menswear dating from the early twentieth century to the current day. Since English menswear provided Ivy style with its initial vocabulary, British clothes dating as far back as the 19th century will be included. On view will be authentic clothes dating from the 1920s to the 1960s, worn by young men who attended Ivy League and preparatory schools (where “preppie” style, Ivy’s junior offshoot, began). These objects will include daywear, formal wear, and even sports clothes. The exhibition will also include material from firms such as Brooks Brother, J. Press, and designers such as Ralph Lauren who led the resurgence of the Ivy look prior to the 1980s, Tommy Hilfiger, J. McLaughlin, as well as examples of its contemporary re-contextualization by Thom Browne. Some women’s clothing, if appropriate, will be on view to illustrate the influence of this male style on women’s wear.

Here’s what the layout will look like:

The introductory gallery of Ivy Style will display a small selection of historical and current menswear that illustrates Ivy’s trajectory from its beginnings in the immediate post-World War I era, to the height of its popularity in mid-century, its fall in the late 1960s and its resurgence in the 1980s, to the current interpretations by designers who have collectively redefined it. Also on view will be a group of photographs that further illustrates the scope of Ivy style.

The main part of the exhibition will be arranged thematically in an environment that evokes an Ivy League university campus.

The central part of the gallery space will be designed to look like a grass-covered quad, or quadrangle, with a printed backdrop of a Gothic-style building façade covered with ivy vines. Archetypal garments both old and new, such as tweed jackets, khaki trousers, and madras shorts, will dominate this space.

Opposite the quad will be a platform devoted to sport. This area will resemble period athletic clubs and will feature both active wear and spectator clothes.

Surrounding the quad and the sports platform on two sides will be typical university environments, such as classrooms, dormitories and fraternity rooms. Each of these “rooms” will present material appropriate to the environment and range from casual to formal.

Installations that pay homage to the purveyors of Ivy style menswear shops that for decades have been seen in cities such as Cambridge, Princeton, and New Haven, as well as New York City and Washington D.C., will also be on view.

And finally the book:

A more in-depth study of Ivy style will be articulated in the accompanying publication (by Yale University Press). Also entitled Ivy Style, content will include essays by Patricia Mears, Dr. Peter McNeil, Dr. Christopher Breward, and Dr. Masafumi Monden.

Dr. McNeil will analyze the style of the Duke of Windsor, arguably the most stylish man of the twentieth century, and the great impact his look had on Americans, especially when he was a young man in the 1920s. Dr. Breward will present a cross-cultural look at Ivy style as worn in the prestigious English universities of Oxford and Cambridge; he will also show how the look these young men cultivated would eventually be absorbed and re-interpreted in Hollywood films, primarily of the 1950s. Mr. Monden will write about the Ivy style craze that took hold in Japan from the mid-century to the present and its manifestation over the decades.

Also included will be short excerpts by G. Bruce Boyer, a leading menswear writer and historian, and an interview with Richard Press by Christian Chensvold, founder of the Ivy Style blog. Mr. Boyer’s 1985 publication, Elegance, contained a number of chapters on madras, Harris Tweed, the camel hair polo coat, and other elements of Ivy style. The importance of this period publication is that it not only documents these fabrics and clothing items, but also captures the atmosphere of a time when Ivy style experienced a great resurgence in popularity. Mr. Boyer will also contribute a short essay on the influence of Ivy style on leading jazz musicians of the mid-century such as Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.

Mr. Chensvold is the founder and main contributor to the leading blog documenting menswear, appropriately entitled Ivy style. His in-depth interview with Richard Press, grandson of J. Press, will be included.

The main essay of the publication (by Patricia Mears) will present a general historical overview of the Ivy look in the twentieth century. Not only will the issues of the style’s enduring popularity and its role as a cutting edge influence be discussed, so too will the cultural and aspirational aspects of its creation and allure.

12 Comments on "Ivy Trendwatch: The FIT Museum Presents “Ivy Style”"

  1. I’ll be in NYC in November for a conference — I know where I will be heading for my two hours of free time.

  2. “Start planning what to wear now”

    Anyone who has to plan what to wear to *anything* is a failure, especially if they’re pretending to be prep. You were born with it and grew up with it, or you’ll never be it. And no, you can’t buy it from Ralph Lifshitz.

  3. Kind of a throwaway line; I wouldn’t take it so seriously. Kind of like saying “Miles would approve” (he ended up approving of far more outrageous things than the Bass Dover)


    Besides, plenty of guys want to wear their best when around other fellow stylists. I’ve knocked around an idea with The Rake on a history of competitive dressing, and maybe it’s time to revisit the topic.

    Oh, and Ralph Lauren makes terrific clothing.

  4. Boston Bean | April 6, 2012 at 12:10 pm |


    “Anyone who has to plan what to wear to *anything* is a failure, especially if they’re pretending to be prep.”

    Sheer nonsense!

    Every morning don’t we have to decide which regimental stripe tie, which one of our navy blazers or tweed jackets, which OCBD shirt, etc. we are going to wear? And if it’s a special event, isn’t it quite natural for the decision to take longer?

    Hardly a matter of closing one’s eyes and choosing things randomly, I daresay.

    During the day, unless we’re always standing in front of a mirror, we don’t see what we’re wearing, others do. Planning what to wear and selecting accordingly is a sign of respect for others.

  5. H.K. Rahman | April 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm |

    “You were born with it and grew up with it, or you’ll never be it.”

    In an internet world filled with idiotic comments, this must be among the most laughable and asinine comments I’ve read in a while.

    Get over yourself, dude. Buy yourself a point-collared shirt and just chill out.

  6. Alas, I will be back in Japan, and unlikely to take a detour to NYC.

  7. Ok boys, it appears we have “jumped the shark”. I anticipate mass defections & widespread use of darts/pleats among the stayed set.
    Happy Easter anyways,

  8. I’m going to wear jorts, a Cleveland Browns T-shirt and Teva sandals just expressly to piss you people off.

  9. Please keep us posted with any updates to an Ivy Style opening event.
    It would be fun to get all of us together on one evening and see the exhibit and meet each other.
    Drinks afterword at the Campbell Apartment?

  10. Last couple times I went to Campbell I turned around and left because it was so crowded there weren’t any seats and I don’t care enough to wait around.

    We’ll probably want a bar closer to the exhibit.

    But I’m toying around with a series of rendez-vouses while the exhibit is running.

  11. Ahhh, every time I’ve been to Campbell apartments, it’s been noticeably empty.
    I think a few drinks after the event and much closer to FIT would be great fun. Heck, maybe even get a guest of honor to make a few remarks?
    Looking forward to this, in whatever shape it develops into!

  12. Will there be any Paul Stuart items in the exhibit? It is a very important part of American/Ivy heritage. “Sexy Wasp” clothes as one magazine said recently. Do you need an invite for the opening night in September?

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