News Roundup: The Rising And Falling Of Ivy, Menswear Blogs, And Dressing Well

Greetings gentlemen, and I hope your little corner of Tradsville — even if it’s only in the mind — is opening up. There’s been a big uptick in activity here in the tourist town of Newport as businesses are released from lockdown and people take to walking the streets in t-shirts and flip-flops alternating between licks of ice cream and staring vacantly into their phones.

My wet suit arrived today and I’ll be picking out a surfboard this weekend. I haven’t surfed for over 12 years or so, since I was in Los Angeles. And since the virus has me singing that Clash song “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” I plan to “ride” out the virus here at the beach all summer, surfing the Kali Yuga, as the saying goes. Perhaps never again will I spend a summer living 5 minutes from the beach.

We live in an age of conflicting information, and you may recall that before the virus struck we were reporting on a nascent Ivy Trendwatch. There’s still buzz along those lines, but there’s also the opposite, such as this recent Financial Times piece “J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, and the decline of American prep,” which alas you’ll need a login to read.

Also from the FT, though not paywalled, is “Top of the class: Ivy League style” by Simon Crompton, who organized the Ivy symposium in New York last year. He writes:

The modern revival of Ivy style – in London, at least – is in large part thanks to Drake’s, which has been peppering its collections with corduroy and rugby shirts for the past few seasons. “I love the way Ivy allows men to wear more colour and pattern,” says creative director Michael Hill. “There are all these traditional pieces that a man would usually shy away from – Madras checks, seersucker – but because they have heritage, it gives them confidence to wear it.”

The image above is from Scott Fraser, a fashion designer offering “retrospective modernism.

Next up, though this is from a year ago, Vice offers “On the enduring bland appeal of Brooks Brothers — and the freaks who love it.” Is this you?

Tom Yarbrough is a white Nashville businessman with a salt-and-pepper beard and the disposition of someone who would, similarly, happen into a lot of Brooks Brothers. And he does. He has more than 100 Brooks Brothers shirts, in fact, in every color and stripe and plaid imaginable, though he often defaults to blue. They hang and lay around his home, “stacks of ’em,” he says, proudly displayed on the Instagram he dedicates to them, @glengarrysportingclub. And he bought all those shirts on purpose.

Brooks Brothers shirts are not particularly collectible. For the most part, the company’s wares are decidedly nondescript and mass-produced. Further, there isn’t a huge difference between the preppy shirts that Brooks makes and the ones produced by its numerous competitors: oxford cloth, button-down collars (O-C, B-D), business-casual vibes. But in that mundanity, Yarbrough found something compelling enough to keep him coming back, over and over and over. ”There’s a power that maybe an article of clothing shouldn’t have,” he told me.

Occasional Ivy Style contributor Eric Twardzik has written a piece for Inside Hook on a possible return of menswear blogs to their glory days of a decade ago. It includes quotes from Michael Williams, FE Castleberry, Derek Guy, and myself:

Christian Chensvold of Ivy-Style (where the author is a contributor) also sees a link between personal projects and burnout. “Nearly all were done by amateur hobbyists … often with a narrow focus, they quickly exhausted their subject matter. Eventually they succumbed to writer’s block or had simply said all they have to say.”

On the question of whether menswear blogs could return to prominence, Castleberry responds “History would indicate probably not,” citing changes in technology.

“Blogs, much less menswear blogs, are likely not going to reprise their roles in housing the exchange and expression of cultural ideas,” he continues. “Prior to 2010, most content was consumed on a desktop or laptop computer. In 2013, the smartphone reached critical mass. The Internet moved to our palm. Twitter assumed the written thought. Instagram assumed the still image. Most websites weren’t formatted for mobile and wouldn’t be for some years. Longform content is not an enjoyable experience on a 6″ screen. Today, the new long formblog is the podcast … a medium right at home on the iPhone.”

Guy, too, believes that the audience have moved on from the medium. “I hope there’s a resurgence in longform blogs, but I’m not optimistic,” he says. “I also think for menswear blogging, you need both a resurgence in longform blogging and an interest in menswear. There isn’t a new crop of people coming into men’s style like there was 10 to 15 years ago.”

Finally, UK’s The Critic wonders why men dress so vilely now. Sartorial apocalypse, perhaps? — CC

30 Comments on "News Roundup: The Rising And Falling Of Ivy, Menswear Blogs, And Dressing Well"

  1. Christian
    Trying to remember the surfing beach at Newport. Is it Third Beach?

  2. Another must-read item is “Will We See a #Menswear 2.0” at Die, Workwear!.

    They forecast a return to classic, authentic, heritage brands with lots of Madras and oxford cloth thanks in large part to hipsters:

    https://dieworkwear.com/2020/05/28/will-we-see-menswear-2-0/

  3. Charlottesville | May 28, 2020 at 5:43 pm | Reply

    Thanks, Christian. Hope you enjoy your East Coast version of Surf City.

    Overall, rather a sad group of assessments in the links above, which of course does not make them wrong. The Brit take is exactly right on a difference I have noticed for the past ten years or so, and commented on here on several occasions:

    “One may observe the imbalance between the sexes, however, in any restaurant during an evening: there she sits, the result of maybe hours of planning and preparation — the hair, nails, make-up precisely as she wants it, the dress and jewelry just so — and opposite her is a man who looks all geared up to pressure-wash the patio … .”

    I always feel sorry for the poor girls. They deserve better.

    Here is one more relevant link to add to the mix. A brief sartorial comment from the Washington Evening Star during the 1918 flu pandemic, as shared by Sean Crowley of Crowley Vintage:
    https://www.instagram.com/p/CAq4kXIBIlT/

  4. Plenty of hardcore surfers throughout winter at First Beach, which is where I live, and also where I surfed when I visited here for the jazz festival with Charlie.

  5. We can only hope the the modern-day manifestations of “American Prep” die– soon. Vineyard Vines is probably here to stay (ugh), but the knock-offs– please breathe your last.

    And then there’s the high-shouldered awfulness that is Southern Updated Traditional. With the demise of Brooks Brothers outlets throughout Dixie (again, we can only hopeP, there’s hope that look will kick the bucket. It’s about time.

  6. On surfari in another life, when all boards were long (1966), my chums and I spent a week in Rhode Island, surfing around Matunuck, Narragansett and Newport. I have been back many times since. Point breaks, cobblestone reefs, and fun beach breaks–it’s incredible. I have surfed every shore on Oahu, all over SoCal, every state on the East Coast, Tortola BVI, and Lacanau in France, but Rhode Island remains one of my all-time favorite places to surf. On a good south swell, that jagged coastline lights up. Chest-to-head-high waves at Matunuck or First Beach (Easton’s) followed by a steaming bowl of clam chowdah–what can be better than that? Christian, I am envious.

  7. Trace, ’tis I who am envious.

  8. @Christian – surf hard and enjoy. Hopefully, the “locals” are not hostile like in some parts of southern California.

  9. upstatenyrepp | May 28, 2020 at 11:26 pm | Reply

    Chens- “perhaps never again. . .” you planning on moving again?

  10. Behind Enemy Lines | May 29, 2020 at 4:09 am | Reply

    That was a fine essay by our friend Eric. I was also very chuffed to see Michael Williams come back to long-form writing, with a fine and very human piece a few weeks back.

    After the Kung Flu, I don’t think we’ll go back to ‘normal’. Instead, it’ll be more like running out of our burning house carrying the few things we love most.

    Ivy style, made in America, old school manners – all those things will be coming along.

  11. @ Charlottesville

    Your comment reminds me of a commercial for some detergent. The guy shows up to a first date, wearing a rumpled t shirt that looks like it came from a rag bag. The shirt is then washed in SUPER detergent, and voila, it’s no longer rumpled and faded. The lady is elated that the guy is so “well dressed.”

    I’m in your opposite restaurant situation. My missus, wears nothing but some faded print top and some form of “comfortable pull up jeans.” (She is fastidious about cleanliness, though.) It was quite embarrassing years ago, when we used to do things together. Her, in her “casual” clothes, and me, wearing a coat and tie.

    Solved that problem by not taking her anywhere. Just said no. She can go about, looking like a slob, along with her four sisters, who dress just like her.

    Yesterday, she tirelessly cleaned the house. I quipped that she needed to wear something suitable like June Cleaver, (or my late Aunt Mildred) and she threw me an obscene jesture.

    The neighbor ladies are not much better. One, never out of sweatpants, and the other is never out of spandex exercise pants. Very sad. (Their husbands also dress poorly.) I golfed last Saturday with my neighbor and his 12 year old son. He commented to his son, how years ago, they would have been turned away, with their ragged t shirts and shorts. The guy actually seemed proud of society’s enlightenment.

    Stay well, gents.

  12. Eric Twardzik has missed an important development. Many cultural conservatives, myself included, have given up on what we call anti-social media. Most do not own large “stupid” phones or tablets and prefer simple phones. We ridicule the narcissists, poseurs, peacocks and failures who dominate the #menwsear (sic) forums, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr. Those freaks honestly think that they know everything and can tell everyone how to dress.

    We laugh at how the Italian “artisans” (especially the Neapolitans) rip off their gullible European and American “friends”. Those deluded idiots honestly think that they are connoisseurs and aficionados of luxury tailoring. The reality is that they are often charged several times the local rates for inferior and Ill-fitting garments. They also willingly pay OTT prices for RTW/OTR tailoring from brands such as PRL, Rubinacci and Drakes.

    I hope that Ivy Style will campaign for against the rip-off Ivy brands, especially those that use sweat shop labour in developing countries. Traditional or conservative clothing, ideally made locally, can be sold profitably at prices which are affordable for those on average incomes. It’s time for MIGA – Make Ivy Great Again!

  13. Charlottesville,
    Yes, they deserve better, but they get what they want.

  14. @Kenny: I have to agree with most of what you say, however, don’t you think that leaving a comment on Ivy Style, a social media site, promotes anti-social media? Kind of hypocritical to say the least.

  15. Surfing down at 2nd Beach in Middletown, just down the road from 1st beach was usually better, with more consistent waves when they were rolling in. Followed by clam cakes, fried clams and the aforementioned chowdah at Flo’s. Any tennis going on at the Casino these days? Wonderful chance to play on grass if you haven’t already ! If you haven’t had the chance to visit the Tennis Hall of Fame, take the opportunity. Also, the history of how the Casino came to be is pretty funny.

  16. Charlottesville | May 29, 2020 at 9:49 am | Reply

    Hardbopper – No doubt you are correct, but I wonder if sometimes it is not simply a failure of imagination or a disinclination to make a fuss. These days young men seem completely oblivious of any aesthetic reality other than the “man cave,” backwards ball cap, and beer coozie. Unfortunately, many women are unable to imagine much in the way of an alternative, having rarely been exposed to anything better. It is a generalization, but not without a good deal of truth, that women once exerted a civilizing influence on men, and there were civilized male examples around for men to emulate.

    A younger friend, who always dresses well, related to my wife how disappointed she was that her husband chose to wear a T-shirt to a nice restaurant for their anniversary while on vacation. When she questioned his choice, he responded, with evidently genuine incomprehension, that it was “a good T-shirt.” He is intelligent, well-educated, well-compensated, polite and otherwise well-mannered, but I don’t suppose it had ever occurred to him that there is no such thing as a formal T-shirt, and understandably she did not want to let it spoil their celebration. There can be no opprobrium connected with failure to meet a standard when there is no standard to meet. At least she had the imagination to know that there is an alternative to slovenliness.

  17. @Wriggles,

    Yeah, that commercial was the first thing I thought of, too. First date, pretty girl, nice little venue, okay I’ll wear my “good” tee-shirt: brilliant.

    But then, how many shows or commercials, especially featuring young(ish) people, have you seen that had the line: “Hey, let’s get dressed up and go out.”? And I don’t mean in the last few years, I mean in the last few decades?

  18. @Charlottesville,

    Your friend’s husband is probably just that clueless. He may well have seen a variety of ads showing the model in “designer” jeans, sneakers, tee and unstructured jacket, all at breathtaking prices, with a caption like “…and now you’re dressed for a night out on the town.” And he believes it because, hey, look at those prices; and the jeans are “selvedge”.

    With no grounding in the sense of occasion, of levels of formality, the average American male is going to default to “I don’t wanna get all dressed up.”

  19. @Mitchell – It’s not hypocrisy to post comments on a niche blog like Ivy Style. It is not anti-social media site like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Tumblr. There are no “following”, “likes” or fake “friends”. You can’t post pictures here to get affirmation from the vain narcissists and sociopathic cretins who claim to be authorities on tailoring and #menswear.

    I post here and on a few other blogs to expose the forum phoneys, parasite influencers, shilling bloggers and rip-off merchants. There are many on Ask Andy (Trad Forum), Style Forum and the Film Noir Buff (Talk Ivy forum). Perhaps I should sign up and open social media accounts. We must expose and ridicule them and their nefarious activities even more.

  20. @Kenny: thanks for clearing that up. I give you a thumbs up, for what it’s worth.

  21. Mountain Cat Prep | May 29, 2020 at 2:45 pm | Reply

    @Mitchell

    I second the recent Die, Workwear! article, I think it raises a ton of good points to look forward to!

  22. Honestly, I would rather see a guy in sweats, sneakers and a ball cap… than the updated traditional/neo-prep/continental stuff (yeah, I combined). It’s pretty awful. There’s purist Ivy (awesome) … and then there’s the rest.

    Once upon a time, I could abide Paul Stuart and their sartorial offspring (including most men’s shops, like H. Stockton and Sid Mashburn), but as I grow older, that Italian/Euro traditional vibe — god, it’s so overdone and nouveau. I get why Boyer and the like go for it— it’s “cosmopolitan” and “sophisticated.” But, well— no.

    I bet Charlottesville sees a lot of this stuff in Albemarle County. The influx of new money and accompanying flash there is something to behold. Ditto for Richmond. The times, they are uh ch…

  23. @ NClack

    Absolutely right. Started decades ago. Think Don Johnson on “Miami Vice.” Unshaven, T shirt, and some sort of light unconstructed jacket. No socks worn with his woven shoes. Tubbs was mod, but a classy guy, driving his 63 (64?) Cadillac.

    I knew a guy who emulated Don Johnson’s character. He even had the unlined coats tailor made after they could not be bought anywhere. I recall the tailor made them out of shirt material for $100 each. A bargain, for something made from scratch.

    Back in 1986, I recall many guys wearing the Don Johnson attire. I was dressed in a blue chalkstripe suit, for a milestone banquet for a company I briefly worked at. There were two guys there dressed like Don. No one seemed to mind.

    Cheers!

  24. Almost forgot, an “I Love Lucy” episode from the early 1950’s centered around the boys taste for shabby clothing. So, nothing new under the sun.

  25. SE is spot on and he’s being kind to Bruce Boyer. He has put his name to RTW/OTR Marol shirts at $500 a pop and, sadly, now uses Italian tailors too. Tbh, his 3 piece Italian suit from Gaetano looks boxy to me. I’ve read that he uses Rubinacci, the iGents’ cult Neapolitan tailor, too. Bruce looked much better, and more comfortable, in his Brooks Brothers shirts and suits from Leonard Logsdail and Savile Row.

    The “Italian vibe” is often a form of contrived cosplay, a 21st century version of Miami Vice. Instead of linen suits, the iGents now wear tweed jackets with huge 1970s lapels, extended shoulders and “spalla camicia” (shirt shoulders). Then there are the large and unbuttoned shirt collars, ghurka trousers and shorts, monk shoes with double straps or (even more ridiculous) Balmoral and button boots.

    We can only hope that buyers can be found for the Brooks Brothers factories that are facing closure. It’s important that Ivy traditions and American manufacturing survive even if the likes of Bruce Boyer embrace the overdone and nouveau Italian vibe.

  26. Charlottesville | May 30, 2020 at 12:09 pm | Reply

    S.E. – We see some of the type of clothing you describe down here, although it is by no means the dominant look. I’m not sure what to call it, exactly, but it can appear affected and showy. There are even a couple of MTM tailors around, or were before the shutdown, selling vaguely Italian suits and sport coats in linens and soft tweeds that give off a Pitti Uomo vibe, although they are capable of restraint if a knowledgeable customer is careful to specify what he wants. There is an architect I see around from time to time who dresses this way, and he looks pretty good. He has long hair and a well-trimmed beard and the slightly flamboyant look suits him and his fits his profession.

    There are also still a few traditionally well-dressed men, mostly lawyers and stock brokers but not all of those by any means. The 2-button sack (similar to what one sees at Ben Silver) is pretty well established, and is more or less the “house style” at Eljo’s currently. Eljo’s also offers some OTR 3/2 sacks and a huge selection of fabrics that can be done up in classic soft-shouldered, raised-seam, swelled-edge, hook-vent, 3/2 Ivy Style sacks that would look right at home in a J. Press catalog. They used Southwick and Empire, so I suppose Empire will be the only choice now that the former is being shut down.

    I see far more sport coats than suits, relatively few ties, and mostly see the casual sport shirt and jeans that characterize most places. We have the 2-button, nondescript darted coats that have been fairly standard American business wear for decades, often from the current iteration of Jos. A. Bank, or its like; that would be what the average middle-age fellow who needs to wear a coat and tie occasionally would tend to have in his closet. The snug, short, double vented stuff from Gap, Banana Republic and others is also well represented among the 20- and -30-somethings, as is the Country Club Prep and Vineyard Vines style. The university has no dress code and it shows. Most men are either dressed in OCBDs and chinos from the mall with logo-emblazoned fleece vests or zip-neck sweaters, or else have gone full-on slob.

    In short, Charlottesville and its environs are much like the rest of the country, with perhaps a few more navy blazers than the norm. Who knows what it will look like when things reopen.

  27. I last wore a tie in Richmond on March 11 when I was on TV. Brooks shirt, time, flannels with a HF blazer.

  28. Should be tie not time-made in USA as was the blazer and myself.

  29. S.E. those modern day representations of American Prep are keeping the ship afloat! (Full disclosure: My wife bought me a pair of their pants and some boxer shorts.) Like Vineyard Vines or not they have taken quite a few boys who were in sweatpants and put them in khakis. Yes those Chinos have 2% stretch for some reason, but they’re in khakis and wearing belts! I would guess that many of the men who found this blog ten years ago found it, one way or another because J. Crew put them in an OCBD. After all, most commenters here are not the old money WASPs that they pretend to be on the internet.
    Turning your nose up at V.V. is like turning your nose up at Ralph Lauren. I don’t buy either but I am well aware that without Ralph, prep/trad/ivy would likely not exist. Eventually some of those young men will get older and discover what we all have…that the best clothes were made 40 or more years ago and can be purchased on eBay. Until then we should try to remember that anything resembling real clothes should be encouraged before all that’s sold are sweatpants and “destroyed denim”.
    Vineyard Vines IS likely here to stay. They are filling the role that J. Crew and Bean did years ago. Basics. yes they brand to much and they keep putting spandex in things. They also are pretty clean cut. they even sell ties. Who the hell is building a business in 2020, marketing ties to the under 30 crowd?

    Christian, I never found that Blazer with the fox buttons I emailed you about a while back. I think I’m out of luck. Naturally I will continue the search. The potential article you mentioned in your response email has not left me. Keep your eyes peeled. The tenth anniversary of that trip to Afghanistan is this fall.

  30. I don’t know who put that image together but the signet ring is worn on the wrong hand and no one man from a real Old Money family would wear a bracelet.

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