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The Heyday of Ivy, the period after World War II until the civil disorder of the late 60s, regarded costume with contempt, at least at J.Press. Understatement was the order of the day. Conspicuous self-advertisement was looked upon with contempt. Employment of tartan embroidery was a tad too ethnic, even though derived from “roamin’ in the gloamin bank O’ Clyde.”
Tartan was more ethereal when worn by the Grace Kelly debs from Smith and Wellesley since their days in Farmington. It was perhaps a trifle too effeminate for the bulls at DKE or the tables down at Mory’s.
During Spring Break perhaps a guy would wear a Black Watch tie and cummerbund at Piping Rock, or tartan walk shorts with knee socks in Bermuda. Likewise, for weekends spent at the Biltmore Bar or Stork Club, one could indulge in a tartan vest, blazer, gray flannels, studiously sporty white OCBD, and appropriate flat knit tie. Black Watch trousers, on the other hand, paired best with a blazer for Sunday bloodies at The Oak Room.
But there were limits, and breaching the boundaries of blue-blood taste was beyond the fringe. Only the great unwashed from the Main Streets of Middle America — the rubes that had never heard of St. Grottlesex — wore blatant tartan just as they drank Old Overholt and ginger ale while the right people drank Dewar’s at 21.
It may sound snotty, but the truth is much of the clothing snobbery of the time was indeed rather snotty. The sophistry of who-wore-what tartan was indeed derived from the Anglo-Saxon propriety of past generations observing the Eastern Seaboard Episcopalian taste of the favored few — served mainly by Jewish servitors on bended knee.
It was a different era. Pictured is a J. Press Black Watch blazer of recent vintage available to anyone, even if not to everyone’s taste. Which is rather the point. — RICHARD PRESS