Last Thursday, to a standing-room-only crowd at the Town Stages venue in Tribeca, Simon Crompton of Permanent Style, in partnership with menswear company Thomas Mason, kicked off their New York stop in a series of talks on menswear they have been running called the symposiums. This event had a focus on the distinctly American Ivy and Preppy styles.
Mr. Crompton kept the night tidily moderated and the speakers on track, having each give a brief snippet in a chronological history of the particular style. The panelists included author and designer Alan Flusser, designer Sid Mashburn, designer Todd Snyder, Esquire writer Nick Sullivan, and Richard Press. In attendance were many luminaries of the menswear world such as author G. Bruce Boyer, current J. Press CEO Robert Squillaro, Sean Crowley of Crowley Vintage, designer and menswear photographer FE Castleberry, Ivy-Style.com founder Christian Chensvold, menswear artist and author Matthew Karl Gale, bespoke tailor Paolo Martorano, and representatives from many leading menswear companies such as Drake’s, Southwick, Wythe Shirts, Nautica, J. Crew, Suit Supply, and J. Mueser, as well as a slew of independent designers and tailors.
Flusser spoke first, detailing the origins of the Ivy League Look on the campuses of Yale, Harvard and Princeton, known then as dressing “soft”, and the simultaneous fashion risks the Prince of Wales was taking at the time in the UK. He talked about how Brooks Brothers would create the type of items in demand by college kids at the time, and companies like J. Press would provide them, but it was the kids on campus who had the word on how to wear the clothes. Those kids were leading the charge because they were taking risks and trying new things. Flusser said, expanding “The significance was not so much the clothes but the style, the way of putting clothes together.”
Mr. Press chimed in next and noted the significance of GI’s coming back home after WWII and, thanks to the GI bill, attending Ivy League schools. Mixing their clothes with the styles of the kids at those colleges – kids typically coming from elite boarding schools – a whole new element was added to the look, and such integral items like khaki chinos were added into the mix. Before the show got started, I sat down with Press, who mentioned his grandfather Jacobi’s three golden rules, “Police the quality, render meticulous tailoring detail – so that each purchase represents a long-term investment – and also have realistic pricing.” Using J. Press as a beacon of the look, he was pleased that things are getting back their roots. “One of the reasons I’m back at J. Press is because they recognize the foundational ideals started by my grandfather.”
We jump forward a few years on the timeline and Sid Mashburn comes in, observing how, when he was growing up in the late 1960’s and early ‘70’s, preppy was not a term to be looked down on as it is now, but something to aspire to. Importantly, he harped on the idea that the Ivy and Preppy styles have not so much changed over the past 70+ years as they have been fine-tuned, constantly being dialed. This would be a major theme in the talks over the night, and it was also a founding principle when he founded his eponymous company.
Todd Snyder was next up, expounding on the notion of the continuous fine-tuning that Mr. Mashburn previously talked about. Mr. Snyder’s comments were also very much in line with those of Mr. Flusser, especially so when he remarked “It is how you put the ingredients together that makes things new.”
Nick Sullivan went on to talk about the staying-power of this particular genre of men’s fashion, even talking about how his son wanted to buy a suit so he could look different compared to his streetwear-clad friends; a stark contrast to the days when a young man would buy a suit to look the same as his peers. Mr. Sullivan also mentioned the democratization of the preppy style in America and how that has been important for it historically. “Prep is understood in different ways at different levels,” he said, “Part of its strength is that it’s been so democratized.” He also talked about how the fine-tuning that Mr. Mashburn mentioned, rather than full scale changes like the mainstream fashion industry sees annually, helped to keep Ivy and Prep always coming back, pontificating “People didn’t want a fashion-thing, they wanted an escape from fashion.”
The group discussed extensively the central tenants of the look, such as its safety (and how that plays into its appeal), that it lasts therefore it is practical (and how that practicality has shaped the look), and the quality of items made to last. Some thought was given to the state of Ivy in Japan as well, and Mr. Snyder noted that the Japanese have all of the basic items we have, but they reinterpret how to style those items because they live in what he called a “fashion-bubble”, unaffected by the way the Americans, Brits, or Italians do things. A bit of thought was also given to whether any of the designers would incorporate stretch fabrics into their clothes; the men on stage talked about how much of Ivy is literally sportswear and the important influence that has played in its development and evolution, but they were leery to get too involved with stretch fabrics, thinking they’ll need some time to further explore how they might (if at all) incorporate them and, yes, fine tune.
The talk concluded with a Q and A segment from the audience. Many knowledgeable questions were asked but the comment that brought the house down was from Mr. Press’ daughter who exclaimed “I have never seen so many gorgeously dressed men in one room. You look so much better when you make an effort.”
After the talk ended, most stuck around to converse, and it gave the audience a great opportunity to speak one-on-one with the panelists. I caught up with Mr. Crompton who, at the beginning of the talk, gave the disclaimer that he was not very knowledgeable about Ivy Style. Afterwards, he told me “The two things that were the most interesting was what Alan said at the beginning, that it’s not about the clothes it’s about the attitude, and right at the end Nick said ‘The reason Ivy survives is because it changes.’” As well, he was quite pleased with how the event went and how happy both the panelists and the audience were to be sharing their love of this branch of menswear.
I also had the opportunity to go around to some audience members and figure out why they came and what they thought of the night. One particularly well dressed gentleman was Chuck Pollard from New York, wearing a peaked-lapel Prince of Wales print jacket with matching cuffed trousers and black round-frame glasses. “I like to learn more about men’s fashion and hear these experts talk about it. My husband is a tailor so I tag along with him.” When asked about the Ivy League Look particularly, he said that has always been a part of his look because he grew up in the South where that style is “just a given”.
I was also able to talk to a group of New Yorkers in their twenties and thirties who attend a lot of events throughout the city like this. They consider themselves menswear aficionados, some even work in the clothing industry, and come together into a coalition known as the Cozy Boys. Made up of Stephon Carson, Ho Jin, Peter Xu, Reggie Baudin, Sora Suzuki, and Elias Marte, they were eager to hear what the knowledgeable panelists had to say, and they were not disappointed. Some were dressed true to the nuts-and-bolts of the look while others had a more personal look, being guided from multiple styles, but were steeped in influence from the Ivy League Look. “I think Sid Mashburn’s so cool, and I’ve been shopping at J. Press since I was in middle school,” Mr. Suzuki said, “It’s the coolest group of people you can listen to talk.”
There were a great deal of men and women there who were attending an event like this for the first time, whether they lived in the city or came out specifically for this event. There were an equal number who attend these type of menswear events frequently and could be found fraternizing around the open bar after the talk. Some work in the clothing world, some just have an interest in classic American menswear, but – judging by the enormous size of the crowd – everyone seemed to enjoy the night. — TREVOR JONES
Video coverage of the entire lecture is below: