The Art of Ivy: Jacob Lawrence

Originally posted in 2011, this is Ivy Style’s first tribute to Black History Month. It also has the distinction of being written by Ivy Style’s youngest contributor, Robert I. Brown, who was a mere 16 years old at the time. 

* * *

Although Jacob Lawrence was a high school dropout, he adopted the Ivy League Look later in life, as did many African Americans involved in the arts who wanted to appear both hip and dignified.

Born in Atlantic City, Lawrence took classes at the Harlem Art Workshop under the direction of African American artist Charles Alston. “Dynamic cubism” — the style of painting Lawrence was known for — led him to several awards for his work. In 1940 he rose to great acclaim as the leading African American artist thanks to a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

When it comes to the Ivy League Look in its purest form, less is always more. In the photo above, Lawrence is sharply outfitted in essential Ivy League style: herringbone jacket, crisp white buttondown and a black knit tie.

In the image below, he takes the same shirt and tie combo and pairs it with another classic Ivy jacket in corduroy:

As for Black History Month, it began in 1926 as Negro History Week and was founded by Carter G. Woodson, who earned his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1912, the second African American to earn a doctorate there after WEB Du Bois. — ROBERT I. BROWN

Top image via Getty. Below, “The Library” from 1967.

38 Comments on "The Art of Ivy: Jacob Lawrence"

  1. Richard Meyer | February 18, 2011 at 4:19 am |

    Nice collar roll

  2. Great post. I love it when Ivy Style looks at the roots of Trad style.

  3. This man is such an inspiration.

  4. Jancis Robertson | February 18, 2011 at 10:16 am |

    Lovely stuff. I had no idea he was an Ivy guy. Very interesting. Soft, easy and stylish Ivy. Inspirational. A wonderful artist too,

  5. I like this. But African-American’s didn’t “adopt” any Ivy League look.

    They had their own colleges, some of which were Hampton, Howard, Morehouse, Spelman and countless others.

    They probably didn’t associate with any Ivy types and by in large probably weren’t influenced by the Ivy’s sartorial choices. Remember we were pretty segregated then.

    They didn’t adopt any “Ivy” look. They were wearing clothes that reflected that they were collegians.

    Now Jacob Lawrence may have adopted it from Ivy patrons but he also may adopted it from Black patrons who had gone to elite black colleges. Who is to say?


  6. I think the person above, W, is either confused or has been severely mis-educated. But don’t worry neither are completely your fault.

    Please do not try to speak for black people as a whole ever again in your entire life. It is offensive. I’m sure that you don’t have much of a clue of what happened on the campuses of HBCU’s “back then” or what life is like at HBCU’s today.

    Also using the term “they” is an equivalent of saying “you people” and as most people know that is inappropriate.Please select a better set of pronouns.

    Furthermore, we do not have our own colleges. People of all races can attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities. They were created as an educational and vocational safe haven, when Predominantly White Institutions wanted to not only remain predominantly white but rather completely white.

    Amongst the Black community and those who are aware of the legacy of greatness and standard of excellence at premiere HBCU’s ,the universities that you named, are regarded as the black Ivy League.

  7. B. I have a pretty good idea of what went on at HBCU’s then and now.

    My father and most of his siblings attended Shaw in it’s heyday. I attended Hampton and after Hampton and an Ivy League school.

    I know what I am talking about. Maybe it is you, who doesn’t.


  8. W.

    I am a Hamptonian as well, and I believe that I too know what I am talking about.

  9. B & W
    I’m guessing you’re both right to a degree. We’d be wrong to think that historically the Black Ivy League was no less elitist that the Ivy League. That shouldn’t cloud the struggles and achievements of our fellow Black Americans regardless of class in our celebration of the month.

    In regards to Jacob Lawrence, he was an achiever and as for our commonality on Ivy Style he had good taste.

  10. Frankly “you people” is one of my most oft used expressions and I don’t think it a bit demeaning.

  11. Whatever became of the young blogging prodigy Robert I. Brown? He came to New York for a while and I got him an internship at Quest Magazine when I was working there.

    What a wonderful kid. If you’re out there Robert, give us an update!

  12. I like “yous guys”, a term used by my beloved frat brother from Connecticut. He went to prep school, but I always suspected it was really a youth correctional facility. To use Mr. Cantineli’s word the true facts were “unbeknownst” to me. He dressed Ivy though, it was 1971. He introduced me to Quoddy camp mocs.

    Folks, a word I like, shouldn’t look for offence where none was intended.

  13. William. Many very well known African American jazz musicians and film actors wore the “ivy look” in the “hay day”. Any doubt — Ask Charlie Davidson of the Andover Shop.

  14. Henry Contestwinner | February 3, 2017 at 9:35 pm |

    I’m glad B left and never came back. “…using the term ‘they’ is an [sic] equivalent to saying ‘you people’…”

    My, what a delicate little snowflake! I’ve seen the hypersensitve get their panties in a bunch over many things, but being offended by the correct use of the pronoun they? This guy takes the cake. I imagine that upon reading this microagression, B had to clutch his pearls, lie down, and take a whiff of his smelling salts before he could recover to the point where he could pen a response.

  15. Henry, do you like the library painting? I went looking for an example of Lawrence’s work to add to the post and thought that this was appropriately collegiate (regardless of whether it’s a college library). And the fact that it is from 1967 is perfect. Comment-leaver GS recently pointed out that it’s the 50-year anniversary of the year we like to refer to as the fall of the Ivy League Look. I’m hoping to make the year 1967 a theme throughout the year.

    I think the painting has a compelling geometric quality combined/juxtaposed with its narrative content: a large group of people reading and interacting with books and ideas.

    Also, the fact that it is representational is pretty radically conservative for the year 1967.

  16. Henry Contestwinner | February 4, 2017 at 1:42 am |

    Christian, I’m flattered that you asked me my opinion on the painting. As a rule, I do not care for 20th Century “art.” Abstract Expressionism, Cubism, Dada, Fauvism, Modernism, Pop Art, Socialist Realism, Suprematism, and the like all leave me cold. The only reason Dali’s version of Surrealism gets a pass is the combination of his extraordinary technical genius and the very real possibility that he, unlike his contemporaries, was quite possibly doing it as a joke. So although I like the colors and the composition of The Library, I don’t care for the painting itself, though it is not offensive in the way that, for example, Marcel Duchamp’s urinal is. Regardless of my personal feelings about it, you chose a very appropriate piece for this article.

    Having said all that, there are some 20th Century styles I like. I’m fond of both Art Deco and Streamline Moderne, and I love Norman Rockwell’s work. He took the technical expertise of the Academics and applied it to demotic topics to create works that are both intimate vignettes and idealized archetypes, revealing the America of his time. Although many of his works feel dated due to the clothes and technology in them, they remain timeless for their warm humanity.

    Enough encomiums for Rockwell; on to some thoughts on art.

    Why Is Modern Art So Bad?

    Why Beauty Matters

  17. Trad Archivist | February 4, 2017 at 1:59 am |

    The Black Ivy League Look:

  18. Minimalist Trad | February 4, 2017 at 2:18 am |

    Re: Robert I. Brown (from the website):

    “Robert Isaac Brown was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1993.

    In high school, he wrote for fashion magazines (Details and Valet) and was featured in Complex. After high school, he attended The Art Institute of New York City before stopping to focus on his writing.

    Robert currently lives in New Orleans, Louisiana.”

  19. Mr. Lawrence looks very dignified. Most people today would do well to comport themselves in such a way.

  20. Fred Johnson | February 4, 2017 at 4:05 pm |

    Growing up in New Haven in the 50’s and 60’s I got my Ivy style ” glow” on York Street and Broadway. I lived a block away from the PW Gym and just liked the style of cothing I saw in Press and company and the loafers in Barrie’s. I suppose I was a little out of touch with my Afro American brothers but neither they or I cared, indeed, I had several Ivy-clad friends amount them.

  21. Mitchell S. | February 5, 2017 at 6:20 am |

    I really like the Library painting. The colors are African. The theme is American. A prime example of dynamic cubism.

    It reminds minds me of what Alan Flusser wrote about Fred Astaire. Words to the effect of “In all of his still photos, even when posing for his portrait, he appeared to be dancing gracefully.” The Library painting also reminds me of Starry Night by van Gogh which I saw at the MoMA. It’s a painting but has so much energy, appearing to move like a vivid video.

    One of my favorite fashion quotes is “if your ideas are radical, dress conservative, and vice versa.” Growing up in Boston in the 70s I heard from a few people that Malcolm X said that, but I have not been able to find documentation on the internet.
    Malcolm X is not an Ivy style icon, but in his later years he did dress conservatively in cool black suits and black ties with Ray-Ban Club Master sunglasses.

  22. Henry Contestwinner | February 6, 2017 at 2:49 pm |

    Mitchell, I know what you mean about the energy of van Gogh’s paintings. When I saw Sunflowers (F457), I was so entranced by it I started to sway, almost dance—and then I saw the broken stems, the wilted flowers. I started to wilt myself. It was beautiful, and painful.

  23. Henry, I presume you’ve seen this quite amazing Rockwell painting, which I would love to see close up and in detail:

    (Apologies for the topic drift, but hey, it wouldn’t be Ivy Style without drift.)

  24. Henry Contestwinner | February 6, 2017 at 5:38 pm |

    Excellent comment, tmjm! Notice that while Rockwell could imitate Pollock, Pollock could not imitate Rockwell.


    Huh? Regardless of your, uh, contribution, for the modern sound-byte generation, the five-minute chunks of Prager U videos are accessible and easy to digest. Those with more time, and the willingness to ruminate over deep content, I put up the link to Roger Scruton’s hour-long Why Beauty Matters.

  25. Goy Orbison | February 6, 2017 at 6:04 pm |

    The problem is that they come from soures that are so clearly biased that they have no chance of changing anyone’s mind. They just exist to stroke the egos of movement conservatives.

  26. Henry Contestwinner | February 7, 2017 at 12:49 am |


    Pace your assertion otherwise, Prager U has posted comments from young people whose minds were changed by their videos.

    It must be nice for you, being able to discern the motivation of others.


    Don’t think I’m not tempted! But please remember, I live in the People’s Democratic Republic of California, so I can barely afford to feed and house myself and my family (which is why I loved An Affordable Wardrobe so well—Giuseppe got me into thrifting, which enabled me to wear nice clothes at prices I could stomach).

  27. Henry Contestwinner | February 7, 2017 at 2:07 pm |

    Of course, G.O., it’s impossible that I’m exaggerating my alleged state of penury for some other reason.

    You have me all figured out: I am, in fact, a welfare recipient. I drive a Lamborghini to shop at Walmart, where I buy enormous flat-screen TVs, beer, cigarettes, and caviar with my WIC card. Thank you for exposing me for the fraud that I am. I have no reason whatsoever to remain in California, beyond its generous welfare system that allows me to live like a king.

    Guess I’ll have to move on. Hmm, whatever shall I do? Maybe FEC will hire me to write ad copy for him: “Here at F.E. Castleberry, we like to think that we’ve perfected the art of wearing suitings.” Yeah, that’s a good start!

  28. Henry Contestwinner | February 7, 2017 at 2:36 pm |

    Incidentally, G.O., part of what makes Ivy Style so good is that the majority of commenters are gentlemen who refrain from personal attacks. You might consider learning something from this example. If not, so be it, but please do realize that vituperation is the stock in trade of leftists. Hurling insults is so much easier than reasoning, especially when one lacks substantive things to say.

  29. Henry Contestwinner | February 7, 2017 at 2:45 pm |


    I like how you injected motion into a static tableau. I would like to have seen the rest of the pediment, but cropping it out lends its own bit of visual interest, so I must ascribe that to your artistic intention.

    I wish I could go to your show.

  30. I thought you’d appreciate the Christian angle and comment on contemporary society, as expressed through the image and its title.

  31. Henry Contestwinner | February 7, 2017 at 6:32 pm |

    I didn’t realize it was a church, but now that I know that, another layer is revealed.

  32. H.C.
    Strawman much? I guess Prager University doesn’t teach classes on economics.

    You’re a free rider because (a) You are enjoying Cucksvold’s “art” without paying him a dime and, more importantly, you thrift your clothing. If you continually thrift your clothing, you are not contributing to the success of the few manufacturers left who know how to make proper menswear. That ultimately reduces the supply of manufacturers. It also drives up the cost of new menswear, since the manufacturers need to make their money somewhere. Thus, you create negative externalities for honest folks who buy their clothing at retail.

    So if you’re not as broke as you claim, then go buy clothes from American manufacturers or they will cease to exist.

    But either way, whining about your circumstances is lame. You have freedom of movement within this country, so there is no reason to complain about the State in which you live. Don’t like it? Vote with your feet.

    Whining about your circumstances is for libtards who are too lazy to change their circumstances.

  33. I was fortunate to have Jacob Lawrence as my art professor for a drawing class at the University of Washington in 1983. He had the best office of any professor at UW. It was at the top of the art building at it was fully lined with pine wood. His office was filled with brilliant sketches.

  34. Henry Contestwinner | February 10, 2017 at 5:25 pm |

    Christian, I admire your for your magnamimous character. You allow all but the basest trolls to comment here, even those who hurl vulgar insults at you.

  35. Henry Contestwinner | February 13, 2017 at 5:50 pm |

    Oh noes! I am singularly responsible for the death of the American clothing manufacturer! It has nothing to do with NAFTA, nothing to do with China’s ascension to the WTO, nothing to do with changing standards and tastes in men’s clothing, nothing to do with changing laws and morality that resulted in millions of jobs being shipped overseas—it’s all because I shop at thrift stores.

    And here I thought I was being environmentally responsible, economical, and reducing my participation in consumerist culture. Guess I should throw away all my thrifted clothes and take out a second mortgage to pay for a new wardrobe of the latest in hipster-skinny clothes that will look dated next month. May I pretty please be allowed to keep my older clothes and shoes that were bought new and made in America?

  36. Jock Hamilton | February 16, 2017 at 2:39 pm |

    Henry, if you can’t respond to an argument, you should just bow out gracefully. Strawmanning is beneath rational thinkers.

  37. Henry Contestwinner | February 10, 2021 at 1:34 am |

    What fun to revisit this old post!

    For better or worse, CC has removed some of the comments that once appeared here, leaving what’s left a bit disjointed.

    It seems that I missed Jock Hamilton’s comment when it first appeared. Too bad. In any case, I do my best to respond to others in good faith, and am happy to engage in an honest exchange of ideas. However, when personal attacks—the true mark of failing at rational thought—appear, I no longer feel any compunction to “respond to an argument,” because my interlocutor is no longer engaged in argument as an intellectual process.

    In any case, I was not “strawmanning” O.G.—I was ridiculing his silly assertions.

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