Geoffrey Wolff’s novel “The Final Club” has frequently been quoted here for its insightful sartorial observations, including on the importance of understatement in the Ivy wardrobe (contextual understatement, that is, with go-to-hell clothes being another matter entirely). The reason the sack cut became the default jacket style for the Ivy League Look was because it was the sartorial expression of the quality of understatement that the Eastern Establishment value. It also provided the air of casualness (as opposed to razor-sharp boulevardier tailoring) that resonated with young men on college campuses, whose tastes shaped so much of the look.
Here’s a passage from Wolff’s book, which is set at Princeton in the late ’50s:
Booth’s houndstooth, cut for his father on Savile Row by Huntsman during the Battle of Britain, was pinched at the waist; the boy rescued his presentation from foppery with a black knit tie and faded blue canvas Top-Sider sneakers, spattered by specks of bronze boat-bottom paint.
The passage got me thinking, but not about the character’s British-tailored jacket, which had to be rescued by “correct” Ivy items, but by the rescuing items themselves, specifically the black knit tie, which is essentially the only black item that ever achieved undisputed correctness in the Ivy wardrobe. So I asked Richard Press if he had any anecdotes or insight on how this one black item became an Ivy staple, saying it might make for a good column. Richard pointed out that he’d already done it.
Yes, we’re now at the point in the blog’s lifecycle where we come up with great ideas only to find we already did them 200 posts ago.
But the topic is worth visiting again in order to make the point that the severity of the black knit makes it a great neutralizer. So here’s a gallery of images, some of which have appeared previously on the site but never together, that together form a kind of visual ode to this neckwear classic.
Above, Paul Newman with inexplicable leather trim on breast pocket. Below, James Stewart:
The painter Jacob Lawrence:
From one of our early posts based on the LIFE archives:
“Take Ivy” author Shiro Ito:
Moving on to less celebrated tie wearers, here’s black-knit devotee P. Sears Schoonmaker:
Random web forum personality:
Joe from An Affordable Wardrobe, who’s also used the black knit to neutralize a Blackwatch sportcoat:
Me at the Easter Parade a couple of years ago:
I’ve been on a wool challis kick all this season, but I pulled out a black knit yesterday to inaugurate a new olive herringbone jacket.
Contrasting restraint and flamboyance (I couldn’t seem to find a less loaded term), is one of the keys, I think, to stylish dressing, and few items express restraint more than the black knit tie. — CC
Disclaimer: It’s possible some of the ties pictured above are actually navy.