Editor’s Note: Reader submissions are always welcome. You can email me here. Ask these guys, it is painless. First, a ditty about the Scally Cap by Mitchell.
In “Bonfire of the Vanities,” Tom Wolfe famously alluded to Boston style with his catchy phrase, “the Boston Cracked Shoe look.” Apparently, Tom Wolfe never ventured farther than the rarefied, red brick streets of blue blood Beacon Hill and the cushy confines of the mahogany-paneled Somerset Club. Any native Bostonian will say that quintessential Boston style is less about cracked cordovan wingtips, and all about that marvel of masculine millinery, the ivy cap; or as we say in Boston, the “scally” cap.
As a high school student in a small town in upstate South Carolina in the early 1950s, I knew nothing about Ivy style or “natural shoulder” coats and suits. The closest I came was observing a young man at church who sometimes ushered and was very well dressed, but in a style somewhat distinctive for that time and place. I later learned that he bought his clothes in Charlotte at Jack Wood Ltd., an early outpost of Southern Ivy.
One autumn Saturday my father took me to Chapel Hill for a University of North Carolina football game. Those were the days when college football games were played on Saturday afternoons, as God intended. We parked uptown somewhere along Franklin Street, had lunch, and then walked across that beautiful old campus to Kenan Stadium. After the game we walked back. Since I hoped to attend that university, I was very observant regarding student style. As I noted in A Voice of His Time, writing about the late 1940s, “Khakis and crew cuts had moved comfortably from military bases to college campuses.”. I remember the following Monday telling one of my classmates: “When you go to college, you have to wear khaki pants, a white button-down shirt, a v-neck sweater and loafers.”
By the time I matriculated there in the fall of 1955, two bastions of Ivy style were well established along Franklin Street. Maurice Julian presided over Julian’s College Shop, a small store that at one time was said to have sold more Lacoste polo shirts than any other retailer in America. Across the street, his brother Milton Julian operated Milton’s Clothing Cupboard. The clothes were similar, but Milton’s was a bit less expensive. That was where you could find flat-front worsted trousers with small straps that buckled on the back, a few inches below the belt line. As far as I could tell the straps served no purpose, but a lot of us wanted them. Milton’s was also where I discovered madras. It was great fun to go home for summer break with a short-sleeved madras popover and explain madras to your friends. And it was at Milton’s where I bought a beautiful straw hat with a wide, colorful band, like the ones worn by Sam Snead, as a gift to my father. He had taken up golf a few years earlier and was getting pretty good at it. When his golf buddies saw it, a few of them wanted one like it. I think I bought out Milton’s remaining inventory of those hats for my Dad’s friends.
(Some years later Maurice Julian’s son, Alexander, on the way to becoming a well-known designer, opened his own shop on Franklin Street, called Alexander’s Ambition.)
Ivy style was becoming de rigueur among some students there, particularly those living in fraternity houses just off the campus. During rush week my freshman year a brother at one of the houses spoke disparagingly about my suit, a wide-lapeled two-button with pleated pants. Over the next few months I gradually replaced my limited wardrobe with Ivy style items. For those who could not afford new clothes, Pete the Tailor would trim down lapels and add a third button. He would also make your wide high-school ties respectably narrow. Pete advertised in the student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, and apparently did a booming business.
Here’s a description of student life and style in Chapel Hill at the end of that decade, from my novel Dixie Autumn: “At Chapel Hill and on many other campuses, particularly among members of fraternities and sororities — ‘Greeks’ — we pursued a stylish ideal of college life and young adulthood we had revived from the 1920s, as if the intervening ;years of economic depression and war that defined our parents’ generation had never happened.
“It was an era of undergraduate elegance, to the extent one could afford it: shetland and tweed and camel hair, oyster white raincoats and slim black umbrellas, lap robes for dates at football games, leather-covered flasks to sneak a bit of warming whisky into the stadium on those chilled, crowded Saturday afternoons in November. In high school we had danced the shag to rhythm and blues records, and we still did, and Elvis Presley was making his appearance on the Billboard Magazine best-seller lists; but the sound track of our college years still was the music of Broadway, movie theaters, hotel ballrooms and Harlem jazz clubs, much of written before we were born. We drank a lot of beer, but we also had cocktail parties and other special occasions when we sipped the best liquor we could afford, drinking like gentlemen, at least until we had too much.
“We hadn’t the slightest hint that all that was about to be, in a famous phrase, gone with the wind. But a few years later it was, and in its place were denim and long hair, marijuana, screaming guitars and protest marches…..
“But in my final year of college nobody was anticipating any of those changes. That fall I was dating a campus beauty queen….. She had dark blonde hair, short and thick, and the top of her head was about chin level for me. Her clothes draped beautifully on her slim frame, and she often wore cashmere or Angora sweaters and long, pleated tweed skirts……
“When we went to football games I thought of us as a very handsome, dashing couple, in a Scott and Zelda way. She wore a camel hair coat and a rich plaid muffler. I wore a tweed jacket and, in November, a heavy topcoat that easily concealed the small flask of bourbon I poured into cups of ice and Coca-Cola from the concession stand.
“We had a lovely few months that fall and winter…..”