What Is Happening At Harvard Part Two

First, thank you for a civil conversation. That point I got crucified for making where I talked about Ivy representing values as much as it does fashion? The comment section of the last post proves that point. Smart people sometimes disagreeing with each other civilly.

I know there are those who say that Ivy Style was born prior to the Hey Day. I have thought a lot about this, and have come to the conclusion it probably wasn’t. Here’s the logic. The wheel, the utility of fossil fuel, and riding something at 10 miles an hour all existed prior to the automobile. But it wasn’t until 1885 that Mr. Benz put the pieces together. Same with Ivy. Yes, there were button down collars and neck ties and even khakis prior. Worn separately, these are not Ivy. You have to put them all together and then kook around with it a smidge. Then you get Ivy.

This is an aside, but I would offer up a vision of Trad versus Ivy and it goes something like this. Trad is what your college student wears to Christmas services, Ivy is what that outfit looks like a half hour after they get home. But more on that later.

So the premise is that Ivy as a fashion was born during the Hey Day. At Ivies. Then, trickled, and you got Paul Newman and the Beach Boys and West Coast Ivy and Southern Ivy. And as the style that evolved from institutions of higher education got interpreted, to the delight of some and the dismay of others. But it evolved (to the delight of some and the dismay of others) and fluctuated and is now thriving again (by a different measure than “I-don’t-see-a-lot-of-people-wearing-it”).

Sidebar on that argument too. The idea that Ivy is not thriving ’cause down by you it is all tee shirts and jeans (which, with penny loafers… nevermind) is not a large enough idea. If 500 people are wearing Ivy in 2020 and 50,000 are wearing it in 2024, then it is thriving regardless of whether it has equitable distribution.

K, back to our story.

Hands are wringing, fraught that Harvard and the Ivies are dead, some say with the hire of Gay some say with her resignation. You have only to look at the Ivy Style to see what will happen to the Ivy League. It will become interpreted, to the delight of some and the dismay of others. The standards of these schools will be applied elsewhere. Most happily, these standards (the ones that work) will be made accessible as the Ivy League goes through some “building years.”

And in a few, the Ivy League, Harvard, will thrive again. Perhaps with a twist, to the delight of some and the dismay of others.

14 Comments on "What Is Happening At Harvard Part Two"

  1. I just wanted to say how amazing your work is. You are an expert on Ivy but you make it relatable.

  2. I’d be more willing (eager, even, as I am, to borrow a phrase, “proud to be an American”) to accept the Benz analogy. (noble effort and A-for-effort, btw), except there are a couple of not-entirely-obvious flaws. Errors based in history, which is, as the smart people at (even) places like Harvard will posit, a matter of some interpretation. A beginning of a reply goes something like this: the pieces were being assembled and creatively integrated-and-amalgamated way before the so-called “Ivy Heyday.” Way, way before. I can (and will happily) proceed, but this is a beginning to an argument. Everything about Ivy style is totally borrowed — most of it from the U.K. Including the more Ivy-ish details such as hook vent, the soft button-downed “polo” collar, and dartless soft tailoring (including but not limited to the “sack coat”). It’s much more a testament to the uniquely American knack for fiction(and reconstructed history)-driven marketing than (actual) historical record that “Ivy” became such a, well, uniquely American phenomenon. I’ll stop here (for now), but, with due respect, the compare/contrast with MB falls well short. Again, with all the respect that’s due.

    • John Burton | January 8, 2024 at 5:50 pm |

      No worries, it is cool to disagree here. 🙂 Thanks for doing so so civilly. So my point was, yes, all the element existed. Shorts existed. Penny loafers existed. But shorts WITH penny loafers did not exist. And that is Ivy style, combining those elements in a specific way. And it is SO GOOD to see you back here writing!

  3. “Ivy” is a marketing gimmick. The clothing style we admire is traditional (small T). I went to a state university in fly-over country in the ’50s. A number of us wore the style in question, not because we cared one wit for the Ivy League, but because we liked the style. I’ve always worn it to this day. I’ll leave the discussion of the demise of Harvard to others to discuss, but I think when it comes to clothes we ought to be more honest about it’s origins

    • I think that S.E. was plenty honest about the origins of “Ivy”. Like many things in the US, the component parts were derived somewhere else, and combined here in the US to form a distinct style. That style, whether racoon coats in the 20s or Ivy in the heyday, found its way to universities – first predominantly Ivy, and then predominantly east coast.

      The marketing took hold, and like many things to this day, eventually migrated to the flyovers – often labeled as the “college look” or “university look”. We should be honest about origin, but also about proliferation.

  4. Totally agree with Bob.

  5. I think you are correct, Bob. I’ve “always” really appreciated the style, going back to the 70s. I however, was much more often exposed to the Johnny Carson style. I did not know there was such a thing as “Ivy” style until I happened upon this blog c. 2010.

    • Charlottesville | January 9, 2024 at 12:09 pm |

      I also gravitated to 3/2 sack coats, button-down collars, repp ties, penny loafers and longwings far from the Ivy campuses, and long after the heyday. It was the style worn by professional men in Virginia when I was first learning about clothing and continued to define professional style when I was in school at W&L and later as a new lawyer in Washington DC, circa 1985.

      The Ivy style is not very noticeable at universities today, Ivy or otherwise. However, I will say that Sewanee seems to retain something of the look, based on what I saw of a friend’s son who was home for the recent Christmas break. And I occasionally see a bit of it reflected in the dress of a small handful of UVA students. I am not sure how W&L looks these days. In the 80s it was pretty solidly Ivy/preppy, but I assume that its students have adopted the same hoodies and gym clothes that I usually see locally. And for some reason, they seem to wear shorts even when the mercury in in the 30s. Neither Ivy nor, indeed, commonsensical.

  6. JB —
    Just noticed your remark (observation) about the relationship between “Ivy as fashion” and the Heyday. I agree. No doubt about it, no spreading the Ivy gospel without the Heyday era alliance of campus shop salutes to Brooksy Anglophilia — and the clever (and persistent) advertising. We Americans are an aspirational lot, so maybe this was inevitable? It’s a safe guess British culture was held in much higher regard by the masses (we had just allied with them to save the world from dictatorial tyranny, after all) than nowadays, and the goods were affordable, relatively speaking. Elite yet accessible.

  7. Bob- that was the way my father viewed the style. Ohio State engineering grad ‘55. Nothing but sack suits, sport coats, blazers & ocbds, khakis, longwing/brogue shell shoes. He referred to it as Ivy occasionally, but wasn’t fixated on the term.

    A lasting influence on me.

  8. MacMcConnell | January 9, 2024 at 5:41 am |

    Carson dressed Continental. Two button, double vent, darted jacket. No cuff, flat western type front pocket trousers.

  9. I do not even know how I ended up here but I thought this post was great. I don’t know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already. Cheers!

  10. Charlottesville | January 10, 2024 at 10:42 am |

    Unrelated, but I wanted to wish our much-loved Richard Press a belated happy birthday, which I believe was January 4. All best wishes, to Mr. Press.

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