At our Ivy Style Symposium two years ago, I said I thought that this most American of fashions was particularly suited to our times. My opinion has only been reinforced since then.
The collegiate attitude of casually throwing on a mix of clothes – dress shirts and sportswear, shorts and shetlands – fits especially well into our dress-down times. As does the emphasis on comfort, and on quality.
We want to wear clothes easily, without fuss, yet look good. We want to be unrestricted, and buy fewer things – perhaps even things that look ever better with age.
This is Ivy. And among the various pieces that make up the Ivy League Look, the category that attracts me most is the shirt.
King among these is the oxford-cloth button-down, or OCBD. It has to be the only shirt that’s ever been versatile enough to wear with suits, with jeans and with shorts (at least within the Ivy tradition). It is flexible, comfortable, and stylish in an impressively unfussy manner.
This latest article in our Shirt Style series looks at American shirts in general, not just the OCBD. But that is the lodestar of the style.
Over the years, Ivy has gone from being a preserve of the Eastern Establishment in the US, to something much more universal. Aspiration was a big part of this, particularly in the 1950s. But it was fashion brands such as Ralph Lauren, and the preppy trend in the 1980s, that really made it more broadly American.
Before all that, there wasn’t much difference between most American shirts and those found in Europe. Shirts were generous in cut, but then so were those in England. They had point or moderately spread collars, and featured both single and double cuffs.
It was the ascendancy of shops like Brooks Brothers, J Press and Gant after the Second World War that started to put a stamp on the American shirt – as the Ivy style that had previously been so niche began to spread to the rest of the country.
We have Brooks Brothers to thank for the button-down collar, for example – although Gant also did much to popularise it, as the first to introduce ready-made versions at Yale. Gant later gave us the locker loop, while Brooks claims the breast pocket (though it periodically dropped it) and the unlined collar.
J Press meanwhile, which often took an alternative approach to Ivy, gave us the flapped pocket version. “Which was much more stuffy, more pipe-and-tweed,” says Christian Chensvold, writer and founder of Ivy-Style.com.
Christian has written on Ivy style since his site started in 2008, and was one of the people I spoke to for this piece. “Think of the OCBD as one part of a Venn diagram, with the other half the more straight-collar style worn in the rest of the country,” he says. “Over time, the overlap between those two grew, as the button-down shirt became increasingly popular.”
Fellow writer Bruce Boyer has a nice term for that other, standard-collar style – the ‘mid-western grain salesman’ look. “A very plain style, basically,” says Christian. “Two-button jacket, darted but boxy. What you saw mostly in Hollywood, and epitomised by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Nondescript.”
As mentioned, one thing that drove the OCBD’s increasing popularity was aspiration – something nicely captured in Mary McCarthy’s 1942 story, The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt, where the titular shirt is a sign of status for Mr Breen, a steel salesman from Cleveland.
But later the Ivy look seeped into the broader consciousness just because it was fashionable – during its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. “Part of the Ivy League story is that many adopted it without knowing its origins – not because it was something they were born into, or were coming into by going to college,” says Christian. “It just became part of the American style.” And arguably, it was the first men’s clothing tradition that America could really call its own.
Ivy suffered a decline in the late 1960s, as fashions do. But it came back with a vengeance in the 1980s, as prep spread similar looks across the country. And then there was the modern revival from 2010 onwards, which had much to do with the growth of menswear as a whole, but was helped by the republication of Take Ivy, an exhibition at FIT, and the growth of interest in heritage brands.
If the cultural significance of the OCBD is expressed at the start of this period by the Mary McCarthy story, a nice example from the end of it is the 1990 novel The Final Club by Geoffrey Wolff.
In it, the hero Nathaniel is attending Princeton in the 1950s, but comes from Seattle, Washington. He is is not of that world, and throughout the book, it is clothes that make this difference most obvious – in particular, the shirt.
On the journey to school on his first day, he describes seeing these people and their attire: “Here was Nathaniel’s first sight of a gathered tribe…They were being seen off by clots of tanned moms and bluff, red-faced men wearing (like their sons) pink-soled white bucks or saddle shoes, and Brooks Brothers blue button-downs, white button-downs, yellow button-downs, pink button-downs.
“No pockets, a roll to the front of the ample collar. Nathaniel didn’t note (then) the specifics of these shirts, but he should have.”
It is these specifics which, at the time, were closely noted and used to separate social ‘types’. Those new to the world, like Nathaniel, had to try and fit in as best they could – resorting to things like sandpapering their collars to make them look old and worn-in. Not everyone could wear, like a peer of Nathaniel’s, ‘Booth’, “[a jacket in] houndstooth, cut for his father on Savile Row by Huntsman during the Battle of Britain”.
Still, while there was a consistent snobbishness around Ivy League attire, I think it’s significant that the aim was always to appear relaxed, and unfussy. Booth, for example, is forced to rescue his father’s jacket “from foppery” with “a black knit tie and faded blue canvas Top-Sider sneakers, spattered by specks of bronze boat-bottom paint.”
Apparel Arts at the time called this “the studied negligence that is taken as the standard of good taste among college men”.
This point came up time and again during our Symposium. Speakers like Richard Press, grandson of the J Press founder, set out how Ivy was about mixing clothes genres, whether artfully or not. And therefore obsessing about ‘rules’ around Ivy today was a contradiction.
A big part of the appeal of Ivy for me – and indeed similar traditions in Britain, in France and elsewhere – is of ‘how great things age’. It is the fraying cuff on a favourite shirt, the worn elbows on a jacket. It is part of the epoch- and cultural-crossing consensus that fussiness in men is unattractive.
Returning to shirts, what else deserves inclusion in this brief American survey, other than the OCBD?
There is Madras fabric, of course, which became so popular at the time. Gingham, too, though it’s less specifically American. The pinned club collar (above) was closely associated with Ivy, and there’s a case that this kept the style going.
There are also holiday shirts perhaps, short-sleeved and very square. But these were both common elsewhere in the 1950s and 1960s – even if movies and series like Mad Men mean that we always picture American men wearing them, as they host a barbeque in their garden, drink in hand.
Pink shirts also deserve a mention. There was a famous article in LIFE magazine in 1955 which credited Brooks Brothers with ‘inventing’ pink, or at least making it acceptable for men. It was illustrated by the image below, of a man surrounded by pink in every aspect of the wardrobe. But shirts are the focus.
“Like most male fashions, including the Ivy League Look, this pink hue and cry has taken some time to develop,” runs the article. “Sole responsibility lies with New York’s Brooks Brothers, whose pink shirt, introduced in 1900 but long unnoticed, was publicized for college girls in 1949 and caught on for men too.”
Men are, of course, mostly cowards when it comes to clothing, afraid of sticking out or looking silly. So a tradition like this around a pastel colour helps a lot. There’s even a theory that the adoption of pink kick-started the whole ‘go to hell’ look in the US, which managed to make many bright colours acceptable, particularly in trousers.
It’s also a reason the growth of ‘prep’ in the late 1970s and 1980s could include so many bright colours of polo shirts – pink and green being the most obvious.
The Ivy shirt has much to recommend it. Less the fussing over collar linings or the number of buttons on the front, but more its versatility, and easy style in a myriad of situations.
“Ivy shirts have seen a real renaissance in the past decade,” says Christian (above). “It’s getting harder and harder to find a soft-shouldered, straight American suit, but there are lots of companies offering great Ivy-inspired button downs in the US. Mercer & Sons is one, and just today we published a story about a new one, Junior’s.”
Over in Europe there are the PS oxfords, of course, but also Jake’s in London, Anglo-Italian’s OCBDs, Brycelands’ perfect oxford, even Rubato shirts. In fact, among crafted menswear brands there may be more shirts that feel the influence of Ivy than don’t.
Rubato in particular, with its easy cut and mixing with sportswear, shows that influence – even if the colour palette is much more Scandinavian (see image below).
It could seem ridiculous to an outsider, to spend so much time scrutinising the details of a style that grew up in American almost 100 years ago. No one, they may well say, dresses like that today. But actually, Ivy’s influence is all around us. It’s in the hiking fleeces at Urban Outfitters, the button downs at Arket, and countless things at Gap, Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and others.
Being able to see that influence makes it easier, and more satisfying, to dress with the same style – and just as importantly, the same frayed, faded attitude.
This is of course merely a summary of what is a very large area. If you want more, there is no better place than Christian’s website, Ivy-Style.com. I particularly recommend his full essay on the rise and fall of Ivy, here.
There is a tendency, especially on US clothing sites, to focus on the elitist connotations of the Ivy look and the implication that wearing it will confer status and association with those elites. While there is no doubt that the look has its roots in the hallowed educational institutions of the north-eastern seaboard, this focus overlooks, perhaps intentionally, the extent to which the American clothing industry used the Ivy look as a marketing vehicle throughout the 50s and early 60s. Every town had its ‘button down’ shop as the the look became a uniform for American men who wished to dress for success. The Ivy look was adopted by jazz musicians and Hollywood stars, increasing its popularity and leading ironically to its democratisation. In the U.K. and Europe the style was picked up on by entertainers and those in the creative industries at a time when American was the font of all things cool. The button down collar shirt was produced by British makers like Ben Sherman and then Paul Smith as mods adopted elements of the Ivy look. Interest in the Ivy League look comes and goes over the years, but few have done more to keep the flame alive on this side of the Atlantic than John Simons whose little shop in Chiltern Street, Marylebone is a beacon of the button down and natural shoulder in London.
Thank you Andy. Good points all, and it’s interesting how much that look has been adapted for different social sets – the mods as you mention, and then what were often called suedeheads, to an extent an offshoot of skinheads.
Coincidentally, John Simons are about the relaunch their digital offering, and we have posts planned to coincide. It is a wonderful place, and the new own-brand pieces are nice too.
Talking about early Ivy era and classic men’s fashion (both casual & smart) I was just watching old movies with my wife recently and noticed that the late Mickey Rooney was smashing the Ivy look as well as tastefully and classically dressed in his Andy Hardy movie series when he was a young man. Ivy styles and great looking casual elegance were represented by the younger and older men in these screwball romantic comedies. Funny that I have come to appreciate well dressed guys in any era by learning from your website.
Surely many other movies from that era shared the featuring of Ivy and classic style- I simply wasn’t trained to notice!
Thanks Robert, yes lots of those old movies are brilliant for those style details. Interesting when you notice when people aren’t doing it so well either! It’s a great education
Since I started learning about menswear, the bottom button of Cary Grant’s jacket in To Catch a Thief has been driving me crazy.
Yeah it’s unfortunate isn’t it? Even those that got to pick their own wardrobes made mistakes
Rowing Blazers founder Jack Carlson made an interesting comment about the term “collegiate” which he prefers to describe Rowing Blazers rather than “preppy”.
He points out the collegiate bring together two seeming opposing ideas; traditional and youthful. As each college has it own set of traditions and heritage, often set in buildings and campuses steeped in history, but the people in those colleges are young people, in the prime of their life, active, sporty and rebellious.
It’s within this dichotomy that “preppy’, “ivy” and “collegiate” sit and why I think it’s so appealing, it has a lot of old world charm yet without the stuffiness. You can feel you’re wearing well established, classic clothing yet not get caught in the trap of being overdressed or accidentally ageing yourself too much.
The best button-down shirts that I have worn are Drake’s – in Oxford, broadcloth and Madras. The cut is perfect for me. The collar roll and MOP buttons make them superior to BB and mall brands such as PRL, Gant and Hilfiger.
I don’t know Jake’s in London. Do you have a website url for them?
Many thanks Simon.
Is it possible to visit Jake’s (out of lockdown of course) to be measured by the staff?
I don’t know the arrangements actually – you’ll need to contact them directly
I was fortunate enough to work in the States(in a job with a clothing allowance)so bought a variety of Mercer and Sons OCBD(blues, pinks, yellow and cream). 15 years later, they are still in my wardrobe(closet). Probably the most versatile-they go with everything -(and comfortable) items in my wardrobe. The unfused collar is the charm.
The arc of the sartorial universe is long, but it bends toward trad.
We dressed like this when I went to the University of Toronto in the 1960s. Today’s students look like they dressed from a rubbish bin.
Someone mentioned Mercer & Sons in the USA.
This put me off (copied from website today): “To be safe, we suggest you call us with your credit card #. You may also fax to 406-794-0202. If email, which is not secure, we suggest you split information into two or three separate emails.”
Seems more of an American thing. Remember having to do the same with Zero Halliburton. The shirts do look fab though.
Simon, vintage Zero Halliburton cases are a thing of beauty. The vintage gold models with the slightly rounded handles actually do look like real gold. Stunning! For all I know – what with the much lower gold prices then – maybe they did use a percentage of real gold. The downside: any scratch, mark or dent is permanent. No way to repair. Mine – I have eight vintage models in various finishes – are never put into any luggage hold. Going back even further (1940’s) they were made in Los Angeles. Bought a new old stock (nos) 1940’s model from the USA. Still in box with paperwork 🙂 Seller was clearing out his grandparents attic and had no idea of its value. They used to own a luggage shop. This model has white pigskin lining and very thick aluminium. Interesting to note how ZH quality has declined over the decades.
Tip for Zero Halliburton owners: use Mothers California Gold® Pure Brazilian Carnauba Wax. It’s just wax, not a polish that could contain micro abrasives. Carnauba wax is produced by the leaves of the tropical carnauba tree. Comes in a flat red tin, with the picture of a car on the lid. A little pricey. Multiple coats of this (let each coat dry) will do wonders for the appearance. Perfectly safe on the gold or plain aluminium models.
Off topic again. Apologies 🙁
You’ve intrigued me, do the cases end up excessively shiny through waxing? What’s the real benefit here – minor abrasion protection?
Yes CGJ, shiny but classy. N.B. Wax, NOT polish.
I’ll hold off saying anything else. Too much Covid time on my hands and I get carried away. If Simon ever does a piece on Zero Halliburton, I’ll be there. It’s an old company, yet there’s almost zero information from end users. Just press releases on how many times they’ve been used in movies.
Might I suggest that you consider commissioning and reviewing a suit or jacket from Tailor Caid or Boston Tailor? You’ve reviewed garments cut in the English structured style, the English drape style, the Neapolitan style, the Milanese style, and even the Parisian style. Ivy seems to be a glaring gap in your wardrobe, and Tailor Caid and Boston Tailor are AFAIK the only tailors who cut in the Ivy style at the level of make that PS typically covers.
Thank you, and you’re right, it is a gap. I’m afraid the style just doesn’t appeal to me though. The straightness, higher buttoning point, sharp little details, are all kind of the opposite of what I like in tailoring most of the time. I do see how it an fit with others’ style though.
Nice piece, Mr Crompton.
I particularly appreciated the background research of digging out the often cited (but heretofore unseen by me) Life mag article on pink clothing at BB.
While I love to dress in the Ivy style, and while most of my favourite shirts are OCBDs, what I find a little frustrating is that after choosing the perfect fabrics, thinking far too much about textures and hunting down that perfectly rolled collar, friends of mine who don’t care about clothing in the slightest tell me I’m dressed like an old man, because this outfit I’ve constructed is pretty much exactly how their dads used to dress when they were young. Ivy works best among like minds.
I’m sure you’ve done this as well Keith, but I find it helps a lot if you mix Ivy things with some other touches – denim for example. Swap some khakis for jeans, or keep the khakis and use a denim shirt, and the looks changes substantially. Same with the footwear.
This shouldn’t be surprising of course – it’s what designers have been doing with Ivy ideas ever since that heyday in the 50s and 60s.
I just ordered a nice denim shirt for this very purpose, having spent a long while looking for one that speaks to me (and not having the budget to stretch to one of your Everyday denim shirts). I fear it won’t change minds, though, since here in the Mongolian backwaters anything dressier than a pair of 501s is seen as a bit stuffy.
Oh well. At least you’re free of the Ivy baggage of living in the US!
In order to avoid that old-fashioned look, I favor shirts with smart details (straight collar, no pockets) in casual fabrics (eg chambray); I find them very easy to dress up or down. And I rarely wear khaki chinos, preferring olive or navy instead.
Sounds good – and similar to what I wear a lot of the time. It’s nice to take inspiration from these trends, but rarely good to dress the whole look
Keith, may I respectfully ask why you care in the least whether people who, by your admission don’t care about clothes, think you dress like an old man? Anybody who didn’t wear jeans with a hoodie or a t-shirt would probably look like an old man to them. Besides, most well-dressed men do tend to be older because it takes time to develop a discerning style. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/well-dressed-men-time_b_2232302
Oh, it’s purely an age thing, Dan, rather than any kind of insecurity about my personal style. I’m about to hit 40, and I’d prefer not to be credited with the extra years. I wouldn’t change the way I dress for anyone because I enjoy my clothes, but beyond my personal enjoyment the effort is a little wasted on a community that broadly doesn’t consider style or quality important.
I’ll win them over yet, though 🙂
It might also be worth looking at what the Japanese call ‘Heavy Duty Ivy’ or ‘Rugged Ivy’ (http://mistercrew.com/blog/2011/02/11/heavy-duty-ivy/) a hybrid of Ivy with American outdoor wear (eg Patagonia or North Face), covering the entire scale of formality. At its smartest, Heavy Duty Ivy is simply Ivy. But at the more casual end of the scale, Heavy Duty Ivy can shade into workwear, and given its emphasis on outdoor performance, even techwear. Neither fish nor fowl perhaps, but for that same reason extremely versatile.
You could of course, try variants of “high – low” dressing to add a little flash. You know, $10 discount pants + $2,000 benchmade shoes…
Get some sneakers/running shoes/trainers with character or colour. Or perhaps invest in some stylish glasses…there are ways of “updating” things, or avoid looking stuffy…I seem to remember GQ/Esquire used to have regular articles on this theme…”you have a great shirt/jacket/pants etc. and want to keep wearing them….here is how you update your “look” without having to toss everything, and become a slave to fashion …”
Exactly. Understand how everything works, then try experimenting and subverting
Excellent piece. I particularly like the fact that you did NOT mention khaki trousers, despite the fact that it is a quintessential staple in the Ivy wardrobe. Let me explain.
Many of the items in the canonical Ivy ensemble can be traced back to origins in other countries. The button-down shirt was copied from English polo players by a certain Mr Brooks. Madras was (and still is) a fabric worn by countless Indians before it was adapted and brought to America to be used in shirts, and eventually, everything else — the word is also routinely mispronounced!
But the most significant import? Khaki trousers, of course. Khaki was virtually invented by the Indian Army in the Northwest Frontier, and the story is so well known I don’t think it needs to be repeated here. It came into the Ivy style through military use starting in the late nineteenth century, and through two world wars, it drifted into popular collegiate dressing.
As an American citizen of Indian origin, I wear khakis not to emulate the Ivy style or appear preppy. Far from it. I have worn khakis for a long time, starting with National Service in the NCC in India as a teenager. We had school uniforms with khaki shorts in my boys’ school. For me, it really isn’t part of any American tradition, it is part of my Indian heritage. Besides I have long loved 10 oz khakis, the military-weight kind that wears like iron and ages so beautifully, whether softening and fraying over time, or becoming shaped to your body. It has become a universal piece of clothing.
This is why I am so glad you did not mention khakis as part of the Ivy ethos. Personally, I tend to be eclectic and not limit myself to one style or the other, but choose what pleases me. I like many aspects of Ivy, but I do not feel locked into it.
The traditional full cut Brooks Bros or RL Polo OCBD shirts are often much too thick and heavy to wear under a well tailored suit or sport jacket. They do work under a Brooks , Oxxford, J Press or Hickey Freeman boxy cut jacket. However they do not work under most closely tailored Italian jackets and never under a well cut bespoke jacket unless the measurements were taken while wearing an OCBD..
Yes, I think that’s one reason those old OCBD shirts are most often worn with workwear these days. The collars often aren’t great under tailoring with any shape either. Personally it’s one reason I always prefer the more modern interpretations – the PS ones, or Anglo or Brycelands ones
I am not sure what either of these comments means. Wearing OCBDs with Italian tailoring is pretty normal (sounds like your suits don’t fit you right if the thickness of oxford cloth is a problem), and the collars look good with tailoring, at least in my opinion. Those Italian OCBDs are more spread-like than button-down like, which is fine, but they’re not really OCBDs anymore. The collars on some of those models (not necessarily all the brands you referenced) are much more aggressive and much less casual. An OCBD can play double duty as a sport shirt and as a dress shirt, but many of these more modern interpretations can’t.
Thanks EL. I guess it would help if we were referencing a specific brand and shirt. If anything I would have thought a more spread collar would make it easier for an oxford-cloth shirt to be worn as a dress shirt. Though it would look out of place with the cloth if it were too aggressive.
Obviously my favourites are the ones PS offers, which are Italian made, and they seem like the perfect balance to me personally. They can be worn with everything from the most casual chinos, jeans or shorts, to a flannel suit or smart sports jacket. If they were fuller cut, with a smaller collar and perhaps breast pocket, they wouldn’t.
I meant they can’t play double duty. They work well with tailoring but not more casually. Often the collar is too tall and it looks funny without a tie. It also doesn’t sit quite right without a tie. I have no experience with the PS oxfords. The cloth looks great, but it would be nice to see what they look like with a tie.
Yes, I did too. Perhaps we’re not communicating that well. I would have thought a spread collar could work in more smart environments, as well as casually, as long as it worked well without a tie. Though of course it depends on your local culture and how a button-down is seen. In the UK it might not be seen as that smart, compared to the US.
Absolutely on the collars though, being taller does make them less able to work casually. A mid-point balance needs to be struck.
On the PS Oxfords with a tie, they are the same collar shape as all my button-downs, which I wear relatively regularly with a tie. See video here and post here for instance.
Firstly – great article!
I wonder, does an “ivy” style OCBD have a collar of a certain height? I have several bespoke and mtm button downs from Italian makers now , and have noticed they tend to have quite high collars, whereas my memory of button downs of previous years in my life, at RL, gap, Gant etc was they were a bit lower. I got to wondering if there was anything in this and whether the height of the collar was somehow relevant to what is, and isnt, an ivy inspired shirt?
I don’t know to be honest Chris, but I would say that in my experience Italian collars are often higher, and the old Brooks shirts I’ve tried have usually been lower. It makes sense, given the more casual look of Ivy and the and unlined make.
Thanks Simon – I have button down from drakes as well that I wear a lot, and I have noticed the lower collar on it works better with knitwear than the stiff Italian ones which often rise a little far out of a jumpers neck – Though for me, an Italian collar is unbeatable with any tailored jacket, and it is also possible that the fabric makes an appreciable difference that I am not factoring in.
I ask because sometimes mixing aesthetics work and sometimes it doesn’t and you never quite know why.. the collar height strikes me as an important note.
I think you’re right, collar height does make a difference people often don’t notice. And there is often a little compromise between collars that work well with knitwear, and with tailoring. The collar on a jacket will always be higher and stiffer, after all.
Still, I do think it’s perfectly possible to have one that works with it all. It just ends up being somewhere between the two.
The first picture (the guy with the suitcase), is that Richard Benjamin?
I don’t know I’m afraid
A review of shirts in this style might include Mercer&sons, which is an excellent brand http://www.mercerandsons.com/
Thanks Philip, yes they are mentioned in the article.
Yes, the denim will do it, I speak as an Ivy vet, with four years each of Harvard and Princeton from 1953-61. I suppose I think like one too, because denim, especially in indigo and especially with rural, rustic trappings like rivets, continues to jar me when worn for anything but manual labor. Replicating an old style so well that friends see one as a sartorial echo of their fathers—that seems, if I may say so, as much like putting on a costume as like dressing. No reason not to adopt a costume as a willfulidiosyncrasy, à la Karl Lagerfeld, say, or Steve Jobs. But then, to attack that costume’s ethos by adding its antithesis! Why, Ivy plus denim is worse than wearing a daishiki with a shako and a James Smith umbrella, or lederhosen with Berluti shoes and a Stars and Stripes gilet.
Thanks Penn. Do you really think anyone apart from a real Ivy purist will have that kind of reaction though? I don’t think there’s anything inherently contradictory in the styles – despite your examples.
Not a purist, but as someone living on the East Coast I do think that darker raw denim look can look very affected outside legitimate workwear uses. It’s not so much that there is any reason why raw denim shouldn’t go with oxfords aesthetically. It’s more that these things each have strong cultural connotations, at least here. They each mean something very particular and although wearing the two together can look good, here at least it will always look costume-y because one would only wear the two together for aesthetic reasons. If one wears raw denim with an ocbd, they are wearing the two together not because it makes sense in one’s life, but because it is stylish. It’s kind of like if a fisherman in a fisherman’s sweater wore menswear-y bracelets or a printed silk scarf. This may look good aesthetically (Drake’s might pair a fisherman’s sweater with a printed silk scarf) but I imagine that a fisherman would get laughed at for wearing a Drake’s scarf on a boat. Fortunately, where I am a fisherman’s sweater doesn’t really have any connotations so I can play around with it and the same might be true for people not on the East Coast with raw denim and oxfords.
Really? How interesting. It’s fascinating how Western cultures can still vary so much, even given how homogenous they seem on the surface.
An OCBD and dark jeans would be the most everyday, least likely thing to attract connotations here that I can think of.
Ivy was one fashion and now is part of style. Loafers and OCBD are so flexible(and ubiquitous ) they are easily incorporated into the melting pot of culture.
I do think denim has the stronger cultural connotation ,but, with time, even that changes.
Can’t speak for northeast US, but I’m not sure those associations hold on the West Coast of the US, for better or worse. Much more likely to be thought of as well dressed, maybe even overdressed in some instances (largely depending on the shoes).
I can sort of see EL’s point. I’d definitely feel self-conscious wearing a French chore coat in France, but not at all in the US. But jeans, unlike chore coats, have become so commonplace as to almost entirely lose their cultural associations. I grew up on the East Coast in the sort of milieu associated with Ivy/preppy. The button-down/shorts/sockless loafers outfit in the fourth photograph was a warm-weather uniform I saw on many, many people, except swap in Sperry Topsiders or Bass Weejuns for those cordovan Aldens. And even then, wearing an OCBD and jeans together would not have raised eyebrows, at least not by that time.
Purists are cherished here, no? Whether a Derby or Oxford should be worn with such-and- such. Whether such-and-such a pleat in the back of a coat makes it a touch effeminate. I myself, though I saw a great deal of Ivy style, didn’t wear it and don’t really care about maintaining its provincial snobbery of the middle of the last century. But someone who sedulously seeks out fabrics and textures et al., so as to replicate it, might care. He was the person whom you and I were addressing, after all.
To be honest, no I wouldn’t say purists are cherished here. The aim is to set out all the conventions of why things are worn together, explain them, understand them, so that then people can wear things they love with their own personality. Not to follow any prescripted ways of dressing. The latter is something that I find Ivy is particularly susceptible to, and doesn’t do it any favours
A commenter asked about your lead photo. It’s from the 1969 movie Goodbye, Columbus, with Richard Benjamin and the fabulous Ali MacGraw.
Wonderful, thank you Rogey
This is quite interesting; however, without wanting to call into question the memories of the makers, I seem to recall things looking different from the consumer perspective. Please don’t take any of this too seriously.
In New Haven in the 80s, J. Press was located beside the 7/11 on York St, had a small selection of stuff in the window, which no student could afford unless the ‘rents were in town. They had one other store in Cambridge, Mass. plus the Manhattan store. No one mentioned Gant, but I suspect after reading this that they were supplying the Yale Coop, just around the corner. When I moved to NYC and started working midtown, I bought stuff from J Press on 44th, one block down from the Club, across the Street from Brooks. The tailors at JP told me that the New Haven store was mainly the workrooms upstairs, the vitrine was just to get us salivating for when we moved to the City. It was still quite possible at the time to have extra pants (OK, for you: trousers) made at Brooks–most of the fabrics for the Golden Fleece stuff was in stock, and they had working tailors on the premisses (top floor). Today….
People starting talking about “preppy” when the Preppy Handbook came out. My Greek professor gave a friend and me a copy, to mock us. (That book was rather like the movie Wall Street–instead of being disgusted, a whole generation went out and…J Crew was born.. 😉
…and I hope that professor doesn’t see how I spelled Anaxagoras in my first post! 😉
The detail about pink shirts is new to me. As a European having lived in the US for 20 years, I cannot recall ever seeing a pink shirt in a US business setting and if ever I’ve worn one myself it often draws comment. Yet it’s quite often seen in a UK/Irish business setting, especially together with a navy suit or sports jacket. Less so in continental Europe in my experience.
As a result I’m surprised that it was first promoted in the US. I guess the idea failed domestically in the end, but worked elsewhere.
Yes, I found that interesting because I always found that it was American colleagues who were most touchy about the potential femininity of wearing a pink shirt. Not those in the London office.
I think it just shows that such influences did not cross large parts of the US, and indeed have faded over time. Despite the pink and green saturation of preppy polos.
I just tell those who question it, that I’m man enough to wear pink!
I always like the fact that, in the 19th century, it was more common for boys to wear pink and girls to wear blue. Because red was the masculine colour, and pink just a younger version of it. Pale, baby blue was seem as a very feminine colour.
I can recommend Gitman Vintage OCBD and find the quality and fit very good
I always found very odd how something as generic as Ivy or trad style could cause the kind of obsession some of its fans display. I think its a combination of being relatively cheap and accessible, a desire to follow rules how to dress “correctly” even for relatively casual wear, and the vaguely elitist connotations. It always kind of reminds me of internet dorks discussing “authentic” motorcycle jackets, workwear, or elegant hats to decorate what I assume is usually a very bland lifestyle. Have Ivy fans ever been to an actual “elite” university campus for a reality check of how little people there actually care?
In the end, who cares whether the details are “correct” as long as it looks good? Thinking so much about clothes like this seems to be the very opposite of the careless attitude the style originally represented.
I loved this article; insightful, detailed and highly relevant. Do you think Ivy is part of the reason why modern casual shirting at the high-street level all the way up to the mid-range (and some designers too) has such maddeningly thin, tiny collars with all the structure and support of wet tissue paper? An unfortunate footnote to the legacy of an enduring, aspirational style if so 😅 The ubiquity of such collars is part of what draws me to the modern, Italian-influenced high, structured alternatives you mention above.
I also loved your fact in the comments about the reversal of pink and blue connotations in the 19th century. I‘ve always found the notion of gendered colour absolutely ridiculous, and have, on occasion, dressed – in the beginning, undoubtedly, to a fault – in direct opposition to these uniquely masculine anxieties. Fragile masculinity would be amusing, were it not occasionally so destructive. But that‘s probably a topic for another blog.
On the collars, no I think that’s mostly a cost reason, and a feeling that a smaller collar is somehow more contemporary. Most brands would have no idea of the Ivy unlined tradition
Interesting. The great thing about American menswear in general is that it is easy for a big guy ( like me) to go out and be able to purchase clothes that fit and are well made. The negative spin was always do I want to look the same as everyone else. Conforming to a uniform has never been my style.
When I lived in Chicago I always found it strange that men were curious about my own style of dressing but never stepped outside the comfort zone of Preppy or Ivy League
I am an American who can not decide on suit style or shirt style but I use bespoke artisans. As for the OCBD, I must say that a well tailored bespoke OCBD—Luca Avitabile in my case—coupled with a Steven Hitchcock flannel suit looks spectacular for business dress. Try it with your drape cut suits. The cross over of Savile Row with the Oxford texture is special. Best,
I would like to throw in some Ivy features in my next MTM OCBD, namely center box pleat + locker loop. Two questions if you are so kind:
– I always add two darts on the back for closer fitting at the waist. Would the center box pleat be in some way at odds with that? Or would it merely offer some additional ease when reaching forward?
– I intend to wear it mostly in a smart – casual way, so tweed jackets / wool ties or tieless, in warmer weather maybe jeans and no jacket. Any clash whenever the back details are in sight with either?
– It would rather. I wouldn’t have darts, have a roomier shirt. It’s more in keeping with the aesthetic.
– I don’t think so, no.
Though this wasn’t the emphasis of the article, it is the first article that I have seen that recognized the OCBD as appropriate with suits. This despite the fact that one can see members of the US Senate (in particular Senator Whitehouse) and staff have worn them during committee hearings, and the last two Attorneys General have worn them in performance of their official duties. It is by no means the majority look, but it is certainly accepted in the realm of American business dress.
I think it is a little culturally specific as well Joe – at a big law firm or bank in London it might not seem quite right. Plus of course it helps if it’s a finer oxford, not unlined and so on