Ever wondered when Ivy became Prep? When the marketing became worn out and dressing down took over from the classic casual Ivy look? Just what was the items that young Americans thought were hip? A man who’s seen it all, lived it, is Stanshall. Here Stan sorts out myth and fact, about what the cool really wore stateside of the pond.
Although I’ve been wearing these Ivy clothes all my life you British guys do know a hell of a lot about this gear, technically more than I do probably but I know the difference between right and wrong, visually …….. as you may know, many Americans who wore Ivy after 1968 really didn’t know or use or take seriously the term “Ivy” as applied to clothes, as it wasn’t really used by marketers much in the USA after the mid-’60s. … the Press and Andover catalogues of the ’70s and ’80s, and well into the ’90s, consistently trumpeted their Traditional British Woollens and described their offerings as Conservative, Timelessly Correct, etc. etc. but they generally had enough restraint to forbear from calling their clothing “Ivy” by that late date. Nevertheless, their marketing descriptions were very self-important, lots of capital letters to lend the appropriate gravity to their Correct Ancient Madders and Irreproachable Time-Tested Hopsack, the Venerable Tweeds sourced from a Small Family of Blind Crofters Dwelling in an Isolated Hebridean Cave, it was goofy but it definitely help shift merch like bowties and college scarves to the stuffy and the inexperienced, the conservative debate team members, and the Young Republicans, as well as suits and shirts to the older guys, bankers, lawyers, who were living in NYC, Boston, and D.C. and really wore worsted suits day in and day out. We were aware of the word “preppy” but wouldn’t touch it, that was as corny as wearing a Harvard sweatshirt around Cambridge outside the gym … pathetic if you were a student there and even worse if you weren’t. Many people were horrified by the term “preppy” even before the publication of the handbook; it’s what non-preps and media people from New York called the style beginning in the late ’60s. By then the younger wearers of the old Ivy clothes just thought they were wearing “Brooks” or dressing in school or campus style, wearing the stuff that was literally spelled out in and required by the dress code which was published each fall in the school handbook, which is how the blue blazer rose to the top in the USA …. the older ones just knew they were dressing WASP and may have remembered it being advertised as “Ivy” in their youth but again would not characterize it as such or call it “preppy” either. The people who called these clothes “Ivy” were mainly the haberdashers themselves, and they also favored terms like Squire Shop and Campus Shop and University Shop. The less pretentious ones just called their shops things like “Irv Lewis” or maybe O’Connell’s …… The Andover Shop’s name took the cake for in-your-face connotative hard-sell. As the decades passed after WWII and going to college became less exclusive and more attainable, there was less cachet in calling a menswear store “The University Shop.”
The biggest selling point by far for most of the clothing in the Brooks, Press, and Andover Shop brochures, and at Langrock, White of New Haven, and all the many dozens of other campus shops for the well-heeled was that the cloth itself came from England or was knitted or woven in Scotland. This was the mark of quality and distinction and all of our fave Golden Era sellers harped on it incessantly for good reason, namely, that even a callow youth could tell at once that the British fabrics were in fact superior, felt better, came in nicer colors, and Smelled of Imaginary Heather Like Only New Virgin Wool can.
The Americans clearly liked the Britishness of the fabrics and the message the overall style delivered then, which was that the wearer was a student or recent grad with leisure time who could appreciate fine textiles and not a blue-collar worker, hence the frequent High Ivy and Classic Prep antipathy to blue jeans. But to call one’s way of dress a “style” or even to be known to be clothes-conscious was antithetical to the casualness that was supposed to be at the heart of Ivy (and of Prep), and could even harm one’s image, which eventually led to camping-gear outfitters like LL Bean becoming more central to campus dress in the ’70s and ’80s than Brooks. Sears carried nearly identical stuff to Bean but many preps wouldn’t wear such a “plebeian” label. The ’50s and ’60s Ivy dressers really impressed with relatively expensive tweeds, Shetland sweaters, old Viyella and Authentic Indian Madras that the “masses” didn’t know about or couldn’t afford, mixed with throwaway items like Weejuns, khakis, and canvas deck shoes, while the ’70s and ’80s Prep dressers sought to impress through reverse snobbery by wearing cold-weather New England gear that only the already secure could wear comfortably since it was so informal if not downright sloppy by earlier standards, e.g., 60/40 parkas, Norwegian sweaters, Bean boots, camp mocs, down vests over costlier Brooks shirts, Lacoste polos, and Topsiders.
Preps demonstrated their “betterness” by escaping on the weekend in old Volvo wagons adorned with ski racks and school, yacht club, and beach-town parking stickers rather than wearing a tweed sport coat, an oxford-cloth buttondown, and a Shetland crewneck, which could be seen by preppy snobs as trying too hard, though wearing these clothes reluctantly in situations where they were *required* was understandable and forgiven. The point is that on the ’70s/’80s US college campus dressing down was cooler.
The old USA-made Bean and Orvis khakis were great, perhaps a bit on the high side but they found a good spot on the hip. The khakis from Brooks and Press were too nice; more rugged and looser was better with khakis. Remember that some people liked to wield stuffiness in clothing as a weapon of sorts, and they would be the ones to rigorously cuff their khakis and to be heard to say they never wore jeans. The straight Levi’s cords I like rested on the hip but would have a tendency to slip down and needed to be worn with a belt or it would be builder’s bum/plumber’s crack time. Too high above the waist was the badge of the hopeless nerd/engineering student. High waters were also not cool, the right length is the right length and you either grasp it, have the eye, or you don’t. Basically, one’s ocbd would billow slightly over one’s belt, the same with a polo shirt or sweater, and so one’s waistline was not really a focal point and neither was the rise on one’s trousers. As long as the crotch isn’t hanging to your knees impeding movement, it’s all good. Khakis would be shrunk into submission, soften, start to fray, get stained, and get relegated to trashwear as a new pair took over the top position. Charcoal flannels were reserved for dressy occasions, and wide-wale, slant-pocket, nicer cords were also considered dressy casual for cold weather. Christmas party time. My deal was blue jeans, cords and khakis, straight-cut of course, with ocbds, Shetlands, and mocs or topsiders or Sperry deck shoes or Weejuns or Purcells. In cold weather, Bean chamois shirts and Woolrich flannel shirts, Baxter State-style 60/40 parkas, Woolrich mackinaw wool coats,
varsity-style bomber jackets, and navy blue peacoats, and in the rain the Bean Mountain Anorak was supreme. Camelhair topcoats were worn once in a while but were maybe too posh, same with shearling coats. Down jackets, ski jackets, down vests, we had them and wore them in the snow, but they were more preppy, not Ivy, and not necessarily flattering, though very Everyman. And they implied that one was too soft to endure cold weather. Personally, as a student I loved not thinking about what to wear and in winter often went for my tough, warm, khaki 60/40 goosedown jacket (REI from USA?) over a Champion or Russell faded blue or red cotton sweatshirt over a Hanes long-sleeved t-shirt with Levi’s 501s or cords and gray ragg wool socks and either 8-inch Bean Maine Hunting Shoes if slushy or if dry the legendary Sperry Kudu Topsider, which was a thicker soled, heavier, dark-brown oiled leather model perfect for cooler weather, or the trusty Bean-style 4-eyelet blucher moc with camp sole. This was an unstuffy American Sportif look that intentionally avoided nicer items like Shaggy Dogs, which I had and fetishized. (I could never find an unwrinkled ocbd when I needed one and would sometimes buy a fresh one if there wasn’t time to do laundry. They were much less expensive then. Same with socks and underwear, you might buy some new pairs rather than devote a lot of time to doing laundry.) If it wasn’t that cold, I’d wear the same thing but with a mottled gray Ragg sweater or a blue Norwegian Bean sweater instead of a parka. If the Bean sweater, then no Bean boots, to avoid looking like the catalogue model. Always wore the Ray-Ban aviators with cables.
The 3/2 tweed sack coat with patch pockets from Press or Brooks would be worn in the city on dates, over a lambswool v-neck from Brooks, an ocbd from Press or Brooks, the same cords, and Weejuns or plain-toe brown calf blucher oxfords or sometimes dirty bucks. Never tassels which were strictly a post-grad, much older thing. Wool surcingle belt or in summer a canvas surcingle belt. Always a scarf, I liked tartans and charcoal gray or navy lambswool but not school-color scarves. We did not want to look like schoolboys! This sentiment is also shared by Jimmy the Bossman. We wanted to look like cool dudes in their early-to-mid-twenties, so “schooly” things were weeded out and not worn for dates and city excursions . Blue blazers were for dinners with parents and grandparents, parties at country club-type places, school assemblies, restaurants with dress codes. Otherwise we never wore blue blazers or tweeds when we were in school. Needless to say, blazer patches or “crests” would have been the kiss of death like nothing else except perhaps a gigantic neck brace. Other beyond-the-pale items included go-to-hell embroidered pants, belts with whales, bright white leather sneakers, sherpa-lined jackets, faux-fur linings and collars on winter coats, coyote fur on parka hoods, bellbottoms, anything with epaulets, any designer logos at all except for the Lacoste alligator on a tennis shirt (the Ralph Lauren polo player was vilified), anything tight, Italian, European, short shorts, anything with a large ’70s collar, overalls, track suits, Members Only jackets, and similar cheese like knock-off polo shirts. I’m American, I knew and know when and where to wear a baseball cap, which is in the bright sun, or playing sports, or out on a boat, or walking in the country, and not at the museum or in a decent restaurant or in the city. What I can’t wait to change into every day is a loose long-sleeved cotton t-shirt and a pair of poplin J.Press walk shorts. I know that looking as sharp as I want to look is only a quick matter of grabbing a decent ocbd with nice roll, or maybe a long-sleeved Fred Perry polo, a pair of Levi’s cords or 501s or khakis, and a pair of penny loafers or blucher mocs, instant decency and now we can get on to the important stuff of living. It’s really all down to the shirt! With a lot of California in my history I like Vans, Birdwells, and old Patagonia, and as a child of the ’70s I’ll always have a soft spot for classic Adidas, though I cringe when I see people wearing full track suits on the street … only Jamaicans from the ’70s can pull off that look well. As far as Barbour goes, maybe they’re overdone in the UK, worn by wannabe toffs, maybe they were worn by dustmen?, we don’t suffer from that in the US where they’ve become prep staples, they’re pretty good in damp weather. They’re like British LL Bean gear to us but better because they come (came) from England and so they fit right in, but they’ll never be Ivy the same way Filson, Puma, Patagonia, and any other brand that didn’t make it to East Coast USA until after the ’60s can’t be Ivy. Barbour, Filson, Patagonia, today they are firmly part of the post-Prep style but they can’t be Ivy and that’s that. Quilted Liddesdales Ivy? No my friend. Might some of this gear look alright when worn with genuine Ivy? Sure, if you’re not an asshole.
I love the look of the cool black jazzers in their Ivy, and as far as white Ivy style icons go I respect such usual suspects as McQueen, Perkins and Lemmon in real life, as well as many private citizens unknown to the public but avatars of the style nonetheless, and I remain amazed at the perfect look of Otter in Animal House for cinematic Ivy reenactment. As far as Ivy on the internet, there’s Talk Ivy with the fantastic Jimmy and the rest of you maniacs, and theivyleaguelook blogspot, and the Natural Shoulder site, maybe the Heavy Tweed site. The others annoy me even though they feature the occasional nugget.