Welcome to The Ivy League Look

This blog presents a historical view through articles, photographs, reminiscences, and advertisements, of an American style of men's fashion of the mid-20th century known as "The Ivy League Look" or "The Ivy Look."

This blog will not present modern-day iterations of this "look"; it will be shown in its original context as an American style worn during this specific era. Author commentary will be kept to a minimum.

This is not a commercial site and links to commercial sites will not be posted.

April 29, 2009

Ivy Leaguer Casts Wary Eye at Fads, 1957

In which a product of Princeton explodes the theory that 1957's male children are blue-blooded Ivy Leaguers.

By J. B. Underhill

If there's anything that gets bigger laughs in the Ivy League than Ivy League fashions it's a dunning notice from Brooks Brothers.

For like that famous New York clothing store which put its first suit together in 1818 and hasn't changed the cut since, Ivy League dress is the product of age, tradition, studied casualness and the economic effects of a couple of wars and depression.

Fashion a la Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Cornell or even Columbia just "growed" like Topsy. And all the attempts at imitation put out by the Grand Rapids type of clothing manufacturers can't fake it.

Take the "pear shape," for example. That's the no-padding, no-pleats effect that makes any Ivy Leaguer (he'd never be caught dead using the term) look like a bag of potatoes. He's gathered on top like a barley sack, flares at the waist, then narrows at the ankle like an Edwardian dude.


The distinctive Ivy shape, of course, is accented by a tweed jacket and gray flannel trousers. The shirt, of course, is Oxford cloth, with a button-down collar. They have been worn by Ivy idlers since Scott Fitzgerald's campus hey-day.

The button-down stemmed from the polo shirt. Kept the points from slapping the rider's eye, the fashion tradition says. For a while such prominent clothing establishments as Brooks in New York, J. Press, Chipp, Langrock and Fenn-Feinstein, which are scattered in the Ivy metropolises, put a button in the back. But this decoration atrophied during World War II. Hasn't come back either, except in imitation shirts.

Want to tell an authentic Ivy League Oxford button-down? Look at the breast pocket. It won't have one. The well-dressed casual Yalie caries (a) his father's cigarette case (b) a crushed pack in his hip pocket (c) a pipe.


The jacket must have three buttons, setting up a constant war between the Ivy dresser and the pressing establishment which irons his clothes. Pressers think all sports jackets should have that be-bop, two-button drape effect. They press them that way. Joe Ivy takes most of this press out by buttoning up three button and hanging the garment in a steamy bathroom. Mildew sometimes sets in, but the purity of the three-button line is preserved.

Jackets skirts are cut long out of deference to the horsey set from Baltimore, Philadelphia, a few Connecticut provinces and the Myopia Hunt near Boston which each year assimilates any number of "Yoicks" -shouting Harvards. The swirl also conceals the hip flask needed for dry weekends at Vassar.

"Look, Jack, if i wanted pleats in my trousers I'd wear a double-breasted suit, too." With this rapier-sharp jab, a classmate of mine pinioned a "boldlook" men's store salesman in Dubuque, Iowa, several years ago. He since has bought all his clothes by mail from New York, adding inches to his carefully calculated measurements in the Manhattan store's files as the years go by.


For by their pleats ye shall know them. A pleat at the belt is to the Ivy Leaguer like the wrong shade of lipstick to the high fashion model. If caught at the Yale, Harvard or Princeton clubs in such attire, he would probably lose seat privileges at a Big Three football game.

Shoes: If he's out of college, cordovans shined - but not too shined - are musts. On the campus white buck shoes still are popular - if they are properly dirtied.

There is a special pit in the Harvard Yard where undergraduates (usually in the dark of the moon, because it would mean automatic disbarment to be caught) rough up their bucks to a proper dullness.

White bucks so caught on in the Ivy League, that "white shoes" or simply "shoe," became a common adjective for "fashionable," or "up-to-date."

But the anti-white buck faction is making spectacular inroads. The group was spearheaded by a group of members of Princeton's most exclusive Ivy club who took to wearing dirty white sneakers with their traditional dark gray flannel slacks.

The ultimate was struck in 1955 by a DKE at Yale named F. Peter Ffost, 3d, who had summered at Cap d'Antibe, soaking up a miraculous Mediterranean tan. He appeared in the fall at New Haven in a gray flannel suit and bare feet which he had protected from the sun with liberal applications of fuel oil. The contrast between his fish-belly-white feet and his Bond Street flannels ended the white shoe madness. Those in the know turned to black shoes, once thought to be extinct except in the cow colleges west of Philadelphia.

"Ties are to be striped; write it 100 times on the blackboard." In the fashionable Eastern prep schools from St. Paul's to Lawrenceville, young men are taught to hold up their places in the Ivy world.

By freshmen year, scarcely a purchaser of ties at the Yale Co-op fails to know what British regiment he is joining when he tucks his rep stripe through his button-down collar points.

"I always go over to the public library before buying a regimental striped tie," one of the youths said the other day at the tie counter. "Make sure that way that it's one of the really good regiments."

When you care that much, brother, you can wear your Ivy League imitations with enough flare to make that Harvard man repeat his classic about Ivy fashions and the way they've taken the hinterlands by storm.

"You know, it's awfully difficult these days," the youth declared while sampling the Amontillado at Locke Ober's in Boston. "There was a time when no one would wear a tweed coat and gray flannels unless he knew he was SUPPOSED to wear a tweed coat and flannels. Now you can't be sure whether he's supposed to, or is just wearing them."

Copyright St. Petersburg Times - 3/21/57

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