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 3, 2009

Ken C. Pollock on the Ivy League Look

TNSIL: Traditional Natural-Shoulder Ivy League.

The venerable Ken C. Pollock posted the following on AAAC some time in 2004):

I go back a long ways with traditional natural shoulder ivy-league clothing (hereinafter “TNSIL” clothing), a phrase I like better than “preppie.”

I cared and knew nothing about clothing in high school. However, during the years (1959-1965) I was in college and law school in New Orleans, I had part-time jobs at the TNSIL shops in two clothing stores. One of those stores, Rubenstein Brothers, still exists today (selling mostly dreadful high-styled Italian stuff), but the second floor “Madison Shop,” which one reached by riding in the madras walled elevator, no longer does. We sold Southwick, H. Freeman and Son of Philadelphia, Joseph Greif, Allen Solly, Pringle, Alan Paine, Corbin, Gant, Burlington Gold Cup, etc. Despite the fact that I could have gotten a small discount by shopping where I worked, I did most of my shopping when the J. Press traveling representative came to New Orleans. Sadly, that the road shows have ended for USA companies, but English firms like Henry Poole, Huntsman, Edward Green, and Cleverley keep up the tradition.

I also went to New York several times during my school years and was enthralled by Chipp, J. Press, and [partly] by Brooks Brothers. I then bought a trench-coat and a car coat from Chipp, made by a company hardly any American had ever heard of, named Burberry. Nearly all of my suits and most of my shirts came from J. Press. I have posted about Brooks Brothers previously. It was very different in 1960, as compared to 1968, and sadly of course, it is far more different now. In 1960, we lovers of TNSIL clothing had to pick carefully among its offerings, mainly the oxford cloth shirts, some of the English socks, the English sweaters, and the raincoats. We avoided the ties; they were 2” shorter than everyone else ‘s. Brooks would explain that they were long enough; since nearly all of their suits came with a vest, the vest covered most of the tie. Furthermore, the vests meant that the shirts did not need pockets. I then, as now, loved “pure” TNSIL clothing. I thought that it was better practiced at Chipp and J. Press, than at Brooks, which was so English and so old-fashioned. In 1960 Brooks sold stuff that had gone completely out of style 25 years before; things like braces (soon to come back again, however), nightshirts, even nightcaps (with or without a tassel), button-fly trousers, French-back boxer shorts, bowlers, etc. Its suits were mostly of too heavy fabric, like the old grey herringbones the Brits wore. I had similar problem during trips to London in the early 1970’s that I had had with Brooks earlier. I bought up lots of sweaters, ties and socks, but avoided the clothing. The suits had too much shoulder then, the waists were too suppressed, the fabrics were too heavy, and suits usually came with weird touches, like short, stubby double vents and one button on the coat sleeves. The trousers sat too high on the hips.

Of course, TNSIL clothing has major parts of its roots in English clothing and the “pure” TNSIL look adopted and absorbed much of the English stuff that Brooks brought from England; the button-down collar (supposedly), the Shetland sweater, the trench coat, the polo coat, Fair Isle sweaters, Argyle sweaters and socks, etc., so the line has always been blurred. I have had one major change in taste since school days. During those years I (now I think, sadly) avoided Brooks’ English shoes. I then liked the very heavy double soled, often grained, ones; the ones that Flusser calls “gunboats.” The McNeil and Leeds models still sold by Allen Edmonds are good examples of that type.I later went over to the English-style shoe, along with two American ones; Alden and a few of the lighter Allen Edmonds models. Brooks modernized all during the 1960s and by the end of the decade, I liked their suits more.

After I finished school, I came to Atlanta, but I kept on buying from the J. Press traveling representative. As has been commented on elsewhere in this thread, actually J. Press clothing, while good, has never been of the very best quality, Only the cut and style were perfect. I was married in a J. Press suit in 1968. It was about that time that Brooks Brothers opened an Atlanta store, ending the trips here by the J. Press.

I then shopped some at Brooks Brothers, but more frequently from a local store, named “Spencer’s.” It carried the big three TNSIL names, Norman Hilton, Troy Shirtmakers Guild and Alden. The first two are gone, although the Norman Hilton name (but not the cut or quality) comes back from time to time, made by someone else. Alden probably would have been gone by now also, but for the fact that the French, Germans and others in Europe have given it the attention that it deserves. I was happier with Norman Hilton, than I was with J. Press; the cut and style were equally good and the quality was better. It had lots of hand-work. The last J. Press garment I bought, a Harris tweed jacket, was nearly all machine-sewn. I think that it was not from its best line, however.

After Spencer’s went downhill (it is now closed), I moved to H. Stockton’s for my Norman Hiltons. I could not buy my shirts there, however, as it had Troy make them for them with a longer (then trendy) collar. My last experience at Stockton’s was to try to buy some non-pleated trousers. I was told that it did not have one pair in the store, but it could special-order them. As a result, I will not go back to that store.

Shirts are a problem now, too. Troy eventually got into fusing, my most hated word. I can understand that fusing in suits and sport coats saves a little manufacturing costs, but how can anyone justify fused (or lined) shirt collars? Troy is now completely gone. Kenneth Gordon and Gitman both have fused and/or lined collars. The only Brooks shirts that do not seem to have fused or lined collars are the oxford button-downs in about 4 solid collars and two stripes. The others are all Asian made, mostly no-iron, and, IMO, are stiff and dreadful. Mercer sells a nice shirt, with perfect collar and no fusing, but I do not like some of the fabrics. I have not bought there since Mercer changed manufacturers. Nor have I bought shirts from J. Press in years. I have some English shirts by Turnbull, H&K, H&H, Lewin, etc., but that is betraying the TNSIL cause.

Norman Hilton closed its factory 8-9 years ago. IMO, Nick Hilton had been taking it downhill for several years before. Suits are now a problem too. I never was “in love” with Southwick; poor quality control, I thought. I thought some fit, some didn’t. Lots of fusing now, too. Oxxford has wonderful tailoring, some fine fabrics (and some very ugly stuff), but are cut by idiots. If you are not short and fat, it makes you look like it. Hickey Freeman is, to me, a somewhat poorer man’s Oxxford; not quite as wonderful tailoring, some fine fabrics (and some very, very ugly stuff), but they are mostly cut even worse, if that is possible. Samuelsohn is cut much better, but like all the others, you have to special order non-pleated trousers. There is no one else, except for the Italians; in most cases, the second most dirty word to me. Several places on Savile Row can do its own style (not TNSIL) right, but you must be very rich.

The Paul Stuart logo shows a man sitting on a fence. I have wondered why. Is it because of satirical uncertainty, such as I now have about trying to continue on with increasingly difficult task of trying to find good “pure” TNSIL clothing, versus moving into the English style? I have had no trouble rejecting Italian, although I will admit that some of the fabrics are very nice (but usually quite light), others are bizarre, and the tailoring can be excellent. IMO, however, the cut is usually dreadful, especially Brioni. Isaia and Kiton can do a good job, but it is still not TNSIL clothing. Paul Stuart has some nice stuff, but again, it is not “pure” TNSIL clothing. Ben Silver seems to be a bit of a mix of “pure” TNSIL clothing with Southern touches, English, a little bit of Italian, and updated TNSIL clothing. I wonder about the quality (who really makes the suits and sport coats?), do not like the Italian stuff and think the prices are way too high. Cable Car sells Southwick for very high prices. I have not investigated to see if it any better than Southwick’s usual fused suits (usually $299 at Filenes’s, but on sale here now for $224); but for those prices (3-4 times as much), it should be.

I now live in a “mix.” I admit that I am a hypocrite. I claim to be for “pure” TNSIL, but I really sit on the fence. I have some, mostly old, “pure” TNSIL clothing, some updated TNSIL clothing like Paul Stuart’s Samuelsohn, some real Savile Row, and a little Italian, although I am happiest with the former.
I have not bought Polo, except for a little of the English-made purple label stuff, usually top quality, at over-the-top prices. I just do not like the idea of Polo, mostly Asian junk, lots of fake “discounting” and sold to the masses via a gigantic advertising budget, hinting that it is a way for the middle class can get that old-money look. Polo probably loses money on the higher quality stuff, but I suspect that it has made a fortune getting knit shirts with the horsey logo made in Asia for $5-6 or so, and selling millions of dozens of them to retailers for about 3 times that. In turn, those stores “reduce” them from their $52.50-$65 list prices down the $35-$40 range.

Who do I think gets it right? IMO, at one time J. Press got it right. Also, Sidney Winston at Chipp got it right, but he would have to remain inventive, if he was alive today, to compete. How to be inventive and yet within the boundaries? While I claim to be for pure TNSIL clothing, I admit that it can be boring, if it remains “fixed,” and people rest on their laurels, as J. Press’s Japanese owners currently do. I admit I am for purity, but I know there has always been an uneasy alliance with English style, and that that alliance can work. I think that perhaps the only way to remain for TNSIL clothing to remain desirable is for it to remain fresh and inventive. New stuff has to come out. When i sold clothes in college, Gant, which was then good, put out 2-3 new stripes every 3-4 weeks to keep the interest up. The only way, IMO, to be inventive now, is to continue to borrow from and to slightly modify the English. One way, perhaps the best way (to avoid wandering off into "fashion") to be inventive can be done by looking to the past for inspiration. Except for introducing a number of items that caught on, Brooks never really did it quite right and certainly does not now. It is getting away from the English too much and getting into its current owner’s Italian style. Why did the W. Bill fabric have to go? Why are the tweeds so light? Realistically, Brooks can never be pure TNSIL; it is too large and therefore must appeal to the masses. Paul Stuart and Ben Silver are too expensive for their quality and are not pure enough. Cable Car, like J. Press, is a bit mummified.

There are some people out there with taste. Jay Kos has taste, but his stuff is not real TNSIL; it is too English and too expensive. George Bass in New Orleans has great taste, but he is a little bit too Italian. I think that he is close, though.

What would I do if I was in the business? I would get someone to copy Norman Hilton exactly. I would sell 3 button sack suits and sport coats, very much like Norman Hilton’s Hampton model. I would also sell them in a slightly suppressed 2 button model like Norman Hilton’s West End model. I get tired of only worsted and worsted-flannels being widely available. One way to be inventive is to go to re-introduce really lofty soft flannels, hopsacks, cavalry twills, whipcords, cheviots, etc. J. Press has some, but not enough of this. Also what is wrong with more heather-shaded olives and browns. It is boring to keep drowning in a sea of greys, navy and tan only; very little else exists. I would sell button-down shirts like those by Mercer, but in better materials; it could substitute for Troy or the Brooks’ shirts of old. I would sell Alden, Edward Green, Grenson, C&J and a few Church’s (the heavier models like the Shannon and the Burwood). I would sell lots of vests (in tartans and tattersalls). I would sell lots of repps and club ties (Brooks’ Country Club line is good). I would carry only non-pleated trousers. Is Majer still good? I would sell standard Pantherella socks, argyle socks, French lisle socks and clocked socks in sizes, not one size fits all.

What do I think would be the result of all of a business doing this? Probably disaster. We few who are into TNSIL are dinosaurs in our thinking; pretty much old and out-of-date. It is all about fashion now, not about style. There are just not enough of us out there who love TNSIL to keep anyone in business. As usual, I think that the answer is that there is no answer, but it is an interesting subject.


Tucker's TNSIL blog (defunct) and the AAAC Forum

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This writer is so correct. The great old stores, Tom Bass (Pa.) Dunlaps (Ohio) etc are gone. No more real Weejuns. This carries over to cars.. No more MG Td's, Austin Healeys. Replaced by plastic crap.

Langrokcs is gone, no more Keith Highlander replaced by cheap cinese crap.

We have a dumber population taht is declassed.

We have closed down all of our great production with high taxes, stupin unions, excessive govt. regulation.

We have a peasant Walmart society